Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day advice from a Veteran Child Wrangler.

Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease. ~ Lisa Alther  

When I became a mother for the first time, in 1992, I approached this job as I would any other new challenge: I read every book ever written on the subject. I struggled to rationalize the Sears' attachment childrearing method with that of authors who believed that strict structure was fundamental to a smoothly running home. I read about the merits of cloth vs. disposable diapers, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding and whether or not to return to work shortly after my son was born. I made sure that my baby's room was neither too dull (so as not to diminish his brain capacity) nor too overstimulating (so as not to overwhelm him). I tried incredibly hard to give myself a crash course in motherhood before my baby's birth. I did everything in my power to create a network of support, a plan of action for each eventuality and a determination to be the best mother ever. 

I failed. Nothing one reads about motherhood can prepare you for having a Lego stuck in your child's nose on Christmas Eve or for the times your dog stands in the middle of your dining room table, at your child's request,  to eat her vegetables.  What I did learn was that sometimes, to quote that infamous movie from the '80's, you just have to say "What the f***."  

Therefore, it's with a little humor, and a lot of experience over the past 19 years, that I can pass along a few tidbits for the modest edification for new mothers:

  • It's pointless to write a birth plan. Don't bother. Babies don't have plans and neither do their births. Some will come so quickly that you will barely have time for the doctor to arrive in time to 'make the catch'. Others will hang onto your intestines rather than give up room service in a cozy spot. Trust me. I had one of each.
  • Let your baby sleep in your bed if you want to...especially if you're so tired you are unsteady on your feet. Your son will be cozy, safe and happy snuggled up against you. He will not grow overly dependent on sleeping with you. He will not leave for college still snug in the family bed. If he does? It'll be his roommate's problem.
  • When another person says, condescendingly, that it's time for your daughter to be weaned, potty trained, cleaning her own room, doing her own laundry or calculating algebraic equations, smile brightly and say "Thank you so much! That hadn't occurred to me!", while going blithely about your own business.
  • Read to your child as much as possible. The days will come in which you will beg your son to read a comic, let alone a classic. So, when he asks you to read "Goodnight Moon" for the 300th time in four days, just smile and read. 
  • Expose your children to many different kinds of foods as young as you can. Children who eat nothing but hot dogs and chicken nuggets grow up into adults who eat nothing but hot dogs and chicken nuggets. That being said, you will not be a bad mom if you throw hot dogs in the microwave on busy evenings.
  • Allow your daughter to wear whatever she wants. The time will come in which she will want to dress identically to her peers and shop in the exact same stores. When she's 3, if she wants to wear her Barbie Ballerina costume for the other 364 days of the year, in addition to Halloween, let her. You'll just be getting your money's worth. Wearing red flowered tights, a purple paisley dress and pink summer sandals all at once (and in January) shows creativity.
  • When your son tells you, in 5th grade, that he wants to be a NFL Quarterback, a rock star or a cowboy, encourage him. When he gets his first job mowing lawns, he'll understand the value of hard work for the rest of us.
  • Kiss all boo-boo's, cuts, scrapes, aches and pains. It really does help.
  • Macaroni necklaces really do go well with everything, including little black dresses. If someone makes a snarky comment to you about your fashion sense, act as if it's a tremendous compliment.
  • Let your kids take all the pillows off the couch to build forts, obstacle courses and secret hideouts. 
  • Sometimes eating the cookie dough together is much better than baking the cookies anyway.
  • Become an expert cheerer through all Little League games, Pee Wee hockey games, ballet recitals and school plays. Your child won't remember your presence, but she will be note your absence. If it's important to him, it should be important to you.
  • When your son's heart is broken the first time, let him cry and understand that his feelings are just as valid as they are for someone twice his age. Just because someone is 15, doesn't mean sorrow doesn't exist.
  • "Because I said so" is a perfectly reasonable argument.
  • Make picnics, go for hikes, swing in the hammock, catch fireflies and build sandcastles together. Summer is magical when you're small enough to believe those warm days will never end. 
  • Additionally, make snowmen, put extra marshmallows in the hot chocolate and go through the trouble of dressing the kids in snowsuits on Snow Days from school. When the weatherman announces that your school district is closed for the day, do the happy dance along with your children.
  • When another mother's children are melting down at the library, in the grocery store or in an airport, don't judge. There by the grace of God....and so on. Ask if you can help out, instead of making a face at her.
  • Take your kids to Broadway to see a musical at least once. The same goes for museums and professional sports games. Let them experience the world as a much bigger place than their own little realm.
  • When the worst happens...when there are more bills than there are dollars to pay them, when you find yourself very sick and are scared about what will happen to your kids, when you have to explain the concept of divorce, death, natural disaster, war or poverty, kiss your children on top of their heads and let them know that, no matter what, it will be okay. Kiss them again for good measure.
Above all, remember that there are no perfect mothers. We are all just trying to do the best we can. 

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