Mommy, Look!

While chatting with a friend today, I reminisced a bit about my kids when they were younger, and the grey hairs they have so generously given me over the years. That conversation got me thinking of the different parenting scenarios I’ve survived experienced with my children.

When I was a mom with young kids, there were a few phrases I’d hear that would make my heart drop in my chest.  “Your credit card has been denied” was one of them, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that brand of wine” was another, and “I forgot to tell you, mom, I need…”  was an anxiety inducing sentence, no matter what they added to the end of it.

There’s one, though, that stands out from the rest.  Never will a mother ever hear anything more frightening than “Mommy, look!”  This is the child equivalent of “hold my beer.”

There is a direct relation between how many times the word “mommy” is used and how much time will be spent at the doctor’s office later.  “Mommy, look” usually can be fixed with a band-aid and a few kisses, but “mommy, mommy, mommy look” is probably going to end up in an emergency room visit.

Even more frightening is when they add words or phrases to the basic “mommy, look.”  Additional phrases can be “Look at me, mommy,” “look what I can do,” or even worse, “mommy, look what I learned in school today.”

Sometimes, the action is more embarrassing than dangerous.  “Mommy, guess what Uncle Fred taught me today?”  is a dangerous thing for a young kid to say in a crowded elevator.  Other times, a “mommy, look” can be inspired by a movie.  Even an innocent movie, like Mary Poppins, can have your kid teetering on the garage roof with an opened umbrella. Don’t ask me how I know this.

As moms, we picture our Facebook and social media pages as being full of sweet posts, adorable pictures, and heartfelt videos.  Instead, we get emergency room photos of smiling kids holding up arms in casts – all with one thing in common; the incidents probably all started with “Mommy, mommy, mommy, look what I can do!”   This is a real thing; doctors can now legally bill your insurance for “uh oh” and “mommy, look.”

Speaking of which, “uh oh” is another loaded toddler phrase, roughly equating to “I spilled my beer.”  The “uh oh” by itself can range from dropped food to “I drew with crayon on the Mona Lisa while you weren’t looking.”  It can be paired with “mommy, look” for added anxiety.  “Uh oh, mommy, look” is slightly less frightening than “mommy, look!  Uh oh.”  If you understand the difference, you are truly a mom.

Unfortunately for women, while little girls will eventually grow out of the “mommy, look” stage, their male counterparts never do.  They may exchange umbrellas for ladders, garage roofs for four-wheelers, and “mommy, look” for “here, hold my beer,” but the basic concept is the same.  Men’s “uh ohs” can be loosely translated to “look out!” or “damn, didn’t see that coming.”  Either translation will probably equate to an emergency room visit and stitches. Lots of stitches.

A mom can tell you, though, that on par with “mommy, look” is The Silence from the Other Room.  This is a much subtler approach for kids; it sneaks up on moms before they realize anything is even amiss.  Usually, it happens after the fourth load of laundry and right around the time the unsuspecting mom finally collapses into her favorite chair with a sigh and a glass of wine.  Then, it hits her…she hasn’t heard her children make a sound for over ten minutes.  The length of quiet time will generally translate into exact degrees of trouble the child has found.  A few minutes may only find a wall covered in lipstick, while ten minutes or more will most likely result in a child stuck upside down in the chimney.

Sadly, once the kids grow up, “mommy, look” is replaced by “mom, drop me off around the corner” and “uh oh” becomes “I know, I know” with an eye-roll chaser. The best advice for moms whose kids still want them to look?  Look, every time.  Before you know it, you aren’t cool enough to even be invited to see what they are doing anymore and, trust me, you’ll miss “uh oh” more than you can imagine.

What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

A Shameful Cycle of Shaming

These days, it seems like every mom with a computer becomes an immediate motherhood professional. From website to blog and back again, these moms pour out their wisdom and advice.  I find myself marveling at the wealth of information I can find in any one of these sites, and also the ridiculous amount of judgmental bull crap that I read in nearly every one.

On one site, a mother proudly proclaims she let little Junior cry himself to sleep last night; best decision she ever made and just who the hell in their right mind co-sleeps anyway?  In another article on the same site, a mom is complaining praising herself because she slept in a rocking chair all night, soothing her baby to sleep and why on earth would anyone in their right mind let their baby cry it out?  Both are shaming the other in their storytelling, while complaining that they are being shamed for their own choices.

It’s not so much the contradictory advice I constantly see (sometimes in the same damn blog) that bothers me.  It’s the sheer hypocrisy I see from some of these New Age Mothers. This “newer, softer” generation of parents are outraged at anyone who dares to judge them for their parenting techniques. They shame the “mommy shamers,” brutally. They encourage the battle cry “mothers unite!” and push hard against those who have the audacity to judge other parents.  This in and of itself is a very good thing.  Mothers SHOULD stick together.

I guess these writer-moms must be exempt from their own outrage, though, not to mention their own rules, because every other article I’ve seen is a harsh judgement against parents who think differently from whatever parenting protocol they happen to be writing about. When they run out of “their words,” they resort to memes to make their point.

When I’m navigating my way through these “Mom” groups and see memes outright mocking so-called “helicopter” parents or zingy little one-liners criticizing those with only one child (because apparently, they’re not actual “parents”), I think to myself:  For a group who berates mommy-shamers, you guys sure do a lot of shaming of your own. Why do you care how others parent their children so long as they’re loving and caring, and not abusive?  Isn’t mocking someone else’s parenting technique the very thing you get angry about, or is that just when others do it to you? Alas, I get no answers to my questions since the inquiring voice is only in my head.

Now as I’m sure you know, I’ve never been one to say I won’t judge. Hell, I do it all the time. Oh, I won’t judge you on your looks, your education, your job, your religion or anything of that nature, and I won’t judge someone doing the best they can with what they have.  BUT, I will judge you on being a hypocrite. I may judge you for white shoes after Labor Day, not stopping at the crosswalk, or for using the Express Lane with eighteen items, and I will definitely judge you for being a jerk, a bully, or an asshole.  It’s part of my charm. But some of these writer Moms are caught in an endless shaming cycle. While they decry those who judge them on their parenting choices, in the next breath they shame others for choosing a different path for their kids. You can’t have it both ways.

Bottom line, despite the competitive nature of the world, raising kids should not be a game or a contest, and if your child is growing up healthy, polite, and able to function respectfully in society, then congratulations.  You’re doing it right.  It’s a wise mother that knows there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to raising kids; it’s mostly just a hell of a lot of trial and error and making shit up as you go along.

Choose your parenting path, and travel it proudly.  You do need to take ownership, though, and realize that if you choose to judge – those you are judging will be judging you right back.

Parenting in the New Age vs My Age

Recently, I was reading a parenting article by a fellow mom.  I refer to her generation of parents as “New Age Mothers.” She’s a bit newer to the whole parenting thing than I am; she has toddlers and young children whereas mine have somehow survived and become productive members of society despite this mother’s misgivings about my parenting style.

This writer mom (who shall forever in my mind be called New Age Mom) describes what she terms “Helicopter Parenting.”  If this is a new phrase to you, I’ll paraphrase it to “Overparenting.”  In her series of articles, she makes the case for what she considers hands-off parenting in a variety of baffling ways.  In one entry, she mocks the mom who stays with her child at the playground and makes sure her spawn doesn’t plummet to her earthly demise from the top of a set of monkey bars. Or *gasp* the mother who chooses to actually play with her children while at the playground.

New Age Mom also judges the perplexed mother who is watching the Abandoned Children of the Playground nervously, trying to make sure they are all safe as they dangle from the roof of the nearby outhouse.  Her commentary on these mothers is both depressing and confusing. Why? Because this is the same New Age Mom who will claim it takes a village to raise a child, among other things…not to mention her harsh judgement against a fellow Mom for another…all while criticizing those who dare to judge her parenting technique. The irony of all this seems to be lost on her.

You see, New Age Mom doesn’t go to the park to play. She has no interest in helping her kids with the “they’re not quite ready for that” tasks or involving herself in games. New Age Mom considers this hovering and relentlessly judges those parents who choose to do it. Personally, I think she’s missing out on a prime opportunity to simply enjoy her kids…you know, those cute little creatures that only stay little for so long.

I was a mother who put the “play” in playground.  I took my kids to the park and not only encouraged them to play with other kids, but also —*big gasp*— played with them myself.  I taught them new tricks and games.  I taught them the valuable lessons learned from climbing the monkey bars that seemed too high, waiting in line for the best slide in the park, and sharing with other kids.  We got to blow off steam in a place with no hard and fast rules.  Most importantly, though, I shared quality time with them. This was a time when we could just enjoy each other, have fun with each other laughing and being crazy, and a time when I could set aside the pressures I faced through the years as both a stay at home mom and a working mom and just be a big kid myself.

It was also a learning time for me; I learned that my kids were caring and fun little people, and more importantly, that the aluminum slides get very, VERY hot in the summer.  I also learned that getting stuck halfway down the slide is embarrassing, but being a plate of scalding metal as it was, you figured out a way to get down pretty darned quick.  These moments were not a chore to me, they are treasured memories for my family. And yes, it was a learning experience for my kids too. They learned that unless we needed to call an ambulance or rush to the hospital, it was possible to shake off skinned knees or elbows and get on with the day.

