How-To Book: Not available in stores

When I was pregnant with my son, I spent lots of time wondering about this impending new job they call motherhood. Well, maybe wondering isn’t quite the right term. Daydreaming? No, that sounds pretty nicey-nice and well, dreamy. So probably not.

I think the term would be obsessed.

I obsessed about this new job classification and title. Because that’s what I had always done at work. There were always so many questions that came along with new responsibilities. Jockeying for position within the company, figuring out where on the proverbial ladder you now stood.

Or if you were just holding the ladder for the others.

So the questions about motherhood kept streaming through my mind (probably when I was supposed to be, well, working). Some of the answers didn’t come for several more months, when I had secured the job and was firmly entrenched in it.

Job probably doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a mild form of indentured servitude.

Is this a promotion?
Well sort of. You’re not the youngest one in your department anymore.

What’s the title?
Chief Executive Purveyor of Milk and Diapers/Head Nurse/Child Psychologist/Sanitation Supervisor. The title doesn’t matter; it changes daily hourly.

How will it look on my new business cards?
Your business card becomes the scrap of dried-out diaper wipe you write your phone number on and give to that nice mom at the park, hoping beyond hope that she’ll call because she seemed to think you were normal.

Well, she did smile and nod a few times when you described that horrible, sticky rash. Which in retrospect was a bit awkward, since it was your rash and not the baby’s.

What will I DO?
And there it was. The biggest question about this whole motherhood thing, and it couldn’t be answered by simply combing the pages of What to Expect When You’re Expecting (first edition…yeah, it was that long ago). Because I spent a lot of time doing just that; trying to find that answer so I would be prepared.

Sixteen years later, I am still figuring it out.

There really was no way to prepare for any of it. Because the thing nobody tells you is that nobody has ever raised your kid. So there’s no book, no podcast, no DVD series that will prepare you.

You will find great advice that may or may not work for you. Sometimes the sheer volume of information overwhelms you, especially with the ever-present Internet. And those well-meaning grandmothers at the grocery store whose advice is so ancient that if you followed it, CPS would likely get involved.

So you just take it as it comes. From diaper rashes to teething; odd crawling styles to pronating feet; speech delays to pronoun confusion. You research, commiserate, whine, drink wine, and do some more research.

At times you are just plain bamboozled.

And through all of these phases and crazes you are actually doing it. You are parenting.

Good for you.

If someone had actually been able to give me, in great detail, the job description for this motherhood gig, I may have laughed. Or asked for a raise.

Maybe I would have been scared.

The benefits of being a parent can’t be quantified, and are unimaginable until you actually become one. These benefits far outweigh some of the tasks required of you that previously would have made you gag.

Sucking gallons of snot out of little noses. Cleaning up vomit-laden sheets and baby at 3am. Driving around the block to quiet a fussy baby. Crazy play dates that result in goldfish cracker sediment ground into your new carpeting and family pets missing large clumps of fur. Picking up the pieces of your child’s broken heart and piecing them back together when friendships go sour. Helping with Algebra homework.

You get through these tasks because you reap the benefits. Cuddling at 3am when your baby is sick. Watching your toddler smile and laugh during that crazy playgroup. Seeing that adorable little face light up when you walk into the room. That look of triumph when they learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike. Those I-can’t-squeeze-you-any-harder hugs.

If subsequent kids come along in your family, they are never the same as the first. Your new-found parenting expertise doesn’t apply to this new kid. But now you have more tools to roll with it, and it’s not as daunting. You start to feel like you can really do this motherhood thing.

You might even find that you start doling out advice in the grocery store.
This post is linked up to Word Up, YO!, which is masterminded by KLZ, Natalie, and Liz; The Word of the Week is:

bamboozle

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Mother of the Year – BK (Before Kids)

Kludgy Mom
 

This post is part of my homework for Gigi at Kludgymom‘s Back to School, Back to Blogging extravaganza. Maybe that’s too big of a word. It’s really more of a workshop, without the horrible catered food and boring keynote speakers. And there’s no dress code.
I chose the writing prompt “How were you a better mom BEFORE you had kids?” which was suggested by Cheryl at Mommypants. Who, by the way, is hysterical and shares my love of candy corn pumpkins.
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Before I had kids, I rocked the parenting world. At least in theory.

