I first learned about The Children’s Exchange when I lived in New Rochelle, N.Y.; I was four. When we were children, our parents would tell my sister and me that we would be sent to the Children’s Exchange if we persisted in misbehaving. On occasion, we would drive by a small, run-down shop that they would point out and tell us that was where parents could take their children if they wanted new ones. This was the most powerful behavioral control agent with which they could have threatened me. I was petrified the time would come when I would inadvertently provoke them and the inevitable would happen. I would be left at The Children’s Exchange until a home with less exacting standards for behavior could be found for me. The part that was hardest for me was the idea that my parents would get a replacement for me. Someone that loved me and accepted me no matter what. I was relieved when we moved to new Jersey because I didn’t think my parents would drive an hour to take me there. Then it occurred to me that The Children Exchange might be a franchise! I wasn’t confident that my misbehavior wouldn’t result in a trip to The Children Exchange until I was at least twelve.
As a mother myself, I wondered what on EARTH my parents were thinking when they fabricated this story. I went to the source, and asked my mother. “We had no idea you believed us, dear. We showed you the second hand shop so you would know it was simply a joke.”
“But Mom, I really believed there was a place called The Children’s Exchange that you might take me. I thought you identified it as our destination if we were naughty.”
“Your father and I thought that calling a used clothing store The Children’s Exchange was witty. When we told you we would take you there, we thought you understood that it was the name of a thrift shop. We would never, not for anything, exchange you for anyone or anything. We love you! How awful that you believed it.”
That was when, once again, I understood how we make mistakes as parents --unwittingly, at times. Never mind the missteps we take with full conviction that we are doing the right thing. There are the inadvertent scars we inflict upon our children without even realizing it. I am left wondering what version of The Children Exchange my children will bring to my attention.