The key: Act a little less natural

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In an effort to offset some of the eventual bad habits our children might learn from us, such as muttering unkind and possibly impure thoughts under their breaths while driving, or wearing white shoes after Labor Day, we’re trying to raise them to become productive and law-abiding citizens of the world.

As a value-added option, we have also spent an inordinate amount of the last six years teaching them to ask for things nicely by saying, “What do you say? Say please! SAY PLEASE!” until my husband and I sounded completely demented.

It’s the least we could offer humanity.

Scarred. Obedience and subservience. These are two of the watchwords that have molded most of us into the level-headed adults that we pose as today.

However, in this age of boy wizards, cartoon networks, mp3 players and computers that only kids can program, children have somehow gained the upper hand.

We feel that as parents we must attempt to redress the balance with a selection of outrageous lies that can be used in almost every occasion.

In later years, your child will thank you for keeping him or her on the straight and narrow.

Tricks. They will also be simultaneously and frequently bemused and in a constant state of terror at the lengths you went to emotionally scar them straight.

Who doesn’t recall the admonition that if you hung your hand out the car window it would be blown clear off and, quite possibly, smack right into the windshield of the car behind you?

How about “cross your eyes and they’ll stick that way?”

As an added bonus, if we can enjoy a laugh or two at their expense for buying this stuff, then surely everyone wins?

Now, in addition to reaching back into our files from our own childhoods to dust off those tried and true parenting tricks, we all have that one household that provides the perfect parenting role model if only for showing us what we absolutely do not want to do.

This is the house that always has a sort of suburban recreation of Lord of the Flies going on, except with a little more cannibalism.

Superiority. Clearly, the purpose of that household is to make us feel effortlessly superior about our own progress in the parenting front – no matter how mundane this may be.

I need only to turn on the news or read of some parent who went to Vegas for a week and left their children home alone with only the dog for company (and a jumbo sized bag of kibble for the dog but, curiously, no food for the children) in order to feel much, much better about myself as a mother.

So I didn’t remember to do all 77 flashcards with my child last night? So sue me!

Finding the law. Nonetheless, you can be winging along feeling pretty good about the whole parenting deal and, quite frankly, getting a swelled head when someone with some semblance of authority – say a teacher, librarian, or an elderly person anywhere – tells you what a great job you are doing with your kids when, quick as a wink, you get the parenting smackdown.

In my case, I found the law and the law lost.

Bundles of Joy Part I and II and I were at a gas station parked at the pump and waiting for the total to exceed my credit limit (that’s how you know the tank is full) when a police patrol car parked at the next pump over.

Bundle of Joy Part II, she of the 6-year-old pixie-faced blonde sweetness and heartwarming innocence, piped up in her sing-songy little girl voice: “Look mommy! A policeman!”

I admit it, I beamed.

Credit. I was remembering (and taking immediate and total credit for) all the years we had practiced “Policemen are our friends!” backed up by Barney, Sesame Street, and at least two consecutive years of preschool field trips to the local precinct.

Aaah … sweet moment of victory, my child was showing respect for the law.

In the next breath, even as my head was dangerously close to bursting with pride, she turned straight ahead in her seat, sat up stick straight and in utter seriousness muttered: “Act natural!”

Apparently, I am doing a fine job with these children.

It must be their father who takes them on ride-alongs to rob banks and knock off liquor stores? Act natural indeed!

Is there a probationary program for six-year olds?

More or less. OK, I get it now. No matter how perfectly we think we are doing in this parenting game, it’s all really just hit or miss.

Sometimes a child’s better, more civilized, nature is fully and firmly on display and sometimes, well, it’s on the lam.

All we can hope is that we keep muddling along and, in the end, they grow up and act a little more civilized and little less natural.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt acts a little more natural than most would prefer. She welcomes comments c/o kfs@epohi.com; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt)

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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