For two weeks, now, I’ve had a shocking revelation rise to the surface of my brain at least once a day. I mean I’ll just be going about my business when suddenly it hits and I’m like OH MY GOD THIS IS REAL. Just now, I had it again. I was wrapping Christmas gifts, getting them under the tree. When suddenly I looked over to the little rocking-vibrating baby sleeper thing that has been on permanently for two weeks and I – genuinely surprised – thought to myself:
So I guess I have three kids now.
It isn’t that I was unprepared. I knew I was soon to be a mother of three. From the minute I peed on the stick and immediately drove to tennis, where my husband (who works overnights) was sleeping in the car while the kids had their lessons; got in his car and woke him up, him surprised I drove over, and just blurted out “oh my God Nick I’m pregnant,” I knew.
For the months I did not have a lick of morning sickness, did not throw up once (take that, pregnancy!); but instead lost all appetite for anything but cream of chicken soup and cantaloupe, I knew.
On the day I went to get dressed, when it was about 95 degrees out in the heat of summer, and the only thing that fit me was a pair of sweatpants that I could barely tie, forcing me to spend the day at the mall sweating profusely as I looked desperately for maternity clothes, I knew.
And while pregnancy was relatively easy for me, it was still an ordeal. My back rarely hurt, as I said I didn’t get sick; no headaches, no pains in awkward places – for these reasons I was fortunate. But it’s pregnancy. You never know what’ll happen, so I did go a little bat shit crazy with seasoned-mom worry. At the end the acid reflux was like a constant volcano of terrible coming up my throat, and his breech position jammed his head into my left rib cage more times than I would have liked. So I knew. I knew the day was steadfastly coming that I was going to have three kids.
But it was also like I didn’t.
During the c-section, I stayed awake and calm for the entire time. Had I fully grasped what was truly happening, I would have been freaking out and panicking and going nuts – OH MY GOD I AM HAVING A THIRD CHILD THAT THIRD CHILD IS COMING OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW. THAT is who I am. Instead, as my OB shot staples into my gut, I laid there calmly as we had a nice conversation about a New York Times article we had both read about c-secion in the 14th century.
Oh. My. God. I have three kids now.
There are so many jokes about three kids pushing you over the edge. In fact, on my first visit with my OB – who has been my lady bits doctor for over a decade now, and knows virtually every facet of my life – I was laughed at, scorned, and told “three will do you in.” Because three, apparently, did him in.
Oddly enough, there was a day when I told people I didn’t want to have any kids. None. Babies were gross and spat up and depended on you and I was just such an oh-so-cool hippie that I was going to spend my days childfree in trendy clothes with a glass of whatever flavor drink of the month permanently dangling from my well-rested, hands that had never – not ever – wiped a single ass, other than her own.
Then we had kids and all of those pipe dreams changed. I’m not saying that having kids was an unplanned or unexpected or unwanted thing. Just that the plans changed and we found ourselves with kids, so my husband and I figured – you know, why stop with one, let’s have twenty five.
Or three. Same difference.
In any case, I have three kids now.
My oldest – Alexis, as many of you know, is 12, and snarky and basically a small version of me. Which is unfortunate because it means she’s well on her way to be a world class smart ass. She has had the great fortune of completely skipping over puberty, and is now a full blown, gorgeous woman with minimal awkwardness that makes me wring my hands in jealousy that my between years were not so easy. She likes to tell people that her name means “helper” (which it does), but at the same time she insists she will not be changing any baby diapers. (She has still changed several.)
My now-middle – Ava – is 8 and she’s sweet but in a sweet way like candy. It’s delicious and wonderful but also rotting out your teeth and contributing to your genetically predisposed Type 2 diabetes. There’s always a motive to that sweetness. Nevertheless, when we told her she was going to have a baby brother, she immediately started promising she was going to change diapers and hold the baby and help with everything, and – so far – she actually has. She’s even changed a blow out.
And now, there is the baby. He’s cute and a really good baby. His face is squishy and he’s definitely a holder, as in don’t stop holding me Mom. My dad says he looks like an old man. My husband seems to be disappointed that the baby’s cheeks are not skinny like his, but rather chubby like mine. And while we originally had a whole cadre of terribly atrocious names in consideration, I am certain that one day he will look at that list and be grateful that we stuck with a simpler, more traditional: Andrew.
