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Bad Parenting Moments: July 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tripping the Hazmat Fantastic.

Parenthood is a ticking, germ-laden time bomb. A sea of vile, phobia creating quarantine shed scenarios that make even the bravest of the brave fall to their knees (get up, sanitize their knees with a travel sized Wet One, return to their knees, hand sanitize their hands after touching said knees) in horror. I have taken a deep breath and, for the betterment of kindred parenting spirits everywhere, have gone to a dark, dark place in order to tell you about the worst of the worst. Public arenas turned Outbreak. Places soap can not touch. Places soap doesn't bother touching. Places where hand sanitizer is futile. Places of danger. Places I always end up.

Kids, is everyone suited up? Great. Let's get out there and have some FUN.

Remember that scene in E.T.? - The scientists arrive at Elliott's home to study E.T. and his connection to Elliott. They are all wearing hazmat suits with full astronaut helmet. The entire house is connected to the research site by an elaborate series of above ground tunnels? These places are exactly like that except remove ALL attempts of sterilization and order.

I must insist you keep your body completely covered while in the milk crate. Gertie found it in a KFC dumpster.
 1) The Indoor Play Place
The sites! The sounds! The smells! No, it's not Clorox. Take 15 - 40 partially potty trained toddlers, several babies and a smattering of 1/2 tuned in parents and you have the perfect storm that is the indoor play place. Urine. Unrecongnizable assaulted food products. Dirty diapers. Soiled underwear. That is just the coat rack near the entrance. There is, inevitably, a climbing structure that is just big enough for a child to become stuck and terrified and just small enough for you to lay on the floor, stick one leg under the structure for support and flail most useful arm up into the abyss, motioning for your child to grab your limb. During this cirque du soleil feat, you try not to think about the wet spot grazing your hand and are hopeful that your foot is digging in to what could be so many things, but, is probably not the nutrigrain bar you're hoping for. After hours with other parents, exchanging horror stories and on-call pediatric physician numbers for the closest three counties, you leave, shower your children and burn their clothes in the backyard.

2) The Children's Museum
At the children's museum, you can explore your local city. You can learn how to anchor a news desk, work the local market register and learn about transportation. There is one exhibit missing - how to fight off the resurgence of 14th century "black death". Come with questions, leave with the Bubonic Plague. Not on museum t-shirts yet. I'm working on it. The children's museum is a maze of sticky plastic produce and rare childhood viruses. Learn how to make change, ride the subway and survive hand, foot and mouth disease. Be the foreman at a construction site, try on a fireman's helmet and pass on Fifths Disease to your family and friends. Excuse me, your former friends. The children's museum. Discover. Learn. Vomit.

3) The Public Pool
All you need at our local pool is $1 per child, a swim diaper and the intestinal fortitude of a world champion butter eater. From the kiddie area, the regular pool gleams with sparkling chlorine filled water. Water filled with adults. Water filled with the expert level potty trained of America. Over in the kiddie pool? Well, imagine a sewer line. That's it. Just imagine a sewer line. Turned inside out. With lots of crying. And, unusually warm water. Our toddler water area is very festive. Rainbow sprayers, turtles to climb on, and giant shower head sprayers. I see the appeal. So does every 2 year old in New England. The turtle, and its fun shell sprayers, act as a seat AND an unintentional water fountain. Mmmm...can you taste that? That's chlorine and anxiety. Delicious. Between the tears, swim diaper blow-outs and smashed snack shack fries, I make a weekly vow to never return, but, the fanciful rainbow sucks me back in every time. "This time it will be different.", it whispers. "This time, it will be magic. I'm a rainbow...trust me!" The rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and pee.

