I just finished watching a video making the rounds on Facebook in which a father has recorded his daughter’s first day of school every year from first grade through high school. Each snippet was short and sweet, ending with “I love yous” exchanged between father and child. After watching it, I commented, “File under: shit I wish I’d done” …and, at the time, I really meant it. “Man, I am a failure for not having done that for my kids” regret settled in. Knowing that I can hardly remember to return all the paperwork needed to make my kid legit in school, I certainly wasn’t equipped to pull out the video camera the first day of school every year…mostly because I was too busy doing the happy dance.
But it did get me thinking about other things I wish I had done as a parent but didn’t:
- Have family portraits done every year. To be more precise, I wish we’d not only taken annual photos, but that we’d all worn white shirts and jeans and sat in the same position in the same place. Love me some comparison shots.
- Taken family vacations every year. Yes, we did, in correspondence to an annual conference, go to Disney World several years running. It was the perfect destination for two wild kids born seven years apart. Something for everyone!
- Saved, as my father did, every single school report card. In fairness, I do have most of them, but cop to misplacing a few. My own personal experience is twofold: they serve as the greatest reminder of why we should choose our battles with our kids (“talks to much in class”, anyone?) and settles the score among adult siblings as to which one really is the smartest. (Hint: I fared better than I had expected…)
- Served as room parent. Okay, if we are being honest, I would rather open a vein with a ballpoint pen than be responsible for staffing and pulling off every party or celebration or event or send-off or picture day or project or concert, but my kids probably would have, if nothing else, gotten a kick out of me pulling that shit off.
- Been more creative in the Halloween costume department. I was often, okay, always, that mom who would run to Party City on the 30th (never waited all the way til the 31st because that would be irresponsible) and hope to find something left that didn’t look creepy or make me nauseous. That being said, I did, in 5th grade, give into pressure and allow Harrison to wear a grim reaper mask that, upon the push of a button, bled. In my defense, he was one of about seven boys wearing it, so there.
- Made a “Baby Box”for Jess…like, um, the one I made for Harrison. And what a box it was! Aside from the box itself – shown below – the contents are many: sonogram pictures, pregnancy test, cards, notes, first diaper (unused, duh), newspaper headlines, hospital bracelet. You name it, I put it in there. I know, I know…first babies get everything. And, while I had every single possible intention of doing the same for Jess, yeah, it just didn’t happen. File under: something (else) for her to talk about in therapy.
- Spent less on toys, more on experiences. If I had a nickel, even a penny, for every Lego brick I bought, I’d be way, way, way richer than POTUS claims to be. If I had a dime for every DVD that I bought – and, ultimately gave away – I would be rolling in dough. In fairness, though, there was nothing better than sitting down for our umpteenth viewing of “George of the Jungle”, “Inspector Gadget” or, um, “Austin Powers”, “Happy Gilmore” or the entire “Gilligan’s Island” series.
- Not given my children so many choices. I’m not sure if it was an attempt to be inclusive, a desire to please or an inability to make a decision, but I did too much asking and not enough telling. You’d have thought I might have learned that asking two kids where they want to have lunch is seldom (and by seldom I mean ever) going to result in a consensus. The same for what movie to watch, which dinner to make, who to have babysit, when to play outside and when to sit on their asses watching aforementioned movies. I like to think that too many choices results in unnecessary anxiety. For my kids. Yeah, my kids.
- Had, and enforced, just a few more rules. Ask my progeny and they will tell you: I had very few rules but the rules that I did have were (for the most part…unless I was really tired or overwrought or angry or defeated) non-negotiable. It is the way I grew up, so, naturally, I did the same. As a child of 60s, 70s and 80s, here were the rules: no one could start dinner until my mother was at the table, no answering the phone during dinner (This one was nothing short of torture; I’d hear the “kids’ line” ringing upstairs and would have to assume a death grip on my chair to keep myself from running up to see who it was. This, dear readers, was in a time before answering machines. It was hell.) And, perhaps the most important of all the rules was to never forget the Levinson mantra, “Don’t embarrass us and we won’t embarrass you.” Despite being fairly far-reaching, it was a hard and fast rule which was taken very seriously. My children knew that the rules on the shoulders of my youth were now on theirs and that they would be better served to fess up to anything they did because I would definitely find out about it on my own and then I would be realllly pissed. No curfews, once they hit puberty: no set bedtime and the responsibility of doing their own damn laundry. It is truly remarkable how much more thoughtful one is about throwing a perfectly clean shirt in the laundry when they are the ones who have to wash it. You are welcome future spouses.
And one thing I did do:
- “I don’t care if you are a boy, a girl, a dog or a Martian…you just cannot be an asshole. I consider it the updated version of my parents’ directive of not embarrassing them. Generally, my children have fallen into line and obeyed the rule, but certainly have had their moments (which have sometimes morphed into weeks on end), but I think they will be able to successfully navigate the world.
As a collective, I would assert that most parents have experienced the whiplash of feeling as though you are either the best or worst parent ever at least once a day, if not more. A part of you feels like shit for not videotaping your kid on the first day of school every damn year, but then you remember the things that you did do (Clean up barf? Stay up all night? Drive to ten stores in search of a “Tickle Me Elmo” doll? Teach them to have a sense of humor…particularly when things are at their suckiest? Tell them when they are the bomb and when they might have made a better choice?) Yeah, we all have our own flavor of good parenting.
So, despite the fact – or maybe because of it – that I don’t have annual photos or lots of vacations or every report card or room parent experience or killer Halloween costumes or a baby box for Jess, I still feel as good as any parent allows themselves to feel about that which I have (or, have not as the case may be) for my kids.
You should, too…really