Thanks for helping us raise $25,000! You make all the difference! →
Thanks for helping us raise $25,000! You make all the difference! →
There used to be this commercial on TV from Staples, the office supply store. You know the one: a white, overweight, balding stereotypical “dad” guy dances while pushing a cart full of school supplies. Two tweens, presumably his children, sulk behind him, dragging their feet and looking forlornly from one another to their uber-embarrassing father doing arabesques through the aisles to the tune of Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Then they look at the floor and follow their dad slowly off screen as the week’s sale items are displayed for our viewing pleasure.
As a kid, I hated this commercial. I thought it was lame and overblown. Parents don’t really feel that way. They’re so trapped by their crap jobs and stultifying worldviews, having the kids home would have to be great, right? Everyone knows parents have no desires of their own, because as we all learned from John Hughes movies and Peter Pan, when you grow up, your heart dies. The fun part of your parents’ lives is over! Stupid Staples. Parents don’t dream of their kids going back to school, much less dance through the aisles of a store (in public!) at the mere thought of it. Yes, I actually thought this. Now that I have children, I realize how foolish I was.
My kids were enrolled in camp 5 mornings a week for 7 weeks this summer. Since the kids were born 3.5 years ago, these 7 weeks have been the best part of my life. I had my mornings free! Tuesdays and Thursdays I was free until 1 o’clock! Oh, joy of joys! Free time! I could do whatever I wanted to do! I could even practice ballet moves behind a cart at an office supply store! I didn’t, but I could’ve.
Every morning after I dropped the kids off at camp, I felt like painting half of my face blue and running down State Street in a kilt yelling “FREEDOM!” at the top of my lungs. It was better than the feeling of 3 o’clock on the last day of school before summer break. I could take off the Mommy hat for a few hours and put the Nicole hat back on. The kids were safe. They were happy. And I had time to become myself once again.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced this transformation. All the other moms and even some nannies were so much more themselves once the kids were in the able hands of the preschool teachers. The parental film was blinked away from our eyes. We saw the world anew. We drank coffee together. We talked about things other than children’s shows and potty training and others we knew who were pregnant (suckers!). We swore and told stories about drunken debauchery in college and more recent years. We showed off tattoos and talked about crushes we had on various actors, singers, guitar players. Yes, we devolved. And it was delicious.
We’d all been wearing the mantle of parental responsibility for so long that it felt great to put it down (folded properly, of course) for a while and let our inner giggly girls run free. Except now our giggly girls are much wiser women. We still love to giggle, but it’s giggling with a purpose. Just as giggling at age 12 and 13 helps distance you from your parents, giggling with peers as a thirtysomething helps distance you from your children. It reminds you that not only are you still who you are and who you’ve always been, but also that you’re not in this thing alone. You have your sisters to help you through it. Your girlfriends helped you grow and survive the crazy transition from childhood to adulthood. (Oh, adolescence. So painful, but so necessary.) Your girlfriends will also be there for you in the even crazier transition from non-parenthood to parenthood. I can’t speak for the dads out there, but I’m sure a similar safety net of friends exists for men, too. If not, man, are you guys screwed.
So there I was, happy in my small amount of freedom each day, when the unthinkable happened. Camp ended. It was over July 29th. School doesn’t start up again for the kids until September 15th. That’s 6 whole weeks for those keeping track at home. My initial response was to go out and buy a couple cases of whiskey and Scotch, aka magical mommy juice, that would ensure maximum relaxation for me once the kids went to bed. I didn’t do this. I seriously thought about it, though. But at the last minute I was once again saved by a girlfriend. In this case, it was my own mom who saved the day.
She offered to take the kids back to Ohio for two weeks to give me a break from parenting and to let me work on some non-kid-related projects I’ve started. She even drove out here to pick them up! Who is this woman? How is she possibly the same person who used to yell at me when I’d play my music too loud or nag me incessantly about getting homework done or caution me about the boy I was madly in love with who would only go on to break my heart? She was so clueless and such a bore. How did she become so awesome?
