You know what kids find frustrating about grownups? Just about everything. When I was young, my parents knew how to tune into my weaknesses and push my buttons like nobody’s business. Dad spoke the same language as me, but used it for a completely different purpose. Mom had eyes in the back of her head and could almost read my mind. They both knew how to pull the wool over my eyes. For instance, my mother told me that I was found under a toadstool when I was a baby. She also said that there was a special club that kids could only get into if they cleaned their plate at every meal. The Finish Your Food Club, as described by my mother, was a high-class members-only organization.
Dad was a master at spinning yarns. As a tyke, I was told that cemeteries were people farms. He said that when I swallowed gum it would stay in my stomach for 100 years and that thunder was Jesus and the angels bowling. Whenever I heard a big thunderclap, I imagined the son of God had just rolled a strike. My mother assured me that spinach would make me strong like Popeye, and if I ate enough I could lift a car. I would gag down a spoonful, rush outside to our Nash Rambler, grab the bumper and pull with all my might. She’d stand beside me and shout “It moved! Quick, go eat some more!” I’d run back inside and take another yucky bite.
Little white lies were commonplace in our home. I grew up in the 1960s. Dad came up with the Pet Rock long before inventor Gary Dahl. When I was in kindergarten, he told me that watermelon seeds would grow in my stomach, and that if I looked after a small pussy willow and watered it each day, it would eventually become a cat. I would water it every day without fail and, while I was at school, he would replace it with a slightly larger pussy willow. One day I came home to find the plant had turned into a kitten.
My mother managed to convince me that earthworms bite and that gargling with salt water was a medical cure all. I pulled a hamstring playing tag. Guess what she made me do. My parents also claimed that eating salmon made you smarter, a teaspoon of honey cured carsickness, ice water would give you a cold, and that I needed to eat the crust on my bread because that was where all the vitamins were hiding. One Christmas, I told my dad I didn’t like venison (it was a staple in our house). So that night I had “chicken” for dinner. It was sliced off a hind quarter earlier, rolled in bread crumbs, and served on a different plate. He also told me that logging trucks were taking trees on vacation and giving them a chance to “relax.” It worked until I saw my first sawmill.
I spent my youth walking around in clothes that were too big for me. Mom insisted it was better to buy shirts and pants several sizes larger than I needed so I could “grow into them.” When I was 18, I found a shirt she had bought me when I was 10. It fit great. My dad told me there were McDonald’s “Unhappy Meals”: They were Happy Meals’ evil twin sister. You got your choice of liver or broccoli flavor meat, lima beans and Brussels sprouts, and each meal came with a long list of chores or a “McJob.” He also said that Burger King was for royalty only.
Thanks to my parents, I lived in a deep state of deception. They said that a little man turned the light on in the fridge; that if I didn’t learn how to read, my voice would disappear; if I planted bird seed, it would grow birds; the cowlick on my head was the result of an actual bovine licking my scalp while I slept; if I didn’t color inside the lines, I would develop color vision deficiency and only see things in black and white; if I didn’t wash my hands before I ate, my food would taste like dirt; and that Lucky Charms were made by Leprechauns.
Sadly, I was never able to connect the dots. I believed mom and dad’s exaggerations way longer than I believed in Santa. On the other hand, my parents taught me not to be so innocent and naïve. That proved to be a most valuable lesson.