From the Nanny Jo Diaries

Dear Diary,

Worry of the Day: Sometime in the murky future, this sweet little tater tot kidlet will discover that the only reason I hang out and party with her is because I’m getting PAID to do it.

And then she will hate me for the rest of my life.

Nobody warned me about this. Now I’m nervous. Now it’s….personal.

Perk of the Day: Kidlet thinks I’m an amazing cook. It doesn’t matter what gourmet lunch mom has prepared for her, the kid wants what I’ve packed in my own bag.

Today we had day-old cornbread muffins and made a delicious glorious mess of them.

Rant of the Day: Comatose parents!

I took the kiddo on a field trip today to a place that is designed specifically for toddlers through maybe six year olds.

It’s a “discovery” play place with both indoor and outdoor stations meant to encourage theatrics, scientific dialogue, gardening, and waterworks engineering. There were bubbles, legos, musical instruments, a climbing structure, book nooks, and a playhouse and play market, complete with little grocery carts and plastic produce.

I stood there digesting this for a minute before I said, “So, it’s basically just like home…but it comes with built-in siblings and I don’t have to clean it. Cool.”

Unlike home, my kidlet had to share this free-for-all with two busloads of kindergartners, one birthday party, and several exhausted new mothers who huddled in the picnic area, breastfeeding with one arm and slicing bananas into non-choking bits with the other.

There were only two supervisory eyes on the kid tornado that was blowing through the place, and they were both mine.

One eye stayed trained on the actual kid I had brought through the door, and the other eye helped me intercept the objects hurtling through space at her.

Kidlet is two years old now and becoming quite the little butterfly.

She went flitting between stations, considering all of the options, before settling on the slide.

Up the carpeted stairs, across the landing, and down the slide….over and over and over and over for a solid half hour.

If a little one sat on the slide ahead of her, she waited politely until it launched.

The larger ones would come along, pass her by, nudge the little ones out of the way, and help themselves.

She was very confused by it.

Eventually I lured her off and outside with the idea of bubbles.

“Bubble” is one of her first words. It’s what she called her contact lens.

There were five vats of bubble solution outside and multiple long wands for dipping and wafting through the air to create large bubble clusters.

It was fascinating for two dips.

Then another big kid came along, snatched her wand right out of her hand and walked away.

She and I looked at each other for a long minute before her face melted.

When kidlets cry, they begin with the lips, then the eyes follow, then the cheeks give way.

We decided that some kids are crazy like that and found her another bubble wand.

But inside I was steamed.

“Where are your parents?!” I mentally hollered at the kid wandering off.

As I turned back to my kidlet, another excitable kid waved his wand in the air and whacked her right on the head.

She got an instant shampoo and I was ready to wring out a few adults.

I looked around.

The adults were either scrolling through cell phones or talking to each other in corners, baby slings attached.

No one was going to claim the free-range shampooer.

Who does that??

Maybe this is the new parenting norm.

Confusion of the Day: At my house, the kids are either glued to computer screens or sitting in corners talking to each other and completely ignoring us adults who are running around “playing at real life” and occasionally bopping each other on the head.

Today’s Conclusion: If the adults and the teens are happily comatose, then society is currently being managed by bubble-wielding kindergartners. And we should be very afraid.

Nobody Panic

I was a great parent before I had kids.

Who knew my firstborn was going to practice base jumping from our rooftop into our pool on a bike when he was ten?

Why would he eat a live grasshopper at 14 “just because”?

I didn’t know he was going to get older and try out ear expanders or self-tattoo or hitchhike to Oregon for a summer.

I just didn’t see it coming.

With the smallest peek under the stunts we knew about, there were a multitude of others we wished we didn’t know about, but in hindsight, explained a lot.

There was nothing in my Mommy Tool Kit for it, and putting the Foot down and throwing the Rule Book around and chasing him with a straight jacket was futile.

