The Evolution of a Parent

 

Slap me. If I claim I’m the same parent to my fourth child that I was to my first child, please slap me.

I held my first son eleven years ago and instantly fell in love. I was intoxicated by his newborn smell. I spent days watching him sleep. I devoured the parenting books, since my plan was to be the best mother of all time. As soon as he could sit unassisted, I signed us up for Gymboree class. Before he could crawl, I enrolled us in swim class. The day he clapped, I found the perfect music class for us. We hit the library every Thursday. And I fancied myself a favorite of the librarian since I was the only parent who didn’t smuggle goldfish into storytime. I read him three books every night. I rocked him every evening in the glider, where I recounted for him every single thing we’d done that day. Right down to what he’d eaten for breakfast.

I took myself seriously. And I took my job as his parent even more seriously. The night before delivering my second baby, I stood next to his crib and whispered to my sleeping son, the boy who’d stolen my heart, “I will never ever love another boy the way that I love you.”

Imagine my surprise when baby number two was another boy, and I grew to love him sometimes more just as much! I tethered the baby to the front of me, and braved Gymboree, music, and library. For obvious reasons, swimming got the kibosh.

I continued that pattern of giving birth to babies and wearing them as an accessory while attending classes I was convinced would boost their older siblings’ IQ scores social skills until my husband finally had a vasectomy my aching back could take no more. My aching back held up long enough for us to have four kids. All of them boys.

My fourth son has seen and done things to which I’d never have exposed my first son. He’s as nimble as a monkey because he’s never been on a playground that’s age appropriate. He’s three years old and knows every Ninjago, Pokemon, and Harry Potter character. His voice is the loudest in our house because he learned early that it’s the only way I’ll hear him. I’ve taken him to storytime at the library exactly once. We may have been asked to leave.

I still take my job as their parent very seriously. But I no longer take myself seriously.

I’ve learned resourcefulness.

When the sink is full of dirty dishes, the homework hasn’t been started, the lunches still need packing, it’s bedtime for the younger two, and a new episode of Breaking Bad is about to start…I ask one of the older boys to read their brothers one short bedtime story.

When I can’t muster the energy to bathe them after we’ve spent seven solid hours at the pool, I remember that swimming in the pool (yes, even the pee-pee baby pool) is the equivalent of bathing in summertime. I gave birth to four non blondes. Nobody’s hair is at risk of turning green. It’s all good.

When my taxed bladder threatens to give out, and I’m in my minivan at Target, I’m faced with a dilemma. Schlep four boys into the ladies room (two of them are borderline too old for that, and the other two will inevitably lick the sink), or toss them Angry Birds on my iPhone while I crawl into the trunk and relieve myself in a Dunkin Donuts cup? I’m going with the cup every time. Ask my kids…they’ve become Angry Birds experts.

I was at the gym recently waiting to sign my kids into babysitting. Ahead of me was a Mom with one son. I watched the seconds turn into minutes, as she, with no sense of urgency, made nametags for: her son, herself, her son’s diaper bag, her gym bag, and her son’s two stuffed animals.  It took her long enough that I had time to mentally review every curse I know. She then held the sharpie hostage while she debated with him who should pick up the stuffed animals he’d thrown onto the ground. When my inner monologue had run out of expletives, I vowed to work more yoga into my routine and smiled at her. I recognized her. She was a Mom with her first son. A boy who’d stolen her heart. She was taking herself seriously…and her job as his Mom even more seriously. I bet she’s never urinated into a cup in her car.

evolution

I glanced at my first son, the boy I’d rocked in the glider every night as a baby. He stands almost as tall as I do. I struggled to remember the last time he’s sat on my lap. Has it been a year? I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, which promise to be as broad as his Daddy’s, and took a moment to breathe in the scent of the first of four boys to steal my heart. I am not the same Mom to four kids that I was to one. But I will never ever love another boy the way that I love you.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Huffington Post on July 13th in the Parents section.

In Limbo with All of These Kids

Most couples we know have 2 kids. 2 kids is nice. You can sit in a booth at a restaurant. You can drive a sedan, fit your entire family into it, and no one’s limbs are touching. You can simultaneously hold hands with all of your offspring because you were born with the same number of arms as children you have. You’ve provided your firstborn with a sibling, but no one is the odd man (or woman) out, which so often happens once you add a 3rd child to the mix. 2 kids is good.

