Me and the daughter who might, when she’s older, reflect back on the fact that I didn’t totally suck at parenting.
One of the best things about being old, and mostly surviving my child-rearing years unscathed, is that I get to assure my friends with little kids that it will all be okay. I even get to mean it. And they listen to me, because I am clearly the awesomest mother ever, as evidenced by my 16 year-old who actually likes me, is a straight A student taking AP classes in her STEM High School, training for Nationals as a competitive weight-lifter and is a genuinely nice human. She is my living-breathing proof that I am an awesome mother. Which is why people ask my advice all the time.
“How did you…..” they ask. “Why did you…” they inquire. My answer is always the same. I finish my swallow of wine or beer or tequila or whatever, “I have no fucking idea why it worked.”
And I’m sticking with that. Seriously.
I read no parenting books. They made me crazy when I tried to. It was like a gigantic list of things that would go wrong, ways I would ruin my child forever if I did this or didn’t do that. Those books planted a minefield in my mind and riddled me with self doubt.
Thus, the wine. (It pairs so naturally with whine.)
But there are a few moments that stand out, when I knew that I was just nailing motherhood. When people around would stop and stare in awe of the awesomeness of my mothering:
1. There was all the commercially available soy-based formula that I fed her starting at 6 weeks when I kicked her and her sharp little teeth off my tits for good. She hated my breasts. Breast-feeding was a nightmare, and it never “took.” Luckily, my appendix burst when she was 5 weeks-old, and 5 days in the hospital on morphine and trying not to die caused my breast milk to dry up. I knew – from the books, before I banned them from my world – that if she didn’t breast feed she’d be a horrible human who never bonded with me or anyone else, and would die young from both a stunted immune system and a stunted intellect that wouldn’t protect her from making decisions that would kill her.
And lordy, ALL the women who would watch me feed her a bottle and tell me how I was hurting her. For real?!?!
In a panic, I called the local La Leche League and was told that if I really cared, there were pills that could make men lactate, so I needed to look into my soul and ask how hard I was willing to try to be there for my daughter. (Yes, really.) What can I say? Formula was working. It was the first time since birth that she was happy, full, smiled during feedings. So ya, mother of the year right here – formula, from there on out. She is the only kid I know who is pretty much never sick. (Wait, if you’re the attendance lady at her high school, pretend I never said that. I do call her in sick to school a lot when there’s something more important to do. That’s right, mother of the year.)
(Spoiler alert: she’s strong as hell, rarely sick, and still snuggles with me. She’s fine.)
2. There was the TV in her bedroom when she was a toddler. People LOVED that. Relative strangers would tell us how we were stunting her growth. But you know what would have stunted her growth more? If I killed her for coming in our room at 4:30 in the morning to play, every damned morning. Really. Mommy needs her sleep, or her sex. Those are the only two things I’m willing to do at 4:30 in the morning, and none of them involve a toddler in bed with me. She was too young to read or tell time, so how else was I going to let her know when it was 6:00? The TV in her room ONLY got Channel 9. She could come in when Elmo’s World was over. To this day, the sound of that theme song causes me to pull up my pants. Mother of The Year, right here.
(Spoiler Alert: she can entertain herself for hours alone, now, and as a child. She’s fine, with a profound respect for people’s boundaries.)
3. There was the pile-driver she did out of the shopping cart at COSTCO. You know that mom who turns away for a moment too long, and whose toddler manages to stand up in the seat, lose balance and do an absolute pile-driver onto a concrete floor? Right here! That’s me. And you should have seen the looks I got! I have never been so scared in my life, I nearly vomited, sobbing, waiting for the medics to arrive. By the time they got there, my daughter was laughing and playing. They assured me she was fine. I didn’t believe them. I called the doctor, who told me she was fine. I didn’t believe him. I took her to the hospital, they told me she was fine, I didn’t believe them. I called a family friend who’s a pediatrician, she told me she was fine. I got drunk.
(Spoiler Alert: she was fine. She still is.)
4. There was the time that I took her down to the park, when she was about 5 or so, to pick out a new mommy. That was a classic, and I’m sure cinched my award for that year. She was throwing some sort of hysterical fit for something awful that I had done. Maybe put on her socks or something, not sure. But she was livid, and eventually told me she wanted a different mommy. Dude, I aim to please. I told her we could go find her one. Down to the park we went, in search of a better mommy for my baby girl. And every woman that walked by heard us discuss whether or not they’d be the right new mommy. The looks I got! Sobbing child, not only screaming about wanting a new mommy, but also insulting all the potential new mommies because mommies can’t wear hats like that, and they don’t have big bags, and mommies can’t be ugly. (Look, she was little, her value system wasn’t spot-on, and her social graces didn’t exist.) We finally left, together, and I’ve been her mommy ever since.
(Spoiler Alert: She’s glad I’m her mommy, but not giving up her assertion that I’m insane.)
