Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2001 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

The Next Stage of Parenting -- I'VE always been rotten at imagining the next stage of parenting.

When I was pregnant with our first, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to actually have a baby in my arms. I thought most newborns looked like E.T., had no measurable skills other than shrieking and crying, and came in one standard model: Perma Wet. Tell me that wasn't legitimate reason for concern.

Once our baby arrived, I discovered infants came equipped with a wide array of tricks. They could bat their big saucer eyes, make that wonderful cooing sound, and melt your heart with the grasp of a pinkie. They also worked that nighttime magic where they slept curled in a corner of the crib, looking so angelic that you felt blessed to have spit-up on your shoulder and the scent of Baby Wipes lingering on your hands.

Once I realized infants were manageable, I looked at toddlers and thought, you know, those little people look nasty. Putting everything in their mouths, trying to open the cupboard doors under the kitchen sink, swinging the cat by the tail and splashing around in the toilet. You can't take your eyes off them for a minute. Toddlerhood can't be good.

Then I discovered toddlers came with smiles that would light up a room, peanut-butter kisses, dandelion bouquets, and irresistible charm when they plopped their padded bottoms into your lap or outstretched short chubby arms and said, "Ho'd me," Toddlers were terrific.

Yes, it was the preschool crowd that spelled trouble. Loud. Pushy. A little too territorial for my taste. Stingy with those little Matchbox cars and picky about whether their sandwiches were cut in half on the diagonal. Racing their Big Wheels up and down the sidewalk, they might as well have been wearing T-shirts emblazoned, "Hell's Angels: The Next Generation." As it turned out, preschoolers weren't half bad. They were curious, observant, loved to sing and had an appetite for learning. I couldn't have been more wrong about the preschool set. Elementary kids were the ones that spelled danger.

They'd posture at the corner bus stop, boys fixing the laces in their tennis shoes, naming the make and model of passing cars, girls standing off to one side, completely anti-social. Exactly what did they have in those huge lunch boxes and backpacks anyway? What I wouldn't give for an X-ray machine.

Elementary kids turned out to be a blast. Through their leading, we rediscovered pizza, parks, board games and weekend camping. The elementary phase was fine; I then imagined that middle school would be the hill on which we'd die.

I'd heard the talk. Nobody teaches middle school unless they have a calling for pain. The kids were awkward, gangly, sassy and in the throes of puberty. How would we survive?

How? With a smile. The best-kept secret about middle school kids is their creativity and sense of humor. What other age group would think to call the toll-free number for a phonics reading program and say, "My name Bob. Me learn read." Middle school kids were great, it was high school that looked intimidating. Full-fledged teens. Did we really want to go there?

True, there are days you bang your head against the wall because it feels so good when you quit, but by-in-large teenagers are pretty - Hey, wait a minute. You've got your own imagination. It wouldn't be right to spoil all the surprises.

JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman