Spring is in the air (making room for loved ones)

Some say it happens around age 8; others attest the change happens exactly at puberty and the case can be made that it’s different for girls and boys. But the fact remains that, for most parents and kids, the day will come when that shining light of parental greatness and omniscience dims precipitously. In worst-case scenarios, it goes out completely, and those kids who fail to understand why their folks should exist at all have, well, a difficult time of it.

There may be no greater factor in knocking parents off our (well-earned, damnit!) pedestals than the introduction of a boyfriend or girlfriend – what my wife calls “the loved ones.” For our kindergartener, his infatuation with a new little girl every other week or so is cute, and generally only mildly disruptive (like the day he swooned from one end of the house to the other professing his love for Chloe; next week it was Ivy). But for the older kids, things are a bit more serious. The emotions are more long-lasting and adult-like, even as they are exacerbated by the teen drama coefficient (which is roughly a multiplier of 10); and the real-world consequences dictated by birds and bees.

It can make any parent long for the halcyon days of toddlerhood, when the biggest concern was the location of the binky and how to get the Cheetoh marks off the wall.

I have found myself to be remarkably hypocritical when it comes to how I deal with boyfriends versus girlfriends as they enter our lives. As my father did before me – and as fathers going back to ancient times did – I view boyfriends through slanted, suspicious eyes, oblivious to the radiant nimbus of sainthood glowing above their head, which my daughter sees so clearly and assures me is there 24/7. We dads knew what we were like at that age, we reason, and we know this young lad is only thinly masking his lust with the exaggerated interest in the social studies homework.

For the boys, though, I’m mostly a cheerleader. I get angry when girls disappoint them, give them advice on how to woo them (for all the good it will do) and view the birds-and-the-bees issue as worthy goals that just need to be approached with caution.

In the interest of self-preservation, I won’t say more in a public column. Suffice to say that all parents will deal with these issues at some point roughly 15 years after the blessed angels emerged from the womb. Even if it is done with good communication, honesty and real information, it won’t be easy. Often, I find myself wishing for some kind of time machine, so I can get the boys back interested in their Harry Potter trading cards and the girl fascinated, once again, by the Polly Pockets.

But I’m getting better. Rather than avoid them, as I started out doing, I’ve been inviting the loved ones over for dinner and getting to know them better. I try hard not to say anything that would mortify Austin or Kaylie, and leave it to Jen to remind the group that Austin was once known as “Mr. Boggy” for his perpetually wet diaper; or that Kaylie once thought unicorns were pretty much the coolest thing ever.

It is a long road between birth and, say, college. I laugh when people say things like changing diapers must surely be the hardest or worst thing about parenting. Hell, that’s the easy stuff. It’s when they start to think for themselves that it gets hard. And when the girlfriends and boyfriends come sniffing around, well, hold onto your hat, because you just got stuck in the last car of the roller coaster.



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