I was a brilliant parent before I had children. I had all the answers, not just on how to raise the kids, but on how I was going to behave, too. I was adorable. Or, perhaps, nailbitingly annoying. So now…twelve years and four kids later, I’ve broken them all. Sorry, Young Me. You should have known.
Rule 1: I will not talk baby talk. I want my children to grow up to be literate, intelligent adults who speak properly. To achieve this goal, I will speak rationally, clearly, and in actual words that they may learn and imitate.
Broken: 5 minutes after birth, when I got my first good look at wittle, eensy baby feet. With toes that looked like little peas. That make you want to EAT THEM, you little bugaboo-ba-noo-noo. (As I do not actually intend to eat anyone’s feet, or nose, or cheeks, this was the first of many irrational phrases I uttered to my four babies.)
Rule 2: I will not force my younger children to wear hand-me-downs. Each child is important and loved. They each deserve their own identity and their own clothing and possessions to make them feel so.
Broken: Right after Baby #2. Because I didn’t realize how many clothes kids need. They wear some of them for five minutes before getting them dirty and needing more. How does this happen with people who can’t even walk?? And you know what else I realized? 4-month-olds aren’t fashion conscious. They care if something is pinchy or tight or pokey but they don’t care if you put them in their brother’s pjs. I once spent an entire day in the mountains explaining to everyone that the toddler running around in a bright pink snowsuit was a boy. He’s now 11 and has no idea that ever happened.
Rule 3: I will not wear yoga pants in public, unless actually practicing yoga.
Broken: 11 years after giving birth. So actually, I did pretty good. Mostly because pajama pants and yoga pants are two totally different things.
Rule 4: I will not say “because I said so.” As a parent of children who, as stated above, were to become literate, intelligent adults, I will present rational explanations for each course of action. The kids will honor my willingness to treat them with respect and will accept my well-reasoned arguments.
Broken: Four years after birth. Because apparently, children don’t stop with a well-reasoned explanation. They see it as an invitation to give you their own well-reasoned counter-argument. And when you respond to that, they find another one. And pretty soon, negotiations over mac and cheese versus peanut butter and jelly have taken on the feel of a Middle East Peace Treaty, with sides drawn and appointed diplomats and more than a little crying and me finishing with, “It’s 1:30pm. We’re having sandwiches for lunch and then a nap because I said so!!!” and collapsing on a chair. And this is before adolescence, aka the “I Like to Argue, Arguing is My Favorite” phase.
Rule 5: I will shower every day. Because I’m a human and a woman and even though I’m covered with spit-up and other Things That Must Not Be Named, once a day for at least a full minute, I will be squeaky clean.
Broken: The first time I got sick, and realized that no one gives sick days for parenthood. Little people still expect to be fed, and entertained, and occasionally look at you sympathetically for 20 seconds before asking you very nicely to move the fridge so they can retrieve the Lego that fell behind it. It all saps your will to shower, or move, really.
Rule 6: I will not talk about baby spit-up, or other baby effluvia with other grown-ups. Because, like I said before, I am a rational grown-up, with a college degree in communicating and whatnot.
Broken: After the first diaper blow-out. I couldn’t help it. I was so impressed with the magnitude of what happened, and shocked by the resources needed to recover, and I started telling people about it like it was a Greek tragedy, or an episode of Dragnet, or something. “Saturday afternoon, 4:02pm. The room was quiet. Almost too quiet. And then…”
Rule 7: I will NOT own a minivan. When I was in my twenties, I owned a little red car. It was cute and impractical and listed in at least one report as the unsafest car on the market. I loved her so. Then I had kids.
Broken: Right after we found out about Kid #3. I tried. I tried my best to find a car that could fit all the kids and allow easy access for buckling all the carseats and then I discovered that minivans have doors that open automatically and that was it. I’ve gone from the woman with the cute red car to the woman whose husband gets in her minivan and says, “What’s that smell? Was someone just sick?”
Rule 8: I will give my children an allowance and teach them to be responsible with their money. Mostly because their dad says they’re not allowed to live with us forever and claims he’s changing the locks when they reach adulthood.
Broken: Wellllll — we’ve done this in fits and starts, but I think my low point was raiding my ten-year old’s piggy bank one Friday night when we all wanted pizza. I’m pretty sure I paid him back.
Rule 9: I will have regular date nights with my husband. Because this is what everyone tells you to do. They tell you it’s important to connect with your spouse and to talk about things other than the kids. They tell you to go out once a week and take time for just the two of you. It’s excellent advice.
Broken: Three months after birth. Because you know who gives this excellent advice? People with access to babysitters. People who have family in the area, or a mysterious roster of teens willing to watch their kids for very little money. If your family lives out of state and you don’t know any teens, you must track some down and hope they don’t have sports/band/other babysitting that night. And you should feel reasonably confident they’ll actually watch the kids. And you must pay them. Over the last 11 years I’ve tracked down a few good ones and I can tell you this — I’d share my lipstick with you before I’d share my babysitter list.
Rule 10: I will not bore people with tales of childbirth. Because the honest truth is this — no one’s interested in any childbirth stories except their own. And everyone listening is either going to be thinking that your story isn’t nearly as bad as theirs, or they’re going to be one of that mysterious tribe of women who go, “I don’t see what the big deal is. It was really quite easy,” (who are you ladies? I resent you all.)
Broken: Um. Right after the first childbirth. Because…36 HOURS. Damned if I’m working 36 hours straight on anything without getting credit. That was hard. Besides, my story involves bizarre eye injuries, hallucinations of green Muppets, and a Tone Loc celebrity sighting in the hospital lobby. You’re going to hear about it. Ready? “Friday morning, 5:45am. The room was quiet. Almost too quiet. And then…”