4 kids is a shit show. Once we leave the security of our home, I spend the entire time we’re away counting heads. And finding trees for my sons to urinate on so that I don’t have to leave 2 boys alone while I take 2 to the bathroom…or worse, take all 4 to the bathroom.  My time is split fairly equally among my laundry room, the kitchen, the Acme, and my filthy 8 year old minivan (please let us squeak 2 more years out of it). I also dabble in buying gift cards for my older sons’ friends’ birthdays and declining the invitations of my younger sons’ friends’ birthday parties. If we said yes to every party invitation the kids received, we’d spend every single Saturday and Sunday of the entire school year at Chuck E. Cheese, Bounce U or Dave & Buster’s. And I appreciate their being included in these parties. It’s a wonderful thing to see our kids develop friendships. But my sanity is equally important, which is why I can’t spend every weekend in an arcade or a bouncy castle.

limbo

Sometimes, having this many kids makes me feel like I am in limbo with my friends. Few of them have as many kids as we do. The ones who do have big families are looking and feeling very drained and haggard (like we are), shuffling their kids back and forth to extra-curricular activities, refereeing arguments. While the couples with 2 kids appear energized, well rested and refreshed, and are going snow boarding and going to Hershey Park and going to the movies. And taking their kids to dinner and sitting in a booth.  None of these ideas appeals to me at this point. Not with all 4 kids. I would do all of it with Waldorf and the Kenyan. To lug the Interrogator and the Verb along to any of these venues? Would be to let my kids watch my sanity (and all the money in my wallet) slip through my fingers right before their naïve little eyes. No fun whatsoever. The little guys are still too little. My older guys haven’t gotten to do many of the things their peers have done because we can’t schlep the younger ones along. Similarly, the younger guys have missed out on some of the things we did with the older guys because we were a manageable family of 4 when their brothers were their ages.

This is my limbo. I try not to dwell on it because it brings me feelings of guilt. But sometimes, I’m reminded of that guilt….

One day, the Verb and I drop some overdue books at the local library. It’s noisier than usual. I look to my right and immediately locate the source.

Oh crap. I hope the Verb doesn’t see what’s going on over there. I don’t have time for this today. I still have to go to the Acme, Target and be back at school in 90 minutes.

Verb: “Huh? Mom! Mom! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!”

SHIT.

Me: “What’s up, bud? Come on, I’ll race you to the car! Winner gets a donut!”

Verb: Grabbing my pant leg and digging his little claws into my flesh, “Mom, what are those kids doing?”

Try to distract him. Focus on the donut.

Me: “Um, it looks like they’re reading, buddy. Come on…show me how fast you can run! This way…out the door!”

Of all my kids, the Verb is the most street smart. B&B has said since he was an infant, “This kid gets it”. He does. He gets it. This comes in handy when I ask him to bring me a Gatorade from the refrigerator in the laundry room. No problem. When I am trying to convince him that what I want him to do is more exciting than what he wants to do? Big problem.

The Verb plants his feet. Looks at me, looks back at the group of kids with their books, then looks back at me.

Verb: “Nope. I want to go there, Mom. Come on.”

And off he walks toward the chatter. I sigh audibly.

Mother humper. I can take all 4 of those animals with me to the Acme and to Target after school. I would rather lick the week-old pee off my bathroom floor than be subjected to that, but I’ll do it. For my Verb. Independent little shit.

Storytime at the local  library. 

I used to love storytime. I was there with Waldorf. 30 minutes early. Every week. It was our one outing of the day. And we’d nap together in the afternoon from the sheer exhaustion of the entire experience. I was there with the Kenyan as well. Sometimes he was strapped to the front of me and I’d rock while Waldorf listened to the story. Then we’d all go home, tuckered out, and fall asleep after lunch. The Interrogator made it to storytime twice in his life. The Verb? He is a storytime virgin.

The Verb is wearing sweatpants and a long sleeved t shirt. He is in desperate need of a haircut. There is syrup on his face from this morning’s pancakes. And marker on his hands from sometime yesterday. As usual, I haven’t showered yet.  And I’ve had two very hard workouts since that last shower. There is a cloud of funk surrounding me. I am wearing running tights, no makeup, and a fleece pullover.  I carry my keys and my library card. Together, we walk into the lion’s den.

We navigate the sea of first time Mom’s. All of them showered. All wearing makeup. All of them with designer handbags. All of them with monogrammed diaper bags. All of them wearing designer jeans. None of them dressed in running tights. None of their children dressed in sweatpants. I don’t spy one pair of sneakers in the bunch.

Me: Smiling, “Excuse me, oh, pardon me, let me just step over you here, thanks, no, I’m good, excuse me. Sorry we’re a little late.”

The Verb and I are equal parts ignored and looked at with obvious disgust.

Me: Whispering, “Sit down, buddy, let’s listen to the story.”

The Verb doesn’t want to sit with me. He’s a social little man. He wants to sit with the other kids. All of the other kids are first born children. Therefore, they are sitting next to their perfectly coiffed Moms. He tries to rally the troops.