So there it is: three kids. All with the same initials. All with chubby cheeks and big, blue eyes. All with me for a mother. Snarky, independent, misanthropic me.
Heaven help us all.
Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one.
I’ve said many versions of that over the course of the years writing on this blog. And in life, in general. It’s probably one of the only cliches I can really get on board with. I’m just not a big fan of them – at least as far as talking in cliche goes.
(My most hated cliched phrase is “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Fuck you. My grass is dead, like my heart. Ain’t nobody want my cold, dead grass.)
But then there’s the becoming a cliche thing, which I have done through my adult life over and over and over again. It’s just how I live – one standard, societally-dictated role after another. You name it, I have probably – at some time until I’ve hated myself enough to stop – fulfilled it.
The biggest one, the one that persists in spite of the self-loathing it creates within me, is probably the worst. I am – at my core – a sanctimommy.
If you don’t know what a sanctimommy is, in short it’s: a woman who becomes a mother and then suddenly has an opinion that she believes to be absolute fact on what is right and wrong for children. All children. Every child in the world, regardless of their situation. Regardless of whether those children are hers or not, her positions are the universal imperative. The Kantian maxim of absolute moral right.
It’s almost as cliche as meeting your husband at the door when he gets home from work every night with a smoking pipe and a martini. (For me, I’m lucky my husband works nights, or I’d probably have fallen to that one too.)
So I fell to the cliche of the sanctimommy pretty quickly after becoming a mother, and my list of sanctimonious views on mothering and raising children has continued to stack up over the years. And they just get worse. I have an opinion for just about everything, and believe those opinions to be the absolute right in my world of black-and-white, never gray, rights and wrongs.
It’s just the way things are, and I am.
That doesn’t mean I share these sanctimonious views with everyone. I don’t take it the step so many do to judge others, and foist those judgments upon them. I’m rapidly becoming an Internet troll, making comments on news articles just to test out jokes or ideas for my blog (like my most recent: a comment on Starbucks when I don’t actually drink coffee…). But when it comes to parenting, I keep the tippy-typing in the comments to a minimum.
Were I to wield my sanctimommmy views upon the world: on the Internet, in my Facebook, at family gatherings and the kids’ weekly sports shit…it would be a wasteland. A wasteland of my universal maxims and everyone else hating me. A wasteland where I have zero Facebook friends left, and my invitations conveniently “get lost in the mail.”
In fact, only recently I shared one of my particularly new sanctimonious views on being a parent in the form of a joke meme. In it, I basically said that people with only one child have no idea – NO CLUE – what tired is. Because I have two. And I’m fucking tired – no doubt way more tired than if I only had one. You might say double tired. Well all the backlash came within minutes of me sharing what I thought was a hilarious meme I, myself, crafted, and suddenly every parent of one child thought I was some asshole who had not a single fucking clue what I was talking about.
Usually, and especially now, I’m so scared of the reactions I might get, that I typically only share my views on parenting with my husband. I’m not even sure if he agrees in earnest with me on most of this shit, some of it totally inconsequential to our current lives as parents. And often I wonder how he even tolerates someone as judgmental and sanctimonious as I.
But he does, and then there’s that whole thing where it seems like a lot of people in our lives hate me anyway. Like I said a few blog posts ago: I’m not everyone’s cup-o-tea. For every sanctimommy view I keep to myself, there’s at least three on other issues that I won’t shut the fuck up about. Many an invitation has been “lost in the mail” over the years.
So…why not just go full sanctimommy? Take the leap from holding my beliefs in my mind to outwardly and verbally judging others?
Why not tell people that I think at least one parent being at home with the kids at the very least part time until said kids graduate high school is what’s right? And that through sacrifices I have made, I know that oftentimes people claiming that they have to work is more a statement about their priorities in liking vacations and expensive things than what has been scientifically and statistically proven to be what is best for kids. (Note: I said oftentimes, and I am completely aware that in many families both parents need to work even multiple jobs each to meet the bills; though this does not change the fact that it would be categorically and factually beneficial for their kids if one of them were home at least some of the time.)
