When it comes to parenting, Lindy and I have a disciplinary style that has evolved over the last 17 years, especially if “evolved” has an alternate definition that means “been completely abandoned.”
Disciplining kids is like owning a trampoline. Sure, at first you’re laying down rules like “Only one child jumping at a time! And that child must remain within a three-foot radius of the exact center of the trampoline, as jumping too near the edge will increase the chances of getting your elbow pads and helmet caught in the safety netting.”
Then, two hours later, you come home to find a bunch of neighbor kids and your entire family—including your spouse—are using the safety netting as a swing rope to drop themselves onto the trampoline, which has every sprinkler you own blasting underneath.
Originally, to gather material for this column, I planned to start collecting a few stories that would illustrate how far Lindy and I have fallen when it comes to the discipline of our kids (ages 17, 14, and 9).
Originally, I figured this would take me a few weeks. Maybe months!
I started compiling info on a Friday.
On Saturday, while on a trip to the Wisconsin Dells, we visited Wisconsin Deer Park, a petting zoo in which visitors pay to be accosted by free-roaming deer trying to use their forceful tongues to remove candy bars from your pockets.
Daughter Hadley, 17, asked if she could—WARNING! Germaphobes should look away!—hold the graham cracker-sized wafers between her teeth and let the deer eat them.
This is our firstborn. Just yesterday, it seems, we would cut Hadley’s hot dogs into pieces the thickness of those Listerine Breath Strips that dissolve when they touch your tongue. We would incinerate her pacifier if it touched the floor.
Lindy and I both just shrugged our shoulders. Sure. Whatever.
I’m sure a family service worker is starting a file on us right now.
On Sunday, son Henry and I went to a Rochester Royals baseball game, which we do regularly. Henry, 14, brought his folding chair and his stick. More on that later.
The Rochester Royals pay one dollar for every foul ball you return to them. Henry realized early on that the best spot to get foul balls is alongside the railroad tracks that run behind Mayo Field.
So here’s what happens: We buy our tickets to get into the game. I sit by myself, on the top row of the bleachers where I can look down and see the railroad tracks. Henry then sits—in his folding chair, with his stick—where he can sort of see the game from outside the fence. When a foul ball goes over the tracks, Henry runs toward it, then looks to me to guide him to where the ball went in the woods or the ditch. Then he uses his stick to help search.
It’s not unusual for Henry to make eight bucks a game.
Here’s an adorable twist: Regularly, an older gentleman is also sitting—in his folding chair with his stick—near the railroad tracks as well. He and Henry have struck up a friendship, of sorts, and seem to have developed some system of sharing foul balls. I have watched Henry pick up a ball he’s found and throw it to the other guy.
One game, when we walked into the stadium and saw the guy, he said “Hey, Henry, don’t forget I owe you a baseball from last game!”
A few games ago, I invited a few friends—Randy and Mike—to meet Henry and me at the game.
When they got there, Mike asked where Henry was.
“Oh, he doesn’t really sit with me,” I explained. “He crawls over the back fence and he and an older guy whose name I don’t know sit on folding chairs and watch the game through a small opening in the fence. If it’s not too dark, you may see him if there’s a foul ball. That’s when he runs along the railroad tracks before he disappears into the ditch with his stick to search for it.”
Mike and Randy’s silence made me feel like more explanation would make things seem less sketchy.
“It’s a lot like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’” I explained. “Especially if the Mitch Albom character didn’t know Morrie’s name and the setting of the book was changed to railroad tracks.”
Randy, who has younger kids, laughed in that uncomfortable way that makes you instantly realize that, the second you look away, he’s going to text that story to his wife with the subject line “Don’t let adult Langes babysit!”
And while I should have recognized those cues as a sign that I may need to re-evaluate my parenting, I was actually thinking “That’s two questionable kid parenting stories in two days! Just one more I and I can get this column written!”
That night, we got home at 10:30 or so, well past what many responsible parents would consider a reasonable bedtime for a 9-year-old.
Daughter Emma, 9, was waiting up for us.
“You have to watch my dance routine!” she said. “The audience seats are set up in the living room!”
“She’s been in her room working on it for an hour,” Lindy said. “She hasn’t wanted any help at all.”
How adorable! Our precious daughter has dreamed up her own magical dance from inside her innocent little head! What innocent, innocent wonderment will she portray through her dancing?
It took the first two seconds of the song to recognize it was, of course, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” The “I like big butts” song.
And while it was one of the longest four minutes and 22 seconds of my life, I knew, as soon as I heard the song’s “Oh my gawd, Becky!” opening, that this was a solid, final example of how far Lindy and I have fallen.