Family Life Is Not For The Fainthearted

Holiday TV commercials are filled with images of happy families reveling in scenes of peaceful contentment: joyfully opening perfectly wrapped presents under perfectly decorated trees; rushing out in fresh snowfalls to beam at new, non-snow covered, perfect cars; et cetera ad nauseam. The holidays joyously serve as the yearly crescendo to their perfectly peaceful family lives.   

All this peacefulness seems odd to those of us who are members of actual families. That’s because we know family life is far from a peaceful idyll. In fact, having a family is life’s wildest ride. If you’re looking for hair-raising adventure, forget lion hunting in Africa or running with the bulls in Pamplona and try paying off a thirty-year mortgage with one hand while raising kids with the other.

Soon after your first baby arrives, you realize you’ve permanently strapped yourself to a runaway rollercoaster. It quickly becomes clear that you’ve lost all control because your focus has permanently shifted from your own life to your child’s, over which you have frighteningly little control. So, your goal becomes to keep driving forward despite being unable to steer, which often lands you in a ditch. Here’s one vivid example from a personal catalogue of hundreds.

Due to the higher IQs of all the other parents, I became a Cub Scout Den Leader in 1999. I scrupulously avoided any further leadership positions for the rest of my life.

After having to be airlifted from our first meeting, I realized these seven, ten-year-old boys were far too rambunctious for any ordinary meeting format. So, I decided to bust out of our meeting room and take them to an Astros-Cubs game at the Astrodome.

It was the year after the great home run derby between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, and Sammy was on another homer hot streak. My plan was to have the kids witness baseball history and, also, catch the attention of national TV cameras by having us wear eight, single letter t-shirts which together spelled out, VIVA SOSA. I borrowed a new Suburban from one of the parents and headed for Houston from Corpus Christi with all seven kids onboard.

I knew that cooping the boys up in one vehicle for the seven-hour roundtrip was sheer madness, so I’d picked the Suburban mainly because it had a video player. I’d carefully selected several movies guaranteed to hold the attention of ten-year-old boys, leaning heavily on the Star Wars trilogy.

Thanks to George Lucas, the drive to Houston was largely uneventful. However, on the long walk from the parking lot to our cheap seats, I looked like a man trying to herd soap bubbles in a high wind. 

The game itself was completely lost on the boys who spent the whole-time eating cotton candy and wrestling with each other over preferred seats. And, despite my frantic efforts, the closest we got to spelling out our tribute was VISA VOSA.

After the game, I somehow managed to herd them through the sellout crowd back to the car. Jerry had proven to be the rowdiest boy, so I put him in the passenger seat next to me for the long drive home. As we passed two teenage girls in the parking lot, Jerry suddenly rolled down his window and yelled at them, “I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch.”

The girls were shocked that a ten-year-old boy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a large “V” had yelled at them. I was shocked that a ten-year-old boy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a large “V” had already developed a fashion sense.

“It’s from a song,” Jerry explained as I rolled up his window.

We stopped for fast food on the way home, and – nightmare of nightmares – the video player broke. The last thing I remember was Jerry yelling, “Food fight!” as the air filled with ketchup covered french fries.

It’s undeniably true that raising kids is the most exasperating, excruciating, and exhausting thing you can do. So, someone please explain to me why, while taking my oldest child to her freshman orientation at a faraway college, I suddenly started crying uncontrollably while speeding along the freeway in a driving rainstorm. Trying to hide my emotional collapse from my family, I stupidly opened my window so the raindrops would mask my tears. No one, not even my teenage son who was getting drenched in the seat behind me, said a word.