Now I Get It by Janet Konttinen

I remember seeing a kid in the grocery store with dirt and old food on his face, wearing a filthy T-shirt, barefoot and eating a two-pound candy bar. I couldn’t imagine why his mother had brought him to the store looking that way and why she would give him a candy bar at 10 in the morning. That was before I had four kids. Now I know why.

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His face was dirty because he was going through a phase in which having his face wiped seemed worse to him than getting beaten. She chose not to do either. His T-shirt was filthy because it was his favourite one. He wore it every day and every night. Just as they were walking out the door to go to the store, he had pulled it out of the clothes hamper and surprised her with it at the front door. By then she didn’t dare risk interrupting the momentum she’d built toward the car by going back into the house to get a clean one. He had shoes on when they left for the store, but he took them of in the car and threw one out the window on the freeway. She was relieved it was the left shoe, since he’d thrown a right one out the window the week before. He was eating a big candy bar because she had promised him he could pick out his own treat at the store if he didn’t throw the cat into the pool for a whole week. She was desperate because it was the neighbour’s cat and couldn’t swim.

I used to think that my children would eat only fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and free-range chicken. Now I look forward to our semiweekly luncheon at McDonald’s. I have acquired a genuine love for secret sauce, and relish the fact that my kids can’t do anything wrong there. This includes drenching their french fries in ketchup, then spitting their cola out on top of the fries, moulding the whole mess into a big ball, then throwing it at one another.

Before, when I would see a woman wheeling a kid around in a dirty stroller, I’d ask myself, “Why did she give birth to that child if she didn’t plan to keep the stroller clean?” The other week at my annual stroller washing party, I found ground cover growing in the storage compartment of one of mine.

When I would see children throwing fits in public, I would wonder why the parents didn’t just tie the kids’ arms and legs together and put them in the trunk of the car until they had finished shopping. Now I know it’s because they left the rope at home.

When several children were screaming in an airplane, I’d wonder why there wasn’t a separate airplane, and a separate planet, for kids. I know now that their parents wish the same thing and that they had to take the kids to attend the family reunion at Aunt Lois’ so they could see Uncle George before he kicked the bucket.

The kids were crying because their parents wouldn’t let them eat the headset, stick their fingers in the ear of the lady in front of them, or press the attendant call button for the 100th time. The parents were preoccupied with trying to decide where to change the really smelly diaper. Should they change it on the seat next to the couple on their honeymoon, or on the floor in the back where five perky flight attendants were playing bumper cars with those one-ton food carts? Forget the bathroom. They were designed to hold one person with short legs. The parents feared that the smell would cause a panicky passenger to pull open the emergency exit in order to trigger the release of the oxygen masks, and they’d all be sucked out of the airplane.

Now when I see a little girl wearing cowboy boots on the wrong feet, a pink bathing suit on backward and Army helmet, I think “She IS absolutely sure that her shoes are on the right feet, and she likes the way the helmet looks with the swimsuit. And, no, she doesn’t want to wear a jacket because ‘she likes to be cold’. She is happy.”

From Janet Konttinen, San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1997.

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