The truck was traveling more slowly than the rest of traffic in the erratic way of a distracted motorist. “Proud of my Eagle Scout,” the truck’s bumper sticker said.
I passed the truck and saw a man eating a sandwich while he drove.
A few minutes later, I saw the truck again. This time the driver was talking on a phone in one hand while using the other hand to pick something from his mouth, perhaps the sandwich he had been eating.
“Hmmm,” I thought, “he’s proud of his Eagle Scout, but would his Eagle Scout be proud of him at this moment of bad driving and poor manners?”
That’s one of the things about children. The driver probably would have been much more attentive if the Eagle Scout had been in the truck. He’d have been conscious of the need to set a good example, all the better to inspire those parental lectures that we so easily dispense, even if they make us sound just like our parents sounded to us.
Children often make us better people.
They come home from school talking about the value of safety belts and good diet, the dangers of tobacco, and information on other sensible stuff, not to mention juicy gossip about the neighbors.
Smart parents heed their children’s warnings. Once you’re responsible for a child, you need to dial back the partying, work hard to provide a good home and just generally act more wisely than you did B.C. — Before Children.
It feels virtuous, all this good, clean living. You’re a hero, putting Bandaids on boo-boos, buying the newest toy and making the kids laugh with your silly jokes. When they’re little, you’re their hero because you can fix almost any problem — or change the subject when they ask you a tough question.
Eventually, however, you fall from the pedestal. The kids get older and realize you can’t solve every problem, sometimes you’re just flat wrong, and you duck tough questions by changing the subject or dispensing those aforementioned lectures. At that point, there’s no chance they will ever put a “Proud of My Parent” bumper sticker on any vehicle.
But you soldier on and things get better over time. Your kids grow up and realize you did the best you could, and the statute of limitations on old complaints hopefully falls by the wayside. Then they become parents and get a taste of Fatherhood and Motherhood 101, and maybe they appreciate what you endured. Vindication is nice, but here’s what you really enjoy: the grandchildren.
This is a chance to have real fun with kids. You tickle them and help them learn to walk. You take them to zoos and buy them treats and take them home jazzed on a sugar high, giddy and fatigued. When you babysit, you’re supposed to put them to bed at 8 p.m., but you let them stay up until 9:30 because you’re having so much fun.
But you still must set a good example, even if you’re more relaxed now that the mortgage and the career are in the rear-view mirror.
So you eat vegetables and get your exercise to stay healthy, you worry about the schools, you take every opportunity to see the grandkids while you can. After all, they’re human smile-dispensers with their questions, jokes and observations.
And you drive more attentively than the guy with the “Proud of My Eagle Scout” bumper stickers. Grandparents want to make the good times last.