I was at the park the other day when I encountered a young couple who were having a terrible time making their youngsters mind. The children were happy and boisterous, and it was obvious that they were overcome with the absolute joy of life. The parents, on the other hand, looked like two blind chickens lost on an alligator farm. It struck a chord with me, and my heart went out to them. My wife and I raised four children, and I can tell you for a fact that we were definitely behind the learning curve on the first two. No one had ever told us what to expect. At least, no one had ever told us the truth, and we were sort of getting the feeling that what was happening before our very eyes was somehow our fault. But by the time the third one arrived, we had figured out that children are just different from adults, and if we wanted to understand them, then we had to learn what made them tick. So, to spare all of you fledgling parents out there the anguish we suffered, here are a few facts about minors that you really need to know.

Never assume that the rubber snake you are about to pick up is actually rubber and not the real thing. This is particularly true if there are any boys in your brood, because for some reason, misunderstandings seem to happen more frequently in the presence of young males. I don’t know why. Anyway, if I live to be one hundred, I will never forget my dear wife snatching up the four-foot-long black rubber snake that was one of my son’s favorite toys. Unfortunately, the boy and his rubber snake were upstairs in the bedroom at that point in time, and my wife and her snake were out in the yard. When it coiled around her hand, she performed a dance worthy of Broadway. Seeing her plight, I did what any husband in that situation would do and ran inside for the video camera, but by the time I got back, she had flung the offending reptile a long way down the block and was just standing there, hyperventilating, muttering, and gazing in my direction with a dangerous look in her eye, as if the unfortunate episode had somehow all been my fault just because I had been the one to buy the rubber snake.

The rule concerning picking up toys only after confirming that they are not breathing also holds true for rubber frogs, rubber mice, and rubber lizards. My children are grown now, and much time has passed, but as far as I know, it is still safe to reach for a rubber dinosaur. But this margin of safety may disappear as scientists get more and more creative with their genetic experimentations, so read the journals and always be ready for the worst.

When traveling, remember that an on-ramp leading to an interstate highway or turnpike will always produce in a child the immediate need to visit the bathroom. The fact that the kids may have just gone to the facilities has no bearing on this phenomenon. Researchers believe that the g-forces caused by the vehicle’s acceleration up to highway speeds coupled with all children’s innate need to drive their parents totally insane may be the causal factors. That and the ninety-six ounce soft drink you told them—in vain—not to buy.

Newly-bought clothing will always cause a child to launch into a growth spurt. New clothes also produce in children the uncontrollable desire to eat spaghetti, play tackle football, and finger paint. These urges seem to become stronger as the prices paid for the garments increase.

The “you’ll-sit-there-until-you-do-finish-your-vegetables” gambit does not work and should be retired from active service. It serves no purpose except to make all parents look bad. If you don’t believe me, consider the case of my youngest brother, now 42. He is still sitting there, even though the Brussels sprouts have long since biodegraded into something equally as disgusting, and the Vegas odds are 5 to 3 against him ever finishing them now.

There is an inverse correlation between the quantity of money spent on the vacation and the amount of time that will elapse before at least one of the children says, “I’m bored.” The larger the cash outlay for the excursion, the shorter the time interval before the outburst. On the infamous Atkins Washington, D.C., trip, I actually heard the words as I was backing the van out of the driveway. A smarter man would have immediately parked and gone back into the house. But nooo, I wanted to go see the Lincoln Memorial.

Scientists have now determined that a hormone secreted by and found only in children under the age of twelve actually makes the word don’t sound to them like the phrase you ought to. So when you say to your young one, “Don’t hit your sister,” they are actually hearing, “You ought to hit your sister.” And when you say, “Don’t climb that tree because it is dead and might fall,” the child hears, “You ought to climb that tree because it is dead and might fall.” I just wish this physiological anomaly had been discovered when my kids were young. It would have explained so much.

Getting the kids to take their medicine by saying “num-num-num” while tasting a bit of the dose is not an effective way to get them to cooperate with the treatment plan. They are sick, not stupid, and they know that the medication in the spoon tastes just as bad as it did the last time you gave it to them. And they know that you as a parent will lie to them for their own good. Additionally, this tactic can actually be dangerous if you, like me, are horribly allergic to all forms of penicillin, and the substance in the spoon is ampicillin, that chalky pink standard for ear infections worldwide. I am told that my daughter did get to feeling much better as she watched all the excitement that accompanied the arrival of the paramedics. I can’t swear to that myself, due to the fact that I was in a light coma at the time.

And finally, even though they have absolutely no conception of time, children will always ask for five more minutes, and they will request this extension no matter what they are doing. If they were being chased by a bear with a chainsaw and you hollered for them to come in, you would hear, “Please let us have five more minutes.” You must realize that the entreaty is a reflex response controlled by the autonomic nervous system, kind of like breathing or sneaking cookies, and that it can’t be helped. So be firm, exercise your parental responsibility, and don’t let the bear get the kids.

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.

  1. My experiance with the tasting medine bit included my projectile vomiting, throwing the pills down the toilet behind the vomit and promising the children that their doctor was toast.

  2. Thank you for this, it is hilarious. As a mom with four-year-old twin girls, I can add one more observation to yours. Children know what belongs to whom, no matter if the object in question looks exactly like another one, and they will fight for it, be it a paper clip, doll, birthday card or rubber band. And they love their “space.” It’s like living with two tiny Balkan states, quarreling over the probable loss of yards of land. I love the image of your poor wife and that snake, too!

  3. Is the penicillin story actually true? This IS hilarious.
    Children also get nicer to their parents when they want them to perform a service for them, such as making them breakfast or driving them to a store.

  4. Don O'Briant

    Great piece, Raymond! I am enjoying watching my daughter trying to deal with her sons (7 and 3) and the same problems I had with her and her brother — especially trying to get them to take medicine. Those guys can smell medicine before it’s even out of the bag. And forget about mixing it with juice.

  5. Great reading Raymond! Thanks! I’ve been there so can identify.
    Out oldest son did teach me and was the last child I ever told he had to ” sit there” until he ate his vegetables. I finally had to let him leave the table …to get married and have children of his own…

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