When I was a kid learning about blindness and other disabilities, a teacher made a particularly poignant point that stuck with me about the simulation we did that involved wearing a blindfold and being led around by another student.
"This can never really compare to blindness," the teacher said, "because all of you know that as soon as we're done, you can take that thing right off, and you'll be able to see everything around you." Great point, I remember thinking, and it's stuck with me since.
Yesterday afternoon, I saw a parallel there with parenting. Due to a mother (my 'aunt-in-law') being a bit under the weather, and my responsible adult counterpart being stuck working at CVS, I was tasked with the seemingly simple job of bringing one eight year-old and two five year-olds to a church service and subsequent picnic.
Easy enough, right?
Not so much. It was challenging from start to finish, but could never have compared with 'real' parenting -- as much as these kids exhausted me, I knew they were going back to Mom and Dad as soon as I decided I'd had enough.
First, I realized how otherwise simple tasks I took for granted because impossible. On the way there, I wanted to stop to grab a cold bottle of water from a convenience store. Not so fast. I realized that with no other adult there, leaving them in the car was a total non-starter. I decided that taking the three, who were growing increasingly rambunctious on the way up School St. (Broadway to Westford...not far, right?), into the store was an equally bad idea. So no joy on the otherwise uber-mundane chore.
After much shushing and 'stop standing on the seat' admonitions during the service, we finally made it outside for the picnic, where things generally went well.
Until someone started handing out the "Now I Can Read" cassette tapes.
One of the five year-olds in my stead grabbed a set of blue tapes and a set of red ones. After trading the red ones for green ones with a kid twice her age, she suddenly came down with an acute case of what I'll call "Trader's Remorse." She saw the error of her ways, realized that red tapes were indeed better than green tapes (despite my pleas that without even owning a cassette player, she would neither know nor care about the difference), and then fell short in a series of pleas with the kid who made the initial trade to do a "takeback."
It looked like things were going to be okay, but then it came -- The Waterworks.
Almost as if in slow-motion designed to torture me, the sad puppy dog face came on, the tears started to well up in the eyes, and then BAM! it was a show of weeping and wailing. I tried to stop it but saying how great the green tapes would be, but I was about as successful as an Inuit snow salesman. We had already gotten a few funny looks (most people there know me, but to anyone passing by on Princeton Blvd. I was a white guy inexplicably herding around three Asian kids, one of whom was now making a scene).
Here was my dilemma:
Either a) try to solve the problem as quickly as possible by getting the red tapes from the other kid, but by doing send a message that crying loudly will solve whatever problem you're facing, or b) do the right thing, and don't cave in to the crier.
I took the easy way out of this one. I used reason to convince the older kid that the tapes were probably the same, and was able to successfully engineer a "takeback" that gave the crying kid the red tapes and suddenly stopped the tears.
Within an hour's time, the kids were back to Mom and Dad, still full of energy and running all around the house, while I was just tuckered out from the whole experience, walked up to the third floor, and proceeded to take a long nap on my girlfriend's bed. I can't really say I experienced the difficulty of 'parenting' because that would've meant never being able to take that break -- the freedom just to hand them off to someone else and say "I'm done."
Had I been an actual parent, I don't know what decision I would've made. I can only hope I would NOT have caved in to the wishes of the crying one by getting the red cassette tapes back to her.
So although I won't pretend for a second that I know how hard parenting must be, or that I made the most responsible decision possible, I do think I have a heightened appreciation for those who do.