I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like my parenting has been slipping a little lately. Maybe it’s the busy fall season or the relentless grind of the school-year routine. Maybe it’s just the chilly fall weather. (Yes. Let’s say it’s the chilly fall weather.) At any rate, after a sunny and cheerful September with my children, my October mothering efforts have been less than stellar. I might even say they’ve been mediocre. Maybe even pitiful. (Yes. Let’s say pitiful.)
For starters, I’ve spent the better part of the month with a cold. Not enough to justify staying in bed, just enough to feel lousy while I quasi-do everything I’m supposed to do. “What I’m supposed to do” apparently includes sleeping too late on a weekday (hungover from my nighttime cold medicine) and then yelling at my kids to “HURRY UP!!” because Mom couldn’t get her hiney out of bed on time. “What I’m supposed to do” must also include allowing Megan to go to school three hours late last Wednesday because she was “sick” (sure) and allowing Ethan to go to school an hour late on that same day, so we could get him some cold medicine (and a Sprite) at the store before he started his day. On Thursday I let him stay home with me all day because, in fairness, he did have the sniffles. You can imagine my relief, however, upon witnessing his miraculous recovery at 3 pm, when he promptly began lobbying to have a friend over. I cannot account for this healing, except that maybe the two hours I spent with him on the couch that morning watching the Wizards of Waverly Place movie had some kind of emotionally therapeutic effect. (And don’t worry…I got some great catnaps in while the snotty teenage girl tried to undo the spell on her family. That is one bratty adolescent wizard. Man, her parents must be pushovers.)
Would you believe that the following day, when Ethan went back to school, I didn’t even send a note excusing him for being absent? Upon realizing my oversight, I thought about calling the school and telling them that Ethan had, in fact, been home sick the previous day. But then I thought: they’ll figure it out. Why waste my breath? Now there’s some conscientious mothering for you.
Things got even worse as the weekend approached. On Friday, instead of writing or cleaning or paying bills or making homemade sourdough starter (it’s on my bucket list), I spent the better part of my day driving to WalMart/Fred Meyer/Goodwill/back to Fred Meyer/back to Walmart. You may be wondering how much grocery shopping a lady can do, but let me assure you, my three faithfuls: all of this time was spent getting my children what they needed for Halloween. Not shopping for a milestone birthday party. Not prepping for a big family vacation. Halloween. The holiday that is rapidly outdoing Christmas as the biggest annual pain in a mother’s already stressed-out groin.
May I remind you that we’d already spent ample time at Value Village last week putting the kids’ costumes together? This set of errands was spent just finishing things up: I had to find just the right face decals (red, shimmery but not glittery, able to peel-off individually, not too big but able to see on my face, thankyouverymuch), a basket that would be believable as Red Riding Hood’s (bowed handle, rounded, no lining, not too big or small, thankyouverymuch), a black and white, horizonally striped “mime” shirt (Megan seemed to think I could just pick this up anywhere. As if!) And black suspenders. (This was the real doozie. For a ten-year old waif of a girl? As if.)
I also had to spend a little time comparing candy prices ounce for ounce, because apparently we need to start an escrow account in January to prepare for the cost of Halloween candy come October. Now that we’re approaching our forties, I’ve committed to passing out only the good stuff (i.e., cheap chocolate) to the kiddos. The lame dumdums and fake jolly ranchers need to be left behind with the poverty of our twenties and thirties; with the wrinkles and weight gain of middle age must come some level of dignity. The best deal was a big bag of mini candy bars for twenty bucks at Walmart. I’ll probably need about four more of these to satisfy our busy neighborhood, but I’ll wait to buy them during peak trick-or-treating time tonight, so that if the store is out, I can say “not my fault!” and just turn off our porch light. Everybody (okay, only me) wins.
After my Great Day at Walmart/Fred Meyer/Goodwill/Fred Meyer/Walmart, I pulled into the driveway just in time to greet my middle-schooler as she came home and realized that I had once again been far too indulgent in satisfying my children’s whims. A Tiger Mother would have told her kids to make their own costumes–after they’d practiced their music for three hours. Instead, I gave my children the goods they’d requested, sought their approval, and heard myself telling them not to worry about chores this weekend, since we’d be too busy getting everything ready for the big holiday. I shook my head even as the words came out of my mouth. A Blue Personality is one thing, but this is ridiculous.