Or I could admit that for a brief period of time I seriously considered keeping pacifiers in my purse to slip into the mouths of infant family members whose parents – I can only assume on principle or the belief that they know better than trained medical professionals – had ignored the warnings of doctors that pacifier use decreases SIDS risk by 95%. That I believe people who put shoes on their children before their children can walk outside look at their children as a fashion accessory. And that people who pierce the ears of an infant – except in the case of Hispanic families, who have a cultural reason – are teaching their kids from the earliest age possible that their body is not something with which they have complete control over.
(I came close to outward sanctimommy recently on the piercing the ears of infants issue at a family dinner when I let a joke slip that I was going to buy my husband’s goddaughter big hoop earrings for her first birthday. When someone told me that was crazy, I said ‘almost as crazy as piercing an infant’s ears.’ But I knew then to shut my mouth and move on lest my true sanctimommy be released.)
There’s so much more I don’t share. About school work (kids should have a lot). About playtime (kids should have even more of that than school work). Like parents who line their kids up in so many extra-curricular activities that they have no time to be kids (that this is one of the worst things a parent could do).
My list goes on and on and on. I’ve already shared too much, and anticipate a backlash.
My point, though, is that I withhold from sharing most of it because it’s not my place to. I may think someone is doing something wrong by their children, but unless it’s actually endangering the life of the child – like legit endangering the life, for example when people choose not to vaccinate their children because they are insane and have no grasp of reality – then who am I to tell others how to live? You want to teach your kids particular lessons and values, by all means – do it. In the end, you will be the one to answer for that.
Just as I will be the one to answer for the lessons and values I have taught mine. And in that vein, no one has a right to share their own sanctimonious views with me on the way I raise my kids.
In the end, I think we are all sanctimommies. In our core of cores, it’s a mandate when you have kids. Otherwise, your kids flounder around, living life according to what a whole gaggle of people believe, and then you have taught your children something very damaging – perhaps the most damaging – that making decisions for yourself is not the way to live. That the opinions of others bear more weight than your own beliefs and feelings.
I would much rather feel like shit about myself for having so many judgmental views in my head, than raise my children to believe that they can’t make decisions of their own accord. If there is anything I’ll be sanctimonious and loud about, it’s that.
This is a lesson I continue to learn, still, after all these years. I used to think I knew everything about being a parent.
I was wrong.
While I went to college, I worked in a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. After about a year of working, they invented this thing to help kids with the gross taste of medicine called FlavorRX. The idea was that for the low cost of $3, we could add almost any flavor to a kid’s disgusting, puke-flavored liquid, making it easier on the kids when they had to take it.
I thought I knew everything about parenting even then, which is funny because the truth was I didn’t know a fucking thing. Every time a parent paid the $3 for the flavoring, I would scoff that they would do something so ludicrous. Didn’t they know what all those $3 expenses could buy them?! When I had kids I would get them to take their medicine by telling them to take their fucking medicine. There would be no arguing about it. They’d deal and in fact they’d like it. I vowed up and down to never – not ever – waste money on frivolities like that.
So today I paid $3 to have my daughter’s medicine flavored grape-bubblegum. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, either. My kids don’t take antibiotics, or any medicine, that often, so you know they’ve got to be pretty sick if they do. In fact, this particular child has not taken antibiotics in four years; now a kidney infection has made it a necessity. The medicine they gave her was gross, and she has to take it four times a day on an already touchy appetite.
$3 to get her to take the damn medicine and quit the fighting about it was well worth it.
Last year, my brother in law and his wife had a baby. I remember during the pregnancy they were talking about all the things they would and would not be tolerating from their kid. They’d be hard to the line with the rules. The schedules would be enforced from the get-go. And so on and so forth… I remember one day at brunch another parent in the family looked at me and said “they’ll learn…they’ll see.” And I used to think that when people responded to everything I thought I knew about parenting before being a parent like we did, that it was sanctimonious crap.
It wasn’t. It was just true.
