Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

July 13, 2010

Parents try their hardest

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

--- — As parents, most of us do the best we can. There are some slackers out here, but most parents try their hardest to raise responsible, honest citizens. I couldn’t help but think that when four Carmel High School basketball players were arrested this spring and charged with hurting three other students. Details were secret so the imagination takes over, conjuring up images possibly worse than what happened. A few letters to the editor blamed the parents for the incidents, but one writer came to their defense, noting kids sometimes do unfathomable things, despite having wonderful mentors. Of course, that got me reminiscing about bringing up two boys. I used to belong to a once-a-month crafts group in our Atlanta neighborhood (my husband called it Stitch and Bitch). We all had toddlers, so it was a welcome relief to have a child-free evening. Inevitably, though, we traded anecdotes about how our little darlings unnerved us. Kim Barrett always had the best stories. Today we would probably say her daughter had ADHD. At one point, she had a fixation with toilets. Kim reported she found her in the bathroom peering into the bowl where she had just dumped a bag of goldfish crackers. Her little girl wanted to see if the crackers could swim. The next month the story was more dire. Just in time, Kim saw her daughter poised to dip her curling iron into the water. A quick grab averted a disaster. We once rented a house in Pumpkin Center, La. Tony was 4 and Ben was a baby. There was a pond stocked with catfish behind the house so Bill thought it was time to teach Tony to fish. (I say this loosely because I don’t think Bill had ever fished before either.) They had a fun afternoon enjoying their manly sport, Ben watching in a stroller. Then my husband went on a business trip. The next day, Tony wanted to fish again. I didn’t think there was any way he could catch one by himself, so I said sure. I watched from the kitchen window. Somehow, the next thing I knew, he had a footlong fish on the line. I cook and eat fish, but I have never fished, taken a fish off of a line, fileted a fish .... I ran outside and stared down at the flopping animal on the bank. My neighbor yelled helpful instructions: I had to step on the fish to get it to quit leaping before pulling the hook out of its mouth. I ran back inside and put on shoes. I ran back outside, stared down at the fish and realized I couldn’t touch it bare-handed. I ran back inside and put on gloves. When I came back outside that time, it had quit flopping. I tugged and tugged, but couldn’t remove the hook. I ran back inside and grabbed some scissors, cut the line and threw the fish back in the water. He never floated on the surface, so I assume Catfish Charlie lived into old age with a hook in his mouth. Can that be much worse than a tongue piercing? This incident led to another family rule: You may only fish when Daddy is at home. Still in Louisiana, but in a different house, it was time for Tony’s softball game. Both boys were in the car when I noticed Tony didn’t have his socks. I went back in the house, bent over to get them out of his drawer, then stood up. My eyes happened to graze over his goldfish bowl. Which was empty. There were supposed to be four fish in that bowl. We did have a cat, but I didn’t think the odds of a feline pawing all four fish out of the bowl were very high. I was confounded. I ran from Tony’s room to Ben’s room, where I found the fish laid out in a perfect row on the carpet, covered with a Kleenex. I guess Ben decided it was naptime. One by one, I raced each across the hallway, holding the wiggler with a tissue so I wouldn’t have to touch it. Miraculously, each began swimming. None died that day, but several always swam a little crooked after that. I thought of them as our special fish. I couldn’t be too mad at Ben. He was too young to understand fish need water to live. All these stories are cute, but my brother told me one that was chilling, based on a split-second decision. His son, Tanner (my only nephew!!), was spending the weekend at a friend’s lake house in upper Minnesota. The dad asked if Tanner wanted to go canoeing. The wind was really blowing and Tanner was cold, so he said no. Because he said no, his friend said no, too. So the Dad and a little brother went out on the lake. Never to return. The boat capsized and, despite wearing life jackets, the water was simply too cold. Back to our family. Fast forward to the always-entertaining teenage years, when Bill found a baggie of pot. He sat the offending child down and gave him a 10-minute talking-to. I imagine pacing, gesticulating, an emphatic voice. After Bill ran out of steam and air, there was a awkward pause. Then the teen simply asked, “Dad, you do realize that’s catnip, don’t you?” And it really was.