All parents make promises to themselves and to their children. Before they pop out in a mess of blood, fleshy cord, and other things you’d rather not think about (You’re welcome.) you set guidelines on how best to raise them. You form ideas about who they’re supposed to be.
The problem with these promises and guidelines is that they’re often unrealistic.
Children are like STDs. Some are treatable, some aren’t. Some communicate easily, some take a bit of extra prodding. Some are shared with others (whether they want them or not), some are kept hidden.
That might not be the best analogy. My point is you can’t decide before you meet the little buggers how exactly you’re going to raise them. Each one is unique...infectious in their own way.
I was making promises I couldn’t keep long before the kid even came into the picture. I told myself, “Self, you will never have children. You must promise not to procreate for the sake of yourself and others.” And I did. I promised.
But my promises are like front clasp bras – always coming undone accidentally on purpose. You don’t want them to come undone, but you knew when you bought them that your boobs were entirely too large and assertive to be held in by those little clasps.
So before the kid was even a renegade egg I was fucking up this whole “child guidelines” thing. And before I realized that there are no set guidelines and control is just a seven letter word, I spent the first year or two of her life promising this and that, buying into the media hype, and just generally stressing myself out. It started with the little things.
I promised she would always look like she’d been birthed by a J.Crew model, more or less.
I bought expensive outfits, hats, bows, shoes, and matching socks. I made sure she was wearing the cutest thing possible whether we were in public or sitting at home watching talk show reruns. If she got a spot on something I changed her immediately. If she had a snotty nose I would use that suction thing relentlessly on the off chance she would get a stray booger stuck to her face and someone would see. (Actually, I thought the sucker thing was kind of fun. Sick, I know.) In short, she was a very shiny baby.
That didn’t last long. I eventually got lazy and allowed her to become the pantless, tangle headed wonder she is today. The kid would rather ride her scooter around in her underwear than play dress up like other little girls or hide under the bed rather than have her hair brushed. And truthfully, most days I just cannot be bothered to fight about it. You have to pick your battles. Like whose turn it is for the remote, which brings me to...
I promised she would watch very little TV and when she did, only educational programs.
Though evidently a common parental guideline, I failed to take into account my complete and utter lack of patience and low tolerance for all things...child related.
It quickly went from one or two educational shows a day to, “Hey, kid! Sit down and watch Spongebob...look! Look!” Then I’d attempt to squeeze in as much cleaning, cooking, or hiding in a corner as I could before she realized she’d been duped.
Don’t get me wrong we play games and read books and all that other constructive stuff, but I have a short attention span. I’m also very competitive when it comes to board games and the like. As a matter of fact, just recently she and I were playing Chinese checkers and I found it physically impossible to LET her win. I know she’s only four (almost 5), but she totally cheats.
So anyway, now TV = babysitter. Her current obsession is The Little Rascals and she’s picked up a few lovely phrases such as “I hate your stinkin’ guts” and “snot wads”. She also enjoys watching The Bachelor with my mom’s boyfriend and calling the women “hussies”. I’m incredibly proud.
I promised myself that I would nip any and all bad habits in the bud immediately. I was going to be a strict enforcer of “the law”. Uh huh.
At first I didn’t realize what was going on. I’d pick her up from school and there would be a tiny toy dinosaur or some other random little thing in her book bag. I figured they were hers (she’s got so much stuff it’s hard to keep up with it all) or that they were prizes. Things finally became clear when she tried to walk out the door one day with the rattiest looking baby doll I’d ever seen.
“Hey, what are you doing with that? That’s not yours.”
She stood in front of the door and hugged the naked, ratty baby tight to her chest. “Yes it is”, she said.
“Um no, no it’s not. Go put that ugly thing back.”
“NO! IT’S MINE!”
This went back and forth for a minute. Appalled to be having a scene over such a disgusting toy, I turned around to see one of the teachers looking at me.
“She can take it home if she wants. Just for tonight”, she said.
I looked at my defiant child and I wanted to say no because she was being a shit, but I was tired and didn’t want to engage in tug of war. So instead I said, “Ok”, and led her out to the car.
It took a minute for things to click, but click they did. When I got home I dumped out her bag, went through every tiny compartment, and found contraband galore. And what did I do about it?
I laughed, of course. And when everyone else got home, I told them about it and laughed some more. And when I returned the things to her school, they laughed a little...so I did too. Pretty soon it became this running joke to see what she would attempt to make off with next.
Until she stole someone’s large stuffed pony a few weeks ago.
She got one for Christmas, but hers was pink and this one was black, brown, and white. Of course I don’t pay attention to such things so when one of the teachers asked if I’d seen it, I said no but I’d look around. Sure enough, the little bugger had snatched it.
I made her give it back to its rightful owner who didn’t really understand the significance of the moment. The kid did. She stood there with her arms crossed and looked at me in a threatening manner. The battle lines were drawn. I had to lay down the law about stealing. I had to learn to suppress my laughter, because evidently some people don’t find my sticky fingered child amusing.
Today I’d like to say my child is a recovered kleptomaniac, but unfortunately she’s still going strong. She did stop stealing from school, though now she just takes my things. It’s not nearly as funny, especially when I really need them, but at least it doesn’t get me in trouble with the other parents.
I could fill a few more pages with the promises I made and the guidelines I set: My kid will be this, do that, and go there. But I can’t map out her life. I can’t control everything and I can’t force her to behave.
Technically I’m supposed to be the ringmaster to her clown. But who wants to constantly crack a whip? I think I’ll divide my time between laughing in the stands and coaching subtly from the sidelines.
And if that doesn’t work I can always feed her to the tigers.
Yer So Bad
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