4) The "Family Restroom"
I appreciate the idea behind the Family Restroom. Logistically, where else could I take a cart filled with a gaggle of children that all inevitably require some sort of restroom attention as soon as the magical, bowel clearing automatic store doors open? I appreciate the consideration. I appreciate the size. I appreciate the intention. But, as we all know, the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. And, the path to the family restroom is paved with e-coli. The real BUMmer about the family restroom is its lies. Its sweet, vile lies. "Oh, come on in! You can ALL fit in here. Yep, the cart too!" You wander in and just like that, you are the fly and this room is the Venus Fly Trap. Upon entry, you have already realized that it is too late. You are right. You can fit 3 - 4 regular sized bathroom stalls in the family restroom. You will find an adult toilet, a toddler toilet, a changing table, a toddler seat, a stool and the sink. 250 square feet of chaos. Think it's hard to keep children from touching the singular toilet in a small stall? Try 3 toilets, 3 trash cans, a painter's step stool placed directly undereath a dangling light fixture and, just for giggles, add enough running room on slippery tile to make this interesting. Imagine the game of Life. Every car is a shopping cart. Every home, a Family Restroom. Every road leads to a hospital and every crank of the wheel, another dose of IV antibiotics. The only improvement I can offer - single use straight jackets. Problem solved. Long story even longer (brace yourself for endlessness), I guess what I'm saying is, I am not down with O.P.P. (Other People's Pottys, Outdoor Port o' Pottys, Ominous Public Pottys, Opulent Porcelain Pottys, Offensive Putrid Pottys....I could go all day). Yeah, you know me. The BOTTOM line? As often as the family restroom horrifies me, it gives me flowers and promises that next time the initials indicating the last cleaning will be in this decade. It will be better. Clean. I believe it because I like flowers and second chances. And scouring my hands with Soft Scrub.
"You JUST went to the bathroom before we left the house!"

The undeniable fact is, I still go to all of these places. Frequently. Willingly. Like when a horse is willingly hitched to a plow in a field in the dead of August or, when parents willingly attend Recorder concerts. Willingly means something different when you become a parent. Willingly now means; My kids enjoy or need this so, hook that rope around my waist and send me in to the demon portal closet full of poltergeists. I'm coming through the other side covered in pink slime and clutching my babies. Willingly. Like a thankful for up to to date immunization boosters BOSS.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Creating A Childhood.

My mother was raised by an artist and a military man. She was the lone daughter with two, older brothers. In her family, the men were praised and favored and, while she was loved, the rigidity of her father and his unprocessed childhood of abandonment as the son of an institutionalized mother, he was unsure how to be a father to a girl and far less sure how to raise a woman. There was always underlying anger. Abandonment by a mother is always a gaping wound. Though she was loved deeply by her mother, the overpowering possessiveness and need for control of the household emotions by her father left her a stranger in a strange land. A female in a male favored home with parents who struggled to find a place for her. This, I think, left a theory of feminism where self-love should have resided. An anger and passion fueled by inequality instead of a well groomed seed of self-acceptance. This also left her with a lack of self-understanding and a struggle to define herself. After a short, tumultuous marriage to my father that produced 2 daughters, they divorced and she quickly remarried a military man. A possessive man. A controlling man. A man who needed to control her, us and the emotions of the household. And, there were two more daughters.  She birthed four women. After living in a home that did not favor women. Living in a home where she struggled to find her place. Living with a husband who was possessive, controlling and terribly dark. Some cycles are hard to break.

There is a beauty in our cycles. There is opportunity for change. This is about the stage we set for our children. As artistic directors, the roles our childhoods play in painting the scenery, building the props, channeling the emotion and revealing the final product on the stage or foundation we’ve built for the fleeting years that make our children’s childhoods. It’s about creating what was lost, found or, in some cases, creating what never happened. Pulling the bunny from the empty hat. It is about acknowledging the gifts of the past to better set the scenes of the future. It is about responsibility, decisions and choices. It is about honestly acknowledging failures. It is about everyday redemption.

