Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

May 14, 2001

The myth of mother knows best

Whoever said, “Mother knows best” is a big, fat liar. Either that, or he was selling a crazy product door-to-door, like a solar-powered vacuum cleaner.

If people actually believed that mothers know best, there is no way there would be so many parenting books out there. I searched on Barnes and Noble, and found 34,821 of them — many written by men, and therefore people who are not mothers.

Beyond this weighty piece of evidence, however, I have the clincher: If people really believed mothers know best, they would stop giving those of us who currently hold the job title their random bits of unwanted advice.

For example: Quite frequently when I take Lucy outside and she’s not wearing a hat — and even if she’s dressed in two layers of polar fleece and tucked into my coat — old ladies will stop me and chide, “That baby is cold.”

What these ladies are not seeing is the speed with which “that baby” is able to yank off her expensive, hand-knit caps. I’ve actually had to double back a good 12 blocks to pick them up off the sidewalk where she casts them like so much useless litter.

Nonetheless, old ladies have stopped to inform me that Lucy is cold at least once a month since August, when she was born during a heat wave.

It has gotten so that I have changed my definition of what makes a woman old. Formerly, all she had to have is what I call “cloud hair” — that frothy, permed mass that says to the world, “I’ve given up on fashion, hair accessories and even the comb. I’m sensible; I’m going to steal your parking spot at the grocery store, and onlookers will applaud me for my spunk.”

Deluded by this sensible haircut, these old ladies — some of them no more than 35 — have decided they know a cold baby when they see one.

And the cold baby, they have decided, is that baby. Meaning the one strapped to your sweaty chest.

Why do they say “that baby” and not the gentler “this baby” or the more accurate “your baby”?

That, I do not know. Maybe it’s the chemicals in the perm talking.

But there is something communicated by the very word choice, because it is repeated by all the shameless, sleep-glutted people who also say such things as, “That baby should be sleeping through the night by now.”

New parents never say this to one another. If you are lucky enough to have a child who has figured out how to sleep like the proverbial baby, instead of like a burning weasel, you may admit your good fortune. But you lower your eyes and summon an air of humility when you do it, so that the gods do not revoke their blessing.

I know. Lucy used to be able to sleep for six hours. Now, we’re lucky if she gets two before she stirs, bonks her head while trying to stand in her crib, then starts wailing loud enough to summon help from galaxies far, far away.

For some reason, though, everyone who has gone a good 30 years without the effects of tattered sleep seems to feel perfectly comfortable saying, “That baby should be sleeping through the night right now.”

“That baby,” I’ve decided, is a secret code for “you’re a dope.”

It appears in all sorts of sentences that apply to the way Adam and I are raising Lucy. For example, “How long are you going to nurse ‘that baby’”? Or, “I would have thought ‘that baby’ was a boy, the way you have it dressed.”

I know, I know. Stupid questions like these don’t even deserve answers. But I can’t resist trying to provide them. It’s my nature, to talk about things.

And, it’s not as though I’m interrupting my 10-year-old’s language arts class for a little nipple time. Lucy’s only 8 months old, and most recent recommendations suggest nursing a child to her first birthday, if possible.

Yes, that may contradict what some of these people heard during the Van Buren administration. The nicest thing I can say to people who think otherwise is “Hey. I’m glad your memory is still working.”

As for the feeling that Lucy looks like a boy, well, the truth is that I like red and blue more than I like pink, and I’ll also be able to use the clothes again, if I someday have a child of the scabbier sex.

I wonder if we mothers bring this on ourselves by buying books and magazines and watching TV shows featuring experts. I know I’ve bought into a ton of that stuff, and spent a lot of time flipping through magazines to try and figure out how to get Lucy back on the sleep train, among other things. And if that’s the case, the irony of it is cruel. We’re only trying to do what’s best, and we have to suffer through the drive-by parentings of other people, some of whom don’t even know the names of our children.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to spend a few days ignoring the books, the magazines and the guilty bystanders suggesting other ways of raising Lucy than the ones that come naturally. The human species had endured an awful long time before parenting books were ever printed. If Lucy and I had been thrust together as a parent-child unit in another era — like the Upper Paleolithic — we wouldn’t have had advice manuals, anyway. Just rocks, fur, grubs and the occasional saber tooth tiger on a stick. As it is, we’re eating better than that and having a pretty great time.

So, for the next few days, if I feel like letting Lucy sleep in bed next to me, I will. And if she falls asleep better while nursing, so be it. If she goes on another clothing strike like the one she had yesterday, then I’ll just let her scoot around in her diaper, hooting and screaming with glee for the better part of an hour. So what if “that baby” ends up being spoiled, as one old lady recently told me was the case?

At least I won’t have to watch Lucy cry.

So it’s resolved. This mother knows best, and is officially going to ignore all the advice from strangers and experts ‘round the world. I’m going to ignore it for at least three days.

Because that’s how long it’s going to take the bookstore to deliver me my copy of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Deep down, I want that baby to get a good night’s sleep again. We sure could use it.


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