Friday, April 27, 2007

My uncle's theories of raising children

My uncle Doc was my favorite uncle because he liked to roughhouse. Kids love that. On Saturday nights when I stayed over my grandmother's house, he would bring over a jar of pickled herring and we would share it. But while he was fond of me, he totally disapproved of the way my parents were raising me. I was, said Uncle Doc, spoiled rotten.

His kids, he declared, would be so in awe of him that they would run and hide behind the piano when he came in the door. Need I add that he was a bachelor at the time?

Fast forward a few years, to the time when Uncle Doc and his wife's serene abode was invaded by three little but fast-moving barbarians. They fought with each other 24/7, chasing each other up and down the steps with murder in their eyes. They screamed, whined, and complained. They took each other's toys and did not share. Uncle Doc's solution to this problem was to yell at them. The more they continued their antics, the louder he yelled at them. Threats of death were made, but did nothing to reduce the tumult. At last my aunt would go to bed with a migraine headache and he would stomp off to his office, leaving them in possession of the wreck which the household had become.

At night the bedlam continued, as each of the girls considered it her sovereign right to sleep with the parents. After one or two of them had joined the parental bed, my aunt would get up and go to sleep in any bed which happened to be vacant. You never knew who was going to be in what bed in that household. I was only a few years older than the girls, but I found it impossible to sleep at their house with all the coming and going.

The girls turned out all right. They grew up, graduated from college, stayed out of jail, got married and in due course had children of their own. My oldest cousin raised her children like a Prussian drillmaster. They dusted, swept, put away their toys, and made their beds like little automatons. The only thing missing was the snappy salute. She confided in me that she could never have raised her children the way she was raised, it would have made her crazy.

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