Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adventures in Real Parenting: Just Wait

Sometimes I'm reluctant to write about my kids and the things that go on here because I don't want you to think ill of them or me.  I don't want you to think that I'm a terrible mother, too.  I mean, we don't have to share every opinion to remain friends, do we?

On the numerous occasions when I let go of my fears and give in to the knowledge that these people with whom I share a home and life are my best material and I'm desperate to write a blog post, I go ahead and write, but that writing makes me fret.  I fret that I'm going to get one of those "Well, you just need to..." or "Well, when I was raising kids..." comments and it's going to alternatively make me angry and ashamed.  And then I'll grumble about it to MathMan and throw myself onto the bed in a fit and vow to never ever ever write about my kids again because some people can't help being advice givers or sanctimonious and I hope their kids drive them over the cliff someday too.

And then MathMan follows me into the bedroom, puts his TI-84+ Silver Edition on the night table and stands next to the bed giving me that look.  "Come on now.  You need a thicker skin. Your readers have a relationship with you and they want to help."

When he's reasonable like that is when I want to refudiate him the most.  With pain.

I realize that this makes me sound a bit too much like politicians who trot their kids out during the campaign only to whine when the media goes after those same kids later. But there it is.  This exploiting your children for money or humor or a stupid blog post or elected office is a complicated thing.  It's a field loaded with emotional landmines.

See it's one of those conundrums of being a domestic artiste.  It's too close to the bone, to the heart.  I'm allowed to poke fun at them.  And you're allowed to laugh, but you are not allowed to join in the poking (much) nor offer parenting advice.  Trust me on this.  I'd bet anyone who writes about family feels the same way.  I've just laid bare more of my inadequacies so that you might laugh.  I'm not looking for someone to come in and tell me what I "need to do" or how they do it so much better than I do.  I have therapists for that.

It occurred to me to check with an expert on this, but so far I've only managed to get distracted reading her quotes and reminiscing about her books.

If you haven't guessed already, I've been reading some of that Erma Bombeck book that's been assigned as bathroom reading apparently because it's been either relegated to or given the highest honor of being tossed into the big basket of bathroom reading material.

Now that I'm eating things like steel cut oats and vegetables, I've got more reading time than ever.  Since it's been brought to my attention that reading on the toilet contributes to varicose veins, I'm careful not to spend more than one paragraph at a time on "business."  While my leg veins that haven't already popped are grateful, I'm pretty sure I'll be dead before I manage to get through the Bombeck book and all those Prevention magazines that are supposed to prevent my death.  Choose your battles, Lisa.  Choose your battles.

But back to Erma, I wonder how she felt about reader feedback.  I so wish she were alive to blog today. And I'm pretty sure she didn't make her career off the backs of her husband and children because kids in the sixties and seventies were any better at doing what they were told or by staying out of trouble.  Bombeck did not once write that she'd be strapping tennis rackets to her children's feet like snowshoes to send them to school even if school was cancelled again because raising children is easy or delightful.  It wasn't then, it isn't now.  Don't let those fetishizers of parenting fool you.

I was one of those kids giving my mother another reason to reach for her nerve pills when I first discovered Erma.  My mom had some of her books around, but I didn't realize how amusing she must have found them because I didn't grasp the misery loves company appeal of it then.  I just saw Mom reading and laughing and thought what an odd thing that was.  Rare really, more than odd.

Even then, I read Bombeck while locked in the bathroom.  There was Just Wait Til You Have Children of Your Own and The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank .  I still remember a Bill Keane illustration of a mom ironing her daughter's hair on the ironing board while speaking into the phone, "Oh, just ironing something for Debbie."

Back when I was laughing at that, I had no idea of the kinds of things I'd one day find myself doing for my own kids.  Or the things I'd find myself saying.  When you're fourteen and tan and can wear pink velour tube tops without the slightest hint of irony, you never imagine yourself telling someone to stop licking the curtains or wondering aloud who you should call to have Cinnamon Toast Crunch delivered via dumptruck load because you're going broke buying it by the box.  No, you just give yourself another misting of Love's Baby Soft, apply some Bonnie Bell Seven Up flavored Lipsmacker and miss the opportunity to be glad for who you are then and how it all stretches out before you.  The way we humans are wired shelters us at that age.  We aren't able to peer into our futures for a reason, yo.

But now Bombeck is hilarious to me.  I'm that mom with my own Debbies and Steves.  It's me fishing keys out of the toilet and shouting down the heating vent in search of a lost hamster and wiping spills that no one else sees and praying to the laundry room gods for the safe deliverance from oblivion of all those random socks and finding new uses for old pantyhose and referring to my husband as "that idiot" under my breath.

And saying to my own darlings "Just wait til you have children of your own."


  1. two things:
    1. Your children will remain your children until the day you die - and all their foibles, oddities and quirks will also follow you through your remaining years. They never go away.