The answer is that she always was. She was simply cloaked in that parental mantle I was talking about, hiding her true self from me. But now that I’m an adult, she can be herself around me. I can join her circle of girlfriends and giggle knowingly about the world. We can all dance together down the aisles of any store, office supply or otherwise, and embarrass the hell out of our children and grandchildren because we know the secret. We know that people never really change. They simply have responsibilities. And when raising a child is their main responsibility, they take it very, very seriously.
This is why you rarely see any holes in the mantle when you’re a kid. It’s because your parents care about you and want you to be safe, happy, and healthy. It’s only when you get older and can take care of yourself that you see who your parents truly are. They are the kind of people who tell dirty jokes, drink too much on occasion, make stupid decisions, and sing along with their favorite songs on the radio. They are people like you. I don’t say this to frighten you. I say this because it’s true. We’re all pretty much the same when you get down to it, we just express ourselves differently. For some, it’s dancing at a store, for others it’s dressing up like an extra from “Braveheart” and running down one of the busiest streets in the world proclaiming your freedom for the world to hear. (I didn’t actually do this, but wouldn’t it be great?) However you choose to express it, express it you must. But I would seriously recommend against dancing to anything sung by Andy Williams. That stuff’s not cool no matter how old you are.
As many of you already know, I could definitely be described as an unconventional parent. I don’t really care if my kids swear (colorful verbiage is an important part of everyone’s lexicon), I let them eat way too much candy (they both have a sweet tooth the size of Jupiter), and I don’t bathe them every single day like all the parenting books recommend (dirt builds the immune system and prevents allergies, right?). So when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day this year and my response was, “Get the hell away from all of you crazy people,” his laughter and eye-roll to the ceiling could have been predicted.
I know Mother’s Day was started as a day to honor the woman who changed your diapers, made sure you had clean clothes to wear, carted you around town until you or one of your friends could drive, and then sent you to college and paid for it, but it’s still just as much of a faux holiday as Valentine’s Day. Just as you should celebrate the love you share with your special someone more than one chilly day in mid-February, so too should you remember to show your mom (or grandma, or aunt, or godmother) some gratitude most days of the year for all the things she does for you. And let me tell you a little secret: A mediocre brunch, some flowers, and a mawkish card once a year is not even close to enough. In fact, it so misses the mark that it’s kind of insulting.
Allow me to describe what would be a perfect Mother’s Day for your truly: I wake up to the sound of a silent house. No toddlers screaming. No dog whining to be let out. No husband next to me snoring loud enough to wake the dead. No cat meowing plaintively, waiting for food. Just me, the subtle sounds of a spring morning and muted sunlight coming in through the drawn curtains. sigh Oh, and the all-important smell of freshly-brewed coffee (that was made by someone other than me) is wafting up from the kitchen.
Wearing my comfiest pajamas/slippers combination, I descend the stairs completely refreshed from a full night of sound sleep. I find that when I look around, the house is clean. No toys strewn about. No mystery chunks of what may once have been food stuck to the table and/or walls. No stray coats/socks/shoes/ sweaters littering the floor. All surfaces are neat and dust-free and the rugs have been recently vacuumed. The table is set for one—just me—and is filled with my favorite breakfast foods. My laptop is set up, too, and already displays my favorite website, ready for perusal. As I sit down and begin to eat breakfast, my favorite music begins playing on the stereo. Life is good, indeed.
After my shower, from which I emerge smelling and looking fantastic, I put on some ridiculously comfortable and stylish clothes completely devoid of random stains, rips, and snags that decorate every at-home mom’s wardrobe. A beautiful—and small—handbag waits for me by the door, so unlike the giant backpack I usually use to carry things like blankies, favorite toys, snacks, and sippy cups. Today, Dream Mother’s Day, I carry only what I truly need: my wallet, keys, lipstick, sunglasses, and of course, my iPod. Oh, and did I mention someone has already cleaned up the breakfast dishes?