I had fairly strong opinions about everything from pacifiers to breastfeeding; stay-at-home mothering to cloth diapering; potty training to driver’s training. I was sure I had this whole parenting game down even before I suited up for the kickoff. Carol Brady would have nothing on me.

Then I gave birth.

And the walls on my Mommy Castle turned out NOT to be made of stone, but of sand. Or maybe they were made of glass. People in glass castles shouldn’t throw diapers.

Or use pacifiers.

But from the very first few days at home with a new little one, you are tested. He deprives you of sleep, nutrition, and personal hygiene. Simple daily tasks remain undone after hours spent doing what? You aren’t even sure you can answer that question. Your whole world revolves around his needs. And his cries. You love, love, love him but your love affair with your pillow has become a thing of the past.

So in a sleepy stupor you consider trying out the pacifier, the one they sent you home from the hospital with.

I told the nurse (rather smugly, even), “We won’t use a pacifier! It will cause nipple confusion! Damage the alignment of his future teeth! Delay his acquisition of speech and language! We won’t need it, so save it for some other mom.”

Yet, in the no-so-quiet of the night, after rocking and feeding and changing his diaper and driving around the neighborhood in a stupor….it called to me. The pacifier that somehow came home with me despite my protestations.

Just give it a try. What can it hurt?

And that little bit of flexible plastic, that ugly-as-heck nipple-like thing becomes the best.thing.ever. Because it helps calm the baby. He is instantly more content and drifts off to sleep.

I felt naughty, almost like I cheated at The Mom Game.

But then I slept; we all slept, and I never looked back.

The pacifier was one of many, many things that I swore I would do/never do as a parent. I am still finding new things now that I have a tween and a teen. I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way to parent. Nobody has ever raised your kid. This is your stint on The Apprentice: Parenthood.

And Donald Trump can’t fire you.

So while I may have considered myself quite the perfect parent before I had kids, I was wrong. But I have grown into the perfect parent for my kids. And I’m still a work in progress.

Oh, and Carol Brady? She had Alice.

I rest my case.

What?!

I remember a time when we couldn’t wait to hear our little guy talk. Actually talk, say some real words that we might be able to understand. We could have conversations, teach him things, and tell knock-knock jokes. Baby Babble is cute, but we looked forward to a time when he could finally carry on a conversation.

Our days were filled with words only a mother could understand. While the incoherent snippets of speech were cute, when darling little sentences started drooling out of his mouth we thought we were making forward progress. We can communicate with the alien!

Now we are back to babble. We’ve come full circle in 16 years of parenting.

He does actually talk. And although he does speak some pretty mean German, the bulk of what he says at home is supposedly in English.

We just don’t understand it.

One reason is that acronyms have taken over the language of the young, and if you can’t keep up with them you are SOL (I will say this is “so out of luck” for my readers who prefer I have a clean mouth). Throw in a few twists like quotes from movies we’ve never seen and references to books we’ve never read and our dinner conversations seem like a throw-back to baby babble times. With a deeper voice.

Added to this problem is the fact that he is very much into science and is taking three science classes this term. Hubs and I were business majors in college. Even if we had been science majors, I think the whole field has changed since back then. Those science dudes just keep discovering new stuff. Or making it up.

So much of what he tells us about his school day is cloaked in Forensic-speak or Physio-babble.

We still ask him what he did in school while we are eating dinner. But while he’s spewing science words and phrases (we think he makes half of them up), we politely nod and look interested. More acronyms, a few words that we remember from watching the whole glove scene in the OJ Simpson trial, and a hypothesis for his independent research project. More nodding, maybe an “I see” thrown in for brownie points.

The overwhelming sound of “duh” fills the air as he waits for some sort of question or comment from us.

Then we turn our attention to our daughter, asking about her day. How hard can it be to understand 7th grade?

OMG (that’s like “wow”)….did you know Pluto isn’t a planet anymore?

Exit Interview

I sit waiting in the small room, my portfolio lying on the desk in front of me. It seems decent enough, filled with pictures and art work, certificates and ribbons. I wonder if there was anything else I should have included that would make a difference. I guess it’s too late now.

Maybe some sort of bribe would help.

I wonder if there’s an ATM nearby.

