I’m Really Good At Parenting Until I’m Not

This past Sunday, a friend mentioned seeing the film, The Greatest Showman. I had heard of the movie but didn’t know much about it so when I found the preview clip enthralling, I decided we HAD to see it.

 

It looked family friendly. Check.
It looked like it might make me cry. Check.
It had a catchy, inspirational theme song. Check.
It was a musical. FANTASTIC.

(The musical aspect was probably my favorite part. The last time I saw a musical with Bob was 2002, when we saw the movie version of Chicago. When that film started rolling and those actors started singing and most everyone started dancing, the confusion on Bob’s face was priceless. He had NO IDEA it was a musical. Consequently, he fell asleep about 20 minutes in. I was eager to recreate all of this.)

I found the showtimes for our nearest theatre and discovered that if we got our act together, we could see an early evening show. I’ll surprise the kids and Bob! We rarely all go to the movies! What a lovely way to spend a Sunday night! I am such a good and thoughtful parent! I’m one of those FUN moms!

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My first mistake was trying to do something nice for my children on such short notice, with such little preparation and precedence. Any fun and spontaneous activity with the kids always turns out better in my head more so than real life. I always THINK my kids will be up for a last minute adventure and I always THINK my kids will be filled with gratitude for such treats but, in actuality, that’s never, ever what happens.

It’s no surprise then, when I suggested Sunday afternoon that we go see a movie that very night, everyone reacted with a mix of confusion and suspicion, which was really rather anticlimactic.

Bob immediately wanted to know what the movie was about. Not wanting to ruin the musical surprise, I just waved in his general direction and said, “I think it’s about the founding of the Barnum circus people.” He was satisfied with this response. As was Henry.

Then, when I explained to the kids that all of our Sunday night tasks – homework, dinner, baths and showers – would need to get accomplished in advance so we could fill our evening with FUN, they all immediately started negotiating down what I was asking them to do. Which is probably my least favorite thing that my kids do of late. The person that needed to take a bath, wanted to take a shower. The person that needed to take a shower, wanted to take a bath. But only a quick bath. No hair washing. And, did they really have to use soap at all? Then I got requests to just eat dinner at the theatre and a plea about doing homework the following morning instead and it was just all too much pushback.

“ENOUGH,” I yelled. “We’re done here! We’re not going to the movies. You are all ridiculous. I tried to do something nice and you are obviously not on board.”

This elicited tears from the most egregious offenders in the bunch which, was kind of the whole point. This is a classic parenting strategy in my arsenal. I take away something they never fully appreciated and then they get sad and cry and the tough love leaves an impression and they never, ever take anything you do for them for granted ever again. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

Once everyone had retreated mournfully to their rooms for a bit, they slowly emerged, much more eager to be complicit in my demands. Bob and I cheerfully announced that if they could uphold their end of the bargain, then, yes, we would go to the movies. Tub kid tearfully climbed into the tub. Shower kid tearfully climbed into the shower. Big kid started on his homework. Having imparted an important life lesson on my children, I started smugly working on dinner.

My second mistake was not checking to see if tickets were even available before suggesting that we all go see a movie because at some point, while prepping dinner, it occurred to me that I should probably buy our movie tickets online. This particular theatre gets busy and has reserved seating and we were, like, INVESTED in this experience at this point. I mean, the kids were discussing what kind of candy they were going to get from the concession stand. Better to not risk waiting until we get to the theatre to procure our seats.

So, obviously, when I went to buy tickets, sure enough, the show was sold out.

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I went and broke it to the kid in the tub and told the kid getting out of the shower and hollered down to Henry that unfortunately and by the way I’m SO SORRY but we can’t see the movie after all because it’s sold out and yes, isn’t that ironic and no, Mama did not check first and I agree, this is all terrible and have I said I’m sorry?

Two of three children start crying. Again. At this point, Bob is giving me A Look.

I make one more half-hearted attempt to find tickets at a theatre that’s a little further away but, alas, they are unavailable as well. Once again, raising everyone’s expectations and then dashing them. Like the worst roller coaster ride ever. At this point, we all pretty much wish I had never tried to do something fun and spontaneous in the first place.

My third (and will not be my last by a long shot) mistake was agreeing to rent Despicable Me 3 as a poor substitute to The Greatest Showman. I think we can all agree that by the time we get to the third movie in any franchise, the quality has diminished quite a bit. Despicable Me 3 is no musical. Just one unending fart joke. But, I was desperate for a way out of this mess. Besides, the kids had been requesting to rent it so that seemed to brighten everyone’s mood a little bit. Also, everyone was fed and bathed and, at this point, it was only 4:30 in the afternoon. We still had daylight to burn.

When I explained Plan B to (a still slightly upset) Charlie, he looked me straight in the eyes, asked if I would make him some popcorn and said, “It’s the least you can do in this situation.”

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2018 Manifesto

1. I will CALM DOWN about October. The arrival of fall fleece weather causes such a frenzy of excitement that I over-schedule every corner of October to take maximum advantage of no longer sweating the instant I open my front door. October then becomes this giant blur. It begins with a couple of mums on the front porch, a giant scarf around my neck and the first hot beverage of the season but it always seems to end in a frantic fit of exhaustion and shame when my kids find me shoving one more snack size Kit Kat in my mouth before I set fire to all of their Halloween candy whilst yelling, “WE FORGOT TO GO TO AN APPLE ORCHARD!” October is crafty in that it promotes itself as this super chill month full of deep breaths and crisp fall air but in actuality, you never stop moving the entire time before tumbling into November and then Thanksgiving which bleeds into the December holidays and then you wake up sometime in January five pounds heavier with wrapping paper stuck to your pajamas. It all begins innocuous enough. I’m on to you, October and I will not fall prey this year.

