Don’t Play Tennis with the Garden Vegetables…

by Diana Mavetz Petrich

Next to suffering through Advanced Algebra, being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know so much more AFTER my kids have grown up and have families of their own. Life doesn’t let you have any do overs.

The number one job as a parent is to shower these little wonders with love. It started the first time they were placed in my arms. The physical pain to get them here diminished once I looked at their little faces for the first time.

I heard years ago how the human mind has a tendency to forget pain and remember more good memories. I didn’t quite understand that statement then, but as I look back, I get it. I have a good “remembery” (memory) as my oldest said and I choose to focus more on good memories and the funny things my kids said and did.

When our boys were 12½ and 9, we made plans to golf nine-holes with two other couples. Each of the couples had two children so we left six kids between the ages of 9 to 12 at our house. Our oldest knew the rules and the golf course was less than five minutes away.

We finished golfing and upon arriving home, noticed smoke coming from our backyard. Our oldest started a small campfire in the fire ring at the end of our lot. I looked around the yard and saw shredded pieces of vegetables all over the lawn. We have a big yard and the entire lawn was strewn with remnants of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and spaghetti squash.

I did not know this vegetable carnage can be achieved by using a tennis racket. We give our kids guidelines and rules like: Wash your hands, don’t pick your nose, don’t play with matches, don’t hit your brother and don’t go near the water without a life vest. Never did it ever occur to me to tell my children, “Do not play tennis with the garden vegetables”.

First off, I was appalled that my son was playing with matches after all the warnings. We spent a lot of time up in Ely at my in-law’s place on Fall Lake and starting a sauna fire or an outside campfire was commonplace, however, it was WITH ADULT SUPERVISION.

I will never forget the look on the faces of the parents. I was horrified, embarrassed and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. I sent the boys in the house to shower and get ready for bed. We saved the “discussion” and vegetable carcass cleanup until the next morning. One thing I was told as I tucked them in was that ripe tomatoes don’t go as far as green ones do. I did not know this and made note of it.

In earlier years we consulted a psychologist and had the boys go through testing for ADD and ADHD. When we were reviewing the test results, Dr. Walter took off his glasses, leaned in and said, “Your boys have everything it takes to be successful adults.” He smiled and added, “That is if they can make it through their childhood without you killing them.” Through all the moments of frustration I’m happy to report they are alive and well today and both are successful in their chosen careers.

I took out David’s baby book to stroll down memory lane on his 18th birthday. I looked at the photo I included in his birth announcement of him on my lap with Nick looking on. I never noticed my left nipple was poking out of my nursing gown and I sent out 125 copies! The realization my exposed nipple was sent through the USPS to cities across the country left me laughing hysterically. At the time, I only was looking at the faces of my sweet babies. I better never run for public office as I’m sure nipple pictures live on in infamy.

I never realized you can cut down a tree with a hammer. Actually, you can bludgeon off the top of a tree by climbing to the top of it, sit on a branch and start pounding. Fortunately, the tree kept growing and sprouted a new crooked crown. It is alive today and stands huge and healthy at the end of our street.

A three-year-old ordered into a timeout, can invite imaginary friends over to play and there is nothing you can do about it. At his wedding, I added Jerry and Jesse to the list of our wedding guests with an asterisk stating they don’t eat much and can sit anywhere.

I learned one can suffer from a broken testicle bone. Grandpa Bernie was lying on the bed and Dr. Nick had his doctor kit open next to him. As Nick listened to his heart, Grandpa said, “Dr. Petrich, my heart goes pitter-patter, patter-pitter. What’s wrong with me?” Nick took off his lens-free red sunglass frames and said, “Mr. Petrich, I think you have a broken testicle bone”.

In the car on Christmas Eve in 1991, four-year-old David was along to deliver gifts to friends. On the way back, he asked when we were opening our gifts. I told him when we get home, we have to get dressed and go to Mass first. In a high-pitched whiny voice, I heard, “Why we do we have to go to church?” I told him it was Jesus’ birthday and Mass is a special birthday party for him.

I asked if he remembered the Easter holiday and how we went to church to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. He remembered and then asked, “Who killed Jesus anyway, robbers?” I explained how Jesus was hung on the cross with nails in his hands and feet, stabbed and wore a crown of thorns. He said, “That must have really hurt”. I told him I’m sure it did so that’s why we go to church to keep Jesus in our heart and in our mind. He looked at me, put his hand out flat and said, “Hey, I feel sorry for the guy, but I still don’t want to go to church.”

