As parents, we are constantly inundated with advice and research and studies about what is best for our kids and for ourselves. And a lot of it contradicts what our parents did or what grandparents did or the research that came out last Tuesday or the research that will surely come out next Tuesday. I do my very best to read as much of it as humanly possible! My brain is so over-saturated with this nonsense, that it’s genuinely overflowing. I can literally feel many of the essential pieces of information in my brain — like memories, life lessons, my husband’s first name, the first nineteen digits of pi — leaking out of my cortex and gushing out the front door, into the street and down into the sewer. So long, names of my elementary school classmates! I can’t even envision your faces anymore. I live in “the middle” now, so I’ll probably never see any of you again anyway.
Ok, so maybe the first and last name of the kid I sat next to in second grade is no longer critical to my existence — but it was for a little while because until I met a new boyfriend in fifth grade, I was convinced my second grade lover and I would one day be united in marriage. I do want to keep other important and relevant information in my brain, however, such as how to put on pants — one leg at a time or two? I can’t remember!! — the location of my wallet, or whether my parents are still living. Not to mention, what if other newer facts and intelligence needs to be added and incorporated into my head? What if I find a really cool sushi place and have to recall how to get there in a jiffy? Or what if my parents, who are alive and well by the way, finally make the move to Florida? I’ll have to remember which airport to fly into when I go to visit them. And what about when I acquire a new boyfriend? I’ll have to be able to recall his name and his face and my alibi.
So, I needed to condense much of this parenting advice and instruction into something accessible that requires less cerebral space. In fact, I threw a lot of it out — thanks, tequila. I replaced it, however, with practical advice that I’ve acquired myself, through my own parenting experience, and a little bit that I’ve gleaned through watching other parents I know.
What you’re about to read may shock you. It may frighten you. It may cause you to call Child Protective Services on me. Not worried about them, though — we’ve worked out an “arrangement.” Below is my advice. Some is very concrete and some is more abstract that you may have to adapt to fit your own family. Take it, don’t take it, I don’t care. It works for me.
In defense of fruit snacks: We’ve covered this before, I know. Yes, they’re glorified candy, but they’re not messy. Servings are individually wrapped, they’re easy to transport anywhere, and kids love them. These little guys are like actual ammunition against temper tantrums. Many strangers in the grocery store or at the public library have unknowingly escaped Nate’s screams because of the sugar-induced trance and false sense of endorphins fruit snacks cause in his little body. At the first sign of whining, I’ve been known to whip them out of my pocket, and he’s practically shaking as he shoves them into his mouth. You’re welcome, Strangers. Cavities and diabetes, be damned!
The case for TV: World’s. best. babysitter. End of blog, end of history. Drop. mic. Plus — wait, I thought I said “drop mic” — can anyone disagree with the fact that Sesame Street is one of the funniest shows on television today? I mean, seriously, try to name one funnier! I enjoy watching this show, I truly do. I want to see what kind of dastardly deed Cookie Monster will try to pull off in his pursuit of more cookies! And then, I want to see how Maria will somehow, some way, persuade him to eat something healthy like a fun banana! Or some broccoli! And then, what clever quip will Oscar have for Big Bird? His grouchiness is contagious and admirable. Or will this morning finally be the morning that Bert and Ernie stop lying and get it on? And have you caught the latest escapades of Super Grover?? “He shows up!” Nate and Sam, if you guys can find a good SS marathon on PBS, we are officially setting up camp on the living room couch for the day! Fruit snacks for everyone!
Let your kids fight it out! Be it hand to hand combat, sword fights, pillow fights, food throwing contests, chest-bumping matches, or just loud, passionate verbal confrontations, ignoring these battles will save you so much work, energy, and angst! The kids will solve their own problems — it’s an important life skill. Time-saving tip: do NOT let it get to the point that an emergency room visit becomes necessary. This will only cause more angst, more money, and probably some raised eyebrows from CPS. Not worth it. (Side note: if you can run a successful gambling book around your kids’ clashes, this can easily offset the cost of the ER visits and might even net you a nice little profit. Perhaps even enough to fund your empty nest road trips!)
The case for sharing your morning coffee with your little ones: I’m not saying you brew another whole pot for the kids — unless you have somewhere else to take them, like school, daycare, Grandma’s, etc. — but what’s the harm in letting them have a few sips or cups? Sure, the energy high they’ll inevitably experience will be tough to compete with, but caffeine is a mood enhancer! Just imagine…no more battles over what to wear: “It’s all good, Mom! Whatever you pick out will surely be delightful,” your child calls back to you as he lifts the couch with one arm, vacuuming underneath it with the other. Maybe they’ll clean out the garage for you, organize your shoe closet — no, your other shoe closet!, or finally fix that broken microwave! Do you see the benefits yet? The point is, you never really appreciate what your child is capable of until you caffeinate him/her and passive-aggressively mention some tasks around the house that you’ve been meaning to get done. Doggonit, maybe he’ll even do something really original like pick up his Legos that he stumbles on every time he runs to the kitchen to ask you something critical, like “Mom, have you seen the Dora sticker I got at the dentist [four and a half months ago]?”
Not doing laundry: My mom tried this. She called it: teaching us “life skills” or “chores” or some BS like that. I think it was because she was working full-time, juggling four different lacrosse and basketball schedules, and we were all in middle school or high school, thus fully competent. Anyway, it worked for her. She used to slyly mix her laundry into our loads. I can recall pulling what I had assumed was my youngest brother’s clothes out of the dryer and musing, “Huh. Phrank’s squeezing into a size 4 nowadays. Good for him.” My dad, on the other hand, was shit out of luck. No one did his laundry.