I leave the house without giving any thought to whether I have brought along every toy that someone might scream for or whether I’ll be gone long enough to need extra diapers or juice. I don’t even worry about whether I’ve packed band-aids and Neosporin, just in case someone falls down at the playground. I just leave.
I drive to my best friend’s house where she and a few other close friends are gathered, waiting for me to pick them up. My car is adorable and totally un-momlike. It’s shiny, fuel-efficient, and small, yet, in my fantasy world, can easily accommodate seven or eight adult women.
We arrive at a very posh spa, where we spend the day getting massaged, waxed, plumped, manicured, and perfumed—all without charge, of course. We emerge even more breathtakingly gorgeous than when we entered (as if that’s possible…) and we walk to a sidewalk café where heartbreakingly attractive men bring us all of our favorite foods and beverages for the duration of the afternoon. Mmmmmm. (eyes glazing over)
Wait. What I was I talking about? Oh, right. Mother’s Day. Ech. I’d completely forgotten about my family there for a minute …and that is EXACTLY what I want for Mother’s Day. All other days of the year, I will submit to the needs of my children—at least while they’re awake. I’ll run the house. I’ll pay the bills on time. I’ll do the laundry and the dishes and all the other thankless tasks that need to be done. I’ll even be sympathetic when my husband complains about his job, which we both know is infinitely easier than what I do everyday. But on Mother’s Day, I just want to be left alone. I want a break. I want to take a vacation day and do what I want to do without my family. Is that so much to ask?
I mean, really. Think about it. On Labor Day, when the country is supposed to celebrate how awesome all the employees of the world are, do you want to hang out with the jackasses you work with? Hell, no. You hang out with your friends and/or family and you engage in activities you enjoy. For at-home moms, Mother’s Day is simply another Labor Day and we don’t want to spend it with the jerks from the office. Yes, we love our particular office jerks unconditionally, but we still want a break from them. I realize I don’t speak for every at-home mom—or working moms for that matter—but I definitely speak for all the moms I like to hang out with.
So, Sweetie, if you’re reading this (which you’d better be if you’d like some “attention” later), please try to make my fantasy Mother’s Day happen. To be honest, I’m not interested in the beautiful clothes, stupid cars, or expensive spa trips described above. Just take the kids and leave me alone for a day. That’s all an overworked mom really wants. Oh, and servants. Every mom deserves silent, compliant servants. Personally, I would love me some robot servants, but as I said, I’m a little unconventional.
I take my camera with me wherever I go. You never know when something noteworthy will reveal itself and I like to be prepared. (Oh, and before you ask, no, I was not a Girl Scout.) For instance, yesterday while running some errands, I noticed an excellent juxtaposition of storefronts. In a strip mall up here in Rogers Park, there’s a very large candy store right next to a dentist’s office. Cause and effect? That’s probably overstating it, but there has to be some kind of cosmic symbiosis at play here. And, like every Gen Xer, I appreciate irony above all else, so I snapped a quick photo.
Generally, this photo-snapping habit is enough to quench my thirst for irony and humor in everyday life, but there have been a few times when I’ve wished for a video camera to record entire events in real time. This past Saturday was one of those rare times when I wished to all that’s holy I’d had a video camera on me. The resulting film would have been an instant classic (a term that is not thrown around lightly here at CHIRP). There was drama. There was action. There was comedy. There was even real vomit! It was a three-year-old’s birthday party and it was fantastic. Never before have I been so happy not to have been involved in any way with the success or failure of an event. I was a guest, as were my three-year-old twins and my husband; but truthfully, we were peripheral actors in a carnivalesque scene of absolute mayhem.
First, a little background: My kids attend preschool in the Gold Coast. Ironically, my husband and I chose this particular preschool for our kids not because it was posh and all the moms/nannies dropped their kids off in Lexus SUVs; no, we chose it because it was the cheapest we could find. (And for the record, I drop my kids off in a hand-me-down Ford with a huge dent in the front, a peeling bumper, and a semi-functional defrost system). Posh Preschool is even cheaper than the preschool classes offered by our neighborhood Chicago Public school—no joke! Oh, and the quality of education my kids receive at Posh is amazing. For what we pay, comparatively speaking, it kind of feels like stealing. (Win!)
