Parenting By Numbers

Parenting is little bit like learning to cook. When you first begin, you’re nervous, afraid that one wrong move will ruin your precious creation. After a while, however, you begin to trust your instincts and improvise as you go, throwing in a little of this and a little of that. You know that if things don’t turn out perfectly, chances are it’ll still be good enough. And after you’ve been at it for years, day in and day out, you realize that even if everything goes up in smoke, you can always order pizza. (In parenting, as in cooking, pizza is the answer 97% of the time.)

Here’s a look here at the evolution of 10 common parenting practices from those first precious days as a parent when you wanted everything to be perfect, to the days, three or four kids down the road, when “perfection” is everyone making it out of the house with their clothes on.

First Baby Second Baby Third+ Baby
You stare at her for hours while she sleeps, drinking in the peaceful sight of her little chest rising and falling and the sweet, gentle sounds that only a newborn baby can make. The minute she goes down for a nap, you convince your firstborn its time to “snuggle.” You fall asleep instantly in your bed while firstborn watches two hours of Doc McStuffins. You assume the baby is sleeping, but it’s hard to tell because she is in her pumpkin seat in the back of your minivan while you run your other kids all over town.
You lovingly pick out each day’s outfit complete with matching socks and hats. Then you take 25 pictures and post on Facebook and Instagram. She mostly wears whatever she slept in the night before unless company is coming over. A diaper is an outfit, right?
Baby drops her pacifier and you swoop in like a Peregrine falcon to catch it before it falls to ground. You sterilize it for five minutes in boiling water just in case. Baby drops her pacifier and you wipe it on your pants and hand it back. Five second rule! Baby drops her pacifier and you hand it back without wiping it on your pants because you’re pretty sure whatever is on your pants would only make it worse.
You spend hours making homemade, organic baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables. Your definition of fruits and vegetables has been expanded to include fruit snacks and French fries. Baby’s first solid food is a Cheeto.
You have everything personalized with your baby’s initials – burp cloths, blankets, sippy cups, growth charts, backpacks, etc. Personalizing now means using a sharpie to scribble your baby’s initials on the tag so you can distinguish it from the other kids’ stuff at daycare. You smartly decided to name all subsequent children so that their initials will be the same as your firstborn’s. #winning
You document every milestone in his baby book –first smile, first roll over, first haircut, first steps, first words. He doesn’t have a baby book, per se. It’s more of a baby-plastic-container filled with notes scribbled on the back of doormail coupons and a few stale Cheerios. There is little to no physical evidence this child actually exists.
You leave pages of detailed notes for the babysitter, including feeding, changing and napping schedule. You may have even created a spreadsheet for her to track size, color, and shape of poops. You leave your cell number and $20 for pizza. You leave strict instructions not to call unless she sees blood.
The minute baby gets fussy, you take her temperature three different ways and even though it’s in normal range, you take her into the pediatrician because you just feel “something is off.” You hesitate to take baby to the doctor’s office because your firstborn always catches something while there. Probably because he likes to lick the fish tank while you’re waiting. You feel like you’re basically a pediatrician by this point. You treat everything at home with baby Motrin, an ice pack, and/or a magic kiss.
Packing for any outing requires an hour’s preparation and three steamer trunks full of supplies. You’ve streamlined your supplies into what can fit into your existing purse. Diaper bags are for rookies. Supplies now consist of a pile of Starbucks napkins and a lollipop.
You think you can never love another baby as much as you love this one. You can’t believe you love another baby as much as you love your firstborn. You know that just like your growing sleep deficit, yearly expenses, and yoga pants, your heart will continue to expand and find enough love for every new member of your family. (And isn’t this is all the evidence of their existence you really need?)

Naïveté and Hypocrisy: The Building Blocks of Parenthood

Ah, innocence. I remember it well. Those glorious days of old when the air smelled sweeter (because there was no rotting food hidden under the couch cushions), the birds chirped louder and the sun shone brighter (but it was 7am and you were still asleep so you didn’t care). I’m talking about the days before you became a parent. The days when you didn’t walk around in a sleep-deprived fog and you still knew all the bands on Saturday Night Live. The days when you thought you had a clue.

If you have been parenting for any length of time, you now know that you don’t, in fact, have a clue at all. And you were a pretentious fop for ever thinking that you knew what you were getting into when you signed on to shepherd another life through this crazy world of global warming, online predators, and Ann Coulter. I’ll admit that I was one such pretentious fop. In fact, I was the worst kind. I actually tried to plan for it.