Let them roam free: Now that the weather’s nice, Sam has a habit of trying to escape from our house. I’m all for this! Maybe as he stumbles out the front door (Thanks for unlocking it for him, Nate. Again. Everything about this is safe.) and trips down the front step, he’ll find an affordable apartment. And a job. And a girlfriend. Why Sam doesn’t already have one is beyond me. Perhaps it’s his table manners. But he is so freakin cute. I’d date him myself if it wasn’t so weird — I already have enough boyfriends, holidays are getting tricky.
Anyway, this notion of letting your kids roam free really comes in handy at the grocery store. And shopping with kids is less than ideal. Typically, I like to go early in the morning on my way home from the gym or something, but it can also be extremely rewarding to go mid-morning, when the store is less than crowded, populated mostly with elderly people and the fire-fighters, who are the Michael Phelps of emergency service personnel. They eat and they eat well and they eat a lot. They’re at the store every day, buying slabs of ribs, whole legs of lamb, fresh fruits and vegetables and all other kinds of things that make my mouth water. I guess they’ve earned those calories, saving lives, rescuing cats from trees, and not unlocking car doors of stay at home moms who’ve accidentally locked their kids in their cars upon arriving home from Trader Joe’s. Oops.
But one side note on the geriatrics — because that’s what gets me up in the morning: the prospect of someday being as cool as these cats. If strolling through the grocery store during geriatric hour doesn’t make you pee your pants with glee, then you have no soul. No place to go, just thrilled to still be breathing. Or, as is sometimes the case, unapologetically bitter and angry and bitchy. Whatever, good for them, they’ve earned that right. Gotta respect it. And the happier ones are happy to see you and your babies, no matter how ugly or how misshapen or disheveled or dirty, your kids are cute to them and they’re happy to tell you about it.
Just the other day, Sam and I were at the grocery store and since he gets so itchy to get out and roam, I let him. I was focused — surely I can pick out something for dinner while not losing a toddler. And right on cue, an elderly woman pushing her little shopping cart with all her might passed by me and said sweetly, “Aw, so adorable!” Assuming she was addressing me, I smiled bashfully and said ‘thank you,’ thus losing sight of my dual missions. Poop on a stick, where the heck did Sam get to?
Behind the meat counter — how did that happen? As the butcher wrapped him up in white paper, slapped a price sticker on him, and handed him back over the counter, two sultry pork chops caught my eye. Dinner! We were saved! Thanks, Sam.
Encouraging them to follow their dreams: This one isn’t so counterintuitive. In fact, it’s so common, it actually sounds really cliche and cheesy. Sorry about that. Your parents probably even did this one. Unless they grew up in the Depression and just wanted you to get a nice, stable job in the factory or at the post office. Otherwise, they were probably spouting lots of nonsensical jargon, like “Shoot for the stars!” “Dream big!” “You can do anything if you set your mind to it!” This is important, and you really need to get started on this one early. Nate’s three already. Even he senses his body and mind declining. Everything in his world is labeled as “before I was three” and “after I was three.” I guess this is his version of a mid-life crisis, and as everyone knows, with a mid-life crisis comes a bucket list. Currently, he has aspirations to cover his entire Lightning McQueen placemat in Batman stickers, learn to speak “minion,” and finally fulfill that lifelong dream of visiting Gru. He made a lot of headway on the first goal this morning while his bowl of frosted mini-wheats. It’s now or never, Nate! Clock’s ticking!
Sam, on the other hand, is only fourteen months. We have time. His dream, apparently, is to become the greatest drummer in the world! The world! Tighe and I have no musical talent at all, and from what I’m hearing, Sam doesn’t either, but we’re starting early and he has very strong work ethic, so I think he’ll be very successful. He has no less than two sets of drum sticks around the house, not to mention a variety of sticks from outside, pens swiped from the bank, and spindles that he’s pried out of the kitchen island. He carries these everywhere, even up to his crib at bedtime. Like George Michael Bluth, he is the human metronome, toddling around the house, tapping his drumsticks together. It’s actually rather ominous and, depending on the look on his face, kind of threatening — like a primitive call to battle. Of course, I can easily open my ears and know where he is at all times. He’s not sneaking up on any body! That’s an added bonus around here because if I don’t close the refrigerator fast enough, the next thing I know he’s climbed inside to dig around for yogurts and flood the kitchen floor with milk. Same concept with the dishwasher: unless I can hear him sidling in (another Seinfeld reference), beating his drumsticks, he’ll quickly perch himself on top of the door, re-arranging all the plates and pulling out the knives to lay in wait for Nate. Crafty little guy.
Check your cell phone while hanging with your kids/husband. Obsessively: Some people are against this, I know. They rail against so-called “distracted” parenting, claiming that you can’t be “mindful” or “fully present” to your child when your phone is in front of your face all the time. But I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree there. Phones are crucial to surviving You never know when you’ll get a text inviting you to do something better. And you need to stay apprised of sports news and scores, so that you can call your bookie prepared to make well-informed, profit-earning decisions. After all, somebody has to pay these kids’ tuitions. And let’s not forget about the all important camera function with which every phone — even my grandparents’ — is now equipped. What if your kid does something incredible, like decline dessert, ride a two-wheeler or perform a twenty-five minute drum solo, and you don’t have a phone to document it? Will your spouse and friends and local news crew believe you? I highly doubt it, especially if it was something by The Who. And Amber alerts??! Severe weather alerts??! As I mentioned, I live in “the middle” now — I need to know when a twister is coming. I’ll want to film it. Better keep that phone handy.
So, that’s my advice. That’s all I know. If you have questions about specific scenarios regarding your own children, I’m happy to meddle in your lives for a small fee — just trying to finance my kids’ educations here. Drum lessons are pricey -- though I’d also take payment in the form of fruit snacks.