“I’m starting With The Mom In The Mirror” – (Me and Michael Jackson)
One of the things I’ve always hated about my vocation, is that EVERYBODY has an opinion on how you should do your job. People don’t go around telling Engineers how to build bridges, or Surgeons how to perform surgery; people tend to defer to the expertise, education and training of other professionals in their respective fields. But, if motherhood is your career of choice, one must always be prepared for an onslaught of unsolicited input on how to do this particular job. The problem as I see it, lies in the fact that this profession is woefully overexposed – EVERYONE, either IS a Mother, is close friends with a Mother, knows a Mother or, God forbid, actually had a Mother themselves…
Generally, I usually find other people’s opinions well-meaning and useless; I believe we really do know, instinctively, what’s best for our own kids… I don’t mean to imply that I’m Never open to outside suggestions. In fact, I have managed through the years, to stumble inadvertently across several nuggets of wisdom from some rather unconventional sources:
The Federal Aviation Administrartion
(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, (which I clearly did not).
I was always taken aback at this instruction and “judgy”, in the way that, only people who haven’t had kids yet, can be. It wasn’t until many years, and several kids later, on a flight out of Orlando, while 2 year old James 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 suddenly dawned on me that, if I should pass out 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 it to Jimmy 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 that’s what it sure 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! It’s comforting and reassuring to know they’re “on call” and ready to go.
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 crap hits the fan!!! And then you can’t hand the emergency over to Mama fast enough. We may look like carefree slackers, but we’re your family “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.
A Restaurant In Texas
(Lesson: You Can’t Fight DNA)
There is a restaurant in Houston, called “A Taste Of Texas,” that Jimmy and I dined at a few times when we were younger. 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 do so love a challenge! Unsurprisingly, all 5 of my kids turned out to be “Atmosphere Alterers,” in spite of my best efforts. It was written on their DNA – (on their Dad’s side)
A Wise, Crabby Old Asian Woman
(Lesson: Live With It, There are No “do-overs”)
There was a smaller, less poshy, Chinese restaurant in Houston, that Jimmy and I dined at ONLY ONCE. We ordered two entrees, a tea and a Diet Coke. When I took a sip of my tea, I noticed it had a funny taste, kind of stale. So I motioned for my server and asked for a Coke instead. When the bill was presented, she had charged us for all 3 beverages. I was unconcerned, as I was certain, we would sort it out when we got to the cashier. When I explained the situation to the elderly Cashier/Owner, she got a very disgusted look on her face and literally screeched, “You Order Tea, You Pay Tea!!”
We forked over the additional 85 cents, which was a small price to pay, considering, that we have told this story at least 300 times. (It kills at cocktail parties!) What a valuable life lesson… Many was the night, when the kids were little, and, I was at the end of my rope, Jimmy would just smile at me and say, “You Order Baby, You Pay Baby!!”
Raising great kids takes patience and time; it’s a long and arduous process.
My best unsolicited advice: Trust the Mom in the Mirror… Everyone else can just hold their horses!
“Hold On Loosely, But Don’t Let Go” (A Mini-Guide to Parenting By Me and 38 Special)
One of the biggest challenges that every mother faces, is knowing how much free rein to give her children. How much independence is prudent at each age and stage of development? As conventional wisdom knows, every child is different. It seems as though, there are certain children who never let their mother out of their sight and no matter how much “Cling Free” you spray on yourself, these offspring stay overly-attached. But, there is, inevitably, one child in every family, that seems to seek any and every opportunity to shake -off the shackles of their mother, and strike out on their own prematurely. In our family, that child is Alex….