5. One of my all time best performances as Mother Of The Year was on the ski slope. I’m guessing she was 6 or so. We were on a hill that was a bit of a challenge for her, but nothing ridiculous. Yes, we were there because I took a wrong turn, story of my life. Anyway, she started screaming that she couldn’t do it. And by screaming, I mean with enough velocity that she was vibrating and occasionally levitating from the force of it. We spent 20 minutes there, with her screaming. “You’re not going to die!” I would assure her. “Yes I am.” “No, but you might break a leg.” (Seriously, this was a fine performance.) She looks at me blankly. “No, really, you might break a leg, then what would happen?” “We’d go to the hospital.” “Right, and then what would happen?” “I’d get a cast.” “Yup, and then what would happen?” “I’d watch a lot of movies.” “Yup, sounds about right.”
We did this a bunch of ways. We sat there catastrophizing all the things that could possibly go wrong as she hurled her little body towards certain doom down the slightly too bumpy bunny hill. People offered to “help,” which really meant control the situation for me, since I obviously couldn’t.
After she finally stopped screaming, and we had exhausted every possible disaster that could possibly happen, ALL of which ended at home watching movies, I left her there. I hit the slopes, went to the bottom and waited for her.
She started screaming again. She called me names. I’ve never heard anything like it. Easily another 20 minutes. Then, she took off her skis, and slid down the hill on her butt. She smiled when she got to me. “I did it mommy!” You sure did baby girl. You sure did. Honestly, I was so proud of her. And before you go off on me (which plenty of people did) I could see her the whole time. I know my daughter, I know how her mind works (just like mine, for better or worse.) This was the right way to handle it for us.
(Spoiler Alert: You should see this girl tackle a challenge. She can go into her fear, bear down and get shit done like no one I’ve ever known. If she’s scarred from this, it’s in the good way.)
I really could go on for hours….. There was the time, in preschool, when they were playing house, and she grabbed a cylindrical block and started shaking it back and forth as if she was jerking off. The teacher was very relieved to be informed that she was making martinis. There was the time when someone said “shit” in front of her and then promptly apologized, only to be informed by my 6 year-old that she already knew all the words that make other cars go faster. There was the time that she was learning to read (which any parent knows is the end of freedom) and I didn’t know she was behind me at my desk until I heard her little voice say, “mommy, what’s anal sex?” Or last week, when we watched ALL of Season One of Broad City together. Or….. Mother Of The Year, right here, comin’ at ya.
Look, parenting is REALLY hard. No two children are alike. No two parents are alike. No two days are alike. No matter what people tell you, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s like being lost in a stinky jungle full of sticky food residue and dangerous sharps toys to step on, with no map and no common language. It’s hard.
How did I rock motherhood so hard? (And I did, really, despite how much fun I make of myself.) I didn’t listen to all the little voices. Not the judgey people who were watching me and thinking I sucked. Not the voices in my head that alternately said “you’re doing it wrong” and “you can always give her back.”
I know what it’s like to look like that mom who is fucking up in every conceivable way and feeling totally judged. But people didn’t see the other 23 hours and 40 minutes in the day. Other people don’t know you or your kid.
The way to survive parenting is to remember that it is an intimate relationship between you and your kid, and you do know what to do, better than anyone else. Trust yourself.
When my friends get pregnant now, and ask for advice, I tell them to trust themselves. Not to listen to other people who tell them what they should be doing. YOU know if your kid is ready to stop breast-feeding. You know if you and your kids can share a bed. YOU know if your kid is ready for team sports, or school, or the trauma of Nemo’s mother dying. YOU know.
But also, you MUST look out for your own sanity and happiness. Your kid will survive crying another 20 minutes if you need a break. Seriously. It’s okay. Kind of like in the airplane, when they tell you to put on your oxygen first. You need to protect your sanity first, because you’ll need it to be a parent. Do what you need to do for YOU.
It’s almost impossible to make a plan for how to be a parent, because the kid is a mystery ingredient. It’s like one of those cooking shows where you’re all like, “I’m an awesome chef, I’m gonna crush this thing,” and then the secret ingredient is Yak Semen, and you’re all like “what the fuck, what do I even do with this?”
(Just so you know, once you figure out what to do with Yak Semen, and you master it, all cocky about your mad skillz, the next kid is going to be snail eggs.)
Unlike a cooking show, however, no one gets to judge you. Unless you’re like actually beating your child or something. But, assuming that you’re just doing your best with an alien creature in a foreign land of adult things, like the rest of us, you just go on with your bad self. Okay?
Take it easy on yourself. As for all those judgey people that you are afraid are juding you, first of all, they’re probably not. There’s some old quote and I have no idea who said it, but I live by it, “you’d worry a lot less about what people thought of you if you realized how rarely they do.”
That said, I think Doctor Seuss said it best, “The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.”