I've been wanting to write this down for some time, but I've been busy. Parenting is like that...every now and then it will occur to you to do something, and then you promptly forget about it. Things like showering, paying a bill, getting your sleeping baby out of the car..you know, things of that ilk.
I became a parent in 1994. And then again in 1995. And 1997. And then, because all of the cool people were having Y2K babies, once more in 2000. That's four kids. Four kids who are now all teenagers. No, there was little math done prior to conceiving these angels. But I wouldn't change a thing.
Throughout my parenting journey I have learned a lot. I've learned things that have benefited me (and my kids) and I've learned things that have made me cringe and doubt myself. When I first became a mommy, 19 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I went from self-absorbed party girl to a crying mess wearing giant mesh underwear, pleading with some poor soul on the 24-hour hospital nurse line to come take the shrieking red-faced baby-like creature writhing in the bassinet. "YOU LET ME LEAVE THE HOSPITAL WITH HIM!" I screamed "I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!". Not my best moment.
I've had several "not my best moments" since then. And also, some really good ones. In my line of work I get to spend some time talking to moms who are younger than me, moms who are where I was 15 or so years ago. Sometimes they ask me for advice...sometimes I'm able to give some. Other times, all I can do for them is just listen.
Young fresh mommies, I see you everywhere I go...I see you at Costco, at the grocery store, walking on the trails near my house. You are young, your kids are young. You remind me so much of my past self and my past babies. I want to talk to you, want to admire your beautiful children...but the creepy factor and the realization that I'm going to be late for something always stops me.
Creepiness be damned today, people. Because I'm going to talk to you now. I want to tell you stuff I've learned, things I wish someone had told me about all those years ago. Would it have changed the way I parented, made any difference at all? Who knows. But humor a tired old woman, okay? Here goes:
1. Don't spend a lot of money on baby stuff. Unless you are rolling in the dough, that is. If money is no object? Go ahead. But for those of you who don't have a money tree growing in the back yard, go easy. Remember that baby equipment is a lot like a new car..it loses value the second a baby poops all over it. Of course you want to be sure Baby is safe, but please consider buying used, or getting hand-me-downs from well meaning friends and/or relatives. Your baby doesn't care. They'll be just as happy in clothes from Target or the kick ass clearance rack at Baby Gap as they'd be in a super adorbs Burberry outfit. Trust me.
2. If you can, breastfeed your baby. But realize I say this as someone for whom breastfeeding came as naturally as breathing. I know it's not for everyone. However, nursing my babies is one of my favorite memories as a mother. I have never once regretted it. I do want to add that breastfeeding did not make me lose the baby weight. I think that's a rumor spread by women who would have lost the weight even if they had used a wet nurse to feed their babies. So don't worry if that baby weight doesn't fall off even though you have an infant latched on 24 hours a day. It's not just you.
3. If you don't breastfeed your baby? THAT'S GREAT TOO. Some of you can't do it. Some of you don't want to do it. And that's awesome. Don't let anyone make you question your decision. This is your baby, it's your body. Your choice. Period. And know that as a breastfeeding mom with babies who wouldn't take a bottle...I was insanely jealous of YOU.
Ladies, if you're feeling guilty or judgy about how you feed your babes, go to a high school cafeteria and ask the giant kids there if they were breast or bottle-fed. Guess what? They usually don't know, and if they do, they certainly won't tell a strange woman standing in their cafeteria. Take my word for it.
4. Cloth or disposable...who gives a crap (pun intended). For real, ladies. I'm not getting into this one. You know the arguments here, the environmental ones, the economical ones, blah blah. Again, it's your choice. I used disposable with mine, despite having every intention of using cloth. This one is a loaded subject (the pun never stops!) but one that you'll have to get into somewhere else.
5. If you are a stay at home parent, be sure to thank your spouse/partner who goes to work every day. I'm divorced now, and can't think of many nice things to say about my ex, but I am so very grateful that I was able to be home with my kids when they were young. Staying home with your babies is a privilege, one that many parents would love to do, but can't. I know it feels like drudgery some days, but trust me when I say this: some day you will look back on these times and the wistful joy you feel will take your breath away.
