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Bringing up the best

By Roy Barnacle / February 3, 1987



I LIKE to think I raised my children right. Most parents do. And when I held that small sleeping bundle in my arms, desperate to do the right thing and wondering how such a little thing could be so much trouble, my friends would tell me (kindly, of course), ``Just you wait until the Terrible Twos.'' Well, the age of two for both daughters came and went. They learned to speak and walk and made me laugh and cry and ruined our best carpet and smeared chocolate sauce on the cat. But the ``twos'' weren't that terrible. I was having too much fun.

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``Ah, well, you were lucky,'' my friends would say. ``Just wait until the Fearsome Fours; then you'll know just what child rearing is all about.''

Well, those fours came and went, and I took my daughters to the beach and they learned not to be afraid of the ocean and started to say two- and three-syllable words. It was such fun, but wasn't I missing out on something?

Now I don't want you to think there weren't moments when my daughters lacked sweetness and light. There were the ``No!'' stages and the endless ``Why?'' stages, and tantrums, and petulant stands against authority. It's the nature of authority to be tested.

But the negative side of raising children was so insignificant compared to the positive side that I can only look back and find that, for me at any rate, all those stages would have to be renamed. They would be something like this: the Wonderful Ones, the Thrilling Threes, the Funny Fives, and so on.

As far as adolescence was concerned, I won't deny that, when it got to the Eye-Twinkling Twelves, and the Sigh-Filled Sixteens, and Dad had to compete with boys for the girls' affections, I thought that all my stages were going to catch up with me.

Then I wondered if my mother had ever had the same thoughts. Did she go through these stages with me? I never asked her.

When my father passed away, my mother said that life was over for her and she would just wait for the day when she could join my Dad in Cockney heaven.

Before too many months were up, my mother found an amazing capacity to help others. So much so, that before two or three years were out she had acquired the reputation of a kind of Lady Senior Citizen around town and was asked to represent the aged in various capacities.

I was pretty impressed at how active an 80-year-old woman could be and wondered if this was ``just a stage'' she was going through. Then I remembered my own reaction to my children's ``stages.'' What stages has my mother gone through during the time I have known her?

Well, there was the traditional mother stage: ``Do this,'' ``Don't do that,'' ``Be careful,'' ``No, you can't,'' and of course, ``Because I said so.'' These were the Threatening 30s for my parents. Then came the Formal 40s. ``Sit up straight.'' ``Clean up your room.'' (Actually, as I shared it with three siblings, it wasn't exactly mine, but we all knew what she meant.)

We went into the Friendship 50s, and my mother and I came to know each other as friends. On into the Self-Sacrificing 60s, when it was hard for my mother to see me emigrate to America. The Sad 70s saw the earthly departure of my father and the consequential adjustment. Then suddenly we spring-boarded into the Eminent 80s.

During this time my mother has appeared on national television, met well-known entertainment personalities, the mayors of several large cities, and, at 83 years, still performs with the energy of a 30-year-old.

During a vacation to London this year, I asked my mother where she suddenly found this new vim and vigor. Her answer and the resulting conversation threw new light on the whole scenario of child, and parent, raising.

``It was thanks to you, son,'' she said. She went on to explain.

``I had always felt that you and I were more friends than mother and son. You always explained things to me and I always felt you were much smarter than me. I wanted to be like you.''

I was flabbergasted. I wanted to be like her, and here we both were, trying hard to be like the other one trying to be like ourselves!

``I felt it was more a case of you raising me than me raising you. After I had gone through all the expected chores of raising a child, and my children left to become mothers and fathers themselves, I felt left out, unwanted, and alone.''

She continued: ``Then you went in the army, and then to America, and I felt that you were gaining so much that I had nothing to do with. You were growing and I was staying.''

``Then one day,'' she went on, ``you sent me a birthday card, do you remember, that said `Mom, this is your day, too, because it was the day you came into my world.'''

After that, my mother said, she felt we were more than just mother and son, but really friends who had known each other all of our lives.

Then she went on about how I had had to make my way in a ``strange'' country when I emigrated to America, how I had learned to write (``even appearing in the Reader's Digest'') and how I had raised a wonderful family. Then, ``I'm sorry I didn't turn out as well.''

But recently, when my mother met the Princess of Wales, she took it all in stride. She had been chosen from all over the nation to represent the senior citizens of Britain. I was as proud of her as if she were my own daughter.

When I called to congratulate her, she simply said, ``Well, son, I had you as an example.''

I like to think I raised my mother right. Most children do.