I have yet to find out if they have learned the same lesson I have on this one, but I continue to be reminded often that I sounded so much like them before kids. Only to have backtracked on almost every single one of my beliefs and assertions and ideas about being a parent since becoming one.
I had a lot of time to think about this as I stood in the mile-long line at the CVS waiting for my kid’s antibiotics to be flavored like a piece of grape-bubblegum. Because the FlavorRX is just one in a series of things I knew not a single thing about before becoming a parent.
I used to say that my kids would go to bed naturally at a reasonable time, and there would never be fighting about it.
My kids stay up pretty late every night. And most nights they bargain their way into sleeping in the living room.
I used to say that we wouldn’t be those families that spend all their time at theme parks.
We’ve been Disneyland season pass holders for as long as I can remember.
I used to say that I would never be one of those parents that bribes their children with sweets and privileges.
Bribe is now my middle name. Heather Bribe Schmidt. To get them to be good in Target, I give them ICEEs. To get them to take their allergy medicine, I let them each eat a Skittle before and after the pills. To convince them to be good for family photo day, I let them take over the entire dining room for their Barbies and dolls.
My list could go on…
You just don’t know what you’ll do as a parent to make it work until you have to make it work. I used to think I knew everything about being a parent. I was terribly, terribly wrong. But I really believe that this is totally OK. In fact, the only thing that would not be OK would be if I had learned nothing from this.
As I stood in that line and got that $3 FlavorRX, I finally figured out the bigger picture. The lesson is that sometimes things work out differently than you’d expect. Sometimes you have to adapt. Sometimes you have to change your beliefs to adjust to the circumstances. This really makes life better, in all aspects, and we have our kids to thank for teaching us that.
I’m likely going to lose some friends over this, and if so that’s unfortunate. The great thing about friendships is the ability to agree to disagree.
So let’s hope we can do that. If not, it’s been swell.
The older I get, the more friends and family I have adding to their families. In other words: everyone’s popping out kids like the Duggar family these days. Not a day goes by without a pregnancy announcement, a gender reveal, or a birth notice online.
This means that play dates are starting, too. Play dates, day care dates, birthday parties, and so on. And, inevitably, the photos of the newest boyfriend-girlfriend combo of infants that are just so in love show up too. Over a play date, toddlers just exploring what it means to exist in this world toddle over to one of the opposite sex, and suddenly there’s thirty Instagram posts, with captions like:
Oh, mama’s in trouble! We have a lady killer here!
Future Mr. and Mrs!
Jay is loving on his girlfriend at play date today!
And so on and so forth.
I get that it’s cute. I get that it’s quaint and silly, and naturally since you all are such good friends it would be just wonderful if your children decided to get married, or whatever. It would be like the perfect ending to the bad movie that is your life – like in Riding In Cars With Boys, when Drew Barrymore’s son is with the best friend’s daughter.
The problem, here, is that we aren’t talking about young, consenting adults. We aren’t even talking about people that are old enough to date. There is no prom in the foreseeable future.
We are talking about infants. Fucking toddlers. In most cases, children that still shit in their pants.
There’s actually a chance those kids are taking a dump while all those photos of them falling so in love were taken. #blessed #mamasintrouble
Young children that can’t even speak for themselves. Young children that may – one day – not appreciate your comments and insinuations and pressure and implications, and photos.
Cute photos, photos of kids playing – great! Your children will love that shit being memorialized! But online bath time? And all the comments about how they are going to marry each other one day – let me tell you, oh ladies of the Interwebs… your children WILL see that shit, and they WILL NOT appreciate it as they grow older. At. All.
Almost as much as they won’t appreciate you posting photos of their dirty diapers and potty training moments online.
Yes, I said that. Again. Again I called all you ladies out for posting photographs and videos of your children being potty trained. (And I say ‘ladies’ only because those are the offenders I have seen, I’m sure some of the ‘fellas’ have offended as well. Or maybe they haven’t…)
Fine, fine – the status updates about how BJ finally peed in the big boy potty are quaint. But then the videos show up of BJ’s terrible aim, or his “girlfriend” Sara taking a deuce in a little, plastic bowl that plays the Mickey Mouse Playhouse theme song every time it gets fake-flushed. I call bullshit on this noise.
