One of the first things I said after the birth of my son was "I want my money back from Lamaze." Everything those people told me was completely useless for the labor I experienced. I would have named my son after the anesthesiologist who administered my epidural if my screams hadn't drowned out the introductions. And you know what, motherhood hasn't gone any differently for me since—I just scream silently now. Five hundred and forty-five parenting books later, I'm still waiting for some experts to offer useful advice about my particular situation. The funny (quite possibly ironic) thing is I also write a column where I talk about other people's problems and offer up all kinds of advice. (You’re welcome, Tiger.)
But it wasn't until I got a note from a kindly reader inquiring "What makes you so !#$ perfect?" that I ever thought to mention my complete ineptitude at parenting. I'm genuinely shocked that someone would assume that I think I'm perfect. Because I'm not, and have a 22-month-old bouncing baby boy to remind me of that every day. "How hard can motherhood be?" I once naively asked. "It can't be harder than being 38 weeks pregnant with a human head resting on your bladder and simultaneous desires to sleep and eat and throw up." Ha! It's worse and let me tell you why, starting with how motherhood has changed me. Before I had a kid, I was funnier, more spontaneous, less judgmental, better dressed, and a good cook. Now I'm guilt-ridden, smelly stress ball who's getting more strident by the day and eats cashews and licorice for dinner. Don't you dare say, "Talk to other mothers!" Have you ever tried that? You see this glittery trapped look in their eyes and they change the subject to health-care reform. And don't tell me to take vitamins. Why does everybody tell me to take vitamins? I take vitamins. Nutrients are not the answer. The only thing that's going to help is a visit from Mary Poppins or the Super Nanny because hell hath no fury like a toddler. Don't believe me? Let me introduce you to my bundle of joy.
1. He's huge.
Seriously, when he was born, Gabe was a teeny tiny seven pounds, seven ounces, now he's the size of a small 4-year-old but insists upon being carried everywhere. Nowhere in any of the above-mentioned 545 parenting books did I read that my son might get too big to hold without risking spinal compression and early-onset arthritis. Why did I not realize earlier that a warm and loving relationship with my son could have been accomplished without constantly lugging him around on my hip? Why didn't I listen when people said, "Let him walk"?
2. He's only really happy when he's in danger.
The quickest way to stop a temper tantrum in its tracks would be to dangle my son out the window. Gabe is the kind of boy who will only ride his trike off the couch and has been trying to jump down the stairs since he could walk. Do you have any idea how nerve-racking it is to know that your son is actively planning to use two laundry-bin lids and some trucks to fashion rollerskates for himself despite the fact that gravity is a complete mystery to him? Can you train kids out of high-risk behavior or is he going to be some kind of X-Games aficionado?
3. He's developing a language composed of high-pitched screams and rhythmic, repetitive whining punctuated by the word "NO."
I don't care if this boy's first sentence is "I hate Obama." If he doesn't start using his words, I'm going to puncture my eardrums with a letter opener. I do read to him, talk to him, anything I can think of to encourage language but he just doesn't believe me when I say that there are other letters in the alphabet besides E.
4. He's arrayed my friends and family in league against me.
Just about everybody who meets Gabe is charmed by his big smile and sweet nature. He's been shaking hands and offering hugs to people for a year now. The result of this charm offensive is that most of the other loved ones in my life think I'm an impossibly cranky bitch (á la Mommy Dearest) who is angered by her son's good moods. Yeah, well, where are they at three in the morning when the boy decides that I'm taking up too much room in the bed and banishes me to the couch? (Please don't write in to say I should get that boy into his own bed. I know that, trust me. But you can't glue them to the mattress.)
5. Besides, right now, he's on some kind of Taming of the Shrew schedule.
For those who have forgotten their Shakespeare, Petruchio attempts to tame his new bride Kate by using torture as in this famous quote: "This way the coverlet, another way the sheets: Ay, and amid this hurly I intend That all is done in reverend care of her; ... this is a way to kill a wife with kindness; And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour. He that knows better how to tame a shrew, Now let him speak." Gabe's accomplishing this by sleeping soundly between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight, thrashing around my bed from midnight to 6 a.m., banging me (never his dad) in the head with trucks at 6 and dragging me out of bed with pinches and shrieks by 7 a.m. And still, somehow, I'm late for work every day.
6. He's reserved the word "Mom" for his most beloved.
Which, by the way, isn't me. It's his collection of trains, planes, automobiles, trucks, and tractors. Each one is lovingly referred to as Mom. His name for me appears to be "Ya." as in "Ya?" [Tone getting louder and shriller] "Ya?" [Dogs next door begin barking] "Ya?"
7. He's determined to stay on his diet of graham crackers, milk, seltzer, and toothpaste.
All other foods will be crushed, spilled, or thrown behind the couch unless somebody else wants him to eat and then he'll gobble down anything. And did I mention the new food he's obsessed with? Cashews, yes, cashews. (I know, I know, no nuts before two but he's a thief. So now when he steals them from the cabinet, we have to sit on the couch with the first-aid book open to anaphylactic shock. (Don't tell me to just throw the nuts away. Cashews are expensive. I've just found a new and better hiding place and now all we have to deal with are the ants. But the doctor did say he should be eating a wide variety of foods.)
8. He's inflicted children's television on me.
I do like SpongeBob Squarepantsbecause I'm pretty sure that's written by the Funny or Die guys but all the rest is killing me. No, seriously, I think it's shortening my life. I can't stand the repetition and the singsong voices and the learning objectives—it's like listening to the Osmonds sing backwards while drunk. And the best part about this particular torture is I get to feel guilty about it since all 545 parenting books I read clearly stated that television before the age of 5 will turn my sweet boy into an illiterate Charles Manson.
So I've completely given up on being Mother of the Year. Are you happy now, readers? Now that you've forced me to admit that I'm just as big a mess as the people I cover? The only reason I'm still trying to make sure Gabe reaches his developmental milestones is that he's the vehicle by which my genes will live on in the world. It's an evolution thing—I don't want my genes to be embarrassed by his behavior. Oh, and then there's the fact that I love him more than anything or anyone in the world. I guess that's what he's counting on. Sneaky, right?