I then spent all of Friday night being the ultimate Cool Mom (see previous post). Lucky kids. Saturday afternoon required one final trip to Goodwill. Megan had pointed out to me that the mime shirt I’d bought was in fact navy blue-and-white striped, not black-and-white striped. No way, I said. Way, she replied. (I couldn’t believe it. I felt like George Banks in his blue tux.) Saturday evening, it was finally time for the big party, which by all accounts was a smashing sucess. I felt only a flicker of guilt as I watched my six-year old make his way through the potluck line with three cookies, a scoop of red jell-o, and a white roll for dinner. I did nothing to stop him. Derrick, who stood right next to me, did nothing either. I said to him, “Is that all Ethan’s had to eat tonight?” My usually strict husband replied, “Yeah, I told him to just eat whatever he wanted.” I then replied, “Oh.” We watched as he took his paper plate and sprinted across the gym with his nineteen sweaty and smelly best friends, not to be seen again for the rest of the evening. Hours later, when he finally reappeared, I found myself idly wondering: where did Ethan spend his evening? In the parking lot? In the the street? In the ladies room? In a car with strangers? I didn’t know. I was just glad that I didn’t have to fix him a plate for dinner myself. That seemed like a lot of work.
Sunday afternoon we came home from church, changed clothes, and grabbed a snack as usual. The kids had settled themselves throughout the house, so I decided to take a little break and read for a bit before tidying things up and getting dinner ready for company. Two hours later I woke up and saw the clock on my nightstand. What had happened? I stumbled into the bonus room to find that my kids had been glued to back-to-back episodes of The Cosby Show since the minute I’d dozed off. I thought about telling them to turn the tv off; that it was the Sabbath and a family day. I thought about making them come downstairs with me to help with dinner or to just read and chat together in the living room as I baked. But then I thought again. That seemed like a lot of work. Instead, I shut the door quietly behind me so they wouldn’t know I was awake and spent a glorious two hours in the kitchen, alone with my thoughts as I kneaded rolls and chopped up a salad. When I finished, I went upstairs and finally faced my children. Their total elapsed time in front of the television was now at three hours, forty-five minutes.
“Kids!” I said sharply. “Turn off the tv! It’s Sunday!” I pretended that I had just discovered them there. The zombies looked up and rubbed their eyes, as if only just remembering that they had a mother.
“Oh yeah…okay Mom.”
“Come help me set the table,” I said, a little more gently. This made me feel good. (A wise mother always involves her children in household responsibilities.)
Fast-forward to this morning: I offered them cold cereal for breakfast. (An aside: I’ve tried to make them hot food in the morning, but they don’t want it. And as you can see, it’s all about What My Children Want.) Anyway, Megan began asking for muffins instead, and I told her no–they’d had enough sugar this weekend. The kids needed something healthy and filling, like the bag of fake Frosted Flakes I’d set on the table. Megan rebutted, saying she hadn’t had any candy so far, so why couldn’t she have a muffin? Derrick intervened and told her to knock it off and quit arguing with her mother. I could barely hear what Derrick was saying, however, because at the same time he was reprimanding our daughter, I was offering to make her toast instead, hoping that that would satisfy her desire for something other than cereal. Derrick looked at me and shook his head. I looked at me and shook my head, too. A Blue Personality is one thing, but this is ridiculous.
And so begins the Great Parenting Slide that seems to begin every Halloween and last through New Years Day, when all of my resolve gets put on hold because “I have a cold,” or “Its the holidays!” Problem is, we just finished up three months of whatever-ness when the same loosey-goosey logic applied: “Don’t worry about it…it’s summer!”
I obviously need some help. Could you help me, my three faithfuls? Derrick tries to help me, but you know how good wives are at taking their husband’s parenting tips. Tonight is Halloween, and the blue-personality in me wants to send the kids outside, tell them not to come back for at least three hours, and to eat as much candy as they want to when they get home, as long as I don’t have to clean up the wrappers or their vomit. But the wanna-be-responsible mom in me says I should monitor their trick-or-treating, teach them to share their candy, and allow them just one piece a day in their school lunches until it’s gone.
I’m not sure yet how this Halloween night will play out, but I’m thinking that the easier parenting method will triumph. Just a hunch.
And to avoid ending this parenting confessional on a down note, I must share with you the one–the only–upside of my wishy-washy, squishy-squashy, blue-personalitied parenting style:
WE. HAVE. FUN.
And I hope you do, too. Happy Halloween!