the other side of parenting

I realize I’ve been quite polarized in my children stories on this blog; they all seem to be about catastrophes involving poop and shopping carts. I’ve neglected to share the other side of parenting—the one where you have these beautiful creatures in your care. They love you to death and the feeling is more than mutual. They snuggle you, cling to your leg simply because they like to be next to you, and speak spontaneous “I love you”s. The moments where your heart feels so big it could burst into a million particles? Those moments happen everyday along with the poop and shopping carts. Those moments are what make parenting worth it.

I had one of those moments yesterday. Dave was working late and I had been on my own with the girls for 10+ hours, 3 more to go until bedtime. It was a stunning day: 65 degrees, cherry trees in bloom all over the city, dotting the landscape with pink petals like snow. Yes, we’d been out of the house most of the day, but I decided one more trip before bed was in order.

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I tossed some leftover pizza, satsumas, apples and carrots into a picnic basket. In went a ball, a blanket, two baby dolls in various stages of undress that Charlie can’t leave the house without, and a stuffed unicorn night light named Rainbow Happy (Lucy’s must-have). We were set to go to the park for a picnic dinner.

Have you ever had one of those times where the stars align? Both kids are happy, in need of nothing, not complaining or whining or yelling about something? We had two hours of those moments, one after another, at this dinnertime picnic. The girls sat happily eating on the blanket, gracefully sharing their toys with an occasional kid visitor. When they weren’t eating, they’d run and play, then come careening back to our picnic and tackle me in a bear hug. My heart felt so big, and I felt so blessed to have created these two tiny, independent, miraculous people, that I wanted to burst.

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I’m going to tell you something about parenting, something no one told me before I had kids: there will be fewer good moments than tough moments. I’d say the ratio is about 70 tough/30 good. But that 30%–those moments that are wonderful and happy and blissful–are what will stamp your memory permanently. I remember all of the wonderful times and easily forget the struggles. It’s what allows us to keep having babies, expanding our families—we forget how hard it is to be sleep deprived with a baby at our breast for hours on end.

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We’ve been delicately toying with the idea of adding a third child to our family, when only last year I was vehemently against it. I gave away all our baby things. I started getting in shape, working on the house, building a career with my first book release. Everything in my life pointed to no more children, but moments like last night at the park make me think it’s possible. The easy thing to do would be to quit while we’re ahead, but I’ve forgotten how hard a newborn is. How hard it is to juggle a baby and a toddler. How my eyes looked after days of no sleep.

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When the sun was setting and a cold breeze swept across the park, we headed for home. The girls nestled in their car seats, singing along to a song on the radio, as the sun turned the sky pink and purple. They were so sleepy they hopped into bed, hair messy, feet green from the grass. And as I sat on the couch with my tea, reflecting on the day, I realized it was one of those 30% days. They’re few and far between, but I remember them always.

 

i don’t know what I’m doing

Children come into this world stamped with their own distinct trademark moves: looks they make when they’re pooping, ear-piercing screams they howl when nothing in particular is wrong (meant only, I think, to invite unwanted parenting advice from old biddies at the grocery store), and, one of my all-time favorites: sleeping with their middle fingers cocked just so when they are teeny tiny newborns (choice photo captions abound).

When Lucy, my darling daughter of three, is doing something that makes me want to call CPS on myself she shouts, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!” It’s not a phrase that’s meant to deter me. It’s not an angel-voiced “Nothing Mother! I’m not doing anything in here!” It’s a loud, demanding, “I’M ONLY THREE AND I HAVE POOR IMPULSE CONTROL! I NEED YOU TO PULL ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE! PLUS I WANT YOU TO SEE WHAT I’M DESTROYING IT’S FREAKING AWESOME!”

A short list of things that Lucy has done when she hasn’t known what she’s been doing:

1. Painted the hair of her Princess Tiana doll pink, slathered her face in makeup, filed her (plastic) fingernails down to nubs with an emery board and then tried to cut off her hands with a cuticle nipper. (Do you have a cuticle nipper? They’re like mini gardening shears. To poor Princess Tiana they were like a freaking hand guillotine). When I walked in on her in the bathroom and found the magnetic lock to the drawer that held all these magical gadgets broken, she assured me that Princess Tiana was itchy so she was just trying to make her more comfortable by filing and cutting off her hands. I felt much better.

2. Pushed her changing table into the middle of her room (which is on wheels but still enormously heavy. I sense that we may have a Spiderman situation on our hands.), threw its contents onto the floor, and was using a golf club to paddle her way through pirate-infested waters.

Lucy: “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Me: “You’re rowing to Cuba. Bring me back a mojito. Quiet time is over in thirty minutes.”

3. Before she reached Cuba she pulled over to have an accident in her panties. She took off said panties and decided that the poop (lots of people piss and moan when mommy bloggers talk about poop so let’s just call it hot dogs) would be better in the ocean. All. Over. The. Ocean. (Where I say “ocean” please insert “white area rug.”) So Lucy decided that the hot dogs needed to be smeared and smashed and stomped on all over the white area rug.

Lucy: “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Me: “Me neither. Where’s my goddamn mojito?”*

4. Lucy has one of those twisty-door-handle-cover-thingies on the inside of her room that’s supposed to keep her in her room during quiet time so she doesn’t do things like try to behead Princess Tiana. But somehow, tiny Houdini that she is, she managed to press the button lock on the door handle while the cover was on, probably while she was trying to break out of her room and go kill Princess Tiana once and for all. She was locked in her room. I slipped a heavy metal salad spoon under the door and told her to smash the twisty-door-handle-cover-thingie until it fell off. With one scream and an “I don’t know what I’m doing!” she broke the cover off and was free. If she ever finds herself in prison I have a feeling it won’t be for long.