I feel awkward in my fancy skirt, blouse, and pumps; they look like a Catholic school uniform all grown up. I should have worn the same clothes I’ve worn on the job site all these years. There was never a complaint, unless you count that unfortunate clogs-with-skinny jeans incident.

At least nobody took pictures.

The door swings open and the interviewer glides into the room, taking the seat across from me. She wears beautiful clothes, flashy jewelry, and not a hair is out of place. Her nails are impeccably manicured without a chip in sight. Her shoes match, she looks rested, and she has no spit/mud/coffee/rice cereal/zit cream stains on her clothes.

Why did I have to get the one interviewer who can’t possibly relate to my job?

“Good morning, my name is Miss Dopportunity, and I will be interviewing you today.” She looks down at the stack of papers she has taken out of my file. “So, I see here that you are nearing the end of your current position as Mother to a High Schooler. My paperwork states that you were on the fast-track, climbing rather quickly through the ranks of Mother of an Infant to Preschool Mother and PTA Mom.”

“Well…,” I stammer, “if you can correct that in the paperwork please, I never requested to be on the fast-track. I really wanted to master each position before being promoted to the next.”

She chuckles quietly, glancing up at me for a moment before regaining her perfect composure. “There really is no “other” track for this career. True, some of those early days may have actually seemed longer than 24 hours, but in reality the whole career path moves at lightning speed.” She rifles through the papers a bit more and makes a few notes on them, then fixes her gaze on my portfolio. “Let’s have a look at what you’ve brought here today.”

I quickly open the large folder, anxious to show her the fruits of my labor (and delivery). There are baby footprints inked at the hospital, a lock of newborn hair too fragile to handle. Lost teeth, certificates for library summer programs, report cards, and class pictures. Paintings, crayon drawings, necklaces made of dried pasta. Letters from grandparents loved and lost, newspaper clippings, baseball team pictures, autographs of famous people, and movie ticket stubs.

Random reminders of a childhood that slipped through my fingers.

Junk, really. To any other human being who isn’t a mother.

I wonder what she’ll think of the job I did as she sifts through the things with efficiency and tact. I want her to be careful with them, but I hesitate to say anything for fear of sounding rude. Then again, with those fancy fingernails, she might damage something.

Or break a nail.

She stops thumbing through my things and pulls out her notes.

“Now then, I have a few questions to ask you. These are standard questions at this point in your career, but your answers might determine your exit strategy so please think carefully before you answer.”

A tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak leaves my lips. I hope she didn’t hear it.

“Did you let him play in the rain? Catch tadpoles at the creek? Did he see museums and movies, plays and magic shows? Was he allowed to get dirty, taste the snow, wade into the freezing cold surf, bury his sister in the sand?”

“Was he taught to be kind, to think of others? Does he have a pet? Did you make his home a soft place for him to land when he falls? To read? To relax? Chase a dream, develop a passion?”

“Were there scraped knees, bloody noses, toothless grins in Christmas card pictures? Did you tell him about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, only to have to come clean later? Did you help him dig to China in the sandbox? Make a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones? Fingerpaint in the house?”

“Did you ever just sit and watch a herd of cows graze, hang out in the backyard hoping to see a shooting star, look for owls, go fishing at dusk or hike an incredible hike? Was he ever allowed to spend the day in his jammies, eat ice cream for dinner or just sleep until noon?”

“Did you enforce the rules, dole out punishments, make him apologize, send him to his room? Did he have to make amends, write thank-you notes, remember to say “please” and be nice to teachers?”

“Can he tie his own shoes, pack a suitcase, use a payphone, schedule an appointment, brush his teeth, make his bed, keep track of his own money, build a campfire, open a small carton of milk, mow the lawn, pump himself on the swing, ride a bike?”

She pauses here, giving me a chance to take it all in. I am so nervous, feeling that there must have been something that I overlooked, one or two major steps along the way that I neglected to take. I nod my head, maybe a bit too tentatively, and wait for her to pepper me with more questions.

“Well then, it seems that everything is in order. You still have some time remaining in your current position, but I am recommending that you be considered a candidate for the next level, Mother to a Young Adult. I will forward the paperwork sometime in the next few months.”

I am stunned. Shouldn’t there be more questions to ask?