So my kids attend Posh with other toddlers who will, no doubt, grow up to attend private schools around the city and then go on to become international ambassadors, brain surgeons, and multi-billionaire real estate developers—or so said schools would have you believe. Knowing that this road-to-achievement mindset is shared by school administrators and most of the parents of my kids’ classmates, it gives me so much joy to attend early birthday parties where these little would-be rocket scientists and diplomats behave like complete barbarians. Throwing tantrums, throwing shoes, in one case throwing smaller siblings…nothing is out of bounds for toddlers jacked up on sugar and adrenaline.
My son is usually freaked out by birthday parties, with good reason given the attendees, so he tends to hang out with me. My daughter, on the other hand, is content to find something to play with (at this last party, it was fairy wings and a magic wand) and will watch the wanton destruction from the sidelines with a friend or two. This is not to say that they abstain from barbaric behavior the whole time, comporting themselves with the utmost in proper etiquette. Quite the opposite. Yesterday, Squeaky and another girl rolled a third child headfirst down a slide and giggled maniacally all the while. The third child, understandably, was in tears. Winchie, who despises sitting in a circle for reading time, exacted his revenge on the unsuspecting leader of Birthday Story Time by hurling a large metal watering can full of fake flowers in her general direction and roaring at her like a monster. And while I quickly stepped in to curtail this kind of behavior in my children, I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of their completely unhindered ids at play.
Enter the wish for a video camera. When my kids are all grown up and have the obligatory white collar desk jobs that modern middle-class education prepares them for, there won’t be any opportunity for them to let their ids run free and participate in a truly wild rumpus Maurice Sendak-style. Instead, they’ll bottle it all up inside and release it in the form of mid life crises. At least, that’s my theory. How else does one explain old men with combovers buying up the world’s supply of virility substitutes—oops, I mean sports cars—and marrying bubble-brained bimbettes like it’s a perfectly natural thing? It’s funny, sure, but also kind of sad.
So I want a video of kids being kids because it’s such honest behavior. They’re too little to subscribe to the rules of society that further schooling and class consciousness will put upon them. It’s so great to watch them roar their little hearts out over the injustice of that kid over there getting a cupcake first and getting to see them stomp their little feet with righteous indignation over having to wait for a turn on the slide. I mean, really. Don’t we all want to get the first cupcake and be the first one down the slide? And when that doesn’t happen, don’t we want to scream and stomp our feet, too?
It would be so great to capture, just for a minute, the essence of all these little developing people. And before you run for your tinfoil hats or accuse me of stealing the plot of Dr. Strangelove, here’s what I’m getting at: One day, the little people engaging in birthday party shenanigans will be all grown up and messed up just like their parents. But they’ll still be the same basic person inside. Temperaments generally don’t change with age, barring unfortunate accidents and/or abuse of some kind. So here would be this little recording of a room full of toddlers just having a great time running, pushing other kids, screaming, chasing, pounding fists, eating too much cake, and generally behaving like the little primates they are. No lame posturing, no inhibitions, no affected ideological philosophies, nothing fake. Seeing how little people navigate the world in this state is one of the best parts of parenting. (Well, that, and getting to re-watch your favorite cartoons while eating ludicrous amounts of Rice Krispie treats). It’s nice to be reminded that we all start out on pretty much the same level and while we’re all destined for different things, there once was a time when even the seemingly all-powerful CEO of Amalgamated Conglomo Widgets R Us picked her nose and cried for her mommy when another kid stole her favorite My Little Pony toy.
Initially, I purchased the Dum-Dum pops because I thought they’d be kind of a fun little treat for the kids once in a while. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to curse the existence of that little cartoon drum figure and the insulin-spiking, fruit-ish flavored globs of pure evil on a stick that he peddles. Dum-Dum pops, almost at the bottom of the candy hierarchy in my humble estimation (they rank just above Laffy Taffy/Now ‘N’ Laters, and those weird British licorice things that look like black spots of tar surrounded by day-glo pink, yellow, or orange fondant. Yuck.), have become my kids’ junk food obsession du jour.
