I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve figured out who the best parents are. Want to know?
Wait for it . . .
PEOPLE WHO DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE CHILDREN. These folks know everything about parenting. They can tell you exactly what you need to do to raise perfectly happy, healthy, well behaved children. I suppose we were ALL amazing parents once . . . before we actually had children. Back when it was just a hypothetical. And we still had time to read all those parenting books. And observe other parents. And make mental lists of all the things we’d never do when WE had children. Remember those days? (Does it hurt too much to remember when “me time” didn’t refer to a five-minute shower in the morning?) Funny how things change once the little ones arrive. Apparently, actual parenting is slightly more complicated than hypothetical parenting. At least that has been my experience. As a result, my husband Dan and I have caved in. And done a number of things we said we would never do. Here are just a few examples.
1. The Binky. We were not going to use a pacifier with Jacob, our first child. No. Way. “Why start a habit that we will just have to break later?” And then Jacob was born. And we were smitten with him. But after a bit more consideration of the “pacifier issue” (read: an insufferable twenty minutes of his crying), we decided to rethink. It’s just that, there was so much of the crying. And so little of the sleeping. The plug went into his mouth. But, no worries. We got it out. About two years later. (Okay, FINE, two-and-a-half years later.) Getting him off the “baby crack” (Dan’s words) wasn’t easy, but I have no regrets. And when our second child, Emma, arrived shortly after Jacob turned three, he did NOT try to take a hit off of her binky. At least not that we’ve noticed. So, everybody’s cool.
2. The Barney. Is there ANYTHING redeeming about that damn purple dinosaur? Who came up with the idea for this show? (And why do they hate parents?) I remember giving Jacob to a teacher at daycare when he was four months old and being horrified when she started singing, “I love you, you love me . . .”. Why poison my child’s mind at such a tender age? Clearly, I had NO intention of letting Jacob watch something so mind-numbingly awful. But somehow Jacob got hooked on the idea of Barney. And wanted to watch some Barney videos. So we let him. And every now and then, he wants to watch them again. And each time he does, a part of me dies. (The part that used to read Dorothy Parker and wear black and think deep thoughts.) To be honest, it’s not even Barney that bothers me. It’s the saccharine sweet children on the show. Do REAL children smile and skip around like that? Of course, most of those actors are probably middle aged by now and in the thick of a midlife crisis. (I’ll admit it: knowing that helps. A little.) Honestly, those Barney videos just give me the creeps. But Jacob wants to watch them. So I let him. Because I am weak. And it buys me some time to wash the dishes. (Woohoo!)
3. The Cutesie Wootsie Voice. Babies are more adept at hearing higher frequencies. I get it. So it makes sense that we raise our voices an octave (or three) when we speak to them. But what’s up with adding “sie” to everything. “Did you do a poopsie woopsie? Did Mommy’s little cutsie patootsie do a . . . OH DEAR LORD, YES YOU DID.” I told myself I’d never sound like this. For years I’ve smirked at other people for acting so dopey around a baby. And then I had a baby of my own. And one day, I heard myself doing the voice. You know the one. We all do it. (Right??) Maybe you just do it at home and control yourself in public. But that’s just more work. When the voice wants out, it wants out. I say, let that cutsie wootsie freak(sie) flag(sie) fly. It’s inevitable. Poopsie woopsie happens.
4. Pitting Siblings Against One Another. What kind of awful parent pits her children against one another? Ummm, right here. Okay, but in my defense, if I didn’t I would NEVER. MAKE. IT. OUT. OF. THE. HOUSE. Dan and I discovered a few months ago that Jacob, who is now four, has a bit of a competitive streak. This child will usually make putting on his shoes an all-day project. But, if told that Mommy or Daddy are going to get their shoes on first, Jacob suddenly becomes a shoe-putting-on-ninja. Socks are yanked onto feet (inside-out and backwards, but who am I to judge?), Velcro goes flying, and Jacob pops into a standing position to announce “I’M DONE!” He is ready to leave the house.
Next trick: getting Jacob into the car. So, here it goes: “Let’s see if you can get into your car seat before Emma!” Okay, I feel a little bit guilty about this one. Emma is only one year old, so she has no control over how quickly she is put into her car seat. But more than that, Emma is too young to understand that she is being pitted against her beloved brother. Her hero. Her amigo. Her main sources of giggles. Necessary evil. Because without this ploy, getting Jacob into the car involves the following: asking me if he can bring five oversized toys, arguing with me about why he “needs” these toys, wandering off into a different part of the house, finally getting outside the door and stomping around in the flower bed, stooping down to look at a spider web, screaming to everyone within ear shot about the spider web, and then when I ask him (exasperated) to get into the car, sprinting off in the other direction. HOWEVER, if Dan or I say, “Let’s see if you can get into your car seat before Emma!” Jacob’s frontal cortex lights up like a Christmas tree. There is forward motion. Directed, planful forward motion. Jacob is scrambling into the car. He is planting himself in his car seat. He is yanking, pulling and clipping the five-point-restraint into place. All because of a completely fixed competition in which Jacob’s opponent can be plunked into her car seat at any given moment.
I said I would never do these sorts of things. And I meant it. Before I actually had children. Back when I was a REALLY good mother. So what would I say to that pre-child brilliant-mother version of myself if i could speak to her now? Probably just this: “Enjoy your nice, long showers, girlfriend. You’re not going to be that clean again for a while.”