It struck me the other day: the problem with parenting is that it’s the one job where doing a bad job can have really, really bad consequences.
I know, I know. I’m talking about my kid again. I realize this might be disappointing. When will she talk about triathlon again? Soon. This weekend I’m racing a sprint and spectating an Ironman. Safe to say by Sunday at 11:59 pm I will be bursting with triathlon stories and at least one report of a competitor napping in a bus stop on State Street (true story).
But back to parenting. The problem is that parenting is a trap for perfectionism. You live on the edge of I can’t do it half right, it’s got to be all right or my kid will be that kid, maladjusted, unhealthy, dependent, weird, living on a diet of cheese puffs and Sesame Street.
Some of you may have been that kid and have gone on to lead very productive adult lives. If that is the case, I do not want to hear about it.
Right now, we’re having lunch. Max is eating shredded parmesan cheese (don’t ask) while watching assorted Elmo sing alongs on You Tube. He’s become addicted to “Mel-mo.” Walks around the house at least once a day shouting MELMO! How Sesame Street can hook a 2 year old into a red, furry puppet is a mystery. How I will survive the next 2 to 3 years of these songs without banging my head repeatedly into the fireplace may just be my greatest feat of endurance sport.
(if you haven’t heard REM’s rendition of Happy, Furry Monsters, click HERE. Warning: do not click this is you are about to go off and do something monotonous like a 60 mile ride or a 10 mile run - like Call Me Maybe this song has freakish ability to get stuck in your head with no escape)
Parenting. All of my jobs, I’ve loved it the most yet at the same time feared every day at the office. The office is never clean enough. My co-workers are selfishly driven by meeting their own needs – food, kibble, blankets, milk, MELMO. They leave crumbs everywhere. There is Play Doh squished into everything. They have no regard for my need for peace, quiet and at least a few hours without asking, did you make poo-poo? Sometimes, they stand in the corner by the window grunting, red-faced while denying that question. As if I were stupid. As if I didn’t have a masters degree which is so very, very useful, when I realize that kid in the corner is shitting me.
My support staff is out for 9 hours of the day. When he comes home, he’s not in the mood to hear about it. Not how I somehow managed to mow the lawn while simultaneously watching the kid and not running him over with the mower. Not how I just washed/folded/put away a giant load of towels right before Max dumped a Mr. Potato Head full of toilet water all over the bathroom. I feel like the things I do – though menial and tedious – deserve not only acknowledgement but a full blown party celebrating the fact that I kept him alive for another day. Which comes down to this: I want fucking balloons to drop from the ceiling, party horns, confetti AND cupcakes saying CONGRATS! YOU KEPT HIM ALIVE! YOU DONE GOOD TODAY!
(or just a gold star? maybe?)
When I wrote this, we were one week out from the start of preschool. I was tapering. Making a giant list of things I will do with my alone time that include: showering without watching one of my personal possessions “accidentally” get dropped into the toilet, going to the car without chasing my child into the street (boy can run!), coffee shop without my kid touching every single ceramic mug on the shelf (must they keep two dozen of those things RIGHT at kid height!?).
The other night, I went to preschool orientation. This was different that preschool open house. Think race registration vs. prerace meeting. Race registration is tolerable – you see some friends, you pick up some free stuff. Prerace meeting is where everyone hears what they already know and others ask stupid questions.
I know, I know there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But ask yourself: have I ever heard a stupid question? Yes. The answer is yes, so can we all just get over it already and stop kidding ourselves!?
Open house was much of the same. We learned how to drop our children off. They’ve convinced me that they can unload 100 cars in 10 minutes very much like I’ve convinced myself I can run a sub 5-minute mile. We learned about the book sale. Then we learned about snacks. You get a shopping list and then have to go shopping for classroom snacks. It is a very specific list. And, most importantly, nothing can be processed in a factory that has so much uttered the word…nut.
My heart goes out to these kids. And their parents. Imagine a life without peanut butter. Almost like a life without coffee. SSH!! Don’t ever say that again, Liz. And as much as I respect that we need to make accommodations for nut allergies, what about MY allergies.