Frankly, I’d rather eat a nearly-petrified peanut butter drop from my grandmother’s purse than a Dum-Dum pop. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that they’re so boring. It’s like they’re trick candy. You think it’s a delicious treat, but NOOOOOOOOO. It’s really furniture polish or LSD or crystallized goat innerds. Dum-Dums are suspicious. I don’t trust them. People give them out at the bank, for Chrissakes! And yet I bought them for my children. Such are the lengths a mom will go to to keep her kids quiet for 10 seconds.
Given my distaste for Dum-Dums, I never thought my kids would take to them more than cookies, cupcakes, marshmallows, or another type of mass-produced confectionary treat. Yet, as I type this, there’s a huge jar of them up high on a shelf in my kitchen with two little kids dancing a pagan jig beneath it, clamoring for the sugary goodness that only the Dum-Dums in question can deliver.
When I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast each morning, the response it always the same: “lollipops!” When I tell her that lollipops are not a breakfast food and she can, instead, choose from cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, yogurt, toast or a muffin, she shifts into Linda Blair mode and screams as though I’ve burnt up her favorite toy in the furnace. I always turn my head away slightly to avoid the pea soup that I’m certain she’ll spew at any second. Seriously. It’s frightening how quick the transformation can be from happy, compliant toddler to twisted demonic banshee hell-bent on destruction due to the utterance of a simple word: No. Yikes!
Her brother has a slightly more devious approach. Instead of getting upset at being denied the sugary snack for breakfast, he will seemingly shrug it off and walk away. Does he wait patiently at the table for toast and jam? Does he go to the refrigerator and grab some yogurt? Does he pick a banana out of the fruit bowl on the island in our kitchen? Oh, no. Instead, he attempts to scale the shelving unit on which the lollipop jar rests. Or he pulls the drawers out from under the counter, climbs up them onto said counter, and attempts a 10’ standing long jump across the kitchen to the shelving unit in the hope that he may land somewhere in the vicinity of the lollipops. I would applaud and encourage his feats of athleticism if I weren’t so scared that he’ll break his neck, or worse, the shelving unit. Those things can be pricey!
Seriously, though, I feel like a drug dealer. I’ve unintentionally gotten my kids hooked on the white stuff: Pure, unadulterated sugar. I’m sure pediatric endocrinologists and dentists alike approve of my innocent blunder. It’s seemingly innocuous mistakes like mine that keep them in business. But I curse the day I ever put that brightly colored bag of treats into my grocery cart. Fortunately, my kids haven’t stopped eating their vegetables and they always leave room for dinner, but still. The lollipop obsession is annoying and I’d love to put a stop to it. I know I can’t do this without creating a mutinous environment in my house, so I’m taking aim elsewhere. The lollipops can stay, for now, but other junk has got to go!
In an effort to cut down on the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods my kids eat, I’ve decided to start making much of my own bread, waffles, crackers, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Nicole, that’s just more work for you!” Yes. Yes, it is. However, having received an amazing bread maker for my 32nd birthday (thanks, Sweetie!), it’s not as bad as it sounds. The bread machine has turned the tedious job of making bread at home to something so easy, even my 3-year-olds can do it—as long as Mommy’s around to do the measuring and push the buttons on the machine. My advice? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice. (Full points to anyone who gets that reference.)
Likewise, I picked up a cheap waffle maker from Walgreen’s (of all places!) last week. It was ten bucks and I’ve already used three times. The recipe it came with produced heavy, terrible waffles, that I could probably sell to the IOC for use in a gold medal hockey game. But a Google search remedied that. I found a much more suitable recipe in about 5 minutes thanks to the magic of the interwebs. Subsequent uses have yielded light, fluffy, TASTY waffles better than pretty much any others I’ve eaten. All this from relatively inexpensive kitchen machinery and ingredients I already had in my pantry. Sweet.
