Children of My Youth

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” Psalm 127:3-5 NIV

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to marry and have children.  I am not going to try and explain this, but it is true.  Sure, there was a time – briefly, during my very cynical teen years – when I thought that bringing children into this terrible world was not a good idea, but it passed fairly quickly.

When I look back on the times that I grew up in – the fifties and sixties – I could wonder why anyone would decide to have children. In grade school, we had periodic nuclear attack drills. We were taken to the school basement, lined along the wall, and taught to sit on the floor with our knees up and our head between our legs, just in case someone decided to drop the big one on our little town in New Jersey. Walking to and from school, we were taught to identify the signs posted to indicate a nuclear shelter in case the attack sirens went off on the way.

Then, of course, there was the war in Viet Nam, the draft, and the sometimes violent protests against it. There was the Civil Rights movement – a non-violent movement that had deadly violence perpetuated against it on a regular basis. There was Jim Crow and there were race riots, there were escalating crime rates, the breakdown of societal institutions, and the abandonment of accepted mores and conventions.

We did not have global warming then, but scientists did warn us of global cooling. They assured us that it would not be long before the earth would be just a giant frozen snowball, silently circling a dimming, dying sun. Fortunately this hasn’t come to pass, yet.

I suppose these things bothered me as much as anyone else, as did certain aspects of my personal life growing up. So what happened? What was the source of my optimism in the face of what I just described?

I grew up in a small town with good schools and committed teachers. I loved my First Grade teacher and she took a liking to me for some reason, even though I could be, errr, well, difficult at times. She was a “shore” person, and she had us draw pictures of shells and the beach and ocean, and she would hang them up around the classroom. She had her own collection of real shells in the classroom. We learned all about the shore: the birds, the fish, and the shells.

When we were old enough, my parents enrolled my brother and me in the Cub Scouts. There were pack meetings and troop meetings, merit badges, talent shows, and one year we went to the New York World’s Fair. My favorite, though, was the Soap Box Derby.

We were each given a small block of wood, four wheels with axles, and not much else. We had to shape the wood into a mini race car and then, on the scheduled day, we would “race” the cars on a gravity track in the church basement where we met. Mine never won, but I loved carving and painting my car and, for a long time, I wanted to be a race car driver.

And then there was Little League, bitter sweet Little League. I enjoyed playing sports, but as a young child I was not very good. When I was older I was actually a decent player in most sports, but not as a young child. My first year at the age of seven, I was cut. Yes, not everyone made a team and, in those days, you had to try out. Even if selected, you could still be cut before the season started.

The next year they decided not to cut anyone, but they created the “D” Minors: the league where they put all the kids who would have been cut the previous year. I made the “D” Minors. I would have none of it.

Finally, on my third tryout, I made the A Minors. Ok, it wasn’t the Majors, but we got real baseball uniforms, and we got to play on the Major League field with the fence around it. Not too shabby, and I had a great coach. He was an older man whose youngest son was in his last year. The thing I remember about him the most was his kindness. You could tell he really cared about the kids, not just his own. He just wanted to teach us baseball.

The world, of course, is still a mess; some would say getting even messier. I think, though, it is an odd sort of conceit of every generation that things were never as bad as they are now. Or maybe not a conceit, but an excuse?

Anyway, back to the story. The first hurdle was finding a woman with which to have children. Duh! This search was made more difficult by the fact that I had a fairly low opinion of myself and was generally shy around females. So, while in the back of my mind was this desire to marry, in my conscious mind I was more oriented around just “having fun.”

That is, until I hit my mid-twenties. I had served three years in the Army and, after getting out, began attending college on the GI Bill; I was doing pretty well. Not great, but pretty well. I started thinking hey, maybe I wasn’t such a bad “catch” after all. Maybe I did have something to offer a young lady besides a pretty face.

Right at this time, my future wife literally walked into my life. To make a long story shorter, we met, two months later were engaged, nine months after that were married, and ten months after that we had our first daughter. I say our first because, after that, we would have two more. Daughters.

I think one of the problems of our culture is that we tend to place kids in the expense column rather than in the asset column. This seems perfectly reasonable, given how costly it is to raise children, but is this the most productive way to look at it in the long run?

Let me continue by first affirming that it is costly to properly raise children, but the biggest costs are not counted by money. By far the greatest cost is time: time spent supporting them, caring for them, playing with them; time spent teaching them, and the list goes on – and on.

