Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Confessions of a Rule-Breaking Mom

I hate to admit it, because it is such a cliche, but we raised our first baby by the book. Literally. We used My First 300 Babies by Gladys Hendrick, a British nanny who advocates strict schedules and really early bedtimes. It worked well for Baby #1 and greatly eased my "What the heck do I do with this little person?" anxiety as a first-time mom.

But, oh, how far we have come. That every-minute-scheduled Baby #1 is now a freshman in college. I don't think she sleeps much at all these days, but it's not because she wasn't trained right!

Baby #6 is a very happy, extremely flexible little pup and I can vouch that it is absolutely no thanks to any kind of schedule. That baby eats when I have time to feed him and gets a quick bath and short lullaby if he's lucky.

He also gets to play with balloons.

Yes, I know balloons are dangerous for babies. I am not a stupid mother. I am just a much older, much more relaxed because I am much more exhausted mother.

And therein is my confession. If it helps me get more rest, I am all for it. That balloon absolutely exhausted the creeper crawler who chased it all over the living room for a good 25 minutes. He had a doozy of a nap afterward.

Since I'm in the mood to divulge my sins of mommyhood, here's a brief list of other rules I regularly ignore:

1. I do not fold fitted sheets. I know how to do it and I recognize the attractiveness of having a linen closet full of stacked sheet sets nestled in their coordinating pillow cases. But -- here's more -- I don't even have extra sheet sets. I strip the beds, wash everything, then remake it again all on the same day. (In case of nighttime messes, I pull out a sleeping bag or, in horrible cases, make a nest of towels on the floor.)

2. I neglect flu shots. Spare me the statistics. All I know is that every single time my husband received his  mandatory flu shot in the Army, he suffered "flu like symptoms". I'd rather take my chances each year than sign up for eight cases of "flu like symptoms". And, yes, I am aware that the mere act of typing that confession likely dooms me to an outbreak this season. Keep checking back for that blog update.

3. Just last night we fed Picky Eater some pancakes with four little blueberries buried inside. When he ate the plate full and declared it delicious, we divulged the added fruit. Yes, we lie to our children. About food. About television. About whether or not there is money in the bank. The list is endless. But, boy, does it cut down on a lot of arguing. Which means there is more time to rest.

4. I no longer powder the baby's bottom every time I change a diaper. Heck, if it's just a little wet, I don't even waste a wipe. Truth is the powder stopped happening about halfway to potty training Baby #2. Think about how much money and time I've saved.

5. I take 800 mg of ibuprofen at a time. I don't need it every day (yet) but when I need it I need it BIG. Oh happy day when someone has a tooth pulled or some other procedure and comes home with a bottle of prescription strength Motrin! I am aware that too much pain killer is unhealthy. But so is not being able to sleep because your entire left side is one huge knot of sore muscle.

6. The bathtub sometimes goes days without being used. During a terrible drought in 2002 we discovered that little children do not actually require daily bathing. Unless they have done something involving mud, pee, blood or a combination thereof, a bath twice a week is plenty. Okay, so it's once a week in the winter. They don't sweat much when it's cold.

7. I do not believe in perfect attendance. Don't they issue notices about never sending a child who has either vomited or run a fever in the past 24 hours? Doesn't that mean my child won't get an award unless either we fudge the rules or he/she is somehow lucky enough to only be ill on weekends or holidays? Besides, everyone needs mental health holidays now and then. So even if my kid is not physically sick, there is at least one day per year we play hooky just for the fun of it.

Now you probably feel a little smug about your superior parenting. I have no problem with that. I'm going to give the baby a bite of chocolate, blow off vacuuming for one more day, dig out the pizza delivery number, and pop another Motrin.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Perfects

I see them around sometimes.

It might be at the supermarket where she is pushing a cart full of fresh fruit, organic vegetables, and wheat bread. She looks cool and comfortable in her designer boots while the Baby Gap ad-worthy infant coos sweetly and the pink-cheeked toddler walks quietly by her side.

Sometimes they are at church where the whole pew of them look pressed and polished and no one sniffs, sighs or slumps. I can't help spying as they leave and am not surprised when they climb into a late-model SUV that is free of dirt, scratches and "wash me" graffiti on the tailgate.

