- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

When you’re a parent, it’s no consolation that you’re right most of the time.

Case in point: When Katie told me on Friday that she had two papers to write for her British literature class, one due Monday and the other due Tuesday, I said: “That’s physically impossible.”

She already was committed to be in the school drama production both Friday and Saturday nights and to play her flute in the band festival on Saturday morning. Subtract an hour for church and four hours for the cast party on Sunday (impossible to skip because we were hosting it at our house), and what she had were approximately 10 scattered hours in which to write two major essays.

Anyone could see I was right — anyone, that is, except a teenager with a habit of underestimating the time it takes to do things.

“It’s not a problem,” Katie protested. “I already have all my quotes picked out from ‘Hamlet,’ and I know what my thesis is for the second paper.”

Spoken like a girl who will be surprised to find herself sitting at a computer after midnight in a quiet, dark house, watching Sunday melt into Monday as she types furiously under the glow of a desk lamp.

Of course, this isn’t the first time she has put off completing a major project until the last minute, nor is it the first time I’ve cautioned her about theperils of procrastination. For reasons I can’t fathom, my incessant nagging of my teenage daughter about time management hasn’t worked. Go figure.

If logic prevailed, my 16-year-old scholar would listen thoughtfully when I offer insights on how to parcel out the precious little time available to her so she can meet her deadlines and still eat, sleep and bathe (bathing losing its importance as the weekend ekes away).

Absurd, I know. Not to mention, I can hear my mother six states away laughing as she reads this. Apparently, as a teenager, I was similarly afflicted with an unwavering belief in my dominance over the clock.

I suppose if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a 45-year-old high school junior. Wisdom and experience don’t come any way other than simply from living one year to the next.

Still, it’s the responsibility of all parents to impart our wisdom to our children, even as we expect them to test our advice to see if we’re really right about things. After all, everyone makes mistakes — even parents. Children must figure the odds are good that mom and dad are just overprotective, risk-averse fun repellents.

Not so, of course — but again, being right is little comfort.

For example, I was right about the cost of replacement retainers — $390. I also was right when I said leaving your retainers on a paper napkin next to your lunch bag (as opposed to putting them in the case in your locker) would put said retainers at risk for the trash can.

I was right when I said doing tricks on a scooter was dangerous and ill-advised. My son gained this wisdom on his own, however, when he attempted a scooter jump and took out the better part of his two front teeth.

(I am right when I remind my children that anytime you hear someone say “Watch this trick,” pain follows.)

I was right when I said putting the miniature MP3 player in the pocket of your jeans would result in a broken — albeit clean — MP3 player. I was right again when I said it about the replacement player.

I am always right about the relationship between leaving the kitchen to watch TV while you are cooking and burning food on the stove.

The impact of spilled Diet Cherry Coke on a laptop keyboard? I was right about that. (I also was right about the response my daughter could expect from her dad when he found out his laptop was ruined).

The impact of your bumper on the car ahead of you when you don’t leave adequate following distance? Boy, was I right about that.

It’s not that I’m self-satisfied about being right so much of the time. In fact, I would much rather be wrong. It would be cheaper, anyway.

Suffice to say, I wish I were wrong about the time it takes to write papers for school. Looking at the circles under the tired eyes of my high school junior, I would give anything to have been the one who guessed incorrectly about the time it takes to do things.

We all have to endure our share of missed deadlines, capped teeth and burned bacon to create our personal books of wisdom. As much as I would love to spare my children the grief and frustration their decisions might cause them — as often as I’m right — there are no life lessons as compelling as the ones they’ll teach themselves.

That’s a pearl of wisdom about which I’m absolutely, positively right.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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