Bullshit. On. This. Noise.
Who am I kidding, though? Those kids so terribly in love from their last playdate aren’t named BJ or Sara anyway. This is goddamned 2016. Those children are named through an intricate process of vetting out the traditional names and picking from a carefully comprised list of unique names, often reminiscent of a side dish or exotic fruit. All the while each individual mother fantasizes what said names will look like when scrolled out in calligraphy on their future wedding invitations – Mr. and Mrs. Get a Life are proud to announce the engagement of their daughter Dragonfruit to her childhood sweetheart, Kale Cous Cous.
Which brings me back to my original point: little Dragonfruit and Kale Cous Cous do not want you hooking them up before they are old enough to date. All you are doing is hyper sexualizing their childhood, and putting pressure on them to be something you want, rather than whatever they will naturally decide as they grow up.
You all can see that I am clearly upset with a lot of things, here. But I think I made my point (or did I?).
Those kids just want to be…wait for it…kids. Fucking children. Innocent children that do not give a flying shit, certainly flung from their Mickey Mouse Playhouse potty that plays the theme song every time it gets fake-flushed, about marriage or dating or being in love. Or what and who society – their society – tells them to love.
They just want to fucking play. Fucking play and be kids.
Stop hooking up your children. Once you have an 11 year old like I do, with boobs and a period and boys falling all over themselves to play tennis with her, you’ll realize just how little time you have until this so-in-love shit comes raining down on you Whether you like it or not.
Or is it?
I grapple with this myself on the regular.
My philosophy as a parent in theory is really, and truly, very simple: don’t raise assholes. As I said, in theory this is easy. Raise good people. People that are kind. That care for others. That experience empathy. That know how to set healthy boundaries. That practice mindfulness. And so on…
Do all this by example. All of it. Let me be clear: ALL. OF. IT. You are not going to raise empathetic and kind people if you, yourself, are not empathetic and kind. You are not going to teach your kids about healthy boundaries and taking care of themselves if you, yourself, let people walk all over you, and let it affect your own physical and mental well-being.
But there is one area in not raising little terrorist assholes, who one day grow up to be the likes of Donald Trump or Ann Coulter – willing to stomp on anyone to get ahead, drop anything and anyone for the next best thing, all while spewing hateful words every single time they open their mouths…
…it’s in not letting other people raise assholes of your children either.
Without going into too many specifics, we are surrounded by a lot of people in our daily lives who have otherwise undesirable characteristics. Is that a nice enough way to say it? My husband and I are just very far on the opposite end of the spectrum from a lot of people we regularly encounter in that regard. We have high standards for the way we treat people, and as a result expect to be treated the same. We do not believe in getting shit-faced in front of the children, and we don’t have anything to do with gossip even when it’s just being spoken in our presence. Above all, we believe in being kind, understanding, honest, empathetic of other people’s feelings, and trustworthy.
Not everyone agrees with us on these things, though. Look, not everyone agrees on the way to live their lives. And, people have different priorities.
At some point, though, my husband and I started to realize the profound effect being associated so regularly with people who do not share our values (again, a nice enough way of saying it? …you never know who is reading this blog…) – how much those people were affecting our ability to raise good kids.
We have a couple of people (again, the vaguery) that constantly promise things and then drop said promise for something better that comes up. Now I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes things come up – you get sick, your car breaks down… Sometimes it’s something innocuous – like we kind of-sort of have standing weekly plans together, but something came up one weekend and the kids got disappointed but the plans were never really set in stone so… But then other times, like in the most recent event, it’s “yes I will be at your tennis tournament that weekend” and then the very next day decided instead to go with friends and family to a casino to drink, gamble, and waterski.
We are very fortunate that this hasn’t – yet – taught our kids that it’s OK to make a commitment only to drop it if something better comes along. But what left me with a chill down my spine that I could just not shake this afternoon was when my daughter said “you know, I guess from now on I’ll just tell them I’ll do things with them only to cancel for something better too.”
My parenting philosophy to not raise assholes seemed so easy. Just be good, show them what it means to be good – even when it feels like a slow, agonizing death inside to do so (like not saying nasty things about other people in front of them); and it’ll all turn out well, right? Wrong. The impact of others, though -especially as they get older – seems to have more and more of a profound effect on them.