My husband tells me they show up frequently at 5Ks around town. Apparently they get a kick out of getting up early on a Saturday morning to compete with each other--all smiles and cooperation in their quest for fitness and together time.

They are the perfect family. And, frankly, they bug me. I think they should just take it down a notch or two so the rest of us can feel a little better about our attempts at being a successful family. I mean "successful" is a very worthy goal. "Perfect" is just over the top.

Every now and then someone will refer to us as being the Perfects. We usually look at each other with a mixture of confusion and discomfort. "How in the heck are they getting that vibe?" we wonder to each other as we pile into our own road-weary, scratched and dusty SUV. On the ride home, the baby squawks, the brothers punch, the oil light blinks on again, and someone needs a tissue to stop the bleeding. Parents sigh, little ones whine, and older ones zone out with earbuds. How could anyone see perfection amongst this circus?

But I think I might understand what's going on.

We all put on our best face for the outside world. I think that's a good thing. (I mean, do we really want to walk through town constantly seeing our neighbors at their worst?). I consider that a gift we give to each other. We mow our lawn and sweep our front porch because it makes us feel better and we don't want to subject others to ugly just because we're feeling lazy. That same thinking makes me brush the hair, tie the shoes, and do my best to make sure the faces of my offspring are scrubbed clean before we head out. And that same thinking keeps me from ragging on about my children's shortcomings with people who don't know me, or them, very well. I'm not so enthralled with the idea of presenting an uncensored, reality-show version of our life to the world at large.

I think most of us feel the same way ( notwithstanding). Is it fudging on the truth to smile and say, "Everyone's fine!" when someone asks about the family? Do I have to share the details of clogged toilets, detention notices, cavities, and unexpected bills with all my Facebook friends? Sometimes people look pretty perfect on the surface, but we have to remember--for our own mental health--that no one is immune to the ickiness of human reality. The fact that someone's life looks photo-shopped at any given moment is really just a happy accident. 

This is what I am going to remind myself the next time I glimpse someone I'm tempted to envy: Nobody's actually a Perfect. Some days we just manage to clean up better than others.

In fact, the next time I see Mrs. Perfect and her cherubic children at the store, I just might give her a thumbs up and say, "Way to put a shine on it for the public. I love your boots and, here, have a tissue. Someone is bound to need it on the ride home."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mommy's Little Helper

Please don't judge me. I'm feeling so desperate today that things like coffee and chocolate are just not cutting it anymore. I really need the good stuff. It's been too long.

I just want a little. I know I can't overdo it or things will completely fall apart around here. I realize I have responsibilities and that it's not all about me. I get that. But could it just be about me for a couple of hours at night after everyone else is in bed? If I can't see straight or quiet my shaking hands, am I really any good to anyone? So wouldn't just a little hit, I mean bit, be okay?

Honestly it is for the good of my family. My children! They need me to be calm. And I really cannot be calm without some. I know this for a fact. I've gone without it for great stretches at a time and I do not function well. Maybe others don't need help to function, but I do. I really do. I neeeeed it! Just a little.

You people without lots of children just don't fully understand. You might have given it up for a little while, but you don't really remember how sad and lonely it feels to go cold turkey. Night after night after night of wanting something--anything!--but getting nothing is brutal. For you it's a just a distant bad memory.

You people with no children will never get it at all. Frankly, I'm having a hard time liking you right now. I'm sorry! It's the withdrawal talking. I don't really hate you. I'm just sort of jealous right now. You know why? Because you have access to the "little helper" all the time. You don't even realize how great it is. It's not fair. If you are childless you don't need much. I need as much as I can get. But I'll settle for just a little. You could share, you know. You have more than you need. I can tell by your bright eyes and fresh skin and ready smile. You are making me sick.

Or maybe it's not just you. Maybe it's because I need my "helper" for medicinal purposes. I'm certain it's the only thing that helps. I'm feeling stressed and shaky and fuzzy-headed. I just need a little to clear my thoughts. And to soothe my aching muscles. I have this headache that won't go away. I just need a little, I swear. If I could just get a little, I'd be absolutely fine.

Seriously...does anyone know where I can get some sleep? I'm willing to pay.