The next greatest cost is emotional wear and tear. When your children hurt, you hurt; when your children cry, you cry; when they fail, your feelings of failure and inadequacy can often surpass theirs.

There are physical costs. Women can rightly bear claim to the greater costs here, but men also suffer physically from the hardships of raising children. Long hours; going days, weeks, even months with little sleep, eating less, and less healthy, so your children can eat more, and more healthy; physical, mental, and emotional exertion. All of these things can take a physical toll on both parents.

And then there are the financial costs. Money for food, for shelter, for doctors; money for education, money for weddings, money, money, money, money, money! Finally, when the last one finishes college, or gets married, or finishes college and gets married, you think at last, some financial freedom and flexibility! Well, that could be the subject of another post, so I’ll just say “Think again!” and leave it at that.

Had I known enough to count all of these costs before I had children, I may have had second thoughts. Thank G-d I didn’t, because what I found is that the rewards are much greater! But, what are the rewards?

Here, I could say that well, having children gives meaning and purpose to life, which is true. But G-d has many ways of giving meaning and purpose to our lives without children, so what makes children unique in this respect? Are they unique?

I believe they are. Unlike anything else in life, children are a reflection of their parents. As a writer, I recognize that my writing is a reflection of me, of who I am, of what I stand for and believe. How much more so, though, are children? Same blood and genetic makeup of the parents. The values they present to others are a reflection of the parent’s values that were instilled in them.

If your children make a good impression, that has value in this world. People feel that they can know you through your children. It is one thing to try to tell someone that you are trustworthy, for example. But if your children prove themselves to be trustworthy, well, as they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree. And it does have value.

As my wife and I raised our three daughters, I began to realize this, the value of children, but only slowly. It was not a sudden epiphany, “Aha, children have value”, but a slow realization over time. And the value isn’t always so obvious.

When my oldest daughter was ten, she decided she wanted to play rec league field hockey. This is great, I thought. Our town has a strong women’s sports tradition, being one of the first public schools in the country to offer girls field hockey as an extracurricular sport. My sister played both field hockey and lacrosse years ago in the high school. Yes, I encouraged, play field hockey!

This great idea started to turn on me at the end of the first season. My daughter came home from practice and told me that next year was her coaches last year, and he wanted me to come out and help coach. My daughter was a good player and her coach had seen me out at the games, and I had two younger daughters… sooo of course he thought, what better candidate was there than me to take over the team when he was gone.

Well, this was quite a bit more than I bargained for. I just wasn’t the type of person to do this: get out there with other people’s kids, coach a team, take that kind of risk of publicly humiliating myself. But I couldn’t look my daughter in the eyes and say no, so I made some vague commitment with the hope that, by next year, the whole thing would be forgotten.

Of course it wasn’t forgotten, and the next year I took some books out of the library and began to read up on field hockey. I helped coach that year, took over the team the following year, and ended up coaching eleven years in the rec league.

But it gets even better. My kids were good players, one thing led to another, and my wife and I started a tournament club team, taking our kids and their friends to local, regional, and national tournaments, even winning a National Field Hockey Festival championship!

In addition, our children had some musical and vocal talent, so we became involved in these areas, helping to start a local performing arts support group, an orchestra group, and more.

Now, my point here is not to brag about my kids, or about the things my wife and I did in the community in support of our kids, but it is to point out the value of children. I am definitely not a joiner. That first year coaching rec league I practically had to be dragged out to the field by my daughter, myself kicking and screaming (well, almost). It was just not in me to do those things!

So why did I do those things? The simple answer is love! I loved my children and, when it came to things that I knew were good for them, I just could not say no. And of course my spouse was, and is, a great motivator, if you know what I mean. “Hon, you have to coach the team. She’s so excited! She’ll be so disappointed if you don’t.”

So as my children grew, I also grew with them. I did things out of love for them that I otherwise would have never done. I became a better person for it, I think, and have had a very interesting and rewarding life that I otherwise never would have had.

I also realized why I wanted to have children all my life. I said earlier that I could not explain this, but I can, at least in part. I wanted to have children because I loved my children. Now, you might ask, how could I love my children even before I had them? That part I don’t really know, but I did, and do, love my children.

And now my grandchildren. Oh my, the grandchildren. Seems like I’ve always loved them too.