Here I am getting my “makeup” done by the little gal. She said that the eyeliner on my forehead was “a hat, like a man’s top hat.” She didn’t mention the motivation behind the Hitler-esque lipstick mustache. Is she trying to tell me something?
*I don’t really say things like “goddamn” in front of my children and ask them to give me alcohol. I do what normal parents do: sneak a bottle of chardonnay into the closet, shut the door and cry until they come looking for me.

a wonderful mother

It was a makeshift scarf, made by my mother from a piece of fleece from the fabric store. Lucy felt warm and cozy and grown up wearing it, so I let her. She wrapped it around her neck and we drove to the mall for some playtime before dinner at her favorite restaurant on her third birthday.

As I strapped the baby in the carrier I thought I was doing everything right: I told Lucy we weren’t bringing the stroller because she didn’t like riding in it. I told her I wouldn’t be able to carry her because I was already carrying Charlie in the Ergo. I had prepared for every conceivable need: diapers, a change of clothes, hand wipes, water, snacks. But what I didn’t prepare for was that scarf, being slowly pulled tighter and tighter around Lucy’s neck by her tiny three year-old hands. Twelve feet into the department store, she was beginning to choke herself.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rockin’ the 3D glasses

 

“Lucy, sweetie, we need to loosen the scarf. You’re pulling it too tight and I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself.”

“Nooooooo! I want it like this!” I pried one finger between the pink fleece and her skin, which was also turning pink. A few more moments like this and her face would be blue.

“You have a choice: we can make it looser or I can take it away and put it in my purse.”

“No! No! No!” She collapsed in a tearful fit under a rack of men’s Bermuda shorts. “I want it tight!” I could feel every eye in menswear on us. She let out a scream.

“Let’s go. We need to talk somewhere quiet.” I scooped her up—no easy feat with a 22 pound baby strapped to my side. We walked as quickly as possible to a women’s dressing room and shut the door. I set her down, unwrapped the scarf, and stashed it in my purse out of sight. Then the fit really began.

Charlie Belle, 11 months

 

“I. Want. My. Scaaaaaarrfffff! Moooooommmmmm! I want my SCARF! NOW!” She hit me. Kicked me. Nearly kicked her sister. Threw herself on the floor. Spit. Wiped snot in her hair. Screamed some more.

“Lucy, you have a choice. We can stay in the dressing room and cry, or we can go play and then have dinner. You decide.”

“I. WANT. MY. SCARF. NOOOOOWWWWW!”

“The scarf is not an option. Your choices are to stay here and scream, or to go play and then have dinner. Those are your choices.” She slumped down. Her eyes softened a bit. The worst was over.

“I want you to carry me to the play area.” Shit. The restaurant and its wine were looking very, very far away.

“Sweetie, we talked about this in the car. I didn’t bring the stroller because you don’t like to ride in it. I told you I wouldn’t be able to carry you because I was going to carry your sister. If you want to go to the play area you have to walk.”

“NOOOOOOOO! I. WANT. YOU. TO. CARRY. ME. NOOOOOWWWW!” The poor women in this fitting room—they only wanted to try on some clothes. Little did they know their afternoon shopping would come with a very loud soundtrack as well.

She’s 3…going on 13.

 

“Tell you what. I’ll carry you until I get very tired. And then I’ll hold your hand. There are posters of The Lorax on the way and we can stop and look at them.”

“The Lorax?” Bingo. I scooped her up as promised and we made a swift exit. I thought we were free and clear when I heard another fitting room door—the shopper who had been next-door—open behind us.

“Ma’am, I have to tell you something.” Here it comes. Sorry, lady, that you had to hear my child scream for 15 minutes. She was in her underwear, half covered by a dress still on the hanger. “You are a wonderful mother.”

That…I was not expecting. I was speechless.

“I heard the whole thing, and I just had to say that you are doing a wonderful job.”

The day had been so long and the last twenty minutes so stressful that I felt tears begin to well up. “Thank you—I’m so sorry you had to hear all that. It’s her birthday and I think she’s just a little overwhelmed.” She was complimenting me and all I could do was make excuses for Lucy’s behavior; I had been so prepared for an attack.

“Not at all. You handled it all very well.”

“Thank you. That means a lot. It really does.”

And it did. It meant everything. Because the truth is, I never hear that from anyone, not even people who know me very well. And yet a half-naked stranger who listened to one conversation for 15 minutes told me I was a wonderful mother and those words echoed in my ears for days. I was a wonderful mother. I am a wonderful mother.

Play Doh with Mom’s kitchen gadgets

 

No one wrote a how-to book for this job. There are no performance reviews. No bonuses and no report cards. And yet we are so quick to judge each other’s performances: Ian hits (Mimi must be a bad mother). Rebecca is 3 and doesn’t know her ABC’s! (Sophie must let her watch way too much TV). Alexander isn’t potty trained yet! (What the hell are Michelle and Sam thinking?).

Do we ever tell each other what a good, fantastic, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, ass-kicking job we’re doing? Nope. So we doubt ourselves. We try to do every little thing right. We compare ourselves to others and tear each other down and act all Mother Superior (pun intended). From someone who has heard those words, let me tell you: it felt like relief. Like, all this work, everything I do, everything I strive for, it’s all worth it. Because I’m good at this. Maybe my children will not grow up to be ungrateful, egotistical heroin addicts who make their living working in a traveling pet zoo. Maybe.

My little girl turned three that day and a year from now what I’ll remember most is not her birthday meal but those words from a stranger: you are a wonderful mother.

Wherever she is, I hope she knows that she is a wonderful woman who gave this mother encouragement when she needed it most.

 

things you never thought you would do…until you became a parent

xo

-RDG

(Thank you Josh!)