Verb: “Come on, guys, sit here! Sit with me. Up front. Come on, it’s fun!”

Less ignoring now, but the disgusted looks turn quizzical. No one moves. Heads turn to look at the Verb, then at me.

Me: “Uh, sorry, he’s my 4th, so he is used to being in a group.”

The record scratches. The mood of the room shifts.

Happens every time.

I may stink. And my kid needs a haircut. And I am traveling light. But these broads have just realized that I am a jackpot of information for them.

3, 2, 1, and…come to Mama, ladies….

“Wow, did you say 4th? As in 4 kids?”, “What do you have? Boys, girls, or both?” “My husband and I are going to have 4 too! This is our first, but we’re having 4. I told him we’re having 4, so we’re definitely having 4.””Do you just love being a Mom? Isn’t it the greatest?” “Did you breastfeed your kids? Isn’t it the most beautiful experience ever? Oh, I miss it, I miss breastfeeding. We are trying for a 2nd and I am so excited to breastfeed again!”

I would rather lick the week-old pee off the floor of my bathroom than take all of my kids to the Acme and to Target this afternoon. But, believe me when I tell you, I would rather lick the toilet bowl clean than field these questions at this point in my life. At this hour of the day. Wearing these swamp ass tights. Smelling the way I smell. With all of these things on my to-do list.

The Verb had better enjoy every last second of this Storytime hell.

Luckily, the librarian picks this time to begin reading. I pick this time to begin my mental list of what I need to accomplish.

Dammit. I can’t remember anything unless I chant it and/or write it down. I guess I should be nice and try to make conversation.

Me: Whispering to random Mom on my right, “Did you see Curb your Enthusiasm last night?”

Random Mom: “Is that a show? Uh, no, I was reading last night.”

Me: “Oh, what are you reading? My girlfriends keep telling me that 50 Shades of Grey is like housewife porn. I haven’t read it yet though.”

Random Mom: Unable to hide the look of horror on her heavily made-up face, “I am reading 1-2-3-Magic. Written by a pediatrician. My Hunter has been very difficult since he turned 3 in October.”

Me: “Oh, yeah, that’s a great book. We still use his philosophy. Even on our 10 year old. No need to raise your voice…just dole out the punishment if he doesn’t listen.”

Random Mom: Warming, “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve had success! We’ve been so worried about him.”

Me: “Well he’s 3, so he’s inherently an asshole.”

Crickets.

Bethany, you moron. Know your audience! This is her first child!

Me: “Allow me to clarify. It has been my experience with my own 4 kids, all of whom wield penises, that, from the day they turn 3 until the day they turn 4, they go out of their 3 year old way to make my life 365 straight days of misery. And this year, I have the bonus of the leap year. There is no such thing as the terrible 2’s for boys. It’s the terrible 3’s. But then they’re fun again. And you stop hating them. Well, until they reach 10. That’s when they start to get lippy.”

Random Mom looks as though she’s been slapped across the face. She grabs her monogrammed diaper bag, her Gucci handbag, Hunter’s hand, and runs from the library.

Oops.

No time to dwell on that. The very loud “NO!” of a little girl’s voice redirects my attention to the Verb.

I look over to see my Verb sitting in front of an adorable little girl his age, decked out in her Lilly Pulitzer dress. Giving him the hairy eyeball.

Me: “Verb, what’s up, buddy?”

Verb: “This pink girl has fishies. Can I have 3 fishies cuz I’m 3, Mom?” (Pink girl is Verb speak for girl in the pink dress.)

Me: “Well, let’s ask this little girl and her Mommy if that’s OK.”

Verb: Speaking to the pink girl, “Hi, I have 3 brothers. They’re at school. We build forts. And we like to play Legos. The Interrogator is mine best friend. He’s 5. What’s your name? Can I have 3 of your fishies please?”

Pink Girl: “NO! You’re yucky! Don’t talk to me, yucky boy!”

Hey, pink girl’s Mom, your kid’s obnoxious.

Verb: “Huh? Mom, I asked. That pink girl said no!”

Pink Girl’s Mom intercedes, “Ellie, let’s be nice. Let’s be a good sharer. Please give the little boy 3 fishies.”

Pink Girl begrudgingly opens her hermetically sealed container of whole grain goldfish. The Verb reaches in gently to extract 3 goldfish.

Pink Girl’s Mom: “Oh, wait, wait, wait, little boy. Let’s Purell your hands before you touch Ellie’s goldfish.”

Oy vey, lady.

Me: “No need for the Purell, but thanks. Verb, be patient, buddy. Let Ellie count them out and give them to you.”

Ellie counts out 3 goldfish and hands them to the Verb.

