This afternoon, I carried a small handful of cookies into the yard, one—well, maybe two—for me and one for each of my three kids.
“Ooo!” squealed my 6-year-old son. “How many? How many?”
“When someone brings you a treat, you don’t say, ‘How many’!” I scolded. “You say, ‘Thank you.’”
“Thank you!” cried Griffin, grabbing his cookie and loping off across the grass.
As I watched him go, I found myself worrying that he might turn into “that guy”: the one avidly pumping the keg at fraternity parties and filling red Solo Cups, especially his own; the guy greedily reaching for the Fritos and another bong hit; the guy with a beer gut and a prematurely failing liver.
I recalled a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a friend, as we escorted our 2-year-olds around Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum.
“Can’t you just see that kid in college?” my friend asked, pointing to a chubby tyke in stripes.
“Yeah,” I said, “at the tail end of a beer bong.”
Fortunately, I have no evidence yet to suggest that any of my children—or that unsuspecting toddler, for that matter—will end up as vice-riddled adolescents. But I worry nonetheless. In fact, when my husband and I recently saw “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a film that explores the repercussions of paternal abandonment, I peered around Ryan Gosling’s heavily tatted biceps and got hung up somewhere inside the teenage party scene. “Oxy, anyone?” drawls a beefy youth, neglected by his father, tipping a fat bottle of pills into a circle of eager, outstretched hands.
My husband and I are both physically and emotionally present in our children’s lives, but I fret that our love and care will prove insufficient. I worry that our guidance will not protect our kids and prevent them from dipping their hands into cookie jars, so to speak—not just now when parenting occasionally feels like a death watch, but deep into the future when we’re no longer in the candy stores with them.
At a family party this weekend, our twins did get involved in a raucous game of indoor tag. But I’m fairly certain they didn’t imbibe any alcohol or pharmaceuticals. I know for sure that the most toxic substance our 2-year-old ingested was a handful of cherries still containing their pits.
Right now, as a family, we are all still innocent: our kids because of their tender ages and my husband and I because we don’t yet know what lies ahead. I realize our job is to direct our children through the obstacles of development before releasing them into the world. I certainly don’t want to hover, causing them to slip into a suspended adolescence, inhabiting, as a cartoon in this week’s New Yorker quips, “…that awkward age—not completely out of the house but no longer a tax deduction.”
And I know that anxiety is the curse of parenting. But sometimes I feel I can’t bear it.
Sometimes, I wish I could freeze our children in this moment, our twins still in kindergarten, our youngest nearing 3, circling the driveway on bikes, concocting senseless knock-knock jokes, sumo wresting in the grass. Sometimes, in the hour or so just before bedtime, the chores completed and our kids' needs mostly attended to for the day, I wish I could preserve our family in this untarnished place, our children playing mock Olympics in the yard—when the worst they're engaged in is trying to pole vault with plastic bats.