    2.I've never said, "Just wait til you have children of your own." Because that means grandchildren and chances are you will, from time to time, be stuck with them. By that time you will have become sick of childish irrationality.

    Although there is certain beauty in filling a three year old with several Cokes and candy bars while showing them a scary movie. Then returning them to their parents - That's fun.

  2. Since I'm a parent, an un-terrible one, harrumph, here's what you need to do about x: start with y, then perhaps a bit of the rate of change for z.

    Steel cut oats? My, aren't we fancy.

  3. I just found you via La Belette Rouge and wish I could blow the rest of the day reading the archives. My kids are grown. I miss them but it's nice having two bathrooms to ourselves!

  4. I love that.

    Our brood is just a bit older than yours, and we find ourselves going through quite a readjustment around here. It's a fun carnival ride, though, I'll tell you that.

    You surely know that your readers are not in the judge-harshly crowd, I hope?

  5. "stop biting the dog" and "if you put that rat in Grandma's hair one more time while she's sleeping..."
    Hey these guys are our best material. Erma knew that. We have some sort of property rights to this stuff. They can work out all the ensuing issues with their own shrinks....later

  6. What you need to do is . . .

    Ha! I dislike the start of that advice myself. I'm an Erma fan too, and even moreso of Monsieur Sedaris, particularly on the throne. And actually I've not only read a lot on the throne, but written a lot on it because by shutting and locking the bathroom door, I discovered no one could make me get up to do something mommyish. Mommyish stuff had to wait till I opened the door.

    And now I miss those days. How did that happen?

  7. When he's reasonable like that is when I want to refudiate him the most.

    Have you been guzzling tea again? ;-)

    Seriously, you have fortunate kids.

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  9. What do you have against my TI-84 Plus Silver Edition?

  10. I have always maintained that Erma Bombeck has achieved sainthood of some sort and therefore ought to be recognized as such.

    Licking the curtains? I think that's right up there with encouraging your little sister to eat bunny poop.

  11. oh, wait, there's more...

    my favorite thing to say to my kids ever which never fails to illicit absolute horror (but not by my kids, they expect it) is...

    Do I LOOK like your mother?!

  12. I hope I've never done that to you but I probably have :( oh well.

    Hey, you have got to read the book Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages. I know you will get a kick out of those books.

    Also see the following article on Salon:

  13. Does that make me a geek because I knew what the TI-84 was without looking it up on Google? Oh, well... so be it.

    Just a rhetorical question for you:

    Who has the right to tell you you are not raising your kids right?

    That's my motto. Or question. Or whatever you call it when it comes to how I raise my children.

  14. I have blocked out too much of the child rearing years to offer advice or criticism! I am just counting the months until the last one leaves for college.

    I love Erma, too. Although I am sure my kids were never that entertaining.

  15. Oh, and the Cinnamon Toast Crunch? - my kids would eat it by the truckload, too. What do they put in that stuff?

  16. Not sure of the inspiration for the post but it compels me to say please continue to write about your family. I love your trials and tribulations and laughs and mundane happiness and simply smiles and crazy antics (by the kids of course) and the pushing and pulling of loving the kids while trying to escape them.

    PS: I have a TI 89 Titanium.

  17. What you need to do is... write more! ;) Great, thought-provoking piece, Lisa.

    No kids here, but I used to be a nanny, so I can sympathize a little bit. Not a whole lot, though. Mostly, I just laugh as I read along down the column. Two things, though:

    (1) I'm amazed at how your eldest resembles you. It's uncanny.

    (2) You just took me back to the classy taste of Bubblegum lipsmacker.

  18. I never give advice; I just stop by for a chuckle.

  19. Before I had kids I thought to myself certain things I would NEVER do-- but after having kids, you suddenly get it that this decision to be a parent is a done deal & there's no going back.
    It starts pretty early on.... they develop colic & go on screaming binges, or just when you've figured them out they cut a tooth or have 10 ear infections is a row.
    the sleep deprivation wears you down.... you find yourself leaving a note by the doorbell- don't even think of ringing the bell & wake up the napping baby.
    Once I realized you have to do whatever is necessary to keep it together, my own judgements started to peel back too.
    When I once thought I'd never put my kid on a leash (toddler), when a friend had triplets & each one dashed off in a different direction, I understood the tether was probably going to save one of those kids lives! I can still remember her @ a folk festival hanging on for dear life while each kid splayed off in opposite directions.
    I figured out I/we need to do whatever works.
    Forget the prefabricated notions.
    Erma knew this. Forget putting in airs, or trying to conform. that ship had sailed. It was all about survival. Even now when my *baby* will turn 22 next month, he continues to throw zingers our way. He did WHAT?

    So there you have it-- the joys of parenting.
    Erma knew it was a goldmine of humor & a stark glimpse into the human condition.

  20. It is true that you can say anything about your own family, be as critical as all get-out - but other people, even your closest friends, can't, or you get all defensive. That's just how it works. For everyone. I try not to cross the line too often with Nick. I try to push it just far enough.


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