Parental Ideals Don’t Die, They Just Evolve With Reality

With few standing exceptions, most parents have high-minded ideals when they have children, hoping to instill a sense of new-found freedom and unbridled imagination in helping to shape the next generation’s Indira Gandhi or Thomas Edison. To help unleash the untapped potential surrounding their children, they establish by-and-large traditional — yet radical — rules to control the environment surrounding the tots as their youthful charges are slowly exposed to the world around them.

You know the ones, things like: “They will ingest no sugary sweets or drinks” and “They will only hear classical music.”

I, too, had high ideals when my children were still captivated by my ability to “disappear” behind my hands in a classic round of peek-a-boo. But in the seeming blink of an eye those cherubs have morphed into preteens on the verge of hitting ages 12 and 10 and I find myself looking back (with some healthy chagrin) at the many values and ideals lying strewn about in our past like cheap dollar-store toys the day after Christmas.

An apt example of an ideal gone AWOL was that television would not dominate our waking hours and never serve as a babysitter. To be sure, a hour or so of public television, with an occasional dabbling of Discovery channel a week would be the limit (notwithstanding a good ballgame or two). This bastion of parental rules in our abode has, over time, given way to not only non-stop SpongeBob marathons, but by the youngest even recording episodes for all posterity on DVDs, so the one half-hour in a week when SpongeBob is not actually being broadcast, he can still be found filling our TV screen with lemon-yellow joy.

In defense of many other parents who have succumbed similar high-minded ideals for the reality of everyday life: We don’t give up these rules lightly or in sudden bursts of apathy. Instead, they are eroded over time like a gentle meandering stream that ever so slowing eats away at the shore, until the next thing you know, you are staring at the Grand Canyon — your heartfelt ideal but a wispy glint on the far shore, evermore out of reach.

I realized another of those ideals had melted from my grasp this past weekend as I sat on the back stoop with my boys shooting at pop cans in the yard with a pellet gun.

Yes, their mother and I didn’t favor military toys and vowed not to have toy weaponry in the house. Anyone who has a male child will know instantly how utterly futile this ideal is in reality. Before they could even walk, a pencil, a twig or even their hand would easily make do for a weapon in any given instant. The very first Lego construction ever made by the oldest was that of a gun. Over time, the influence of “Toy Story” brought the ubiquitous bag of army men into the house, followed by policemen Halloween costumes complete with handcuffs and batons.

Unless you shelter your children like a religious zealot in the desert, then you know the kids have friends — and those friends have video games that feature more ways to kill people than Hollywood could ever imagine or depict. And despite your best admonishment that they play outdoors when visiting friends, that just means — according to youthful wisdom — that the PSP and Gameboys be used under the shade of a tree. And what kid doesn’t play with a squirt gun in the summer? Did I say squirt gun? I mean those high-tech devices that fire off long streams of water like a fire hose.

This, of course, leads to Nerf weaponry of every kind — that shoot soft, foam “bullets” and “missiles” with some degree of aiming ability. And a Nerf gun is really just an air-propelled pellet gun sans the spring-loaded velocity and tiny ammo– which is exactly what we found ourselves shooting off as we spent some down time on our back porch.

That’s when it hit me — like a pellet shot square in the middle of a Dr. Pepper logo — another erstwhile ideal had been gunned down,  lying DOA on the back steps.

And like the woeful parent who’s child has just slain 20 nuns and orphans during the International Peace to Every Living Thing parade and then states on worldwide TV, “But he’s a good boy,” I kept the blinders firmly in place and refused to see the carnage of another ideal down the drain. Instead, I took heart in the unexpected “good” I found in the moment.

The oldest, a self-proclaimed “expert” at hitting moving targets, was having some degree of difficulty in putting a dent in any cans. His younger brother, who had to this point never been allowed to fire off a pellet gun, was reluctantly given the opportunity (the reluctance coming from both myself and his sibling). With little fanfare, he fired a single round and a can 30 feet away dropped. He cocked the gun a second time, aimed anew and a second can 40 feet away fell over. But being only winged, this can fell but stayed atop the tree stump it rested upon. A third shot pushed it off the stump. All while his older brother pumped several rounds into the weeds around these cans, mumbling about “wind interference” and the other gun being “better.”

I just smiled and took heart that in his ever-growing litany being a future, expert violinist/engineer/mathematician/astronaut, I could now add marksman.