By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
As our Kansas weather performed yet another flip-flop earlier this week, I lamented the difficulties of having to decide whether or not to wear socks.
This first-world problem, unknown to the folks who have to haul water from wells or pumps two miles from their shacks, afflicts those of us who don’t like that sweaty, icky feeling that awakens a person in the middle of even the coldest night, causing an intense desire to peel off each sock with the only partially-conscious toes of the opposite foot before rolling over to sleep another few hours.
It’s rough, I know.
“I wish the weather would make up its mind,” I complained to my parents. They’d invited me over for afternoon tea, and, with my husband, I was sipping the hot beverage my mother had prepared, along with freshly baked cookies.
My parents agreed it had been an unusually cold winter overall, and began to reminisce about the winter I was born, 1968. That was the year they drove from Dallas to Omaha in their little red Volkswagen Beetle. I am just barely seasoned enough to predate government rules about seat belts and infant carriers. A mere two months old at the time of this journey, I made the trip in something that resembled a picnic basket, on the back seat of the dome-shaped car.
Just as my we prepared for the trip home, a winter storm blasted through Omaha. The wind chill was predicted to hit a low of 20 degrees below zero. My grandmother suggested to my callow — make that inexperienced but well-intentioned — parents that they delay the drive. I imagine she was focused on the potential danger to her first and most precious granddaughter. My parents, however, weren’t worried. Dad had to get back to his studies at the seminary, and his job at the Icee machine factory. Mom promised her mother they would call when they arrived.
I am also just old enough to predate easy and inexpensive long-distance phone calls placed by a telephone operator. Never mind cell phone service.
The weather was so cold, the windshield of the Beetle never fully defrosted. Instead, my father had to make do with the square-shaped opening cleared by the upside-down wipers. Other things about that car were topsy-turvy as well. Because the motor was in the back, the heat came from the vehicle’s rear end. By the time the ventilation system delivered it to the front seats, the air was lukewarm at best, which explains the lack of defrosting power.
In my cozy basket bed on the back seat, I stayed warm and happy, unlike my never-defrosted parents in the front. Occasionally, we pulled over to the side of the blizzard-blurred highway so Mom could plug the bottle-warmer into the cigarette lighter. This high-tech device heated the formula they fed me. In this fashion, we made our way south once more, to the land of orange juice and school dismissals in the face of half-inch snowfalls: Texas.
To the earnest and well-intentioned modern parent, so much is wrong with this story. No child restraints! Glass baby bottles! Infant formula mixed from canned milk and other ingredients, like some kind of baby homebrew! Poorly-planned, cross-country trips with no emergency kit, cell phone service or vehicular heating system! It’s a wonder I made it to adulthood.
Yet when my parents tell the story, shaking their heads at the folly of their blithe disregard for safety — “We could have stayed another day or so, before starting out,” my mother observes — all of us smile and laugh. It turned out OK. As it so often does.
One of the silliest things about the times in which we live is the illusion of control we’ve tried to create for ourselves. Technological advances are, indeed, amazing. Science is real. People now have so much more information at our fingertips than our parents ever did.
Yet for all the advantages we enjoy, we’ve forgotten one of the most basic truths of human life: we do not control the outcome. Parents through the ages can attest to the fact that children grow up to be pretty much whoever they want to be; we can give the girl ballet lessons and put her on the pageant circuit but she might opt for the Army and recreational bow-hunting. We can buy the best phonics program on the market, but that will not ensure a lifelong love of reading. And some of the most highly-accomplished characters in history grew up as orphans or neglected children or rose out of crushing poverty to change the world. Meanwhile, Rockefellers checked into rehab centers and sons of professors enrolled in trade school.
That’s no reason to neglect our parental duties. By definition, being a mother or father means a person will continually be faced with problems, needs and unfamiliar situations. Immigrant kids attend schools where the language barrier can disrupt family dynamics. Technology leaves even the most professionally accomplished parent feeling inept. Slang changes so that what we think we are telling our kids means exactly the opposite, and vice versa (which, my young offspring, means “exactly the opposite”).
Amid the confusion and the snowstorms and the regulations, sons and daughters make it to adulthood. When they struggle, we silly parents agonize. We ask what we did wrong. We fret that it is our fault. When the kids succeed, we are quick to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.
Like my infant odyssey to the frozen north of Nebraska and back again, the truth lies somewhere in between. I survived very well, thank you, in my unsecured basket, with my nonorganic formula. My parents loved me. Like all parents, they did the best they knew how.
What more can any of us, parents or children, expect?
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