Maybe it’s the upcoming birthday that’s got me thinking. Actually, it’s not so much the fact that I’m having one as it is the number that’s attached.
Some folks would say it’s no coincidence that this nut was shaken from the family tree the same month that we celebrate our nation’s independence. With (you know this) boomers and sparklers and razzmatazz. Only on rare occasions when the moon is full and the wind is blowing from a certain direction will I admit to any such tendencies. Then I only go so far as a, “Yup, there’s some red in my hair,” and, “So I’m a little excitable a couple of times a year. Who isn’t?”
If I were hung up on numbers, this one would go down sideways. Let’s say I head for those eternal hills at the age of 92. This would be the halfway mark here. However, if I check out at, say, 75, then I blew past halfway some years back, and I’d better get a-crackin’. There’s a jolt of reality to go with your morning coffee. Need some sugar?
Anyway, with all this rolling around in my fertile brain, I realize there’s a lot I know now that I didn’t know when I was a young sprout. Back when I was a girl in braids playing Kick the Can with cousins, I thought kids had it tough. Teachers and parents lived on Easy Street. That’s what I thought.
With one parental edict, they could make you scrub the toilets. Sweep the floor. Make your bed. Clean your room. Weed the garden. Shoot, your mother could even send you down into the dungeon (i.e., the basement) and make you iron shirts. That’s what one mom I know did to her kid.
Those teachers? They could, if they wanted, make your life a living—pit of misery. A couple of scribbles on the chalkboard, and there went your weekend. In fact, they could, on days when the moon wasn’t full and the wind was blowing from, well, any direction, introduce a new level of torture. They could assign you extra math.
The kid I know (the one whose mom went all slave driver on her) hated math. Hated numbers. The fact that she used to get mad when her third-grade teacher said, “Take out your math books,” did not bode well for her high-school career and may or may not have had something to do with the red in her hair.
Algebra with all its Xs and Ys and incomprehensible equations gave me—uh, her fits. It ground her gears, having to calculate what time two trains would meet if one left Cleveland heading west, going 60, and the other one left Denver headed east, going 40. What in the world did it matter?
In her extremity, she’d turn to prayer. A lightning bolt. An earthquake or two. A real selective team of burglars, all targeting the district’s math books. Was that too much to ask? Apparently it was, for her prayers went unanswered, leaving her—well, me to turn in that homework.
Yes, for all I could see back then, parents and teachers had all the power, and they sure weren’t scared to use it. I could see that, too.
Funny, isn’t it, how life turns out? A pair of blue eyes does you in, and you marry a fellow who goes to school for accounting. That’s math.
You grow up, and you’re a teacher. For one year, you teach two grades, third and fourth, with, you note in dismay, a preponderance of boys. Little do you know that one day, you’ll be teaching your own preponderance of boys, only it’s for much longer than nine months, and there are no summer breaks.
Little do you know, too, when you start the parenting gig that you could’ve opted for puppies. About two kids in, this dawns on you. By then, you’ve burned your bridges, and there’s no turning back. You’ve been suckered (again) by the blue, blue eyes.
Yes, it sure is funny how life turns out. By the time you’re the one behind the desk and you’re the one assigning the chores, you realize it’s nothing like you thought. As you clean your floors, cook the dinner and iron shirts for all of those not-puppies, you know two things: It’s much harder than it looks, and you lived to tell about it.
That’s what you try to teach the Israelites who murmur against the cruelty of their desert existence. “This is much harder than it looks,” you chirp, handing them their work list. “And you’ll live to tell about it.”
It’s called the circle of life. They won’t believe you, either. Not until they’re busy raising their own little litter. You’ll be vindicated then as the cycle starts over, just like your parents were.
Rhonda Schrock salutes her parents for all the “cruel work” they made her do. She is grateful, even though she still doesn’t know what time those two trains will pass in the night. She says she still doesn’t care.