And now raising kids gets hard again.
It sounds like just a petty reaction, do unto others so if they flake on me for something better, I’ll do the same. Won’t become a long term habit, right? Feet, meet slippery slope – suddenly in front of my eyes flashed a day when my kids thought it was legitimately acceptable to tell someone that you’ll do something only to flake because someone asks you to go gambling and drinking, or water skiing, or whatever it is you were asked to do that seemed more fun.
I mean…that’s what other people do. It must be OK.
So now my husband and I are tasked with figuring out the next phase. The next phase of not raising assholes, which not only involves showing by our own examples, but making sure that the examples they are shown by others are in line with our own values as well.
Talking about how others act in a way that is undesirable is clearly not enough. So then how do you even go about surrounding yourself by the people you want your kids to grow up to be?
I don’t want to hear about how you vomited six times because you smelled pineapple, which you used to love.
I don’t want to hear about your constipation.
I don’t want to hear about your spider veins.
I don’t want to hear about how you feel like an elephant. That you think you’re so fat. Yes, yes. You are so fat. Oh my God, you are like a beach ball. You are so huge. You can’t take this, I know. So big, so fat. Stick a fork in you, you’re done.
Nope – I don’t want to hear that shit. None of it.
I don’t want to hear about how the baby kicks – so precious and fluttery one minute, and so sharp and shocking another – keep you up at night.
I don’t want to hear about your indigestion. Or your insomnia. Or your mask of pregnancy. Or your hair during pregnancy. Or you prenatal gas. Or your swollen feet. Or the fact that your wedding ring doesn’t fit anymore. Or your painful boobs. Or your prenatal rhinitis.
None of it. I don’t want to hear any of it.
I also don’t want to hear about how it took you one week and a bottle of gin to get pregnant.
I don’t want to hear about how it was a mistake.
I don’t want to hear about how you never wanted to have kids but – oh well – life has a way of messing with your plans.
I don’t want to hear your pithy responses to the fact that your unborn child was conceived during a one night stand.
I think you should all know where I’m going at this point, which is that not everyone in this world is so lucky and fortunate – because believe you me, pregnancy is an absolute matter of chance and great, often unfair, fortune – to be blessed with the miracle of pregnancy.
I don’t mean to invalidate the plight of the ever-pregnant woman. It’s hard. It’s a labor; isn’t it called a labor of love? I’m sure that’s where they got the term labor and delivery, because nothing good comes without work. And if there is anything that ends in a lot of work, it’s a pregnancy.
But if for a moment through the bitching and the griping and the whining and the complaining and the pouting and the crying a pregnant woman put her hormones and feelings of insecurity behind for a nanosecond and considered that somewhere, somehow, she’s going to bitch and gripe and whine to someone that CANNOT get pregnant – no matter how hard she tries – …..well, that would seem a little self-centered and insensitive, now wouldn’t it?
Personally, I know a lot of women – more than I can count on two hands – who would consider it a complete and utter blessing to get nauseated at the sight of a formerly-loved snack.
That would consider prenatal constipation a thing to rejoice over.
That would relish in spider veins.
That would own the fat ass, the fat thighs, the gargantuan bowling ball of a belly, the eight chins, and the flabby arms of pregnancy. That would own that shit so hard you’d get sick of it.
That would thank her lucky stars for every single rib kick at two o’clock in the morning. That would honor the miracle of her pregnancy with a daily allotment of Tums. That would take the insomnia and the mask of pregnancy and the thinning hair and the prenatal gas and the swollen feet and the wedding ring that no longer fits and the painful boobs and the prenatal rhinitis – and all of it – and say “fuck it, this was a hard-fought battle and these things are a sign that in the end I was victorious.”
Victorious, because not every woman that gets pregnant did so easily.
It’s that plain and simple.
This month is Pregnancy Loss and Miscarriage Awareness month, and yet I hear hardly anyone talking about it. Instead, all I hear are a gaggle of friends and family members griping about their with-child bodies. In a feat that, yes, is difficult, they all seem to have forgotten that not everyone walks the same path.