Please Don't Eat The Cactus
This article is an old favorite, originally printed in 2006.
Do you ever feel life is moving too fast to tell your children how to to survive in today's world?
Let me assure you that this dilemma does not end with your children! Just when you think you have completed your life’s work, you get grandchildren, whose role it is to teach us the lessons our children never taught us. We, of course, believe we are teaching them.
Let me illustrate this. Recently, my daughter Kerrie, broke her leg in a horseback riding accident, never mind that we have pleaded with her not to participate in horse jumping events until her 4 young children are at least in college. Subsequently, she was in bed for a week and was advised to remain on crutches for 12 weeks. Of course it was her right leg, so driving was out of the question.
I immediately flew to California to manage the household, which consists of her husband, Jeff, four children (ages 6-12), three very large dogs - a mastiff, an aging lab and a runaway-every-chance-it-gets German Shepherd, along with two horses. I felt badly having to take more time off from Informed Families, but I am now convinced that Informed Families should consider these visits field work and provide me hazardous duty pay.Here is one day in the life of Kerrie and her family. Three of the children, JJ, Neil and Ellie, ages 10, 9 and 6, respectively, join me in my bed each morning around 6:00 am to play cards. I do not let them win and I usually beat them. This prompted Neil to tell me, “You are a little scammer dressed up like a grandma." You can't make these lines up, folks; you just have to be present to catch the laughs and remember to write them down.
Crying and screaming in pain with Collagen-like, enlarged lips, my grandsons explained that they were eating cactus because they “saw it on TV. That’s how to get water in the desert, Mamaw.” My first reaction is to give them a cup of tea, but I call poison control, who tells me to give the boys popsicles and keep them quiet for 45 minutes. If the situation got any worse, I was instructed to call back, although 45 minutes later, the kids were fine.
By 7am, we are all tired of each other, so the boys go off to watch Westerns on TV while 6-year-old Ellie and I paint by numbers in the kitchen, over breakfast. I ask her why she is not watching Westerns and she tells me, “Mamaw, did you ever notice that cowboys are not nice to women, especially to their wives and in the Westerns and they repeat the same old stuff?” What wisdom for a 6-year-old.
Awake for three hours, by 9am we have already enjoyed breakfast and the two boys are going outside to play in the yard. I use the term “yard” loosely, since Kerrie and Jeff live in San Diego and, no matter what they say, a large portion of their yard is a desert, complete with cactus. It is a nice, quiet hour until the boys return to the house crying, with lips that look like they had a Collagen injection, complaining that their lips and mouth hurt.
“What happened?” “Well, we were playing and we ate just a little bit of cactus.” “You ate cactus? Why would you do that?” “We saw it on TV…that’s how to get water in the desert.”
My son-in-law enters the scene, distressed because they have beaten the stuffing out of his prized cactus. Well, how else can you get the liquid out and eat it?! My first reaction is to give them a cup of tea, but I decide to call poison control. Picture this: We all are in my daughter’s bedroom where she is supposed to be resting. We get poison control on the phone and they tell us, not to give them anything hot, give them popsicles and keep them quiet for 45 minutes. “If it doesn’t get worse,” they said, “the kids will be okay. Call us back if it continues to swell and burn.”
No more eating plants made for the desert. Hunkered down in sleeping bags in their parent’s bedroom, the children eat popsicles and watch TV, but this time Westerns are off-limits. The three dogs lay around with them, so I have almost the entire household corralled into one room, making things more manageable.
It is a quiet 45 minutes and the boys emerge with normal lips and hopefully with the lesson learned: Please don’t eat the cactus. As one friend suggested, “now that you know it won’t hurt them, maybe you should just give them a little cactus to get 45 minutes of quiet time.”
As my composure has been regained, I make a nice lunch for all to enjoy and eat together. Now that it is afternoon, what will we do? Campbell, the oldest girl, has a friend over to hang out in the typical 12-year-old girl fashion. 6-year-old Ellie goes next door to play with her friend. So that leaves me with the two little boys…no problem, right?
They ask Daddy if they can go swimming in the pool and he agrees. Shortly thereafter, they appear in wet suits with surf boards to stand on in the pool. Now folks, this is your normal size family pool, not to be confused with a wave pool at a recreational center. I decide that I can’t bear to watch what might happen, so I tell my son-in-law that it is time for me to have a little nap.
After some time, the kids are cold and decide to “get in Mommy and Daddy’s big tub and shower to warm up.” While getting warm, they decide to have a humongous water fight. Moments later, JJ falls off the rim of the tub, while splashing Neil, and breaks a large glass apothecary jar into smithereens. Now, I am jolted from my rest by two twelve-year-old girls screaming, “Mamaw, come quick, JJ is bleeding!” Rushing across the patio to the master suite, I realize that this is a replay of earlier that morning, but worse, as JJ is on the bathroom floor with his Daddy, who is trying to stop the bleeding and his Mommy, sitting on a bench trying to help. Daddy says JJ needs stitches and “we have to go to the emergency room.” My daughter decides to help JJ in the car and I stay behind to hold down the fort.
It is now all of 2:30pm. Neil is crying because he feels badly and thinks the accident was his fault. I say, “let’s talk about whose fault it is later… right now we need to get some semblance of order back.” The wandering German Shepherd is doing what he knows best, the mastiff is loveable but slobbery and the old lab needs you to lay down rugs so he can walk through the house to get to the kitchen to eat. Suddenly, I know I am in a Chevy Chase movie but the problem is I am starring in the Chevy Chase role and this is for real.
I find the wandering dog and bring him home, bring Ellie back from next door and when they all the children start asking for dinner, I tell the twelve-year-olds to order in pizza, as cooking is not in the cards.
The hospital group returns home. JJ has 28 stitches in his chin and a large bandage, although he is not looking too badly and is mostly concerned because it hurts to talk.
I get everyone to bed and instantly pack my bags for the next morning’s 6am departure flight. Though I am sad to leave, I really must go home to recover from my hazardous duty assignment. It has been another Family Learning Experience and great material to share with you.
Stories like these remind us of the importance of Parent Peer Groups and Parent Coaching; every parent, grandparent and caregiver needs all the help possible. Informed Families can help equip parents and caregivers with the tools and support to survive in today’s fast-paced world. Remember to tell your kids: Please don’t eat the cactus. Who would have ever thought you had to think of that???