New Age Mom also wrote that she dislikes Chuck E Cheese’s because she can’t just relax.  She worries that her child will run off, get into trouble, burn the place to the ground and cause World War III.  This is a confusing juxtaposition for me; didn’t she just say she appreciates moms who let their kids run free at the playground?  Chuck E Cheese’s is one of the few places where it is nearly impossible to truly lose your child.  I admire the place’s security checks and open design that allow kids to just have fun and moms to take a breather for a few short hours. It’s a place where kids can just have fun with very few, if any, “no’s.” For a parent who dislikes “hovering” so much, you’d think New Age Mom would be on board for that.

New Age Mom laments the quality of food at Chuck’s, but you know what? Sometimes you just have to eat the bad pizza to truly let your kid be a kid.  However, and I’m just guessing here, but I bet this same blogger mom probably runs to McDonald’s for a quick snack sometimes, and honestly, there is nothing wrong with that in moderation.  I’ve been known to do it *ahem* a time or two.  But if you’re going strictly by quality and taste, I’m not sure which is worse better: McDonald’s or Chuck E Cheese.

The New Age Mom is also worried that Chuck’s has germs.  Seriously.  I wonder how she copes with the copious number of germs in the doctor’s office, breeding all over those toys her kids are currently playing with?  Does she know how many times her kids share straws with sick kids at the daycare center or grab toys from other kids’ snot filled little fingers? Or even the bacteria filled dirt they’re eating at the park where they’re running free? The fact is, you can’t keep them in a bubble.  Germs exist.  It is a proven fact that the more kids are exposed to germs, the more resistance they build against them.  We were never meant to live in a sterile environment.  I’m glad, really, because what fun is bubble life, anyway?

The New Age Mother in question also dislikes taking her kids to non-parent homes for get-togethers. Yeah, I know. She has a list. Anyway, apparently, she feels that her kids would destroy the house, starve to death as picky eaters, poison the water well for the community, stain every cloth surface in reach, and execute the homeowner’s fish.  Her own home is a safe-ground because it is appropriately child proofed and suitably stained and messy, I suppose. Actually, I don’t have to suppose or guess…she went into great detail about just how stained and messy her house was because well, she has kids.  I won’t even get into that today.

I can’t imagine parents not taking their children somewhere because it is simply too much trouble to keep track of them. In fact, some parents even teach their children to behave in social situations.  Honest fact! I swear.

Back in the day, we packed appropriately for the visit, with a bag full of our kids’ favorite toys to occupy them.  We packed snacks just in case they didn’t like the food served, and encouraged them to try the food anyway.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a kid who was NOT a “picky eater.”

It’s not like our childless friends had no idea what to expect from a visit with children involved.  I mean, they knew what kids were – they’d read about them in books at least. They were well aware of how kids acted, pretty much at any rate, and wanted us to visit anyway. Friends. God love ‘em. They didn’t break out the rare 18th century bone china from a remote village in Taiwan or fill every bathtub with water and “play here” signs before we came over, but neither did they expect our kids to daintily lay their napkins across their laps and eat the offerings served up by Chef Gervais, who was standing in the kitchen nervously awaiting my toddler’s approval.

I considered every social event a learning experience.  If we were at a restaurant, grocery store or friend’s house, my kids learned how to act.  We taught our kids from an early age that you behave a certain way in certain places and they “got it.” I’m not sure where we lost that. I took my kids to childless friends’ houses, to nice restaurants, and anywhere else and they behaved. They were taught that, they didn’t learn it by osmosis. They weren’t screaming, running around breaking things, and being soulless demons (at least not outwardly soulless demons). They knew better and they behaved. Even as toddlers.  If there was the start of a tantrum, I cut it off early and walked out from wherever I was to take care of it and then returned — if it couldn’t be calmed down, then we left and bedtime likely came early that evening in retaliation.

Kids are not stupid. They learn quickly. As parents, it’s our job to teach them. Keeping them from social situations or out of other people’s houses because we’re too lazy to teach them to behave better? To the New Age Mom, I have one question. When did we stop being parents? When did parenting become a hands-off occupation (and no, I don’t mean spare the rod and spoil the child – I mean simply, doing our job)?

Parenting is not easy. It’s not always fun. It’s a tough thing to do, probably the toughest thing you will ever do – IF you’re doing it right. Could it be that some of the New Age Mothering techniques are less of a style and more convenience factors?

I’ve raised two kids. Not as many as some and perhaps one more than others. But suffice it to say, I’m not a newbie and I’ve been through it all…with my sanity mostly intact, I’m glad to say. Parenting is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do, but it’s not supposed to be easy. If it is, you’re doing it wrong.