When your child is young, you have no way of knowing whether his latest stunt is a trend or a one-off. Is it something you can discipline out of him or has it been hard-wired into his brain at birth and you need to step back and watch it unfold? When do you push? When do you accept?

And where?

And why?

There was a period of about five years when I went into deep mourning over my beautiful, healthy, gifted, intelligent and talented children.

Go figure.

It had finally occurred to me that no matter what I did, they were going to be exactly who they were born to be. That the genetic and atomic lot had been cast at conception.

And that just because I did “X” and “Y” did not guarantee me a “Z”.

Principles and proverbs are not promises.

I suppose parents who have a diabetic or downs syndrome child go through this period early on. There’s a moment when it dawns on you that things are definitely not going to be what you were expecting.

And all of my kicking and screaming and denial and praying isn’t going to change it.

Thinking it was temporary is what delayed my acceptance of what is permanent, and made the pain in my heart worse than it needed to be.

I was not mourning my kids after all. I was mourning my own inadequacy.

I got one thing right: having five kids forced me to surrender words like “perfect” and “under control” and “of course I know what I’m doing”.

But it wasn’t pretty.

I could never mourn aloud, knowing that the blessings my children held far outweighed the additional things I wanted for them.

There’s no support group for “coming to your senses”.

How selfish of me, to wish my own concept of who he should be onto a person who already was.

Saying good-bye to the child I was expecting and greeting the child I have with open arms has been a long journey for me, and I’m very aware of how crazy that sounds.

He, on the other hand, has always known himself. When he wanders away from his family into a crowd, his terrified parents call him “lost”, but he himself never feels lost.

He feels okay, exactly where he is.

He is not shy, he’s thoughtful. She is not particular, she is discerning. He is not rebellious, he is trying to understand a world gone mad.

They are all deliberately going about this business of living, and teaching me to reframe my views of all of it.

I think that, if any of this perception is true, the only things actually left to me as a mother are the passing on of my concepts of knowledge and wisdom, to do with as they see fit, and as much overwhelming and, yes, frequently volcanic, love as I can aim at another human being without exploding with the volume of it.

My children know me.

I hope that as they know me better over the years, they will also accept and forgive my own “me”-ness, knowing I would never deliberately cause them pain, either, as I go about the very blundery business of living.

 

Legend of the Boom Boom Stick

Back when I was a kid, my sisters and I got into the usual amount of mischief. Well, as much mischief as you can get into considering we weren’t allowed to leave the yard.

There was the time we decided, one end-of-July summer day, that all the tomatoes in the garden ought to be used up as ammo for the World’s Biggest Tomato War.

It was epic.

But it wasn’t okay.

My parents were traditionalist “spare the rod, spoil the child” types, and discipline played out in an invariable routine when mom had had her fill.

“Just wait until your Father gets home!” she’d say.

And we’d go into hiding for the afternoon.

That night, Dad would come striding into the tiny house and get the daily report, and we’d linger around the doorway, holding our breath and waiting to see if Mom was really going to tell on us.

Sometimes she would let it go, and we were eternally grateful.

For at least two days.

But if Dad started taking off his belt, we scattered. He seldom had to do anything but that to get the message across.

If one of us did get a spanking, the others would all cry along with her.

When I became a parent, I was determined that I would discipline for myself, on the spot.

And I would never, ever use a belt on a child.

My mom’s weapon of choice was the wooden spoon from the kitchen but it was used only as a directional baton, like an ineffectual flyswatter.

It shooed us away, but we always buzzed back.

My two (older) daughters tell me regularly that my two (younger) sons are spoiled rotten.

Their basis for this judgement is the amount of times they’ve actually seen me spank them compared to the times they recall being, themselves, swatted with a wooden spoon.

Apparently, the Legends of the Boom Boom Stick are many.

My children inform me that they spent many childhood hours thinking of ways to defeat the Attitude Adjustor. They knew that wearing their toughest denim jeans was always a good idea.

They put books down their pants.

They thought that if they could only put jello into the proper mold, mom could hit it and think it was an actual bottom being reprimanded.

