It’s bedtime (7:15pm and still light outside). Jammies are on (the fleece footed-onesie has a hood—because he might suddenly need a head covering at 3am in his crib). Bath routine has been successfully completed (this includes a fond goodnight to the bathroom Hawkeye gnome). Time for a story while tucked up on the little sofa in his room. His hand immediately goes up to pat the unintentional mohawk sprouting voluminously from his tiny head, and I pop open a beloved storybook with beautiful pictures, a singsongy rhyme cadence, and plenty of swear words.
Is this when I should question my parenting decisions?
I know I’m not the first to receive Adam Mansbach’s hilarious “children’s book” Go the F#@k to Sleep as a ha-ha-funny indoctrine into the world of parenting. But, wait, am I not actually supposed to read this to my kid? It rhymes, and that’s supposed to be good for their cognitive learning. It has pretty pictures with animals that he can point to and say “rooooaaar”. Plus, it’s just the right length to get him bedtime-prepped without putting mom to sleep as well.
Many of my friends laugh and say “Oh, sure. I read that to my baby, but I replaced all the cuss words with banal language that wouldn’t be offensive.” Guess I didn’t get that memo. I mean, he’s only 1 ½, he can’t read and at this point he leaves off the end consonant on almost every word he says…so even if he tried to say “fuck” it would come out “fuuu” and we would promptly infer that he wanted some traditional vietnamese noodle broth for dinner. No harm, no foul.
It’s things like this that give me momentary pause in the haphazard cadence of our lives as first time parents. Should I be worried about how the outside world will judge my decisions? Is it like a tree falling in the forest if these “errors in judgement” happen within the private walls of our home? If no one can see them…maybe they didn’t happen at all.
The problem is, it’s not limited to just our house. For example, a couple weeks after our son turned 1 and started walking, we took him for a weekend getaway to Austin. On his first trip to the stay-weird-city he was confined to his carrier for any outings…which of course meant we took him to a bar for the NE vs. UT football game. But this time around it was full-fledged summer and we had a tiny toddling man to entertain.
When my sister suggested a visit to her local splash pad, we were all in. If you haven’t visited a splash pad before—it’s a wonderful invention. Schizophrenic fountains of water spout up from the ground and out of control kids run through them screaming like banshees. Squatting their little hiney’s over the bubbling water like it’s one big, concrete bidet. And the best part is that parents can just hang out on the sidelines, clapping and smiling enthusiastically without worrying about trudging through some pee-soaked baby pool like at the Jewish Community Center.
Needless to say, Sam was mesmerized, and hit the chlorine soaked pavement with the vigor only a newly walking human could possess. Adding to his joy was the fact that he had the splash pad all to himself and could squat carefree over every jubilant, spurting stream without challenge from older kids weighing more than 19 lbs. Why, might you ask, was this fabulous water park so empty on a Saturday afternoon in August? Oh, well, that’s because there was a storm brewing and thunder and lighting were currently assailing the afternoon skies.
I swear I don’t want to get my child electrocuted. Between my husband, sister and myself, a large amount of thought was given to the fact that a mere baby was splashing through frothing puddles while laser flashes crashed over our heads. But…he was having so much fun!! The cheerful exaltation of his cries stopped us every time we thought to rescue him. Just one more minute, we said. Then finally, after a somewhat nasty bout of thunder shook the ground, and the drizzle turned to a full on downpour (I mean, WE didn’t want to be wet) we scooped him up and headed home. Fun, right?
There are a lot of heated debates on parenting techniques these days. To breastfeed or not (and to say “not” is to be assailed upon by screaming righteous feminists, so be wary). Homemade, organic baby food vs. old school Gerber mushed turkey-product sticks (I loved those as a kid. So did our cats). Landfill-waste disposable diapers vs. good-luck-keeping-their-poop-confined-to-that-washable-landing-strip cloth diapers. It’s gonna be a toss-up either way. Your kid will still cry, and laugh, and sneeze out the most disgusting boogers you’ve ever seen.
Which brings me to my biggest “oops” so far in the 18 months my son and I have been learning to work together. And I’ve already told my mother, so this hopefully won’t make her keel over in a dead faint.
It was our usual morning before work routine. Hubby makes breakfast for baby while mama finishes getting ready. Then baby and Kitty discuss world politics while lunches are made and bags are packed before we head out the door in separate directions. I was hefting little dude into his carseat—you know, under the awkward strap that holds it steady while he’s still facing backwards, forcing us both to duck and tuck and contort—when he lets out a huge sneeze that sends strands of Nickelodeon snot cascading down his face. It’s a slow motion dance, me diving into my purse for kleenex before his wily arms can reach his face and smear green goo galore. Whew! We make it in time, and he smiles gaily at me as I hand him Hop On Pop and get into the drivers seat.
It sucks not being able to see his face on the drive since he’s turned towards the back window, but in the rearview mirror I notice his head cheerfully bobbing as we merge onto the highway for our 25 mile commute. I zone out thinking of the day ahead, and after a half hour or so we make it to the lights right outside my office, which is when I hear a chirpy “hi!” from the backseat. He’s turned around looking at me from his chair. Hmmm, that shouldn’t be possible. Unless, of course, someone forgot to strap him. It dawns on me that he just spent the last thirty minutes exploring the backseat while I went 75 mph on the Tollway.
I was horrified, I was ashamed, my hands shook for the next 15 minutes and I was grateful we were both safe. But when I told my scary story to co-workers and friends, I was met with consoling pats and reassured with equally pee-your-pants tales about leaving their kid at the grocery store or watching them fall off the table. Shit happens. We do our best.
So…when we let the baby take our Coors Light cans to the trash for us, or drop him off at Great Aunt Judy’s house on a Saturday so we can go to a movie and take a nap, or watch him run around the house with suffocating-hazard-plastic-bags while we lounge on the couch scanning ESPN and Pinterest on our respective Apple electronics…it’s not for lack of love. He’s our joy, he’s our life, he’s our heart. But we’re all just trying to get along, and sometimes that ain’t pretty. I figure if someone wants to judge, I’ll just tell them, kindly, to go the f#@k to sleep.