Other than 42…
Consistent: (adj.) 1. congruous; in accord. 2. conforming regularly to the same pattern, habits, principles, etc. —Webster’s Handy College Dictionary
When we became parents, everyone from Dr. Spock to great-grandmom told us, “Children need consistency.”
But after becoming a parent, I decided that consistency belongs on my list of Things They Lied About, right between “A good personality is more important than good looks,” and “Chocolate gives you zits.”
What children really need, of course, are parents with bags of money. When is the last time you heard:
- Childrens’ Shoe Salesperson: “Here are your kid’s sneakers which will fit him for less than three months and cost more than his parents’ entire wardrobe, but at least they’re consistent. They’re also available in accord, if you go for the top of the line.”
- Pharmacist: “And here are your pediatric antibiotics which cost as much as the operating budget of Air Force One because they’re made of powdered plutonium. Will that be cash, check, or consistency?”
Years from now, do you think your kids will want to say, “I’m President of the United States today because Mom and Dad conform regularly to the same pattern, habits, principles, etc.?” Heck, no. They’d much rather say, “I’m President because Mom and Dad bankrolled my campaigns and hushed up that incident with the shoehorn and the Swedish bikini team.”
It’s not as though anybody expects kids to be consistent:
- Kid #1: “Let’s play with Barb—she’s just so congruous, and in accord.”
- Kid #2: “But Susie has Nintendo.”
- Kid #1: “Barb who?”
Of course, kids have myths too. Anything a kid doesn’t like is “not fair.” (This attitude goes a long way toward explaining the National Rifle Association and the current US and UK governments. ) Therefore, as a public service to parents whose preschoolers complain that green vegetables/ the continued existence of siblings/ life is “not fair,” I am offering some time-tested parental responses:
- “Because I want to give you something to tell your therapist in twenty years.”
- “Get real. Because I’m four times bigger than you.”
- (My personal favorite) “Because I’m the mother and I say so.”
Another myth new parents hear is that children learn by asking, “Why?” When our first child learned to talk, the Hub and I agreed that whenever she asked, “Why?,” we would do our best to give her the complete answer to her question, even if we had to make it up. We addressed:
- Science. Why do cars go? (No seriously. I—a practicing English major who got my science credits via a course called Rocks for Jocks—explained internal combustion engines. My father, the chemical engineer, cried.)
- Physics. Why is the sky blue? (Rayleigh scattering. After, of course, color was invented halfway through Wizard of Oz.)
- Origin of Life. Why do stars twinkle? (Yes, I did try to explain the Big Bang, even though she wanted to know if that came before or after Santa or cowboys.)
- Metaphysics. Why is her fish, Goldie, an angel now that she’s in the cat’s stomach? (Okay, this one I totally punted: apparently, goldfish were urgently needed for heavenly ponds…)
- Fashion. Why don’t boy ballerinas wear tutus? (They can borrow one of your dozen spare ones. Cue a scream of “mine” and mad dash to gather up all tutus.)
- Anatomy. Who has what where, and why? (Yes, that was me—the parent who taught her child to perfectly pronounce the proper names for all the naughty bits. I’m really sorry.)
Ours is not to question why—if we’re apes.
Sister Mary Fifth Grade Science told us that the ability to ask “Why?” is what separates us from the apes. That and Kleenex.
You may have noticed the mother ape carries the baby ape everywhere she goes, even though the baby wipes its runny little nose all over her. Well, eons ago during the coffee break of time, a particularly snotty baby ape started asking “Why are bananas yellow?”, “Why does Daddy beat on his chest?”, “Why do we need to eat the lice we pick off each other?” and so on.
Finally, the mother ape couldn’t take it anymore. She set down the baby ape, invented preschool, and went back to work. The baby ape stood erect, used its opposable thumbs to blow its nose on a leaf, and went off and invented the wheel. But the baby ape’s descendants continued to torture their parents. “Why can’t I use Daddy’s club?” “Why can’t I use Daddy’s long-bow?” Why can’t I use Daddy’s nuclear warhead?”
At last the Hub and I figured out that children pick up all their actual working knowledge in the streets. They only ask “Why?” to make parents feel inadequate or, eventually, homicidal.
The day arrived when our second child turned her little face to us and asked, “Why?”
BECAUSE!” we snapped back. Consistently.