I remember when my husband and I were debating whether or not we were ready to have kids, I actually asked a guy who I worked with – who had kids – how sticky they were. I didn’t know many kids, but it seemed to me that all the ones I knew were always sticky and/or messy and/or dirty and/or had noses full of boogars. This was unpleasant to me.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was how little I would come to care about a snot-caked nose, and how it paled in comparison to your child, say, projectile vomiting. On an airplane. While simultaneously soiling themselves. And screaming bloody murder. At the exact moment when the plane has landed and everyone is waiting to be let out. After a 10 hour flight from Hawaii. This happened to me. Boogars look pretty good after something like that, let me tell you. (Believe.)

This is just one example of me thinking I had a clue. Sadly, there are many others. Below is a list of some of the things I said I would never, ever do when I became a parent.

1. I said I would never use TV as a babysitter.

Awwwww, wasn’t I cute?

2. I said I would never yell.

I had no idea that children who are watching TV, playing a video game, or eating a snack, literally CANNOT hear you unless you yell. I’ve tested this theory a thousand different times and it’s true. You can ask them 47 times to please hang up their coat, but until you raise your voice with something like, “HANG UP YOUR COAT THIS MINUTE OR ELSE!” it’s just white noise to them. Nobody sets out wanting to yell. They make us do it.

3. I said I’d never let my kid sleep in my bed on a regular basis.

My daughter wakes up at least 5 mornings a week in my bed with her feet pressed into my spine, an elbow in my gut, and 98% of the blankets covering 150% of her body.

4. I said I wouldn’t use baby talk.

I am a 38-year-old woman who in the past week alone has announced she has to “go potty,” has had a “tummy ache,” and who got a “boo-boo” on her foot. Enough said.

5. I said I would never care about how my kids wear their hair.

Let me be clear about this one: I don’t care about their hair being perfectly brushed, styled, geled, moussed, sprayed, or really even being that clean. But when the nice man at the grocery store asked me if “the little lady” would like a cookie while pointing to my ten-year old son, you better believe I drove us to the nearest SuperCuts, post-haste. I know long hair worked for The Biebs, but until Fletcher starts bringing home the million dollar paychecks – I want his eyes, ears, and shoulders hair-free. At least while I have any influence.

6. I said I’d never have a kid with snot caked inside her nose at all times.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t realize how little I would come to care about this. I’m not even sure why I don’t care about this. I should. It’s disgusting. But who has the energy for Kleenexes and the endless tutorials on how to blow one’s nose? It’s exhausting.

7. I said I’d never allow my kids to whine.

I actually thought if I had a “No Whining” policy and told my kids, “If you whine, I can’t hear you” that they would eventually learn not to whine. Hilarious.

8. I said I’d never ignore my kids while on the phone.

In my defense, I had my first kid in 2001. They didn’t even have smart phones back then.

9. I said I’d never lie to my kids.

We all know how that one turned out.

10. I said I would never use food as a reward.

This is basically my entire parenting strategy right here. Without food bribes, I got nothing.

Now, who wants a chocolate chip cookie for reading this whole article?

Disclaimer: I feel I should say that even given all of the cynical ramblings above, I wouldn’t trade a minute of my time as a parent. Even the minutes I was covered in bodily fluids or my throat hurt from yelling so loud. But it’s just not that funny to write an article about how much you love your kids. It’s like writing an article about how much you love being carded when you’re in your thirties. It is – in the vernacular of my lovely children – “Like, Duh!”

Things I Sometimes* Wish I Never Taught My Kids

  1. To talk.
  2. To crack the eggs into the batter. (Pancakes are not supposed to be crunchy.)
  3. Sarcasm. I just love it when the kids do as I do, not as I say…
  4. To play games on my cell phone.
  5. To read. (If you’ve ever seen a billboard in the state of Missouri, you’re with me on this one.)
  6. To say please. (See When Good Words Go Bad.)
  7. To expect that meals will be prepared for them. Everyday.
  8. The words ‘mine,’ ‘no,’ ‘jiggly,’ and ‘bottom.’
  9. To tell knock-knock jokes. (And expect me to laugh.)
  10. To spell.  (It’s total b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t that my husband I no longer have a covert means of communication.)
  11. To listen to the radio. (Thankyouverymuch, Katy Perry, for teaching my seven-year old what a menage-a-trois is.)
  12. How to tell time. (I sometimes* ache for the days I could say “It’s bedtime!” at 5:30.)
  13. To use the word ‘really’ as a question.
  14. To use the DVR. (I now have approximately 97 hours of Phineas & Ferb available for my viewing pleasure.)
  15. That there is no such thing as a stupid question. (As it turns out, there is.)
* Varies by hormonal levels, how much chocolate I’m depriving myself of, and hours of sleep logged in any given 24 hour period.
Author’s Note: I apologize for the abundance of parenthesis in today’s post. (I guess I was just in a parenthetical sort of mood.)


