From the time they were babies I spoke to them as though they were adults. Weirdly, this led to them calling David and me by our first names, which drew odd looks from people who didn’t know us, and questions from people who did.
“We didn’t correct them when they didn’t call us Mom and Dad,” I’d explain, puzzled that it seemed to matter to others when it didn’t matter to us. “Curtis was born thinking he was an adult. He believes he has an equal voice in our family and we never gave him reason to believe otherwise. Then Sam came along and copied Curtis.”
Telling them about things like danger and manners on an adult level led them to have an ease with adult concepts at a young age and to approach social and scholastic situations from a mature perspective. Both of them could read, add, and subtract before they were in kindergarten. At ages seven and five, they sat still during church and understood doctrines and liturgies that I didn’t grasp until I was much older. And because I didn’t talk down to them, and I read good literature to them on a daily basis, their reading ability was more advanced than that of their classmates. Also, because we traveled to so many interesting locations and came in contact with different cultures, they approached new places and people with a confidence I never had as a child.
My behavior modification tools were bribery and distraction. I punished Curtis only once during his childhood; well, actually he was only three and I was having a bad day. Christmas was coming soon, which in itself causes tension, and Curtis was being annoying—I can’t remember in what way—and I wrote a note to Santa saying that Curtis was being bad and didn’t deserve any Christmas presents, and I stuck it on the refrigerator with a magnet. Oh, the look on Curtis’s face. Eyes filled with tears. Heartbroken. I was immediately filled with shame, took the note down, and apologized. All these years later I still feel awful about it.
Sam got punished twice—once when he was holding my hand and stepped into the street from between cars, which led to a slap on the bottom and a brief but passionate lecture about why I was holding his hand in the first place. And he was punished again when he was four and colored on a patch of wall in the upstairs hallway of our house outside London. Granted, I hadn’t ever told him not to, but he should have known better. I gave him a bucket of soapy water and a washcloth and told him to clean it up. Thirty minutes later when I returned to check on him, he was in tears because the crayon wasn’t coming off. I gave him a hug and called a painter.
That’s it. That’s as difficult as my two sons ever got.
Once the boys and I were having a playground adventure when we witnessed a mother going off on her kid, who was probably right between Curtis and Sam’s ages. So, let’s say five years old.
“Stupid boy!” she shouted. “You stupid, stupid child! Look what you’ve done!”
The three of us looked on. The boy hung his head while his mother grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him again and again, hollering into his face the whole time about how bad he was. Apparently he’d gotten a grass stain on his trousers.
I never, never would’ve spoken to one of my children that way. I never told them that they were anything but wonderful, and I never touched them with any feeling other than affection. When they witnessed this screeching woman, did they grasp how lucky they were to have me? I don’t know if they did, but I sure did.
Though Curtis and Sam had different personalities, there was very little conflict. They seemed to like each other, though it would be naïve to think they got along all the time; in fact, Sam, as an adult, told me that during his childhood he occasionally felt bullied by Curtis. Honey, I thought when he told me this, you don’t know what being bullied is. My older sister and I fought constantly, roughly, violently. She once delivered a karate chop to my throat, which made me realize that she seriously wanted me dead. Hair-pulling, kicking, scratching, mostly hitting. Our parents didn’t have a clue. (Let me add, just in case I’ve ruffled feelings, that we were children and we grew out of it. We even like each other now.)
David and I enjoyed every minute with our kids. Being parents has been our most profound accomplishment. Things that I miss from when the boys were young:
Every day when Curtis got home from school, he would flop on the couch and tell me literally every detail about what happened from the first bell to the last. He did this from first grade all the way through high school, making time even after he got his driver’s license and joined the tennis team.
Sam was too busy to be as communicative as Curtis. He was social and every one of his days was packed with friends and projects. From a young age he possessed impressive insight; and as early as when he was in first grade, he was the one I turned to when I had a problem understanding someone else’s point of view, or when I needed advice about how to handle a tricky situation.
We’re proud of the men our boys have become.
Curtis, a lawyer, recently married another lawyer, a complex woman with a sense of humor that perfectly complements his. We see them often and are happy to have them near so we can enjoy boating on the lake with them or sharing the occasional meal. Curtis does a good job of keeping in touch, and though we’re in Marble Falls and he’s in Houston, we know what's going on with him most days.
Sam is in Beijing, building his own company, Mantra. Ambitious, dedicated, and still using his gift of perception as he navigates his way through the business world, he was recently featured in China’s GQ magazine and was interviewed in Mandarin on the Chinese Voice of America. So that’s cool.
Happy Mother’s Day!