Just a warning ahead of time; this first part of this blog post is probably going to come off as judgy and bitchy, and entirely smart-assey, if that is the feeling you are getting from it then congratulations; you are reading it in the right tone of voice.
I am under no illusion that I am a better parent than you are. In fact, I’m sure I’m not. Well, except, if you will remember, my son is smarter than 100% of the country in Algebra according to his pre-ACT, so maybe I am responsible for that, in which case, ha ha; I’m a better parent than you. Suck it inferior parents.
Dan will laugh when he reads this (if he reads this at all) because Dan thinks I’m an over-protective parent. You know, because I only wanted my two year old twins to practice sword fighting with Oneida butter knives from Target, not the Chicago Cutlery steak knives guaranteed to never dull (unless your six year old twins figure out how to saw cardboard with them, another story, another day). Most people would not say that I’m over-protective, in fact, some parents might think I’m borderline neglectful. This is what I say to that; how are you EVER supposed to read a good book, have an adult conversation or surf facebook and pinterest if you are not ignoring your children?????
Last week I went on a field trip with Grace’s first grade class. The field trip was to an outdoor education program at a local county forest preserve. The teachers were wonderful, the trip was wonderful, here’s what I’m going to complain about: PORT-A-POTTIES. Only probably not in the way you think I’m going to complain about them.
Now, I don’t love port-a-potties, I don’t see one and say, “YES! I love to pee over a cess pool of filth!” but I also don’t not use them. I even....wait for it, let my kids use them....ALONE. I may warn them to wipe the seat off if they look especially scary, but that’s it. That’s right, I don’t hold them six inches above the hole, I don’t make a paper blanket over the seat to cushion their little clean bottoms. I don’t carry baby wipes (because 7 year olds are NOT babies), I don’t carry anti-bacterial anything and, if I see you with it I will roll my eyes. I will roll them hard. People have been going to the bathroom in crappy conditions for thousands of years and, at least in recent history; it doesn’t kill them. And you know what they say...what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Just ask Kelly Clarkson. So after lunch the moms are standing around sanitizing the children (never underestimate the danger of bacteria on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and I kind of laughed to myself as I helped the newly sterile children return their very muddy boots onto their sweaty, smelly feet so that they could go back outside and joyfully touch dirt and sticks.
And then the mommy-panic started. Kids were using the port-a-potties!!!!!! What if they sat in pee??? What if they touched other people’s germs? The mothers’ eyes rolled in their heads like nervous thoroughbreds getting ready to leave the gate at the Kentucky Derby...what if there weren’t enough baby wipes or anti-bacterial goo to go around? What if a child were left with......germs? What would happen? How would they go on? Well, if you are an adult, look around the room. Do you see any other adults around your age? Yes you do, do you know why? BECAUSE GERMS (in general) DON’T KILL YOU. You are forty-ish. If you tell me your mother wiped you down or stood over you as you cleaned your hands every time you used a bathroom then I say to you; LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE! (and Oh my God, the germs you can get from ashes). You didn’t wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday twice (that’s what Oprah says you are supposed to do). If you were parented by my mother she may have even said. “For Christ’s sake, if you don’t pee on your hands then why would you wash them? If you don’t know how to not pee on your hands, you have other issues.” (For the record, when indoor plumbing is available, my family washes their hands, mostly)
If you are forty-ish, you left your house on a summer morning and aside from occasional stops in to steal food for yourself and your cohorts, you didn’t come home until dinner. You didn’t have a cell phone or a lojack and NO ONE KNEW WHERE YOU WERE OR WHO YOU WERE WITH. Here is where you cringe about how the world is a more dangerous place now and I laugh and say; FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, READ THE BOOK, FREE RANGE KIDS, IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. THE WORLD IS STATISTICALLY SAFER NOW FOR KIDS THAN IT WAS IN THE SEVENTIES AND EIGHTIES WHEN WE WERE RAISED. ASK THE CENTER FOR CHILD EXPLOITATION AND ENDANGERMENT, I DARE YOU.