Maybe a lie-detector test?

“That’s it, that’s all you need from me? Are you sure? How can you really know that I’ve done my job well enough to move on? How will I really ever know? Is there a salary increase with this new level? What about vacation pay? Does this skirt make my butt look big? How do we really know that Humpty Dumpty was an egg?”

She stands up and smoothes out her skirt, pushing her chair back in as she heads for the door. As she reaches the door she stops, turns, and looks me in the eye. “This career is what you make of it. There are no right and no wrong answers. What you do with it is your choice. Once you are promoted to the next level, there is no going back. The hours can be pretty crappy, the pay is lousy, and your insubordinates can be, well, insubordinate. But don’t get me wrong; this is a lifetime career. The positions may change along the way, but you will always be employed.”

She walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her. I slowly gather my treasures and put them back into the file folders, ready to return them to the drawer at home. No ribbons or certificates for me here today, not even a candy bar or a pat on the back. But I do a little happy-dance, just because I can. The rewards of motherhood are immeasurable, and can’t be compensated with cash, prizes or chocolate. I will never know for sure if I did a good job, but I do know that I did my best.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve earned that promotion.

My Super Power

I always thought if I could have a special Super Power, it might be flight. X-ray vision would be cool, but only if I could choose what to use it on (sorry Gramps). Or maybe I would want to be super flexible, with a name like Yoga Girl or a Pilates Ranger.

I realized the other day that I do possess a Super Power-like skill. This isn’t a skill I had when my kids were younger, but one that has evolved as they have grown taller, bought ipods, and taken over the bathroom each morning. I even have a Super Hero name for myself.

I have become InvisiMom.

As I move through my day, I may seem like any normal mother-of-two to the regular people. People who aren’t my kids.

Cashiers see me, ask me if I found everything I was looking for, and hand me my change. People at work, both adults and kids, not only see me, but they talk to me too. Even the dog is unaware of my Super Powers.

But to my kids, I am InvisiMom.

InvisiMom must be available at all times, ready to drop everything to assist her child. Tasks required of this powerful hero may include any (or all) of the following: last-minute school supply purchasing, signing field trip permission slips, favorite-clothes laundering, shoulder to cry on, nursing back to health (or at least providing a band aid), taxi-driving, splinter-removing, reaching things on the high shelf, giving a practice spelling test, mending shirts, or giving a child a ride to the location of their begging choice.

Now the actual power of InvisiMom isn’t that she can do all of these things. All moms do these things, and so much more.

And unlike many moms her age, InvisiMom is uber cool. So indubitably the children would want her around.

But what InvisiMom brings to the table (besides dinner) is the ability to remain invisible until the children summon her and she is needed.

So, if InvisiMom is summoned to drive the tween girl to the mall with friends she becomes visible for a short time, but invisible once they reach the mall. She becomes unseen to tweens and teens, blending into the background like ugly flowers on grandma’s wallpaper.

If the teenage boy needs to borrow the laptop or get a ride to a friend’s house? InvisiMom is right there, practically his best friend.

And then she conveniently becomes invisible again.

Until the next time they need her.

So what happens if InvisiMom asks her kids to do something for her? They may nod and mumble something that sounds like agreement. They may even seem to be heading in the proper direction to clean their room/put away their shoes/mow the lawn/take a shower/feed the dog.

But she was really invisible when she asked them. So it doesn’t count.

So she asks again, in a tone that sounds a bit more like nagging than asking. A tone somewhat louder than an invisible Super Hero might use.

But apparently, since she was not truly summoned by the children, she is still invisible.

So she asks a third time, which now comes out somewhat louder than a nag, bordering on a yell. To which the children reply, “I didn’t hear you the first time!”

Then the most amazing thing happens. InvisiMom is no longer invisible! It took three tries, but finally the children have seen her, heard her, and are responding! She’s done it again, throwing off her cloak of invisibility and taking the reins of motherhood once more!

Now they just think she’s cranky. So they go off to their rooms, leaving her alone once again.

So maybe being invisible wasn’t so bad.


This post is linked up to Word Up, YO!, which is masterminded by KLZ, Natalie, and Liz; The Word of the Week is:

Indubitably, indubitable

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Summertime Then and Now

Today I am linking up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop over at Mama’s Losin’ It!. I am dedicating this post to my bloggy friend Cori, who is pretty sure I will never link up.