I am an imperfect parent. I struggle with balance. I struggle with patience. I struggle with guilt. On some days, I struggle with gratitude.  I struggle to find the teaching moments in difficult days and I struggle to find the learning moments when I fail. I am doing the best I can. Some days my best is not good enough. On other days, my best redeems the gnawing guilt.

I am the product of a home with alcohol. A home of quiet, unending fear and failure. A home where what was said made for surface ambivalence and what was not said could fill the pages of sets of encyclopedias. And, now, I am the encyclopedia salesman. It is my job to take what is broken and to piece it together into something worthwhile. Something beautiful. Ashes into Zuzu’s petals.

As I set this new scene for my own four children, I am acutely aware of the parallels drawn. Mother of 4. Mother of 4. Mother of 4. I find that simply having the same number of children as my mother causes an internal panic I can not shake. Does likeness turn to sameness? Will I follow in muddied footsteps?

I often look around my yard and home at the pieces of the childhood we are creating. Library books, dolls and pirate ships. Swimming pools, sand and swing sets. Popsicles in July and fireflies at drive-in movie theatres. And, I wonder…do they know that I am creating a childhood of fantasy and wonder that was not my own? That I can not empathize with the normalcy that I have worked so hard to create? That I am a fraud. Looking at pictures, the ideas of loving families in books and on screen. The burned in my brain childhood stories of others, I am simply weaving a tapestry of childhood – Andy Griffith, pieces of my husband’s idyllic Vermont childhood of exploration and independence and my love. My big love. Some cycles are hard to break. But, I am the creative director. I am the Sheriff of Mayberry. I am Ramona’s mother, packing their suitcases so that they are too heavy to run away. I am George Bailey looking for heavenly gratitude and redemption so that they can say, it’s a wonderful life.

Three of my four - ankle deep in wonder.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Hello? Is it Keys You're Looking For?

I used to have brains. Big brains. Like, off to see the Wizard to discover you already had brains, brains. Ideas that didn't involve car seat buckling strategies. Ideas about life. Theories. I had things to say. Now, I just forget what I was going to say. What was I going to say?

The square root of...hey....did I ever switch that load over to the dryer?

With every pregnancy, 2 zillionths of my brain has been lost. A shit-ton (actual measurement) of lost brain matter, if you will. Most days, I can not spell words I've known my whole life. Octopus. No, octopuss? I call all of my children by the wrong name. Every day. I compensate for the guilt by concluding that it only endears me to them as you always most want to please the person who easily forgets you.

I have a key hook which may as well be a magic portal to Narnia. Keys go there, but they never ARE there. Sometimes, I will find my key ring (AHA! BRAINS!) only to find that the car key isn't on it, but, 3 sets of house keys are. WHAT? I don't know. I have NO idea. How, you ask? This is your brain on kids.

My husband has come home to find I've left both sliding van doors open. In the rain. And has walked up the deck to discover the keys. In the door. On the same day. What's missing...besides my brain? The sign that says: "Free Van and Family!"

I will be in the shower with shampoo on my head and I will think, "Where the hell am I in this shower process? Did I put conditioner on my hair first? How did I even get in here? What's that sound? Where are the kids? Where's what'shername? Did I wash my face? SHIT! It's what'shisname's snack day today! SHIT! Did I put conditioner on top of my shampoo? Why am I wearing underwear?"

I have a calendar full of reminders written in my handwriting with a pen I wielded and I generally forget to check said calendar. I walk past it, at least 100 times a day, but, it's invisible to my brain. Then there is the flip side - I look at the calendar with no knowledge of writing items down. I look at the calendar. I look at my hands. I look to the heavens. Divine calendar writing? I check to make sure ink isn't pouring from my hands a la stigmata. How in the? Who in the? Brains.

With baby # 3, I devised a clever system of placing a rubber band on the wrist of the side I last nursed on. BOOOOYAH! BRAINS! Only to go to feed and wonder if I ever remembered to switch the rubber band to the alternate side? Sleep deprived, raccoon eyed and caffeine thirsty, I'd stare at my wrist as if high. Stare. Stares. Staring. *Shrugs* Nevermind. What's the matter, grey matter?