WHAT ABOUT ME.
Here we go again. The undervalued parent is speaking out. It’s all about me, every one. You see, I’m allergic to ragweed, cats and stupid people. No really. Every time I’m in a room with stupid people my eyes itch and I get this feeling in my throat like I’m going to say something like SHUT THE "F" UP ALREADY! Stupid people are everywhere. Internet forums, chatting up politics on Facebook, driving below the speed limit, waiting in line for coffee then getting to the front of the line with no idea of what they want! To these people, I have a LIFE THREATENING ALLERGY. If I come across them I wish to be injected with something that makes them go away.
Can I wear a bracelet saying that?
This really has nothing to do with nut allergies. I completely understand, my niece has a nut allergy. My other niece has food allergies. With all due respect, I know it’s a very hard life. It’s just that – our world has changed. The world of school and parenting has changed. We are hypervigilant, careful and prepared. Does that make us better? I don’t know. But as I watched the preschool director hold up her iPhone and explain that we could email her any time of the day I thought to myself – is that really what we all need? Better yet, is that what she needs?
Times have changed, haven’t they?
I look around at the other parents. It strikes me that we are all the same age, wearing thirtysomething faces. They are all just like me. Just a few years ago they were fun, spontaneous and never left the house with day old hair and running shorts as an outfit for the day. Now we are here. I think back to when we were all in school, circa the 80s, when important things were communicated on paper. When calling in sick really meant you picked up the phone. When you could eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every single day. I realize that the world is changing. I am changing. I look around and it hits me that I am now on the other side. It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting next to my mom, in a giant auditorium like this, listening to someone tell her important things.
I wonder sometimes if we hadn’t become parents if I would still think of myself as the kid. Never growing old, never … growing up? As I listen to the director, I realize that I now have responsibility. The huge responsibility of my child. For now there will be a shopping list I need to follow but in a few years, it will be helping with homework. God help him if he brings home math. There will be field trips, musical instruments and maybe a semester abroad. I am responsible for turning this little person into a man. This is a huge responsibility. More so than making sure I let Boss back in from making a poo each morning. This little man of mine will one day be in the work force. He will one day be a father.
I think sometimes about what I want for Max. I want him to be healthy, obviously, but I want to raise him to be confident, considerate and personally responsible. Every day I try to figure out the formula for how to do that. I think he needs to sit to eat and pick up his toys before bed. I think he needs to learn that his clothes go in the hamper. Chris has his own thoughts about parenting. For Chris, keeping Max alive each evening is a roaring success. Nevermind if his dirty clothes are left on the floor. I try to figure out what is more important: having fun or having a sense of responsibility. Is there a balance between learning how to live life and just living it.
These are the more philosophical questions I consider about parenting when I get dangerously close to the bottom of my coffee cup.
Moment of silence, folks. My mug is now empty.
These days I look in the mirror and realize there are small lines around my eyes and if I don’t stop intensely looking at things I am going to have permanent marks in between my brows. I always wondered what makes parents look older. Sleepless nights? Tantrums? It is worry. The worry of wondering if what I’m doing today, every day, is going to make this little person a success in the future. Am I doing the right thing? Is it enough?
The answer to this question is: I don’t know. I might have to dive deep to the bottom of a few more cups of coffee before I find it. But I do know one thing. I might not be the perfect parent but I am always better dressed than this:
I snapped this at the park while Max was playing in the sandbox. I apologize in advance if you know or if you are this woman. And if you are, you have some serious explaining to do. Forgive me while I go all Suri's Burn Book on you folks, but I ask you: where do you buy an orange adult-sized onesie with a long metal zipper down the back, the worst panty lines I’ve ever seen and matching lipstick. I have no explanation for this outfit other than:
(which doesn't surprise me, because if you're going to do circus style in Naperville, you better do it well)
When I find myself at the park encountering situations like this, I think to myself, I’m ahead of the pack. Even with my worst bedhead and old Brooks running shorts, I have a substantial lead that makes me think me and my kid – we’re all right.
My kid and I are gonna be ok.