Anyone who knows me is probably aware of what a huge fan I am of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” In my opinion, when it left syndication, our society lost one of its shrewdest social commentators, satirists, and philosophizers on familial relationships. Not to mention it was the funniest thing ever printed (with the exception of perhaps “The Far Side”).
In one strip, Calvin, the 6-year-old boy/entrepreneur, has turned over a cardboard box on the sidewalk and is sitting behind it. On it he has written: A swift kick in the butt: $1.00. Calvin’s friend Hobbes asks him how business is going. Calvin’s discouraged reply: “Terrible. I can’t understand it. Everybody I know needs what I’m selling.”
Those sagacious words passed through my mind as literally thousands of people streamed past me with shopping carts full of kids and Costco merchandise at my book signings. In my 3-hour signing segments over the past month, I had a lot of time to watch wonderful families in all shapes and sizes. You should try it sometime…with or without a signing. Just sit there and watch people interact as they hurriedly shop for all the glorious groceries we can’t live without…like chips and mango salsa, take-and-bake pizza, and a giant box of 110 frozen cream puffs.
Here are some things I learned:
When your son pulls you over to a table where there is a book for sale about parenting and tells you that you should buy it, take that as a swift kick in the butt and ask him why (and then listen very closely).
When you respond to your phone more often than your child needing your attention, take that as a swift kick in the butt and focus on what is real.
When a man comes up to the author at her book signing table and accuses, “CHURCH OF THE DEVIL! WORSHIPPER OF SATAN!!! (and worse things that I won’t mention here) and “FALSE PRIESTHOOD!!!!” someone needs a swift kick in the butt but I won’t mention who that is here either.
When you stop and talk to a friend for 2 hours while your kids wait patiently with nothing to do, take that as a swift kick in the butt and give them 2 hours of your undivided time later.
I got a swift kick to knock me down to reality after I heard the following:
“I bought your book last week and started to read it but fell asleep.”
“Does your book have a chapter about How To Not Lose Your Kid in Costco? I’d buy it if it did.”
“Does your book have anything in there about teaching your children about sex? My daughter has 4 sons and just had a baby girl. The boys looked over her privates and said, ‘Too bad. It hasn’t grown in yet.'”
I needed a swift kick in the butt to remind me of the hypocrisy of my signing books on the subject of parenting on the same night of my daughter’s 17th birthday which prevented me from being there for her.
After watching a deluge of families with bright, beautiful, friendly kids enjoying being together, even during mundane chores like shopping, I needed a swift kick in the rear to appreciate how many moms and dads are doing an amazing job at parenting.
Most of all, I got a swift kick, or gentle reminder, that life isn’t really all that complicated. We just make it so. The things that matter most are usually right in front of us with feet dangling out the shopping cart and a face smeared with a sample of triple-layer chocolate cake.