At each pediatrician appointment, I take notice that my childrens' head circumference is growing. Growing with knowledge, growing into new hat sizes. Growing with my stolen brain. As they covertly and adorably activate the brain sucking transfer sequence, I marvel at how willing I was to let my brain go. How willing I was to do it all again. To become more Forrest Gump with each passing child. I may not know where my keys are, but, I know what love IS.

Load up, kids! The doctor says you are healthy and smarter than your mom. Everyone in? Everyone is buckled? Where are the keys? *Sees lovely, kind and sympathetic receptionist running out to van holding key ring* Sigh. Brains.

This is your brain on kids. Any questions?

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder, Here I am at Camp Granada.

Summer is underway. Or, underfoot - like gophers, snakes and sewer lines. Summer conjures visions of swimming pools, s'mores and two of the most beautiful words to fall on this mother's ears: Summer Camp.

Two of my plucky ducks are enrolled in one (glorious) week of summer camp. Coordinated drop-offs at 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.. Pick-ups at 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. - Oh, pardon me, I was just doing the shopping cart and the sprinkler at the same time because, guess what? Two kids. Gone. ALL day. Summer camp isn't just a fun-filled romp for the kids, it's a silky smooth slice of sanity saver sprayed with sunscreen and wrapped in maccaroni art.

I was hell bent on sending the two older children to camp this year; even if I had to sell a kidney or my soul. All year, summer camp shone like a guiding beacon of hope and truth with the back lit faces of other mothers insisting on its necessity; guiding me as I pinched my pennies for the "Save Mom's Sanity Summer Fund". I pinched. I tucked away. I made some hard cuts. Like balancing a federal budget, I knew some of the luxuries had to go if I was going to make CampForce One fly. Months of drinking crappy store brand burnt beans. A little here. A little there. I turned wine into water and then took the money I normally use to buy wine and put it towards camp. Voila, a summer miracle.

Last night, the anticipation was palpable. One more day until summer camp. ONE MORE DAY! On my top secret countdown chart, I could finally make that last strike-through and pop open the bottle of cheap-ass bubbly. A week of 50% less children. A week of 50% less fighting over apple cores, mismatched socks and who flushed who's waste down the toilet. A week of running errands without an unload and load procedure mimicking the evacuation of the Titanic. Summer Camp, they are your problem now.

As I settled in for my camp coma, I noticed the giant stacks of paperwork provided by camp administration:

"HI! Welcome to Summer Camp!" Ok, good start. I'm totally hooked. Where is this letter going? Somewhere exciting, I bet.

"We are so looking forward to playing with your children!" I'm glad someone is.

"Here's a helpful list of what you should bring!" Whatever it is you need, camp...I'm gonna give it to you. I'm gonna give it to you good.

And, that is all it took. A little packing. A little penny pinching. A little hopin' and wishin' and dreamin' and forced sobriety. Today, at 9:00 a.m., I became 50% less likely to be heard screaming, "STOP PUSHING YOUR SISTER'S FACE INTO HER YOGURT!" and 50% less likely to go produce postal in the local supermarket. "Glen, clean up in produce. The corn....the sweet, sweet corn. It's. It's everywhere. The horror!"

When I picked them up, they were pink cheeked; eyes half mast. The smell of sunscreen, chlorine, glue, bliss and exhaustion meltdown was in the air. I have made a good decision. But...OHHHHHH....those su-uhhhh-meeerrrrrr CAAAAAAAAAAA-AAAAAHHHHMPS (tell me more, tell me more-ohhh-ohhh-ore).

Long live Summer Camp. A grateful Mom Nation salutes you.

Camp Crystal Lake made me sign all sorts of crazy waivers. Weird.

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