That same son was enrolled in Wednesday night religious education with his brother. It was an icy, freezing rain night and I-94 was a skating rink. There was a horrific accident right at the exit we take to get home. A small car slid completely under the tail of a big rig. The freeway was closed, and a Life Link helicopter was in the middle of the road.

I mumbled I hoped they didn’t get decapitated. He heard it and I was forced to explain what that meant. I told him the head gets separated from the body. He asked if they could just sew it back on. I said that wasn’t possible because of the brain stem. He asked what a brain stem was, and I was flailing. I said, “Ok, say you want to raise your arm in the air like this (I raised my arm). Your arm muscles are operated through nerves that go through your brain stem to the part of the brain that operates them. You will learn more about that when you take Biology in high school.” He raised his arm over his head and said, “I’m not taking that class, I already know how to do this.”

I was driving David to his first dental visit and along the way we passed a cemetery. He noticed a large white marble crucifix with Jesus hanging on it and a few statues of people kneeling at the base of the cross. He asked me, “How come they have all that Jesus crap there?” I said nothing and smothered a giggle that erupted.

Hamsters when buried should stay buried unless you have to show your friend your beloved hamster. “Sample” was buried in a shallow grave in a plastic bag. David brought her to me and asked why his hamster was “so juicy”. That was not easily answered except to grimace and tell him to, “Just put her back in the ground”.

Early Childhood Family Education was available, but being a working mother, I did not enroll in any of their offerings. Neighbors did and they used phrases that were new to me. “Use your inside voices” or “respectful playing is needed” and “that’s a danger”. The push and trend was to avoid saying “no” to your children. Holy cow were we missing the bus? I heard their father say to them to “knock it off or I’ll rip your lungs out”. Yikes – the neighbor’s kids were being sheltered from no and my boys were on the verge of losing some serious body parts.

You can sit in an “unrecliner” (recliner) and when it rains, use an “Unrebrella” (umbrella). Falling asleep on the bus on the second day of kindergarten was ok, “Because I was tired” and was found curled up on a seat in the bus garage.

Once our boys moved out, I felt a bit of sadness paired with a breeze of freedom. I actually walked up to Mike and extended my hand and said, “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Diana and I live here”. We laughed and laughed and stopped for a minute to realize we were empty nesters and I wondered what was coming next.

Happy moments, sad moments, skinned knee moments and tears all made up the years that went too fast and are now distant memories. The world was a much different place with no cell phones, texting and all of the big bad world of the internet. I am thankful we raised our boys in a little less scary world.

After all is said and done, I sport a few stretch marks and chalked up many miles from running after them physically, emotionally and mentally. We suffered through Minnesota graduation standards and if you don’t know what that is, trust me you are lucky.

Babies do not come with a manual for whatever model you are given so I cut out a prayer I read when I was pregnant. I took it to heart as I prepared for upcoming motherhood and I shared it at the end of this column.

I can’t believe my sons are pushing 37 and 33 and I still feel like I am 25. We didn’t do everything absolutely right. We taught them right from wrong as best as we knew. I think luck, a strong gene pool, perseverance and lots of love poured on them was key. They knew they were important and held a great place in our family.
I can confirm the good memories really are what I cherish, and they far outweigh the bad times. In retrospect, I learned so much and am truly thankful for them all.

A Parent’s Prayer
Oh God, please make me a better parent. It is the most important job in the world and one for which there is no prior training.

Help me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say and to respond to their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting and contradicting them. Help me to be as courteous to them as I would have them be to me.

Give me the courage to confess my sins against my children and the generosity of spirit to ask them for forgiveness when I know I have done wrong.

Forbid that I should laugh at their mistakes or revert to shame or ridicule. Oh Lord, reduce the meanness in me. May I cease to nag. When I am out of sorts, help me, please, to hold my tongue and keep my temper under control.

Blind me to the significant shortcomings of my children and help me see the good things they do. Give me a ready word of honest praise. Make me ever mindful that they need the nurturing that comes with encouragement and appreciation for their small successes.

Help me to remember that my children are only children so that I may not expect from them the judgment of adults. Allow me not to rob them of the opportunity to wait on themselves and to make their own mistakes.

Forbid that I should punish them as a means of ridding myself of anger and frustration. Help me to exercise reason and control.

May I grant them all the wishes that are sensible, and give me the courage to withhold a privilege when I know it might do them harm.

Make me fair and just, considerate and companionable so they will have genuine esteem, respect and affection for me. Make me fit to be loved and imitated by my children for this is the greatest compliment of all.

~Author Unknown~