Like all my babies, Alex was in no special hurry to join our family . I didn’t think that much of it at the time. 10 days after her due date, they went in after her. She emerged dazed and confused. But to be fair, it was probably all the Demerol they gave me, crossing the placenta. As I, too, was dazed and confused, for a few years…
When Alex was 3, (By then, I thought I had my wits about me) we lost her at Chuck E Cheese. We took our eyes off of her for one second and she was gone in a flash. After we searched the premises high and low, we contacted the Manager and he put the place on “lock down”. That’s the Chuck E Cheese version of an Amber Alert. No one can enter or exit the establishment, until the missing child is located. By this point, we were frantic, to say the least. We had really scoured the place. At some point, while employees, managers and other parents were searching for the 2nd and 3rd time, in all the areas we had previously looked, Jimmy decided to expand the dragnet to include the private birthday party rooms. He carefully scanned the faces of all the happy little Party Guests sitting at the long rows of tables, enjoying their pizza and birthday cake, until he found Alex’s face. There she was, sitting by the birthday girl, wearing a cone-shaped party hat, tooting on her little party favor, joyfully celebrating the birthday of a TOTAL STRANGER. We didn’t know whether we wanted to hug or strangle the party child’s mother, who, handed her a goodie bag and assured us that they had “really enjoyed having her!”
(Parenting tip: If a random toddler shows up uninvited to your child’s party, someone, somewhere is probably searching for her!)
When Alex was 9 years old, a friend and I took our kids on a “Mother-Kids Road Trip/Adventure.” We thought it would be educational for the children, if we took a detour over to see the Hoover Dam. We had heard how extremely dangerous the Dam area was and had agreed to be hyper-vigilant with the kids, due to the unprotected, steep drop-offs. While I took the two older kids to gaze out over the miles of breath-taking, treacherous beauty, holding tightly to the hoods of their jackets, my friend took her daughter and Alex to the Port-a-Potties set up nearby. After everyone had “done their thing,” we drove at a snail’s pace in heavy traffic down the winding mountain road. About 15 minutes had passed by, when my oldest child noticed her sister was missing.
(Parenting tip: Always take a “Head-Count”or employ the fail-proof “Buddy System” if you:
A. Have more than one child
B. Have more than one thing on your mind
C. Have noticed your child is pre-disposed to WANDERLUST)
It took us an unbearable amount of time to get back up the mountain in heavy tourist traffic, to find Alex shivering, crying and mildly traumatized, still sitting in front of the Dam Port-a-Potties. I thought I would never recover from that incident and have, perhaps, overcompensated a bit in my parenting style, as I made a vow to myself, that I would never lose Alex again!!
Which explains why last Friday night was so exceptionally traumatic for me…
Jimmy and I were sound asleep when my cell phone rang at 1:30 am. As every parent knows, any phone call in the wee hours of the night is rarely good tidings. The caller was Alex’s boyfriend, who, “didn’t want to alarm me” (TOO LATE – I am awake and alarmed) He went on to explain that somehow Alex had gotten separated from their friend-group around midnight and he hadn’t seen her since. The “Buddy System” had failed us. I was immediately beside myself to think my little girl was wandering the streets of New York City, all alone and not answering her cell phone. (Jimmy and I were understandably never in favor of Alex going off to law school in New York City. But, because, at age 25, she is by legal definition, an adult, we found that we couldn’t forbid it.) A few minutes of sleuthing confirmed that Alex’s cell phone was left at her apartment, which explained why she wasn’t answering. I couldn’t decide if that made me feel better or worse. I immediately called the police. Perhaps I’ve watched too much “Law and Order SVU,” but I launched my own concurrent investigation “Law and Order SCU” (Silly Children’s Unit) In a moment of inspired maternal brilliance, I logged onto our bank’s website to see if it could help me track Alex’s whereabouts…
(Parenting tip: No matter what age your children are, always keep their debit cards linked to your bank account. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can track their every move, through timed and dated debit card transactions!!)
I was instantly relieved to see that she had purchased a subway ticket shortly after she went missing, and then, because she got lost in New York’s complicated subway system, a transaction 30 minutes later, showed a payment to a taxi cab company for a ride home. She was found within the hour!!
(Parenting tip: “It’s so damn easy, when your feelings are such, to overprotect her, to love her too much – hold on loosely, but don’t let go, if you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control…” Sound parenting advice from 38 Special in 1981, still applicable today!)