Parenting, for Real

Parenting, for Real August 25, 2014

calvin and hobbes

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 8.5 years of parenting, it’s that the fervency with which I decry certain aspects of modern American parenting directly correlates to how loudly I will be able to hear God laughing later on, when I eat my words.

When I was pregnant with Sienna, we laid down all these rules like, “no pink. No frills. No tiaras. Never anything princess ever upon pain of death.

That wasn’t a huge deal for Sienna, since she’s not really the princess type. She’s the type to use conditioner and toothpaste and glitter hair gel to create a “potion” in her friend’s bathtub, or the type to think the $2 pocket volcano that you pour baking soda and vinegar into is the MOST AWESOME THING EVER!!!!

Charlotte, though. Charlotte was wearing heels before she could walk. As soon as she did learn to walk, she began walking on her toes with her palms parallel  to the floor, fingertips pointed away from her. She’s more of a princess than Kate Middleton. I had to come to terms with the fact that my personal philosophical stance against princesses, no matter how absurdly fleshed out, meant exactly squat in the face of a little blond-haired cherub who just wanted a tiara.

Charlotte has tiaras in abundance, a whole trunk of dress-up clothes, a pillow that says “princess” on it, and ten thousand unicorns. And all is right with the world.

It would have been excellent if I had learned the lesson then, but no. No no no.

Onward and upward I went, proclaiming boldly that no kid of mine would be allowed to make poop messes before being blessed with a son who totally refuses to keep his diaper on. No matter how many layers and onesies and suspenders I employ, it’s just impossible to keep this kid from escaping the confines of his diaper. He’s like some hideous toddler Houdini dreamed up by a trickster for the sole purpose of hoisting me by my own petard.

Surely that was enough, though, right? Surely poop was the straw that broke the camel’s back, that taught me that enough is usually  enough before I even open my mouth and spit out something that is karmically obligated to bite me in the arse later, right?

Well. No.

A few years ago I wrote this hilarious post about the 7 worst children’s gifts. One of the ones featured was a behavioral modification nightlight that darkens into a moon at night and brightens into a sun when it’s okay for the child to get out of bed. Back when I was blisteringly stupid, I said,

This is a perfect gift for children whose parents can’t be bothered to deal with a child between the hours of 8 pm and 8 am, and for children who can expect to spend the next several years being taught to read by electronic books and babysat by the TV.

Oh, 27-year-old me. You were such an asshat.

First things first: I totally want this light. I want it more than I have wanted anything ever. I want it for both of the kids’ rooms. I want them to abide by the light because I am too bloody tired to make them abide by me.

Second: my children spent the summer learning math.

It’s astounding how much they learned. Liam can add. He can add without using his fingers. Even I can’t do that.

Charlotte and Liam spend their time playing imaginary games in which someone always has to count to 100 and then add random things together to save the princess from being blown up. When they come across any object, they pick it up and say, “this is a pentagon” or “this is a trapezoid” or “this is a hexagon.” A friggin’ hexagon! What is that, even? I mean I know now, but only because my 4-year-old told me.

Most astonishing, though, is that Lincoln, who still doesn’t know or care that I’m called Mama, not Dada, can count to ten.

Give him M&M’s and tell him that he can have seven, and he’ll count them out. Sure, he says “shix” and “sheven”, but holy crap. He’s not even 2.

Am I telling you this because I am proud of the knowledge I managed to instill in my children after a long summer of hard work?

Um, no. I’m telling you this because when I have to pull my foot out of my mouth, I always prefer to do it publicly, with GIFs.

My children learned math because they spent the summer mainlining Team Umizoomi.

team umizoomi
Thanks, Team Umizoomi!

I suppose I should be ashamed to have wholly given up all my child-rearing ideals, but I’m not. The thing about parenting is that the longer I do it, the more I’m forced to confront the fact that at some point, ideals must give way to the real. That doesn’t always mean I have to abandon my ideals entirely, but if I find something that works for my kids and works for me — and probably won’t cause too much long-term damage — I embrace it. Maybe slightly too enthusiastically.

Understand that I’m absolutely not talking about abandoning convictions or beliefs, here. I’m not going let my future teenage kids skip Mass if they decide it doesn’t work for them. I’m not going to wake up one day with a sixteen-year-old who really wants to move in with her 21-year-old boyfriend and be like, “you know what? This works for me.” I’m just talking about ideals.

Ideals like unschooling while eating strictly Paleo in a house beyond the range of nefarious WiFi signals, and giving birth in a naturally occurring hot spring while my unvaccinated children run through meadows of chickenpox. Those kinds of unrealistic ideals. Also perfectly reasonable ideals, though, like no TV during the week or spending an hour reading to my kids every day, having only fruit for dessert or cleaning one room a day so my house always stays tidy. Those are good ideals that I can work toward, but not at the expense of what’s real for me and my family, right here and right now.

What’s real for us right now is that we’re not focused so much on teaching our kids the 4 cardinal virtues as we are on teaching them that it’s so not okay to beat your sister over the head until she gives you that spot on the couch. We’re not focused so much on our children encountering the world with wonder as we are focused on finding Lincoln’s missing diaper before someone encounters it with their foot. We are who we are, and I like it that way. I like being in a place where I’ve finally stopped trying to measure up to impossible expectations I have for myself and my family, and just enjoy playing D&D with them. Even if Charlotte insists on being a princess with death power and Lincoln strips his clothes off halfway through the game.

Besides, my kids can add. And not on their fingers. Even being idealistic didn’t prepare me for that.


*Important caveatWe still don’t allow The Little Mermaid to come near our house, though, because bratty self-centered teenage princesses who teach my daughters the important lesson that betraying your father and changing your species to get a guy will allow you to live happily ever after should be kept at arm’s length.

And then lit on fire.

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