Parenting Wins

The single most difficult moment in parenting happens right after your kid draws the gingerbread man card in Candy Land. When my son was little he would sob uncontrollably, and I would have to spend my entire afternoon rocking him to calm him down. My daughter just screams and then sweeps everything off the board like she is Godzilla terrorizing a sleepy fishing village. I have considered removing that card, but then I feel like I would be cheating them of a valuable lesson. Also, it keeps me from dying of boredom while playing.  As my kids near the candy castle, I wince each time they draw a new card, and then let out a sigh of relief when the card is a single orange square. When I draw the gingerbread man, I exaggerate how accepting I am of my fate. I shrug my shoulders and say that it is just part of the game, “Oh well. I can still catch up, or whatever, King Kandy is not really my type. ” It is very similar to the way I act when someone dumps me. “I totally understand. Good decision. There are still a few good years left before I just give up, move to Florida, and become a crack whore.”

A similar parenting danger zone is when we play a game and I win. This happens all the time because I am smart and great at games. Also I am 39. When my son was little I took him to a child therapist because he was so competitive and would get crazy mad whenever he lost. She played a game of Uno with him while I watched. She let him win. “Oh,” I said. When I was growing up my mom never let me win, and we weren’t playing games like Candy Land or Uno. We were playing Spades and Gin. She knew every card that had been played and what was still left in both of our hands. “You know the Ace hasn’t been played yet, right?” She would say. No, I did not know that because I was five. After my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I played a game of Gin Rummy with her and my mom. It was my mom’s idea, and I was not sure it was a great idea because my grandmother had spent most of the afternoon telling me to get the baby out of the bathtub, which was terrifying until I remembered we did not have a baby. My grandmother won, and then she lit a cigarette and fell asleep in her chair.

After you have survived watching your children deal with the pain of being a loser, everything else in parenting is easy, as long as you can get a good night’s sleep, which is never going to happen. Before you have a baby, people warn you about the sleep deprivation. I don’t blame them. It is sort of like if your friend survives climbing Mount Everest, and you mention that you are planning to attempt a similar quest, he doesn’t just say, “Meh. No biggie.” He shares his experience to prepare you for the physical and mental challenges. Maybe the impetus to share is based a little more on bragging than sincere concern for your well-being, and maybe he is a little bit of a condescending asshole, but he survived, and he earned it. However, what people do not tell you is that you may never actually sleep through the night again, the way someone who recently climbed Everest might not mention that there is not actually a bar with tank top wearing models serving ice cold Coors Light at the top.

Yes, sleeping with a newborn is tough, but as kids grow they just continually reach new milestones that interrupt your sleep. There is the crawling out of the crib stage, the bed-wetting stage, the scared of the dark phase, and then there is the stage after your kid learns about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, and she is too terrified to sleep, or you really slip in the parental control department and your kid watches The Hangover 2 and has nightmares about one crazy night in Bangkok. Then apparently there is the stage where you don’t sleep because your kid is out driving around doing all the things you definitely did while driving around as a teenager, and you question how you could get that lucky twice.

In my house, we are currently in the nightmares and fear of abandonment stage. Earlier this week both my kids were in my bed in the middle of the night, like a couple of 50-pound newborn babies. My son had a bad dream. He said, “You know the conductor from Dinosaur Train?”

“Say no more,” I said.

My daughter whimpered in the background, “I can only sleep if I am with someone.”

“Say no more.”

I led them back to their rooms and spent time passed out in each of their beds. We all switched places multiple times, our three paths crossing up and down the hall like our own little disoriented trail of tears—mainly mine. Finally, as my daughter stood in the hallway holding her blanket, sucking her thumb, I just got up and shut my door. In her face. I found her the next morning in her brother’s room. There will come a time when I am no longer around, and they will have to take care of each other, and maybe that time is 3 a.m.

The next day I was tired, but that is just the parenting new normal. Maybe we will get through this stage soon, but there is just another one gearing up right behind it. I remember when my daughter used to bite people, mainly adorable little babies. She would grab their cheeks and then just go in for the kill. When she was in preschool they moved her up to an older age group class because those kids were better able to defend themselves. I told everyone she was just really advanced. I tried a lot of different methods to get her to stop: I removed her from the situation, I bit her back, and then I even resorted to something I like to call “deliberate ignoring.” This is my favorite style of parenting where I just pretend like nothing is happening. I like to think that it keeps the kids from getting attention from bad behavior, but also I am pretty lazy. Eventually she stopped biting, and we moved into a new difficult phase. I know that eventually my kids will not care about winning Candy Land. They will move onto bigger and better games, and it will be even more exhilarating for me when I win.

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Turtle Envy

I just moved into a new house in my same town. I started by moving the important things, like my ceramic zebra. Next, I moved all of my sharks’ teeth, most of the art work, and none of my clothes, dishes or beds. For a brief, beautiful time, my new house was only full of the things I really adore, like my collection of Martha Stewart Living magazines dating back to 1997 and my vintage tablecloth collection (all rectangular!) and none of the things that I actually needed like the files full of all the important documents that prove I exist or shampoo or underwear.  It was sort of like living in an Ikea showroom, but eventually I had to move all the stuff that makes an actual life, like my children.

There are things I have collected that I love for no practical reason. Moving them was fun, like being a museum curator, but then after that, moving everything else made me really question my life choices, like do I really need plates? Maybe it is just society dictating to me that I need blankets and rugs and every single thing in that damn closet in the bathroom. What if I only had one colander?

Moving has also made me realize that I have almost no skills that are helpful to the moving process. I am not especially strong. I can’t work a drill. I don’t have a truck, and asking someone to help with a move is one of the biggest favors a human can do for another. It goes like this: donating a kidney, giving someone the gift of life, and then helping someone move. If my kids ever ask me to help them move, I am going to tell them that I already did that when I single-handedly moved them from my womb into the world. I started to notice people were scared to look me in the eye, especially people with trucks. They would see me in the grocery store, waving my arms and sprinting towards them with my cart, and they would just pick up the pace and disappear down the dog food aisle. I thought about lurking around the front of Home Depot, like a hooker. Hey handsome is that your truck? You looking to have a really terrible time?

This move is also about starting over. I went through a divorce this year, and moving is really about creating a new life for me and my kids. And because of that there has been a lot more crying this time than I remember with previous moves. I had to keep reminding myself, “turn around, don’t drown” every time I went to pack another closet. It really slowed the process down. I am reading a book right now by Todd Snider about his life as a musician, and he was told to try and always be fifteen minutes away from being able to pack up and leave. I am about three weeks off that time frame.

Freedom is just another word for not having any solid white serving platters. In the transition, as items were displaced from their posts at the old house and before they were secured in permanent positions at the new house, I saw them as momentarily unnecessary. My attachment to objects (except for all my magazines and that matching set of ceramic owls and my collection of colorful aprons) was relaxed. When I loaded up most of my belongings into a friend’s truck—now I am eternally indebted to him, so I really hope he has excellent kidney health—he did some finagling with straps, said it should hold, and then looked at me with an expression of, “Right?” I said if anything falls out, like the coffee table, the mattresses, or me, then just keep driving.

Maybe I could go to Mexico and live in a dirt floor hut and spend my days doing peyote thinking about how happy I am I don’t have cabinets to fill. Then when the drug cartel raids my place, I will just spend fifteen minutes packing up my Martha Stewart Living magazines, my KitchenAid mixer (with attachments), my set of four gold-leaf champagne flutes, and my grandmother’s light-up ceramic pineapple, and I will be out the make-shift door!

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