Baby boomers can be strange creatures – especially as parents. We spend all of our time trying to make life easier and more comfortable for our baby Boomlettes, and then we moan and complain when they don't seem to appreciate how easy and comfortable their lives are.
I know I'm guilty of it. I remember lecturing my then-soon-to-be-married daughter about the virtues of newlyweds starting their lives together living on a shoestring, and how her mom and I furnished our first little apartment with refinished furniture and cast-off dinnerware from our respective parents' basements. And then I went out and bought her a brand new dining room set and some cool-looking everyday dishes for Christmas.
Thankfully, I married Anita, the rare boomer who believes that our Boomlettes need to have some of the same experiences that we had – even the occasional painful kind – so that they can learn the same important lessons we learned at Hard Knock U.
Some years ago Anita took our two youngest children, Elizabeth and Jon, to buy winter boots. Jon selected some boots with pictures of Godzilla all over them, and Elizabeth decided on a pair that paid pink homage to Barbie.
"Are you sure you don't want something less little girl-ish?" Anita asked Elizabeth.
"I like Barbie, and I think the boots are cute," Elizabeth said.
"So do I," Anita said. "But some of your friends at school may not agree."
One of the things I loved most about Elizabeth at that age was she wasn't too anxious to grow up. She was content to be a little girl, and wasn't rushing headlong into pre-adolescence. But Anita understood that many of Elizabeth's fourth-grade friends viewed themselves as mini-teenagers, and decried anything that seemed.. you know.. childish. And they would not be favorably disposed toward one of their peers wearing pink Barbie boots – cute or not.
"I don't care," Elizabeth said. "I like them."
So Anita purchased the boots and braced herself for the inevitable, which happened a few days later when Elizabeth came home crying because some of the kids at school teased her about her "baby Barbie boots." I handled it in my usual mature, sophisticated manner: "Who are these miscreants, and how much rope will we need to hang them all from our apple trees?"
It took a while, but eventually Anita convinced me that teasing is not a capital offense.
"So," I asked her later, "when are we going to get Elizabeth some new boots?"
"We're not," Anita said. "But the other kids are teasing her."
"She'll survive," Anita assured me.
"But why should she go through that if she doesn't have to? It's just a pair of boots."
Anita gave me that kind, loving, I-know-there-was-a-reason-why-I-married-you-but-I-can't-really-remember-it-right-now look I have seen so often through the past 35 years.
"This isn't really about the boots," she said. "For the rest of her life, she's going to be making choices, and there will always be people in her life who don't like the choices she makes. They'll tease her and hassle her and belittle her. At some point she has to learn to accept responsibility for her choices, and to own her decisions regardless of what others think."
"That's a lot to ask of a fourth grader," I said.
"She can handle it," Anita said. "She's tougher than you think."
Anita, of course, was right. Elizabeth has proven to be remarkably resilient through the years. She has toughed it out through severe asthma, a life-threatening encounter with anaphylactic shock and five years of long, hard hours waitressing at a busy college town pizzeria. She has learned a lot about making choices, and accepting the consequences of her choices for good or ill. She has internalized those lessons – mother-driven and otherwise – and today she is graduating from college with a good job, a devoted husband and a bright future.
And without, I should add, Barbie boots.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to www.josephbwalker.com.