They snuck into the kitchen and broke wooden spoons in pre-emptive strikes.

They had spoons break across their bottoms which just goes to show, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Spoons, I mean, not bottoms. I figure those are about the same.

Back in the day when I had five little rascals I can tell you there were days when I was grateful to have the Spoon of Power. It gave just enough sting to remind everyone who was still in charge, and no, you can’t go into the garage and rearrange all of the fishing gear into a fort because I don’t want the baby to eat hooks.

For the seventh time this morning…

Swats were necessary for the dangerous things or the deliberate belligerent ones, but it doesn’t stop kids from being kids, and when things are really going south, you can’t catch ‘em all.

But time outs are the best thing ever invented.

I used to stand my kids in the corner. Sometimes I had to use up all the corners of a room at once.

I would put their finger on a spot on the wall and say, “Don’t move your finger until I say so”.

It worked okay.

But they were still fighting each other with everything except their one finger.

We switched up to putting noses on the wall.

Much better.

You want to set the timer for one minute per year-old of the child.

I just round mine up to an hour and send myself for a nap, to make sure I’ve learned my lesson.

Everyone grew up. Everyone started to behave themselves a bit more each year, and frankly, I got just too tired to bother. Either my sons get into half the trouble my daughters ever did, or I am ignoring twice the things that used to be “rules”.

Mothers do the best they can with what they have on any given day. Somewhere between kids, my discipline style evolved, I understood kids better, I realized how fast they grow and learned what did and didn’t actually matter.

Sort of.

Once in a while I rattle the spoon caddy in the kitchen to see if anyone’s instincts rise to the bait.

And I’m curious to see if my kids will tell their own kids some day “Stories of the Spanking Spoon”.

It always begins, “Back when I was a kid…”

Five Kids Five Ways

It’s scary that my kids are so radically different from each other.

For a person who lines up her cans in the pantry, it’s pretty harsh.

I submitted identical genetic samples, raised them in the same house with the same rules with unvaried routines, and they are from five different planets.

And that’s only if Pluto counts.

I see the new mommies struggling with nap times and feeding questions and juggling all the baby books I used to have memorized and I just want to group hug them.

We try so hard to get it right the first time. Ok, every time. The responsibility of an entirely dependent little human is overwhelming.

What you need to know is that your little one was born with a complete personality.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Maybe the instruction manual didn’t appear with the placenta but baby will be telling you all about herself as time marches on, so on the other hand, you can’t really screw it up.

Having kids is like going on a blind date with someone you’ve already promised to marry.

You have no idea in advance if he is stubborn or artistic or has a harelip or will drive you nuts with a bad knuckle-cracking habit.

You assume, however, that it will be love at first sight.

And you’ll spend the rest of your life being regularly surprised by who this person is.

Kid number one I raised “by the book” (there’s a new one every year) and a more free-spirited independent thinker, you won’t find.

Kid number four was raised by a pretty independent free-spirited approach and he’s a steady, linear thinking, self-possessed person. He loves to go “by the book”.

By kid number five, I just shook the Magic 8 Ball and let it decide whether his nap time was going to be attempted or not.

I look at a child once in a while and ask, “Who are you? Where did you come from? This must be from your father’s side of the family. Waaaay down the line.”

It’s stupid that one size won’t fit all when it comes to discipline, either.

Kid number one couldn’t be begged bribed or beaten into obedience. If it was his idea in his own time and he had his own reasons, he did it.

Kid number two dissolved into tears with one harsh look. She’s 21 now and still hates being naughty.

Kid number three treated everything as a good laugh. And she still laughs at my attempts at discipline.

Can you understand why I just gave up?

These days, I’m begging kid number five to please just send me to my room for a time out.

I wouldn’t trade motherhood for all the tea in China (and that’s really saying something) but frankly, along with all these free-wheeling celestial bodies, I would have loved some order in my universe.

Maybe NASA has the manual.