6. If you take your kids to daycare, surprise them and show up early once in a while. I know this isn't possible for a lot of you..I get it. You work your ass off every day, and the truth is, some jobs are truly 9-5. Or 10-6 or 7-4. Without exception. I'm there with you now, ladies. It's hard. But take this from someone who works at a preschool/daycare now: your kids miss you. Don't get me wrong..when they are there, they are LOVED and cared for. But some of them are there for 8-10 hours, and that's a long time. Towards the end of the day, they start craning their necks, looking for mommy's or daddy's car in the parking lot. There will come a day, sooner than you think, when they won't press their face against the window, waiting to see you. So if you can, go ahead and make their day. If you can't? Don't feel bad. Know that the second they see you walking in, their entire being changes. You make their day just by showing up.
7. When they start school, get to know their teachers. Start with preschool, and don't ever stop. Get to know the people who are with your kids for the day. These people work hard, oftentimes for meager wages and iffy benefits, because they LOVE what they do. Stop in and say hello. If you have time, offer to help. If you don't have time, be sure to keep the lines of communication open and don't be shy...let them know when your child tells you something wonderful that happened at school. Teachers hear a lot about what concerns parents...let them know what makes you happy, too. Keep an open mind when dealing with the teachers, and try to keep a level head. It's scary, sending your kid off into the wilds of school. Their teachers know that..most of them are parents, too. As your kids get to junior high and beyond, the opportunities to meet their teachers become less convenient and take a little more work. But they are there, and guess what? They still love what they do. And, for the most part, they'd be happy to meet you.
8. Trust your gut. Actually, this should have been number one. But I'm in a hurry, so it's going to stay here at number eight. Your gut is trying to talk to you. Listen to it. This is one thing I've learned a little late in the game, and I do regret that. I remember stifling gut feelings way back in my children's lives: a situation didn't feel right. A kid they started hanging out with didn't feel right. Something a teacher said (or didn't say) felt off, somehow. Mother's intuition is real. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. That said, there is a difference between the pangs caused by intuition, and those caused by guilt or worry or temporary insanity. It takes a while to figure out that difference, but it will happen. When it does, stand up for your gut and take action. If it means being "bad cop" with your kid, or "that parent" at school, so be it. When all is said and done, YOU are your child's number one advocate. Never forget that.
9. If your kid needs help, make sure they get it. Don't let pride or shame or ignorance get in the way of your child getting help. Academic, mental, physical...if they need it, make it happen. Thank God, there isn't the stigma surrounding these things like there used to be. Most schools do a great job of helping kids in a sensitive, discreet manner. I know that time and money are precious commodities, but if you can get help for your child via a tutor, a program outside of regular school, a good therapist, whatever...find a way to do it. The earlier, the better. A kid who needs a little help isn't something you need to be ashamed about, something you should hesitate to address. I denied the fact that there was something not-quite-right with one of my kids, and it haunts me to this day. He's okay now, and he's growing into a wonderful young man, but I know there are things I could have done to make his earlier years better. I was scared, I was in denial, and I buried my head in the sand. Don't do that, please.
10. Get to know other kids. And their parents. This one is easy when they're little. As they get bigger, not so much. You have to work at it. My kids have had some of the same friends for YEARS. I have wiped some of their butts, these boys who are now over six feet tall and boom out "YO, JENNY" as they walk in my front door. But some of these kids, I don't know from Adam. I have no idea who they are, who their parents are, what they're like or even where they live. It's taken me a while but I am now comfortable with finding out more. I'll even call a parent I've never met, just to introduce myself. It's hard but I think it's necessary. It takes a village, people, and sometimes you have to be the one to round up the villagers.
11. Be aware of what you're feeding them. I'm not saying you should go buy a share in an organic farm. But there are a lot of scary things in food today. Do you hear judgment in my voice? No, you do not. I have the number for Costco Pizza on speed dial, we get slushies from Super America and I love me some Twizzlers. But read labels, people. Do a little bit of research about additives and preservatives and artificial sweeteners and nitrites and hydrogenated oils and CORN and everything else. It's overwhelming, but try to do a little bit. Feeding your kids things that aren't processed and full of chemicals takes a little getting used to, but it can be done. Believe me..if my broke ass can do it, anyone can.
12. Don't judge. Well, try not to, anyways. It's natural for women to judge each other. Time was, I hung with a different group of women. They were awesome ladies, in some respects. I enjoyed their friendships. But I remember going out to dinner one night, and talk turned to a fellow mom from our ECFE class. It wasn't just gossipy crap, either. This was mean, mean stuff. And I partook in it (grammar cops? Don't be too harsh). When I got home, I felt like shit. I said to my then-husband, "I need to make some changes in my life." A few days later, the woman we had been verbally eviscerating over dinner was injured in an accident. I made dinner, and brought it over to her. We became friends. Our friendship lasted several more years, and then, like some friendships do, it faded out. But I'm glad I decided to take the high road.
