Three Kid Circus : Parenting, then and now

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Parenting, then and now

Parenting by the seat of my pants has become second nature. I had a great conversation yesterday with a friend about how we have evolved as mothers.

When I began my parenting journey, it was with all the self-righteousness I could muster. I was ready. I was confident. I read the right books, took the right classes, I was good to go. My birthplan was a five page manifesto, with every eventuality I could imagine mapped out, with what I decided was the proper course of action to be taken by my medical team. That's right, MY medical team, because clearly, I would be the only woman on earth giving birth.

Surrendering myself to childbirth was a great lesson in humility. Having abandoned my birthplan in the car upon arrival, I proceeded to ask for most of the things that I had deemed unnecessary. As I held my newborn, I had to laugh about my cockiness. I had signed up for the biggest, baddest roller coaster in the park, and didn't think that maybe eating a full value meal complete with curly fries while waiting in line was a bad idea. Blaaaaaaah! That moment defined the parenting experience for me, thus far.

Not that it's been all bad. I've had brilliant moments. Transcendent successes. Despite a horrid start, I overcame pain and infection to triumph as a breastfeeding dynamo. I was sticking it to the formula companies. Take that, you evil sabateurs!

When my first baby walked at just under eight months, I was elated. Here was superior proof of my mothering. I made all my own baby food, from organic produce. No byproducts would besmirch the lips of my tiny darling. I was cooking crazy amounts of broccoli and freezing it in cocktail ice cube trays. I fed her sweet-potato pureed with tofu. I was HARD CORE. Not one cookie passed her lips until she was over 18 months. (Unless my mom slipped her one, which I can fully believe. I was really crazy.)

I videotaped hours and hours of my child, from the lima bean baby to the toddler with the precision pigtails. What strikes me about these early videos is my voice in the background. I was so perky and cutesy. Bleh. "Look at mommy! Oooh! Such a biiiiig girl. Do your trick! Show mommy! Yay!" This is also the time in my life where I asserted that "NO child of mine will perform like a trained monkey." Well, note to me, because I have it all on tape.

I would love to have the hundreds of dollars I spent on miscellaneous baby gear at the Right Start. If it said "educational" or "parent's choice award" somewhere on the packaging, I bought it. I had professional portraits taken once a month, and mailed them out to friends and relatives. I FILLED OUT HER BABY BOOK.

I was horrified when visiting a friend with twin two year olds. She held my innocent baby close enough for them to breathe on her, and I wanted to snatch her away and run for it. I passed judgment on other mothers, albeit in my head. I was critical of obnoxious children and their clueless parents. I was sad for those women who seemed weary and tired, uninteresting in the darling story their child was chirping.

And then I had another baby. And another. And suddenly I realize that I've become those moms I used to scoff at. Actually, I'm probably worse. The burning desire to win a blue ribbon for superior mothering is gone, replaced by the mild surprise that despite my parenting fumbles and lack of blueprints, we're not only surviving, but thriving.

My 20 month old can order her own Happy Meal. I have failed utterly at convincing my children that play time can be quiet and doesn't need to involve destruction. My visions of tidy baskets filled with educational toys have been eclipsed by an explosion of Polly Pocket rubber clothes. My son talks and talks and talks. I am weary, wary and worried. I am full of expectations, frustration and sheer joy at the unpredictable beings I share my life with.

Recent videos are narrated with "Put your tongue away. Back away from the camera. Get off of your sister. Hey, you guys, come on. Stop with the faces. GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF YOUR NOSE!"

I have a whole spate of friends who will deliver their second child this year. In my wicked, know-it-all core, I curl my lip and bark out a derisive laugh when they cheerfully recount the preparations they have taken to prepare for their new arrival. But it's not in my nature to be a naysayer. I hope their transformation to mother of more than one will be as wonderful as mine.

You know you've earned respect amongst your peers when you get a phone call saying "Don't take this the wrong way, but I figured you would know if bird poop is poisonous to ingest..." followed later that afternoon by "Why is my daughter having potty accidents when we are out of the house again?" If it's poop or misbehavior related, I'm the go-to girl. Seen it, done it, cleaned it up. At least twice.

One thing I know for certain: I may not be the best mother out there. I'm not going to win any sainted mother awards. But I'm going to have some rich comedy material for years to come.