So how do the kids like the change thus far? Frankly, they love it. They get to help make their own food by putting pre-measured ingredients into the bread machine, helping me stir the waffle batter (the best part being when they get to lick the spoon, of course) and using their great-grandmother’s heavy rolling pin to flatten the cracker dough. I tried letting them sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on the crackers, but that devolved into a ridiculous food fight that was damn near impossible to clean up—the dog is still shaking out the occasional seed from her fur. So, as with every other parenting aspect, it’s all about trial and error.
And none of this even takes into consideration how much more the kids like what they eat. As anyone who’s ever made bread at home can tell you, it tastes significantly better than what you can buy at the store. It doesn’t last as long from a hardening- and mold-growing perspective, but smaller loaves mean fresher loaves. Plus, the kids feel a sense of pride at having contributed to making their own food. They’re starting to understand it and see the connection between what’s on the shelf and what goes into their tummies. As a parent, that’s pretty cool to see. (As an aside, I feel the need to give Michelle Obama some serious props for bringing this issue to the national stage via her organic garden. Any time people get the chance to take a direct hand in the production of their own food, they will benefit. Yay, Michelle!)
I realize that this effort is not something that everyone is willing or able to undertake. Not everyone has the time or energy to make much of their own food. But, as any of my friends or family members can tell you, I’m a total control freak who distrusts industrialized food products, so the production of food at home is ideal for me. I control what goes into the food, so I know it’s good. Now that I make the waffles my kids eat, I don’t worry what hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and/or preservatives are doing to their little systems. Likewise, the bread I make doesn’t have any ingredients you’d need an advanced degree in Chemistry to identify.
All of this makes me sleep much better at night and keeps me from begrudging my kids their lollipops. Yes, I wish they’d get as excited for fruit and veggies as they do for candy, but I’m not living in the Twilight Zone here. I know that will never happen as long as humans are hard-wired to crave sugar- and fat-laden foods. But it is nice to think that I might be imparting some small appreciation of good, healthy food to my kids. And isn’t that one of the best things I can do as a parent? Give my kids good food, nurture their innate self-confidence and curiosity and then turn them loose on the world to discover, learn, and grow? Yup. That pretty much sums it up. And if Dum-Dum pops are part of that experience, I can live with it. There are worse things. Like Velveeta. Seriously. Processed “cheese food” that requires no refrigeration? What? Who decided THAT was a good idea? Frightening.
*This title was stolen directly from “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys.
On Saturday mornings and afternoons, my beloved husband takes over the child-rearing duties which enables me to run necessary errands (groceries, dry cleaning, pharmacy runs, etc.) and also to have some time to myself. Because I’m the biggest dork in the universe, I tend to frequent stores selling fabric, art/craft supplies, coffee, and records. (Hey, Entrepreneurs! I would LIVE in a store that sold all of these things under one roof. I’m just sayin’.) But really, any location that offers relative peace and quiet and a chance for me to geek out about some of my favorite things is where I’ll be on any given Saturday.
This past Saturday found me indulging the bibliophile side of my personality at the library. After browsing through some new releases and picking up a variety of interesting-looking novels, I headed straight for the art section looking for something to inspire me to complete the piece I’m currently working on. Because I’m a total bookwhore, I couldn’t help glancing at the shelved tomes on the way there. In the parenting section, which I usually avoid like the plague, I spied a book called . I hurried past, thinking, “My kids are happy, right?” I paused. Hmmm. Are they? Really? “Crap,” I thought to myself while pivoting on the spot, “I’d better read this book just to make sure.”
Such is the seductive power of so-called self help books. Damn you, Random Author with no extra letters after your name to denote a graduate degree! You have no special training in child psychology or a similar field, and are, therefore, no better qualified to write such a book than I am. You may not even have children! But I am compelled to pick up your book nonetheless. The title is written in a decent font, so you were at least smart enough to hire a qualified graphic designer. Dare I judge a book by its cover? Might you have some insights after all? I doubt it. And I intend to call your bluff.