Mama's Losin' It

Prompt #5)  What five images paint a perfect picture of summer to you? Put those five images together in a piece of writing.

Summertime used to mean bicycle rides to the park, leaving early to beat the heat.

  • Now it’s teaching him to drive while I grip the door handle and try to control my breathing. I just might take up smoking.

Summer used to mean candy-colored popsicles, dripping down his chin and onto a dinosaur t-shirt.

  • Now it’s a 64 ounce Dr. Pepper from the Mini Mart and a Disturbed t-shirt.

He used to be up with the sun in the summertime, ready to start his day with a smile on his face and an Eggo waffle.

  • This summer, getting up “early” means before 10am; he’s lethargic, and wants coffee. And an Eggo.

Summer used to mean freedom from homework and teachers!

  • This summer, he had homework for 3 classes that was VERY time consuming. Reading Crime and Punishment would have been punishment enough without finding 25 relevant quotes and writing about each one.

Summer used to mean endless free time with him, doing puzzles, going to the library, the water park, and getting together with friends.

  • This summer, some of our best free time was spent on a road trip to check out colleges. For next year. When after our summer is over, he will leave.

I have learned to take each summer as it is, to savor the time with my kids and the break in routine. There are no more chubby legs in swim diapers, no more swim lessons at the local pool in the searing heat. The Free Family Movie morning at the local cinema is no longer fun, the park is for babies, and the library reading program is something you volunteer to help with, not participate in.

I watch the mommies pushing their strollers and wiping noses and I miss those days. Some days, more than others.

I absolutely love the people my kids are turning into. People that somehow, through all of my nagging and sometimes feeble attempts at parenting, I have helped shape them into.

But for all of the noses I wiped, all the sunscreen I applied, the hours I spent pushing the stroller, and all of the popsicle stains I vanquished I earned a valuable prize.

The title of Mom.

Driving Miss Crazy

little tikes cozy coupeThere are so many milestones in childhood that come and go, usually with great fanfare (at least when it’s YOUR kid).  First smile, first steps, first time on a bike, first day at school… these are all met with smiles, video cameras, phone calls to Grandma and notations in the baby book.

We celebrate each new step towards independence too.  That first day at school starts a whole string of “firsts” that slowly push them out into the world without 24/7 supervision.  I enjoyed each of these in their own time, snapping pictures and crossing them off my mental mommy list.

And then he got his learner’s permit.

At first this sounded like wonderful mother/son bonding.  We’ll be in the car for 50 hours of practice time!  We can laugh and talk, just like when he was younger!

And then we went out for the first time.

My perceptions of how close the curb is, how close we are to cars parked on the side of the road and how closely we are passing the cars in the oncoming lanes are VERY different when I am the passenger and my son is driving.  I try to remain calm (“Honey, watch for that stop sign ahead.”) when on the inside I am not (“STOP!  THE LIGHT IS RED!  WATCH OUT FOR THE CAT!”).  Being the control freak that I am, I find myself looking for something to do with my hands, since I can’t grab the wheel or use the turn signals.  I try to keep them folded in my lap, but my inner urge to survive kicks in and I have to grab the door panel.

At times, this has been before we have even left the driveway.

There are so many things about driving that become second nature after a few years.  I can drive anywhere in town that I need to go while at the same time memorizing my grocery list and listening to talk radio.  I don’t have to think about the rules at a four-way stop or that I need to yield to oncoming traffic when making a left turn on green.  I just do it.  Now I have to think about the rules, and the whole outing becomes a complete recitation of the DMV Driver’s Handbook.

This isn’t the mother/son chatting I was envisioning.

There are quiet moments while we are out, when I am sure my son is breathing a sigh of relief (She finally shut up!).  These are times when we are on a long stretch of road, with no stop signs, lane changes or crosswalks.  Even then, I think there should be something I could point out (“The bumps in the middle of the road are called Botts’ Dots.” or “Did you know it would take us 11 hours to drive to Vegas?”).

We still have many hours to practice before the final exam for his license.  My son?  He’s doing great with the driving.

It’s his mother who needs some more practice.