A friend told me that really bright kids are often considered rude, messy, stubborn and lazy. Wow. I had really smart kids!
About 21/2 years separate my first four children. Number five (Sean) was four years the youngest. After my second child was born, I quit my job to raise my family and start daycare.
I didn’t believe in entertaining kids. My usual answer was, “Figure it out.” And they did.
I have to say, a bunch of kids on the loose are nothing if not creative. Mud puddles under the swing set were the best. My fun was turning the hose on them before I let them in the house.
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In the winter they dragged the summer wading pool onto the patio and made dinosaur dioramas with dirt, water and whatever else they could find. Large boxes, Q-tips, cotton balls, markers (and rocks and twigs and moss) made great 3D forts for little plastic people. I bought markers, crayons, paper and tape by the case from Costco and turned kids loose. The house looked like it, too.
“You made the mess, you clean it up.” Everyone received an assignment. It was our “group participation project.” It also was the price of lunch.
I told Sean, then 4 and the smallest, to get the paper scraps from under the dining room table. He, however, threw himself on the floor with exaggerated theatrics, screaming, “I AM NOT A WORKER! I DON’T DO WORK!”
I confess my patience was thin. I headed to the kitchen to find something to hit him with – like the Catholic wooden spoon (if you were raised old-school Catholic, you understand me) – when I saw his 13-year-old sister fixing the lunches.
“Fine, Sean,” I said. “If you don’t do your share of the family work, you don’t get your share of the family food.”
He stopped his caterwauling and sat up. “You have to feed me.”
I countered with, “Not every day, I don’t.”
“Joy will feed me,” he quipped.
“Joy, if Sean doesn’t work, Sean doesn’t eat.”
He was mad, but he finally caved.
In the summer, kids liked to climb the tree in the backyard. My only rule was you had to be able to climb up unassisted. No one could boost you, nor could you drag anything over to stand on to reach that first branch.
Sean, being so much younger than everyone else, couldn’t meet the standard. He was not happy. But he was inventive.
I heard a lot of pounding one day and went to investigate. I arrived to see Sean nailing one last board to the tree trunk. He had constructed a ladder out of scrap wood. He won that round.
It wasn’t always peaceful, though. John, six years older than Sean, got his height early and, like most 12-year-olds, liked the throw his weight around.
One afternoon, I heard him and Sean arguing in the bedroom. It hadn’t come to blows yet so I waited to see if they could settle it. Suddenly, Sean ran into the kitchen.
“Sean, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for something.”
“Can I help you find it?” I asked.
“Nope.” He ran straight back to the bedroom, from which I shortly heard a blood-curdling yell. Sean had found the biscuit cutter and smacked his brother in the back, gouging out a small chunk of flesh in the process.
“SEAN! Why did you hit your brother with the biscuit cutter?!”
His sullen answer: “Because I couldn’t find a knife.”
Thank goodness I had all the sharps under lock and key! I suspect John had some retribution coming to him, but I really didn’t think he needed to die at the hands of his nearly 6-year-old brother.
I have to say, my kids taught me everything I know about patience.
Deborah Morton is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a corrections deputy at Pierce County Jail. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.