I touch the book gingerly on its spine. I look around to see if anyone notices. My mind screams, “Nooooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the voice of doubt! You’re better than this!” And yet, like Orpheus looking back to check on Eurydice, I cannot resist the temptation. What if I’m wrong? What if the seemingly unqualified Random Author does know something I don’t? I quickly slip the book from the shelf into the middle of the pile I’ve amassed. Whew! That was close. That lady over by the computer terminals. Did she see me? Is she smirking? Crap. I abandon the promise of the art section for the time being, hang my head slightly and dash to a nearby study carrel to indulge my insecurities in peace.
Scanning the Table of Contents/List of Childhood Traumas, I ask myself what I’m most dreading as a parent. I’m not going to read the whole book, after all, just the portion that pertains to a truly odious parental responsibility that I’d rather avoid. I hit upon it towards the end of the list: The Talk. That awkward discussion about the birds and the bees that we all had with our hopelessly clueless parents at some point in our lives. Some of us giggled our way through it, others stuffed our fingers in our ears and shrieked “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!” while we ran at warp speed out of the house. Ah, adolescence. Good times.
I begin the rationalization process: Valentine’s Day is here after all, and with all that romance in the air and naked little putti waiting to hit all unsuspecting humans with their aphrodisiac-tainted love darts, it could happen. My three-year-olds could ask me about where babies come from, right? Yeah, totally plausible. I’d better read up on how Random Author suggests I handle the situation. I turn to the correct page and commence reading.
Yada, yada, yada. Be a good listener. Use correct terminology for body parts. Don’t forget to address the emotional side as well. Yeah. All stuff I already knew. Sweet! My self-awarded Parent of the Millennium status remains intact! I knew it would! Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.*
This entire, and somewhat harrowing, process could have been completely avoided had I simply had confidence in my own parenting skills. My kids are normal toddlers who do not display any behavioral maladies for which I should actively seek out professional help. They aren’t cruel to animals. They don’t start fires. They don’t hit or bite other kids. They don’t even swear! So, what am I doing picking up a parenting-advice book written by a marginally-qualified author? Why this culture of fear and doubt? The problem is larger than the middle class parental milieu to which I belong. It’s endemic to all things American. But this is a subject for a dissertation, not a so-called parenting column written by a marginally-qualified at-home mom in Chicago.
As with all good life experiences, I learned a little something from my time at the library. (And truthfully, isn’t that what libraries are for?) I learned that I shouldn’t listen to the voice of doubt who tells me I may not be doing things correctly. With parenting, there is no incorrect as long as your children are safe and thriving. There’s simply doing what you know and trusting that your kids will be fine. Let’s face it, you survived being brought up by your parents, right? Your kids will survive, too.
When people ask me what I do to get my kids to do X, my answer is always the same: nothing. I’m there to guide them, but they’re driving the stagecoach. When they get too unruly, I calm them. When they get tired, I put them to bed. When they get bored, I read to them or play trains with them or engage in another similar activity that they find fun. I’m not constantly hounding them with flashcards to make sure they’re maximizing learning time, nor am I pushing them to achieve athletically or to become involved in activities I find interesting and/or valuable. Winchie and Squeaky are fine how they are. The world is theirs to explore and they will naturally gravitate toward and learn about things they enjoy.
So to parents who are all freaked out that little Johnny or Susie isn’t reading by the time they’re two or haven’t reached superstar status in their preschool by replicating Rodin sculptures with Play-Doh, I say this: chill. Take a deep breath, throw out all of those What to Expect… books and simply get to know your child/children. Your kids will tell you everything you need to know about them and when problems arise, trust your instincts. You’ll be fine. I promise. You don’t need questionable advice from self-helpers. You are all the authority you need.
Now go out there and have a great Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s kind of a crap holiday created by Hallmark and their ilk, but it celebrates love, which is never a bad thing. Go find a special someone and give him/her a squeeze. And because you are all the authority you need, the location of said squeeze is entirely up to you. * wink, wink *
*Thanks, Thom Yorke! Ok Computer rules!