We had three or four days straight of rain recently, so the kiddo and I spent a lot of time indoors. We Los Angelenos aren’t highly functional in the rain — it’s pretty much a blur of sweats, bedhead, cookie dough and Netflix. Lots of Netflix. At some point during this recent rainy period (oh yeah, three days of rain equals a “rainy period” in LA), the child and I exhausted our puzzle, craft and book options and turned to good ‘ol Netflix. The kiddo was in charge of the remote. Danger. She pointed that remote at what I was sure could only be an independent art film: “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva la Fiesta.” She clicked. She was delighted with those tiny talking chihuahuas. We watched that shit at least six times over the next couple days. Then she discovered “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2.” Then she discovered “Snow Buddies.” She discovered there’s a whole subgenre of films about talking dogs. It was a long rainy season in Los Angeles for this lady.
There are the universal themes that link all parents to one another: We all know well the elation, the worry, the self doubt, the pride and the frustration that goes hand in hand with parenting. Then, there are those parenting situations that are unique — that are particular to each family or to each type of family. We are a single-child family, and as such, there are a few things that are true for us that might not be true for a multiple-kid family. Here they are:
I spent several hours alone today with my 3-year-old nephew. I was nervous about this. I adore my nephew and am very close to him, but most of our time together also involves my daughter. And I’m used to girl children; boy children tend to confuse me. And my nephew is what you would call “high energy,” whereas my daughter is sometimes so mellow, at the tender age of 4, she’s already told me to “just chill out, man.”
When I get nervous, I over-plan. So I had ideas and backup ideas and emergency ideas for how to keep the nephew busy and his energy focused. We had breakfast first. He wanted pancakes, so we went out for pancakes. Like most kids his age, he eats at a glacial pace so breakfast stretched for about an hour and a half. When I sensed he was almost finished, I tried to gauge what he was interested in doing next, eager to keep things moving. He looked at me over his soggy plate of pancakes and said, “Let’s just talk for a while, Auntie.” Huh. What a novel idea…just sitting and talking for a while. We sat at that table for another hour. And if you haven’t spent a couple of hours just sitting and talking with a 3-year-old, I recommend you do so immediately. It somehow, magically, sets the world right again.
This post is all about a bag of Cheetos. Well, not really. It’s about making snap judgments. It’s about motherhood. It’s about compassion. But mostly it’s about a bag of Cheetos. This is for the mom in the grocery store who decided to shame my 4-year-old and I for buying a snack-sized bag of Cheetos.
In case you don’t remember, grocery store mom, here’s what happened: You and your toddler daughter were in line ahead of us on one of those busy weekday afternoons — it looked busy for you, and it was certainly busy for us. When the checker was scanning your items, our offending bag of Cheetos wandered over to your side of the divider bar thingy and the checker asked if they were yours. “Oh, no,” you said dramatically and loudly. “We don’t eat processed snacks.” Now, I can’t replicate your inflection here, so let me describe it: judgmental. Your words implied, none too subtly, that only terrible moms feed their kids that shit. As you can imagine, and, as I’m sure you intended, the comment irked me — it reached that tiny place that resides within parents that questions every day, am I doing this right?
I started this post intending to write “Five Things Parents of Only Children Know,” but got stuck about two paragraphs in. I looked at my title and looked at what I had written and realized everything on the page applied, more or less, to all parents. I could have crossed out the “Only” in the title and written the same post as “Five Things Parents of Children Know.” Whether we have one child or four children, our kids are the centers of our worlds, and as such, most of what we feel as parents is universal. The hardships and struggles, the joys, the fears, the guilt, the pride — these are the feelings that permeate the parenting experience. Perhaps parents of only children worry about the development of their child’s social skills more than a parent of three, and perhaps that parent of three worries about giving equal attention to all of his or her children, but at the heart of it, we all worry about our kids. Worry. Yes, worry is the proverbial sidekick to parenting. When I was discharged from the hospital after having my little one, I was given an infant CPR DVD, a rented breast pump and a book about newborn care. But nowhere in my newly acquired arsenal of parenting information and supplies was a manual on how to manage the worry that comes with raising a child. Now that would have been useful.
Lately I’ve been intrigued by the people I meet who seem to be less emotionally cluttered than the rest of us–the straight-talkers among us, those who can rise above the fray, the men and women who never appear to be in a hurry because they know nothing is really that important. Somehow, they just get it. But how do they do it? I wonder. How do they buffer themselves from the swirling chaos and grind of modern life in 2016? As I play armchair psychoanalyst to these people, I’ve noticed some similarities between the way in which they approach their lives and the way children approach life. I suppose we all enter this world emotionally uncluttered, and while we do need a certain amount of emotional sophistication beyond that of childhood in order to function in this society, I think we also absorb so much noise along the way–stress, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, boredom, short attention spans, jealousy, fear, exhaustion and so much more. If we looked to our children for the answers to unburdening ourselves of much of this emotional baggage, could we achieve the joy that is so evident on our children’s faces and so lacking among adults?
Something strange was happening in our house this week. Nobody slept. Everyone was cranky. We cried for no particular reason. We yelled our conversations. Our bodies ached and creaked. We glared at each other from across the room. We were all tired, aggressive, sad and confused. At one point, the child collapsed into a heap of tears on our laundry room floor when I told her she couldn’t draw with a Sharpie pen. I asked her why she was crying. “I just don’t know!” she wailed. We just didn’t know. We had no idea what was going on this week. If I were one of those people who looked to astrology for the answers, I’d say that Jupiter was in retrograde. Yes, a planet had to be in retrograde to cause this inexplicable upset in our home. Or maybe it was El Niño’s fault. I’ll blame El Niño. Whatever the cause of this week’s chaos, it led to a few absolutely absurd conversations with my child. A few examples for your amusement:
The mister and I are big fans of resolutions and self improvement goals in general, and we made a good many resolutions this year. Perhaps 2016 is the year we’ll be perfect parents, super fit and as zen as Buddha himself, if only, you know, for two fleeting seconds. I’ll take what I can get. This year’s resolutions all trickled down from two general themes — to live more frugally and to be more present. To that end, we created a monthly budget that we’ve sworn ourselves to stick to and we’ve set a bunch of goals for enjoying the here and now and letting the petty shit go. So here we are on January 13 and I thought I’d let you know how I’m doing: