The most indisputable truth about Motherhood is that it radically alters your life forever. The next most indisputable truth is that everyone has an opinion about how you should do this job and seemingly no qualms about sharing theirs with you. The reason for this, I believe, lies in the fact that this profession is woefully overexposed – EVERYONE either is a Mother, knows a Mother or, actually had a Mother themselves…
I usually find other people’s opinions well-meaning, but mostly useless... Because every kid is different and every family is different, most of the advice feels like trying to retrofit someone else's square peg into your round hole. For example, my husband and I had the first of our five children when we were 23. He was in the restaurant business and worked nights. I listened politely (mostly) while people told me how to coordinate mealtimes and bedtimes and then promptly dismissed it all and raised my family the way that worked best for us. I shocked my best friend once when we pulled our 18 month old out of her crib to go to Denny's at 2 am, when Daddy got home from work. Fortunately, this friend was too supportive to criticize and my daughter went on to a 4.0 GP. These days, my children are grown, and to my knowledge, they all eat and most of them sleep.
I wasn't completely immune, however, to outsourcing wisdom from others and found some parenting gems from the most unexpected places:
The Federal Aviation Administration
(Lesson: Take care of your Kid’s Mom – No one Else Wants to Take Over In The Event Of Your Untimely Demise)
Before I had children, when I would take the occasional flight, I was always surprised that the airline warned you, that, “in the event of an actual emergency,” always put your own oxygen mask on first. I really felt like this flew in the face (pun intended) of the very essence of parenting, as I understood it. I was always taken aback at this instruction and “judgy,” in the way that only people who haven’t had kids yet can be. As if any mother would put her own mask on before her child's! It wasn’t until many years, and several kids later, on a flight out of Orlando, while my 2 year old son repeatedly threw his small plastic horses, with remarkable accuracy, at the heads of the passengers seated around us, that I came to understand the metaphorical imperative. It finally dawned on me that, if I should lose consciousness, due to a sudden drop in cabin pressure, no one, in their right mind, would be as motivated as I would be, to rescue my little Horse Whisperer.
The Local Fire Department
(Lesson: Motherhood is not as effortless as some of us make it look)
I explain motherhood to my husband like this, “You look over at those Firemen when you’re sitting at a red light, in front of the Fire Station, and you mutter to yourself, “They’ve got the life! What do those guys do all day anyway? Play checkers and wash the fire truck?” And, sure, that’s what it seems like, right up until there’s a blazing fire to be put out; then, they’re the first ones to run into the flames! And, suddenly you freaking love those guys!
That’s exactly how it is with Moms. You might resent whatever it is you think we really do all day, right up until the proverbial shit hits the fan. And then you can’t hand the reins of the emergency over to Mama fast enough. We may look like carefree slackers, but we’re your family's “First Responders.” So, if you see us out-and-about laughing gaily, seemingly without a care in the world- remember we will be the first ones to run right into the flames of a family emergency, while everyone else practices their stop, drop and roll.
And it doesn't end with Midnight Newborn Feedings - how grateful do you think my husband was when our 20 year old had boyfriend drama at 1 am last weekend?
A Restaurant In Texas
(Lesson: You Can’t fight City Hall ? You sure as Hell can't fight DNA..)
There is a restaurant down in Houston that my husband and I dined at a few times before we had children. While I can’t remember what their menu was or if I even liked the food, my future parenting endeavors were profoundly affected by a sign they had posted right by the Hostess Stand. The sign said, “The Management requests that Children not Alter the Atmosphere of this Dining Establishment.” What’s relevant here, is that it indelibly planted a seed in my mind - that it was actually possible to raise children who did not alter the atmosphere of their surroundings, and I just love a challenge. When I had children a few years later, I set out to raise the kind that I could proudly take into that particular restaurant. We never even got close. Despite my most devoted and concerted efforts, all five of my kids turned out to be “Atmosphere Alterers." It was written on their DNA.
The funny thing about parenting is you'll be besieged with opinions on everything from sleeping, to feeding, to discipline. And - it doesn't end with how to take care of your kids, you'll actually be badgered with wisdom about how to take care of the mother (yourself!). I've been a parent for over 29 years X 5, and I'm still astounded by how much unsolicited advice I receive. I just sift through it all for the rare pearl that helps along the way and toss the rest out.
One day, remarkably, you'll look up and realize that your very own children are paragons of virtue who sleep through the night, dine in lovely restaurants and hold their horses.
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