Parenting 101 sounds like a great title for a book or a website dedicated to being the best mommy or daddy one can possibly be. Cue twinkled front tooth and cutesy wink. The cover is a fun, primary color kind of vibe with a smiling, razor thin couple with marshmallow white chompers, matching maroon fleece vests and an aura that yells, “missionary position!” I am sure the web address is already taken with its million man hit ratio and the Barnes and Noble self-help section is overflowing with a collection of paperbacks with a variation on the uncatchy and clear title. I would love to believe that a smattering of words held between two covers would be enough to answer all the questions and doubts and fears and struggles that come along with procreation and its aftermath.
Shit, I would love a pill that I could take any time I feel unsure, overwhelmed or confused as how to approach a particularly difficult or trying parenting situation. When Otto argues with me and insists on cupping his penis when urinating, thus creating a human fountain with his hand and a puddle of yellow liquid on the bathroom floor that I have to clean up, I could just swallow a blue pill and magically have the answer. Or when he refuses to put on his clean camouflage pajamas and only wants the crusty, filthy Lightning McQueen ones that are at the bottom of the laundry hamper begging for me to put them out of their misery with a flame thrower and bottle of bleach, I could pop a little red friend and fix this unfixable mess.
Jacqueline Susann, the doyen of drug addiction, the black eye liner loving “author” who perpetuated the mystifying representation of female stress with pill popping aplomb was oh, so wrong in her caftan lusciousness. No woman with children, a blossoming sexually transmitted movie career and a hardcore Valium addiction has the time, energy or inclination to commit to the arduous upkeep of a beehive bouffant that could secretly house a family of squawking herons while fighting tooth and nail to survive the daily battle of the wills with tiny, treacherous trolls demanding food, shelter and apple juice.
Not even a closet full of mink bed jackets, a rainbow of patent leather flats and a treasure trove of baby doll jumpers with matching coin purses could screw in the screws unscrewed by the modern child. There are no happy pills that can quick fix a toddler tantrum. There is no medicinal magic that can cure a one-sided argument involving fecal covered Play-Doh, a broken, a toxic, plastic dump truck filled with dirty pennies and a Matchbox car draped in day-old applesauce that smells like old lady smell.
All the heroine heavy, hypodermic needles in the world could not solve the age-old question,” Why, mommy?” multiplied by Pi. Mountains of Colombia’s crustiest and cruelest cocaine could not possibly be the white flag of surrender needed during a harried hair washing or a terrifying tooth brushing. And no amount of meth-coated magic could possibly mask the intense, searing pain that comes when a small, determined running back propels his perfectly formed skull into your ill prepared pubic bone leaving a bruise on your vagina ironically shaped like the Virgin Mary.
The solution, if one does indeed exist, is not in the potion but in the perspective. I recently attended a parenting discussion group at Otto’s school where our wonderful principal and a favorite teacher and education professor talked about healthy parenting by setting limits. Running late as usual, due to a child who sleeps as late as a preteen stoner, I stumbled into what I thought would be a tiny circle of relaxed, nanny-loving, uber-confident, well rested parents killing extra minutes with a little face time and chit chat. I thought for sure I was the only one who needed some sage advice and witty words of wisdom. I had convinced myself that I was clearly the only failure in a school of fabulous.
But to my sleepy surprise, what I found was a room overflowing with eager, overwhelmed and wayward wanderers looking for answers and experience in all things cranky kid. These were mothers and fathers who, like me, had random, rough days, hard mornings and difficult nights with their children. They too hoarded memories of inexplicable tears, headstrong hollering and speechless moments looking for the right words to soothe, the correct combo of syllables to calm, the perfect pairing of this wine with that whine. To hear other stories of impatience and dread and fear and heartache made me feel as rejuvenated as a botoxed bottom lip. I didn’t take joy in their problems. I took comfort, comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my self-doubt and exhaustion on those even days and overflowing joy on those odd days.
We all compared the good, the bad and the scary and exchanged book recommendations and belly laughs. The speakers gifted us with tricks and tools that had worked for them in the past assuring us that we were not crazy and never alone. They talked about their parenting anecdotes that caused them stomach aches in the 70’s but were now great Thanksgiving table tales that made their grown children howl in delight and shudder with dread for what was to come with the next generation.
When the meeting was over and the notes were scribbled I left the room a different person and, I hope, a tad better mom. For the remainder of my week I have had a sense of calm and resolve I have not felt since scoring the winning basket during our city basketball championships in 1979 while wearing two-toned dolphin shorts and a lopsided, despondent Dorothy Hamill haircut. I find myself approaching each moment with this wonderful army of school parents standing behind me with their hands on my shoulder and their voices in my head. I get down lower when I talk to Otto and speak calmer and clearer. I give him reasonable options without showering him with too many choices and a time crunch. I try to see the world from his new fresh angle instead of my scattered, ragged cliff’s edge, teetering on a crumbling precipice, waiting for the inevitable plunge into the anemic, polluted river down below.
I have included a list of books and a website that this glorious group of grown-ups tossed out during our meeting of the mending minds. I still haven’t read anything on the list but I will as soon as the laundry is done, the rug is vacuumed, the snack bag is stocked, the dog has pooped, the cat pee is mopped up, the boy is scrubbed clean and the Olympic women’s figure skating medals are dangling on anorexic necks. Until then, maybe just knowing that no parent is alone in their suffering or solo in their salvation is enough to sustain us all through these tricky yet terrific times.
Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher
Raising Cain by Michael Thompson
Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
1-2-3 Magic by Dr.Thomas Phelan
Hand in Hand Parenting.org
And of course, commiseration.