by MILLIE BAKER RAGOSTA
Of all the rewards I’ve gleaned from “co-rearing” our eleven kids, the one I most treasure is watching their excellent parenting skills. While that also forces me to confess to incredible egomania since I was the “other-half” of the pair that reared them, our kids are better parents than Vince and I ever dreamed of being.
For instance, although Ruthie usually takes 5-year old Justin and 2-year-old Em with her when she goes shopping, her husband Larry’s birthday was coming up. She knew the presence of two little boys in a men’s haberdashery on a busy Saturday would be trying, to say the least. So she left the kids with Larry and went shopping by herself.
When she got home, she took her purchases upstairs to their room to be wrapped.
Justin (miffed at being excluded from the “shopping-for-Daddy” excursion) followed her and said, “What did you buy Daddy for his birthday?”
“I didn’t select even one of them, I didn’t pay for them so it certainly isn’t right for me to put my name on them.”
“Some new shirts and ties and slacks, honey. You know Daddy really needed some new clothes for the office.”
She spread her purchases—three dress shirts, three silk ties and two pairs of dress slacks—out on her bed for his inspection.
“But what am I going to give Daddy for his birthday?” he demanded.
“Choose one of the shirts and a tie to match them and you can wrap them yourself,” Ruthie said.
He stared at her with a long-in-the-face look as only a 5-year-old can. “I had nothing at all to do with these gifts, Mommy. I didn’t select even one of them, I didn’t pay for them so it certainly isn’t right for me to put my name on them.”
“Oh, Justin, I guess I should have taken you along shopping with me,” Ruthie said contritely, “but I simply didn’t have time to get you and Em all dressed up. Just this once, can’t you give Daddy something you didn’t personally pick out?”
“They are all very nice, but I didn’t select them, I didn’t pay for them and—”
“I know, ‘it isn’t right for you to put your name on them,’” Ruthie sighed. “Would it make you feel better if you had paid for them?”
Justin brightened a little. “Yes it would. I could take the money out of my bank account.”
Ruthie agreed he could. After all, she and Larry had opened college savings accounts for both children in which they deposited money the boys received from both sets of grandparents for Christmas and birthday gifts. So she handed Justin a withdrawal slip and said, “You write on the slip how much money you want to withdraw from the bank and you sign your name.”
Justin indicated a shirt and tie. “How much did they cost, Mommy?”
“The shirt was $21, and the tie was $14.”
Justin nodded and laboriously filled out the slip and then proudly handed it to his mother. Only then, with his financial obligation taken care of, would he wrap the shirt and tie for his daddy.
While Ruth and Larry had intended the boys’ saving accounts only for the anticipated expense of college, Ruthie wisely realized her little son’s budding sense of responsibility is as important as attending college … maybe even more so. And does that little guy ever have a sense of responsibility!
A couple of years previously, Justin had been watching a newscast showing hungry children in the Philippines after some natural disaster. He fretted over it for days and finally insisted Ruthie send the entire contents of his piggy bank to CARE with his strict instruction that every penny of it was to buy food for the Philippine children.
These stories help illustrate why my greatest pride in what I have done with my life is raising kids who raise good kids. And that’s better than a Pulitzer or Oscar!
MILLIE BAKER RAGOSTA is the mother of 11 children and author of Baker’s Dozen, an anthology of humor columns she wrote for Catholic Twin Circle weekly newspaper.