By: Shannon Ralph
My attitude sucks. I’ve come to the realization this week that being a good parent is 99 percent attitude. Unfortunately for me—and, more importantly, for my children—I am sorely lacking in the attitude department. Okay, I do not totally suck. I am actually an optimist, by nature. Prior to having children, I was very much a go-with-the-flow sort of girl. I didn’t need a plan. I didn’t need an objective. I was content to let things happen as fate allowed, and I would deal with issues as they arose. I firmly believed all things would work out as they were meant to and, through divine intervention perhaps, I would be just fine. And somehow, I did manage to survive just fine.
Since having children, however, my attitude has changed dramatically. Suddenly, and quite inexplicably, I have turned into a control freak. I have this overwhelming desire to control and manipulate my environment in a way that I never have before. Suddenly, clutter drives me mad. Disorganization makes me crazy. A day without planned activities leaves me utterly lost. Truly free days are few and far between, but when they happen, I feel a sort of frantic need to fill the day with some sort of planned activity. What happened to that go-with-the flow girl? Perhaps with three children, it is impossible to be that person. However, I think I need to at least put forth a concerted effort. I want to let a little bit of that “me” from ten years ago into my life again. I need to remember how to relax. I need to let go. I need to realize that those objects I consider clutter are treasures to my children. The “stuff” piled up and falling off of their bedside nightstands—those items I consider junk—are the riches of childhood. The plan-free days that make me frantic are the exact days that my children will remember fondly when they are grown.
Looking back on my own childhood, I remember very little about family vacations. I have few memories of “important” events. Rather, I remember the insignificant little everyday details of our home life. I remember my dad sitting at the kitchen table eating a fried bologna sandwich and Fritos, reading the newspaper. I remember arguing almost nightly over whose turn it was to wash the dishes. I remember sitting at the table doing my homework while my mom cooked dinner. I remember watching The Three Stooges with my dad on Sunday mornings. I remember taking baths with my sisters, all three of us crammed into our tiny bath tub. I remember my mom always smelling like Colgate toothpaste. I remember the night my dad gently explained to me that our house was made of brick and that bricks did not burn easily. I had just finished watching the episode of Little House on the Prairie where the blind school burned to the ground, and I was in hysterics. I remember climbing into my mom and dad’s bed that night, and many nights thereafter. I remember grilling hot dogs in the back yard. Drinking grape kool-aid out of yellow aluminum tumblers. I remember riding in the cab of my dad’s old green pick-up truck, standing next to him with my arm around his shoulder as he drove (he’d probably be arrested for that today). Those are just a few of the memories that make up my childhood. I need to relax and realize that I have been entrusted with making memories for my own children. These are the days that will make up their childhood thirty years from now when they are reminiscing. The clutter and disorganization aren’t important. My children will not remember that the rugs were never vacuumed and the clothes hampers were always full. They will not care that dishes were left in the sink or that beds were left unmade. I have a lifetime to be organized. My kids have limited time to be children.