Verb: “Thanks, Ellie! You’re mine friend! Thanks for mine goldfish!”

He dances around to show his delight. He drops one of the three goldfish. He bends down, picks it up, eats it, then continues his dance.

I smile because he’s a sweetheart. I am proud to be his Mom. Moment of happiness.

Pink Girl’s Mom: Gasps, “Ellie, did you see what that little boy just did? Never EVER eat food that’s been on the floor. Especially this floor. You could get very sick from that. His Mommy should know better.”

Me: Speaking to Ellie now, because I won’t engage with her nutty Mom, “This isn’t my first rodeo, Ellie. I bet he survives.” I wink and turn away.

BTW, Ellie, your Mom has you a little overdressed for the library.

The Verb is not quite ready to go. He wants to participate in the craft, which involves googly eyes. My guys love googly eyes. 7 more minutes of this nonsense, then we’re home free.

I overhear one Mom talking to another, “So I buy them organic. Naturally. I’d never buy something that’s not organic. Then I bring them home and puree them. Then I fill the little glass jars, freeze them, and we have our own homemade organic baby food!”

My eyes roll back in my head.

*As an aside…I would love to buy strictly organic for my kids. But there are 4 of them. 4 children. All boys. And they eat the house down. And, it feels in my house like we’re still in a recession. My food bill is an easy $1500/month as it is. I haven’t had my hair cut in over a year. I haven’t earned a pay check in over 10 years. And I have duct tape on my yoga mat. So, we have to dabble in products inorganic.

6 minutes and 15 seconds more…

“Have you been to the new Mexican place? I hear it’s delicious!”

Hey, a conversation I’m capable of having..

Me: to Random Mom, “My husband and I have been there. The food is delicious. It’s more Mexican cuisine than your typical “every dish is smothered in cheese” Mexican restaurant. The margaritas are really good.”

Random Mom: “Oh, I’m not drinking. I’m pregnant.”

Me: Smiling, “Oh, congratulations! When are you due?”

Random Mom: “In May. I’m delivering at the local hospital.”

Me: Nodding, “I delivered all of my kids there. The nurses are terrific.”

Random Mom: “They have a new rule now. No babies in the nursery at night.”

Me: “Ouch. That’s a nut punch.”

Random Mom: Puzzled, “I would never put my newborn in the nursery. I want to soak up every minute with this new baby. The baby doesn’t recognize the strangers in the nursery.”

Me: “Kinda sweet to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep though.”

Random Mom: Clearly angry with me, “I can sleep once my kids are in college. I can never get this time back with my newborn.”

Me: “Well, what did you do with your first baby? Nursery or no nursery?”

Random Mom: Pointing to her stomach, “This is my first baby.”

Roll ‘em up. I’ve officially offended every mother in this place. I think my work here is done.

I take the Verb’s hand and his googly eyed snowman, and we walk to our car. I drive straight to Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru.

DD loudspeaker: “The regular, ma’am?”

Me: “Yes, please. And a donut for the little man, please.”

I collect my coffee and the Verb’s donut (I can’t be sure, but I don’t think it’s organic), and drive towards home.

Me: “Verb, did you like Storytime?”

Verb: “Um, I liked making mine googly eyed snowman.”

Me: “I’m glad. I like the carrot nose you drew on your snowman.”

Verb: “Me too. I like the Acme better than Storytime, Mom.”

Me: “I do too, buddy.”

I need to get this off my chest…

Me: “Verb, I make a lot of mistakes as a parent. And I do a lot of things right as a parent. I hope I get the big things right. I don’t know if Storytime is the place for you and me. I’m not above it; I’m just beyond it. It’s like a language I learned when I was really little, but can’t recall as an adult. It was a moment in time for me, and that moment has passed. See, most of the Moms there are trying to do everything perfectly. Mommy did that too, when Waldorf was really little. But I am too tired to do that now. And I know it’s not reality. My worries and my reality have changed.”

Verb: “Mm hmm”

Me: “I mean, let’s cut the crap. I don’t care if someone breastfeeds or bottle feeds. Organic baby food or not. Feed the baby, love the baby, get some sleep, and avoid shaking the baby to death. That’s what’s important. Do you hear what I’m saying, buddy?”

Verb: “Sure, Mom.”

He definitely gets it. The conversation I’ve just had with him is completely inappropriate, but he gets it.

A car suddenly pulls out in front of us, forcing me to brake hard.

Me: To the idiot driver, “OPEN YOUR EYES!”

Verb: To the idiot driver, “YOU JACKASS!” then to me, “Right, Mom?”

Me: “That’s right, buddy.”

Limbo? Not such a bad place to be when I’m with my little Verb.