How Losing a Library Book Forced Me to Grow Up – a Little

Not every 10-year-old experiences stress, debt and employment all at once. I was one of the lucky few.

It happened the day I lost a library book. My mother walked into my spotless, organized half of the bedroom I shared with my sister, put her hands on her hips and stated, quite calmly, “If you can’t find it, you’ll just have to pay for it.”

This sort of thing did not happen to me.

I turned the entire bedroom inside-out looking for that stupid book. I searched the car. Nothing. My desk at school. No luck. My grandparents’ house. Nada. The book had simply vanished, and with it went my methodical, orderly world.

Stress at age 10 is enough to transform the most practical child – and I was – into a psych patient. But debt, too? My allowance consisted of $2 a week, so at that rate, it would take me 8 weeks to save up enough money to pay the $15 I now owed the Athens Regional Public Library. I knew my mother would keep her word about paying for the book. She didn’t change her mind about stuff like that.

But, she must have sensed my anxiety because she promptly picked up the phone to call my uncles, who operated a landscaping nursery in town, and asked if they had any work for a debt-laden 10-year-old. They kindly offered me a job: to plant ivy in 11-by-21-inch propagation flats. At $.75 per flat, how could I refuse? I earned the money back in one weekend – and learned a good lesson while I was at it.

This memory sticks with me as the years go by because I lost a little of my childhood that day – even though the very next week I returned to my carefree life of playing kickball after school and catching fireflies at night. That’s just the way it was – back then.

But today? Stress doesn’t fade as quickly. Our kids face routine activity-packed weeknights and academic pressures we never encountered. There are Internet safety concerns to consider as well. More and more children live with divorced parents, blended families, two working parents and the absence of nearby extended family (which contributes to stressed out, overworked parents, as well).

To be fair, I grew up with divorced parents, as many in my generation did. But my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived in the same town. I enjoyed larger than life Christmas mornings with 20 stockings hung across the mantle, and family dinners at least once a week. My kids have married parents, but no extended family in town, no larger than life Christmas mornings and maybe a big family dinner once a year, if we’re lucky. I realize that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to replicate my childhood for my children. I should probably stop trying.

But reducing the amount of stress my kids experience is something I’ll never stop trying to do. While we may look back at one or two stressful childhood scenarios that “forced” us to grow up a little, our kids may recall four or five.

Stress will continue to arrive in many colors, shapes and sizes – often without warning. So, we must raise confident, considerate and adjustable children who can weather whatever storm breaks. And while we’re at it, we must enjoy each moment we have with them by creating a fun, peaceful and secure environment. The memories we make with them and self-esteem we instill in them now will someday shape the way they raise their children.

In the meantime, old-fashioned remedies still work. When your organized, methodical 10-year-old accidentally deletes an e-book off your iPad, tell her what my mother told me. “You’ll just have to pay for it.” The lessons she’ll learn will make her stronger, more accountable and more adjustable to the future stresses that will surely come her way.

What are some of the stresses your children deal with and how do you manage or overcome these concerns?

PHOTOS:

1st photo: Me, my cousin and my sister with my dad right around the time of the lost-library-book incident.
2nd photo: This photo shows me doing what I did best – instructing my sister on exactly which present she should open first during my 9th and her 7th birthday party (we both have September birthdays and celebrated together for many years). Add “bossy” to my “organized, methodical” personality description.

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