We’re Having Fun. Quit Your Whining.

Sometimes, having fun with my kids can be a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a worthwhile pursuit – but there are times when it just plain wears me out. And I know I’m not the only one. I recognize the same weary look in the faces of moms and dads all over the place – at zoos, at museums, at parks, and always, always at Disney World.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why Family Fun isn’t as “fun” as it should be and I’ve come up with a new theory: Family Fun is composed of only 10% actual fun. The rest of Family Fun consists of complaining, whining, sibling rivalry, snappish comments, over-priced snacks, long waits, temperatures that are too hot, temperatures that are too cold, over-priced souvenirs, lines that are too long, rides that are too short, museums that are too boring, cars that are too small, planes that are too bumpy, food that is too different, and one too many requests to ‘say cheese.’

Inexplicably, when you combine all these factors together and look retrospectively through the lens of a proper cooling off period, (length of cooling off period will vary) more often than not, you are left with what passes for fond memories. Go figure.

I’m still waiting for the fond memories to replace my actual memories of my most recent Family Fun adventure. Yesterday, my husband and I decided we would take our kids on a family bike ride. The weather was perfect – a cool 68°F with overcast skies and a light breeze. We had nothing else to do that day and we figured the kids would be overjoyed. Here is a transcript of our discussion prior to our Fun activity:

Mom & Dad: “Hey kids, how would you like to go on a family bike ride?”

Son: “Maybe.”

Daughter: “Will there be food?”

Mom & Dad: “No –what? We thought we would go on the trail and just enjoy this nice day!”

Son: “How far will we go? I don’t want to go as far as last time.”

Daughter: “Can we bring snacks?”

This lukewarm reception should have served as a warning. But we ignored whatever alarm bells were going off in our collective parenting brain and spent what felt like five to six hours getting out the bikes, filling up tires, getting on the proper attire, gathering helmets, stuffing the 4 bikes into our minivan and yes, packing snacks. Exhausted already, but undaunted in our quest to for Fun, we headed out. Here is a transcript from the beginning of our Fun ride:

Mom& Dad: “Ready, guys?”

Daughter: “It’s freezing out here.”

Son: “It looks like it’s going to rain.”

Daughter: “What will happen to the snacks if it rains?”

Son: “I don’t want to get wet.”

Mom&Dad: “A little rain never hurt anyone. It’ll be an adventure.”

Son: “I don’t want an adventure.”

Daughter: “I don’t want to eat wet snacks.”

Son: “My bike seat is too hard.”

Daughter: “My helmet itches my chin.”

Mom&Dad: “Quit your whining. This is supposed to be FUN!”

Son: “Yeah – real fun.”

Daughter: “It isn’t fun when you yell…”

Dedicated-to-Fun parents that we are, we went ahead and took our Family Fun bike ride anyway, despite the fact that no one seemed to want to – not even us by that point. Here are some of the highlights from the event itself:

  • We went a total of 7 miles in an hour and a half (that felt like four).
  • We stopped eight times for water.
  • We stopped six times for snacks.
  • My son cried on four separate occasions. (We were going to fast; we were going too slow; his little sister passed him, he got rained on.)
  • We stopped three times to adjust my daughter’s helmet, that incidentally never stopped feeling itchy.
  • We stopped to look at a snake, gently prod him with a stick, and take his picture to identify what kind he was later.
  • We got yelled at by a passing biker for blocking the trail while we looked at the snake.
  • My husband snapped at me for being too negative.
  • I snapped at my husband for being too cheerful.
  • The leg of my yoga pants got caught in the gears on my bike, tearing my pants and causing me to fall –inexplicably in slow motion – off my bike.

In keeping with my theory, only one of the ten things that happened on the bike ride was actually fun. (And FYI -it wasn’t me falling off my bike.) Finding the snake was for sure the highlight of the whole experience – and was in fact, the turning point of our afternoon. We were all mysteriously buoyed by finding that snake and the ride back (we were on our return by that point) was pleasant – or at least not as miserable as the ride out had been.

I said to my husband, as I did the Sunday before when we went on a family run/walk, “Why do we keep doing things like this? No one likes this. This isn’t fun.” He agreed, as he does every week. But we both know that at some point between last Sunday and next Sunday, the memories of the Bike Ride From Hell, will be magically transformed into The Time We Found That Snake and we will all look back on the experience with fond, if distorted, memories as we set out on our next quest for Family Fun.