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CHILD-REARING, AFTER ALL, IS A TIME TO LOVE

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You've probably heard about Murphy's law . . . you know, "If something can go wrong, it will." Well, there is also something called parent's law. This one states, "Junior will spontaneously get a nocturnal nosebleed, wet the bed or come down with the stomach flu in direct relation to whether or not you just washed his sheets."

You know, parenthood is no piece of cake. Being a parent constantly requires you to act a little more mature and intelligent than the children, when in reality you know you're learning a lot more from your kids than they're learning from you.After a particularly exasperating evening and repeated attempts to get my jack-in-the-box child to sleep, I tucked my 4-year-old son Jacob into bed one more time with an irritated sigh.

"What am I going to do with you, Jacob?" I asked.

He didn't even hesitate before he answered, "Oh, Mommy, just hug me and pretty soon I'll grow up."

After all the years of energy, tummy and patience stretching beyond any reasonable expectations, I sometimes feel like I should resign. I am simply not what I think a good parent should be. Too often, I'm grumpy when I should be understanding, cross when I should be gentle, preoccupied when I should be attentive. But I've found in spite of my incompetence and obvious lack of skill, my children still love me.

Sometimes I wonder if after a long day, my children wish they could put me to bed with a sigh, "Oh, Mom, what are we going to do with you?"

I think I'd have to answer like Jacob, "Just hug me and pretty soon I'll grow up."

At a recent viewing I attended, the widow standing next to her dead husband embraced me and said, "This is life. It may not be what I expected, but it's what I've got. So I've got to put a feather in my hat and get on with it."

Family life is seldom what you expect, full of conflict and change, loss and gain. But like an ocean voyage, there are times when the swelling waters calm, the winds all blow in the right direction and you can pause to take a breath of the fresh salt air. It's when we look out over the vastness of the sea that the horizon seems too distant and unreachable. Even with our ship headed toward the light at the end of vision, the horizon just keeps moving forward as we move. But the best parts, the true joy of family life, comes during the journey, not at some imagined perfect port.

There's another parent's law. It states, "No matter how completely your offspring have destroyed your possessions, pride or sense of humor during the day, when you take your nightly vigil to check on your sleeping children, all is forgiven." In those quiet, late night moments, a swelling rises and you long to cradle each child in your arms, even those far larger than yourself, and rock them back and forth.

Then life goes on and children grow up and soon, somewhere out there in the darkness, your child is rocking his child, who someday will rock his child, and the cycle continues without completion in one magnificent whole.

Boy, I love being part of all this.