It seems like several centuries, at least, since my wife and I have experienced kids stampeding through the house, knocking over lamps, getting chocolate stains on the sofa and testing our endurance as parents-in-training.
When our four daughters were preschoolers, my wife, Sandy, and I believed we were going to be perfect parents, infinitely more accomplished, compassionate and patient than our parents ever were. Yes, that was our goal.
I remember the countless Lamaze classes she dragged me to so we could do natural childbirth when our first daughter was born. At the introductory lesson, the instructor asked the mothers-to-be why they were there, and my wife responded passionately — I still recall what she said because I took notes — that she “wanted nothing but the best for our child.”
And so week after week, we practiced panting and blowing our way to a well-balanced naturally born baby who would support us in old age as compensation for our commitment to this worthy cause.
Well, approximately two hours, 17 minutes and eight seconds into labor, Lamaze went by the wayside. Pant blow, pant blow just wasn’t cutting it and my wife asked the obstetrician for some “help.” Naturally I interrupted her and said, “Whoa! You made me go to all those classes, so you’re sticking with the program!”
But before I could finish the sentence, she stopped panting and blowing and, with a vicious growl that reminded me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, she lunged up from the bed to grab my throat. This was about the time I realized we were done panting and blowing.
That incident pretty much set the tone for the rest of our parenting career. All our ideals and high-minded concepts got tossed overboard and instead of “reasoning” with our kids we resorted to good old-fashioned yelling. Very loud yelling. I guess you could call it screaming.
The crazy thing is the louder we yelled, the less they seemed to listen. So I took all four daughters for hearing tests, and they passed — at which point my wife decided to yell even louder to get through to them. But the only thing that accomplished was that I developed tinnitus, i.e., ringing in my ears.
Now I know where we went wrong. A study of 8,500 children published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, which I regularly read to impress my wife, concluded that kids who sang songs, told stories and ate dinner with their families were “emotionally healthier and better adjusted socially” than, say, youngsters who had shouting matches and food fights with Mom and Dad.
So if I could do it over, I’d establish a daily routine where we’d all sing Broadway show tunes from Jersey Boys or maybe The Lion King.
Obviously I dropped the ball. Looking back, I probably should have been singing Rag Doll while my wife was in labor.
When I was a lad, before the invention of Twitter and microwavable breakfast sandwiches, we’d gather around the dinner table in Pine Rock Park, but the only singing we did was an occasional Italian favorite by Jerry Vale like O Sole Mio. Usually, my father turned on the TV to some war movie, and we ate our ravioli and meatballs to the accompaniment of heavy artillery fire, which, I suspect, he believed was conducive to good digestion.
Despite my upbringing, I still consider myself emotionally healthy and well-adjusted on most days — except when I hear artillery fire and reflexively dive for cover.
Being well-adjusted is something we all strive for, and from what I can determine, kids today are lacking in that area, either because they’re not singing enough show tunes or they’re watching too much bad TV like 2 Broke Girls and Two and a Half Nitwits, which corrodes whatever moral foundation their parents are struggling to give them.
As parents and grandparents, it’s time to turn this ship around. Grab your ukulele, grab your accordion, prepare a meal of macaroni and meatballs, turn off the TV and video games, tell a few stories about the old country, and start singing.
All together now … “O sole mio, sta ’nfronte a te!”
Joe Pisani may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.