You are going to cross paths with many other moms over the next several years. Some will be your friends, others won't. But let me tell you this: the more you put yourself out there, and the kinder you are to others, the better you will feel at the end of the day. For every mom out there, there is a life story just waiting to be heard. Get to know as many as you can.
Don't get me wrong: there are some seriously Mean Girl-women out there. The good thing is, they make themselves known pretty early on. And they find their own twatty groups to hang out with. The only trouble you will run into with these ladies is when your kid becomes friends with their kid. We can talk about that one later on.
13. Spend some absolutely free time with your kids. At least once a week. Preferably? Once a day. We schedule our kids to death. They have swimming and soccer and baseball and t-ball and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Hebrew and Confirmation and Interpretive Dance and karate and basketball and EVERYTHING ELSE. Try to find some time when there is nothing scheduled for either one of you. Time where you can just chill with your baby and talk or watch clouds or match socks or observe your dog twitching in his sleep. Time where the two of you can connect. Time where you aren't on your way from A to B. Time where you're not worried about whether or not they have the right uniform with them or if it was your turn to provide snack. Clean and pure mommy/kid time. They crave this. You need this.
14. Be prepared to let go of dreams, hopes and expectations. Be ready to replace them with different dreams, hopes and expectations. It threw me for a total loop when I discovered that one of my kids had a hard time reading. Me, a voracious reader since I was four...my older kids were the same as me. Picked up books and just took off. Same with spelling. Never once had to help them with spelling words, they just knew. When my sweet, youngest baby began school, it became apparent that he'd be different. And I'll be honest with you...it baffled me. I didn't know how to handle it. So for a while, I didn't. I figured that it would work itself out, this reading thing. Guess what? It didn't. He needed help. I had to accept that.
Nobody becomes a parent and thinks, "Gosh..I hope I get to know everything there is about Aspergers or ADD or speech impediments or developmental delays or juvenile diabetes or (insert any sort of childhood detour you can think of here)". We have these babies and we picture them doing everything that "normal" kids do. We dream of our little ones playing peacefully at the playground, side by side with other cherubic kids, and growing up to be productive, happy members of society.
You who doesn't care what we dream and hope for? Our kids. They come to us as they are. Perfectly imperfect little beings, flawed and beautiful. The mommy who dresses her baby girl all in pink and surrounds her with dolls may have to get used to the fact that her little princess wants to wear boy clothes and play football. That little boy you had hoped would inherit your math prowess and go on to great academic success may surprise you and instead be fascinated with cars and become a mechanic. Or, you may find yourself struggling to get that child out of bed in the morning because he's too depressed to face life. You may be the parent sitting in a doctors office, learning the next steps in your child's treatment. Who knows? Maybe your child will grow up exactly as you had hoped. Stranger things have happened.
I remember reading a fact once, something about how the chance of egg meeting sperm, about zygote becoming embryo, embryo becoming fetus and fetus becoming baby are slim. Something like only a 10% chance of getting, and staying, pregnant each cycle. Having kids, whether you make them yourself or adopt or find yourself inheriting them through marriage, it's a miracle. A blessed, everyday miracle. I consider my children to be my masterpieces, the best things I've done with my life. Would I go back and do some of my parenting differently? Yes, of course I would. I'd also go back to my size 4 self and tell her "DON'T START EATING YOUR FEELINGS!". It is what it is. There are no do-overs.
There is only today. And this worn out, frazzled old mom hopes that YOU have a great one. Remember this one thing: You are a good mom. You'll make mistakes and you will second-guess yourself sometimes, but you ARE a good mom. And nobody can take that away from you.
Now go on out there and be that good mom you are. You, my dears, are the face of parenting today. Those of us who have gone before you are cheering you on, feeling a mix of melancholia and nostalgia over those days gone by. We wish you nothing but the best...and want you to know that most of us are available for advice, or support...
or an old, tired shoulder to cry on. We've got your backs, young fresh mommies.
An old, tired mom
P.S. Please remember to take any and all advice from me with a grain of salt (or even better, with a rim of salt around a big margarita)...I am the woman who just this morning accidentally sprayed my hair with foaming bleach cleanser instead of the Frizz-Ease I thought I had grabbed. Oops. This is what happens when you no longer keep the cleaning supplies locked up, folks. #oldmomproblems