Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parenting is Messy Business

I looked around my messy house today, and wondered to myself, how do they do it?  How do my children create such disaster in one short day?  How on earth did I raise such slovenly children? Then I looked in my own room, and in the piles of laundry on the dresser, the books scattered all over the night stand, and the socks scattered around the floor, and I found my answer:  They turned out just like me.

I should have realized that they were probably doomed from the start to have at least some of me in them.

Many moons ago, when I was expecting my first child, I automatically assumed I was going to be the world's first perfect parent.  After all, I had read all the books, I'd babysat a lot of kids and I was half way to my bachelor's degree in psychology.  I was pretty darn sure that not only was I guaranteed to be a great mother, I was also going to be blessed with a perfect child, and that I would just know instinctively how best to care for him.

If you have kids, you know how this story ends, right? My fantasy lasted for about 37 minutes after we brought him home from the hospital. He had been sound asleep for six hours. I knew this because I was timing him.  The books said that newborns should not sleep for more that six hours at a time.  If they didn't wake up after six hours, something terrible ( I don't remember what) would happen, and you were supposed to wake them up and make them eat. So, on the stroke of the sixth hour, I attempted to wake him up. I tried all the tricks: unwrapping him, tickling his feet, rubbing his back, changing his diaper. Nothing worked. He slept through it all, and I sat there on the couch holding him and bawling because he was sleeping soundly and I was sure I was causing him permanent damage. Eventually of course, just about the time I was drifting off to sleep he woke up screaming and then I started crying because I didn't know how to make him stop.  Also, that was the LAST TIME EVER that he slept for six hours at a stretch for a good four years. I never attempted to wake him, or any of my other babies, ever again, and they all survived. The books lied.

**Disclaimer:  Yes my friends, I do know there are some babies who, for various reasons, need to be awakened  routinely to eat. Please don't do anything stupid with your own screaming/sleeping children after reading this.

 Any how, I took the passing of my perfect mother persona pretty hard. I just couldn't understand why I couldn't make my child stop crying. He pooped in public all the time. He spit up on me at weddings. He never slept when he was supposed to, and I couldn't figure out what to do with him when he was awake. Worst of all, I could not control or predict any of his behaviors. This mothering business was way more than I had bargained for.

Okay, fine, so  maybe I was not cut out to be a perfect mother. But the idea of having the perfect child lived on. It lived on for a really long time. Especially with your first child, all you have is this adorable little cherub in your arms, who can't do anything other than goo adoringly at you. You have no idea that in a few short years, in spite of your best intentions and all your fancy parenting techniques, that same kid is going to be picking his nose and calling other kids "butt sniffers." And even when you get to that stage, there is still hope that if you can just find the right behavior modification techniques, the right motivation, if you can just be consistent enough and understanding enough of what makes this little person tick, then there is still plenty of  time for him to grow up to be the next Einstein/Jane Austen/Pele/VanGogh/Bill Cosby all rolled into one.  Well, maybe take VanGogh out of the mix. That guy was a genius, but he was also nuts.

Only by that time, baby number two has most likely come along, and then, you discover the harshest reality of them all in the world of parenting.

Your second child is nothing like your first.

All that hard work you put into figuring out how your first child worked? You can chuck ninety percent of it out the window. The second one is almost as big of a mystery as the first. Sure, you might have figured out how to fold up the stroller by now, and you might be used to smelling like puke all the time, but the level of complication in your life just quadrupled, because now you have two kids to perfect, and you also have to deal with the first one being knocked of his pedestal by the arrival of a new baby sister, and he is most likely going to have some trauma over that.

And so on, and so on, and before you know it, you are sitting in church, looking on as your sixth child is busy displaying to the entire congregation that she has no underwear on, and thinking to yourself, I should really have this child rearing thing under control by now.

Then, years later still, you wake up to another harsh parenting fact.

You know how everybody talks about that day you wake up and realize you have turned into your mother, or your father, as the case may be?  Even more disturbing is the day you wake up and realize your children have turned into you; the day your kid says something to you and you think to yourself, "That sounded just like something I would have said," is the day all those dreams finally die for good. You realize that in spite of your best intentions, and in spite of all your child's wonderful successes and accomplishments through the years, in some pretty significant ways, you just raised a carbon copy of yourself.

Not that it's a bad thing. I don't think I'm too much of a mess, and my six kids are turning out pretty great so far, knock on wood. They are generally responsible, good-hearted individuals, and as far as I know, none of them have been to prison yet. Of course, we still have three teenagers and a nine year old at home, so we are yet in the thick of the fight. And that nine year old? She is the one that is going to break me, I can feel it in my bones.  But my point is this:

Your children will destroy everything  about yourself that you once held in high esteem. You think you are pretty smart? Have a kid. Snappy dresser? Good luck getting that Aquaphor stain out of your silk shirt. Like a nice hot shower every day? Forget that. And the bigger they get, the more destructive they become. You probably think you are pretty funny. Hey, at one time, even your kids thought you were funny. But your teenagers will prove how not funny you really are. Kids are also great at destroying your pride. At our house right now, our sixteen year old has taken on the job of not only learning to drive himself, he is also teaching his parents all the rules of the road, because apparently we drive wrong. On the one hand, I'm really glad he paid attention in driver's ed. On the other hand, I might strangle him if he tells me one more time that my hands are not in the correct position on the steering wheel. Ten and two, I tell him. That's what I learned in driver's ed. Your hands go at ten and two on the wheel. Not anymore, he says.

But hopefully, one day, maybe we can all  come to terms with our half-baked parenting skills and our imperfect children. Yes, they are great at pushing your buttons because they learned it from you, and yes, they also inherited their (lack of) anger management skills from you, and they are slobs just like you. But maybe you will also see something of you that you like. Maybe they will pick up your talent for remembering people's names, your love of literature, or even that wicked sense of humor. And then, fingers crossed, that long lost vision you had of yourself will come back  and you will realize that you didn't do a half bad job after all.

On the other hand, you can always blame their other parent.

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