2. I will step away from the news at regular intervals so as not to fall into a pit of depression and despair, believing that the destruction of mankind is imminent and all hope has been lost.

3. I will invest in me.

*insert tremendous eyeroll here*

But, lo, I am firmly in my forties now and no longer as physically resilient as I once was. Basically, stuff on my person hurts. So, this year, I’m striving to fix what’s broken. That means, I’m going to wear the stupid brace at night to help alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome I developed while growing three children with my body. I’m also going to do the stretching I’m supposed to do to help alleviate the plantar fasciitis I developed from excessive hiking to get some alone time away from the three children I grew with my body. I’m going to make the appointments and take the supplements and drink the water and get that weird bump behind my ear looked at so I can be as healthy as I can be for me and for the three children that wrecked everything when I grew them with my body.

4. I will finally figure out how to make the theme song from “Parks and Recreation” be my phone’s ringtone because it is delightful. I should probably ask Henry how to do this, better preparing him for the years and years he’ll spend down the road exasperatingly troubleshooting technology for his parents.

5. I will make a HUGE punch list of the home improvement items around this house that need to get accomplished so we can actually accomplish them. Bob and I talk all the time about our to-do list, casually mentioning over breakfast that the laundry room needs painting or the basement curtains are still waiting to be hung or the crack in the hallway needs patching. Frankly, someone needs to write all of this stuff down because we are easily distracted and inevitably one of us gets busy with something else or decides to take a nap or retreats with a book or goes shopping instead, forgetting all about the laundry room, the basement and the hallway. Then, the next weekend, we LITERALLY have the very same discussion about the things that need to get done around the house. It’s all very counter-productive. Bob asked for some sort of a master list some months ago so we can go room by room as time permits to complete the work and I love a good checklist so I’m going to make this happen. I’ll probably laminate it, to be honest.

6. I will show my kids new places and new things. As much as I love to lament parenthood, I think my kids are pretty much the coolest people on the planet. They’re so interesting and they love to learn and are so curious and they’re getting easier and more fun to take out in public. Bob set a goal of traveling into the city frequently this year to show them a new museum or exhibit and I’ve set a goal of two vacations with them to places that none of us have traveled before. This year, I really want to focus on more experiences and less stuff.

(I’m also in that post-Christmas deep regret stage as I try to organize and find space for the hoard of presents I brought into our home so, we’ll see how this one pans out is all.)

7. I will be generous with my time, resources and talent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better the lives of those around me. Not just for my husband and my children, but looking beyond that. I’d like to figure out how to extend generosity – in whatever form that takes – farther out in the circle. I have a certain set of talents and expertise and I have friends that are extremely talented and super smart in other things and sometimes, I feel like if we could just pool our gifts, combine our resources, we could make lives better. Easier. Lovelier. Kinder. For ourselves and for others. I’m going to figure out how to build that community of generosity this year. I feel like the world could use a lot more of it.

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Roadblocks

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There’s a boy in Millie’s kindergarten class that pinches her bottom. The pinching began in August, shortly after the school year started. They’re six. Not nearly old enough for the action to be considered perverse. Still, Millie was bothered by it enough to mention it to me. I promptly contacted her teacher and they took all appropriate and necessary action. They were responsive and apologetic. I met the boy at a classroom party not too long after and as I helped him make a puppet from a paper lunch bag, he leaned over and embraced me at least ten times. He is a hugger. A toucher. A pincher.

While Millie was home sick last week, she brought up this boy again. He was back at it. Pinching her bottom. She still didn’t want him to. “But don’t worry, mom. As long as I remember not to sit next to him, he can’t pinch me.”

Her words stopped me short. I paused from my work and looked with a weary resignation at my daughter.

How we learn. Learn at such an early age to navigate the unwanted attention and behavior of others. We make accommodations. We change seats or classes or sides of the street or busses or phone numbers or ourselves. Sometimes, we change ourselves. We gently and strategically and sophisticatedly and expertly maneuver around a problem. Like a boulder blocking our path, we learn how to carefully make our way around the problem instead of jackhammering right through it.

We had the entire family at a big social function recently. We had a fantastic time and made some lovely new friends. At the end of the evening, as we made our way to leave, one of them stooped down and asked Millie for a hug goodbye after shaking hands with Henry and Charlie. He was kind and jovial and he meant absolutely no harm but I wasn’t surprised when Millie quietly and respectfully declined his offer.

While I fumbled with my coat, I heard him reply, “Well, I’ll just have to take it then,” as he swooped down and embraced my daughter in a bear hug she had not wanted to receive.

My God, those words. Why did he say those words?

We learn early on to pleasantly decline. To demurely defer. To softly and deftly say no thank you. To carefully choose our words and actions and emotions when our path is blocked. We accept and tolerate and withstand when instead we should be screaming and kicking and fighting.

And, sometimes, we learn early on that saying no doesn’t even matter.

Every woman has a story. Every single one can tell you tales of unwanted attention or harassment or mistreatment or inexcusable advances or unconscionable behavior. I am so amazed at the women brave enough to finally tell their stories. I’m not at all surprised there are so many.

I had wished a future for my daughter that was different. That didn’t include any of these stories. I am dismayed that, in fact, she already has some.