So I’ve shared what I think is a typical field trip/paranoid mom experience from 2013. Here is what a typical summer day(okay, it wasn’t typical. I only nearly killed my brother twice ever. The second time we were adults, I don’t talk about that one, it’s sad. This one; hilarious) was like with a single parent and a babysitter for two children in 1978.
|His scar today|
Erin and I have spent the day across town at the babysitter’s (not the one that tied him up to the deck, I think this was after her and before the lady in the pink house who wouldn’t spring for cheese on our burgers at McDonald’s even when I brought a dime for me and my brother to pay for the cheese by ourselves) and it was the first day of summer break between first grade and second grade. I was 7, Erin was almost 5. In science we had recently learned that bleeding removes germs and bacteria from a wound. We hadn’t yet learned about how main arteries worked which would have been really helpful on this particular day. It was late in the day and we were having fun running around outside, UNATTENDED, with the other children. We saw my mom’s car turn down the road and thus began a game we liked to call, “OUR MOTHER HASN’T HAD A BAD ENOUGH DAY, LET’S RUN AWAY FROM HER AND MAKE IT WORSE WHEN ALL SHE WANTS TO DO IS GET HOME, PUT SOME FISH STICKS IN THE OVEN TO FEED HER PAIN IN THE ASS KIDS AND OPEN A COLD BEER BEFORE SHE IMPLODES” I’m pretty sure my mom just called it “I fucking hate this.” So we ran. In general, Erin gets the blame for being the hyper or bad kid and I get some props for being somewhat easy to parent, not this day. This day was all me. We ran, into the neighbor’s yard. We could hear my mom yelling across the yards. It was clear that she was not in a mood to be trifled with. Which you’d think would have stopped us in our tracks, but sometimes, when you’re running from something a strange primal animalistic hunter/prey mentality/fear kicks in and you run faster. Perhaps you are confronted by a fence. Instead of giving up, you launch your seven year old self over the fence and turn to help the pain in the ass four year old over it. He gets over it, you’re secretly impressed but now really worried about what will happen when your mom finally catches up to you; and you know she will...no one runs from Cheli forever. You may consider, do I leave him behind and keep going or bring him with me even if he slows me down? You bring him with you. Why? So that the punishment is doled out to the two of you instead of you by yourself. Erin starts to cry, he says, “Kristyn, I’m bleeding.” I yell over my shoulder, “Don’t worry; it is GOOD to bleed, it gets all of the germs out.” And I keep running, and to his credit so does Erin because despite the fact that I am often mean to him, he adores me and he does whatever I say. Which is pretty impressive because it turns out he sliced open the main artery in his wrist on the twist top of the chain link fence we had jumped. When I had heard enough whining I turned to yell at my brother and he was literally covered in blood. With every pump of his heart his tiny not too far removed from being a baby body forced an enormous amount of blood from his tiny wrist. We were at least 5 yards (like five houses, not 15 feet) away from the neighbor’s fence. Thank God they were 50 foot Elmhurst yards and not half acre Wheaton yards or he would have died. I don’t know how I did it, but I carried that kid in my seven year old arms back to the chain link fence where my mother was standing, furious. Until she saw us. As long as I live I will not forget the look on her face when she saw me carrying her bleeding baby and only one other time in my life have I felt a sense of shame so heavy it nearly buckled my knees. I had failed my baby brother. She screamed to the sitter for towels, I lifted him to her and I ran for the back seat where I sat on the way to the hospital holding bath towels on my little brother as if his life depended on it; which of course it did. When we got to the hospital the towels were soaked and he was unconscious. I thought I had killed him. If you are a parent you understand why my mom didn’t call an ambulance; her car was there, it would be faster to drive him herself; I’ve been there myself, it was a good decision. My brother was fine eventually, in fact, right now, he is on a boat in Florida catching really big fish; truly, I promise. It’s a funny story....now. And, to my mom’s credit. She didn’t beat me or even guilt me. While they kicked her out of the room to work on my brother she held me in her arms while I sobbed and sobbed for what I had done. Natural consequences are always more meaningful than fabricated ones; we never ran from my mom again. Seriously.
So my point is this; there are so many dangers in childhood that as a parent it is sometimes hard to sleep at night thinking about all of the things that can go wrong. But most of them? You don’t have any control over anyway. There was no lesson my mom could have taught us ahead of time that would have kept us from running away or getting hurt and luckily, we learned a lesson and my brother didn’t die which is a huge bonus. If your kids don’t wash their hands or even if they are disgusting booger eaters, chances are they aren’t going to die from it and in your desire to protect them from everything you are probably making them a little paranoid. Dirt is good, exposure to germs can improve your immune system, independence creates intelligence. I believe that my job as a parent is to render myself useless. I want my kids to grow up able to function on their own and to be responsible, happy adults. Besides, if they aren’t able to care for themselves how in the hell are they going to be able to change my diapers while caring for their own small children? What doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger!