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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Some assembly always required
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Friday, December 28, 2012


One of the joys of Christmas when your children get a little older is not having to read two words: "Assembly Required."

Most parents spend countless hours, often late on Christmas Eve, putting together various toys for children. We want them to be able to play with the toys right away, so we make sure they are under the tree, all assembled and ready to go.

Sometimes we have things to assemble after Christmas as relatives' gifts may come in. And occasionally, we have to reassemble something that just didn't seem to do what it was supposed to do.

Well, in my case, that happened often, so assembly and reassembly was an ongoing process.

We want our children to be happy, right? So we keep trying until the object of their attention is working as it should be.

As I sat back this Christmas with my children and realized I had absolutely nothing to assemble, it occurred to me that children should be born with a tag that says, "Assembly Required."

Yes, I know, the little rascals, especially my first grandchild, Henry, are already assembled. And I, as all grandparents say, have the best-assembled grandchild in the world.

But after raising children, or at least trying, I also know that there is far more to assemble than we realize when we are being parents to young ones.

Their little bodies may be fine -- growing, getting stronger, learning new things. That's the way it's supposed to be, and we can see the process, witness first-hand the evidence.

The unseen things can be tricky, though, because their minds and personalities are being assembled every day.

They react to us in ways we don't always understand as we do our best to make sure they are comfortable, well-fed, clean and happy.

We also know that holding them is crucial, so our babies do, and should, get plenty of affection. But we often wonder just how much is too much. Or can there ever be too much?

We can't find a set of directions for these things, only opinions.

It's not like you can fasten part A to part B with a bolt and nut and it will work perfectly.

We often don't even know what part A is.

And the mystery doesn't get solved as they get older, and start walking and talking and exploring the world. In fact, it just gets more complex.

What's the best way to teach them right from wrong? How do we discipline them the most effectively? How do we avoid spoiling them? Are we being too hard on them? Are we not being hard enough?

Are we being good role models? (That's a tough one.)

Then comes day care and school and peers.

The questions keep coming, and we just keep assembling, hoping and praying for the best. After all, what more important legacy do we have in this life than our children?

If something doesn't seem to be working, we rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it. It's an ongoing, often frustrating, and always mindboggling process.

We can read all the books in the world about child-rearing and talk to as many other parents as we can, but answers are elusive.

We can't stop, because the assembly doesn't. Every day, every hour of every day. Our children are indeed like sponges, soaking up everything they hear, see, touch, taste and feel.

Somehow, though, if we are fortunate, they do grow up. They no longer play with toys that need assembling. They play with toys that need programming, which they are far more adept at doing than most parents are.

As I looked at my children this Christmas and realized how well assembled they really turned out to be, I had a moment or two of astonishment.

Seriously, I really can't take much credit for that. I didn't know what I was doing. I just made most decisions based on instinct. And I know that I did many, many things wrong. How did they survive me?

Yet, I don't feel the need to reassemble anything about them. Their pieces fit together remarkably well.

Even with all my flaws as a parent, though, there was never an instant when I didn't feel an intense and almost indescribable love for my children. The bond was, is and will always be permanent, and beyond compromise.

We can't assemble that. It's just there.

Maybe that's why children survive our often feeble attempts at raising them. They know our hearts are always in the right place, even when our actions are in desperate need of some assembly instructions.

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