Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

January 28, 2003

Candy and lies: They're overrated

I thought I had discovered the secret of good parenting. It was a two-part secret consisting of 1) candy and 2) lies. I used candy to get Lucy to do things she didn’t want to do, and lies to get her to stop doing things I didn’t want her to do.

For example, Lucy went through a phase when she wouldn’t get in her car seat without a giant wrestling match. Wrestling with your baby doesn’t feel particularly good, especially if you’re like me and weak as a kitten. About half the time, Lucy won, which meant we weren’t going anywhere.

Once I hit upon the candy solution, getting Lucy into the car seat was easy. We happened to have a pack of Mentos in the car that Lucy had stolen from my parents, who buy them in bulk at Costco. So, for the next fifteen or so car rides, getting her strapped to her seat was as easy as saying, “Lucy, you get a Mento once you’re buckled in.”

With that, my little freshmaker and I were on our merry way. My dignity was intact, Lucy had deliciously minty breath, and since she’s still using her starter teeth, I figured we had no long-term consequences to concern ourselves with. Then we ran out of Mentos. In order for me to continue with my technique, it would require going to the store and buying them, which would require me admitting the fact that I was bribing my child with candy. It’s one thing to do it with stolen candy. It’s another thing if you’re spending her college fund on it.

That left me with lies. These came in handy when I weaned Lucy, and she took to comforting herself by sticking her hand down my shirt and grabbing hold of a nipple. It embarrasses me to write this, but really, it’s more embarrassing walking around in public while your child gropes you shamelessly. I’m all for her feeling secure and comfortable, but it’s hard for me to feel comfortable when complete strangers are getting a free show.

So, we compromised. I told her that my mopples, as she calls them, had been taken over by very small monsters. I also told her that the monsters would bite her if she put her hand anywhere near them. I’m not sure what she got out of the deal, but thinking of it as a compromise makes me feel better about lying to a two-year-old.

The technique worked beautifully for a couple of weeks. Whenever Lucy would snake her hand down my shirt, I’d just say, “monsters.”

She’d get a very scared look and slowly withdraw her hand. I've since learned that Lucy an altruistic streak. She took great care to let everyone we meet know what evil lurks beneath my shirt. As we’re out in the world, with Lucy riding my hip and my arm wrapped around her waist, her arms are free to point at my mopples and inform everyone in the vicinity what’s going on.

“These are monsters,” she says, opening her eyes very wide. “Right there.”

Eventually, Lucy figured out a way to beat the monsters. She started talking to them and stroking them gently. “I love you monsters,” she says, in her little, buttery voice. She has decided that the monsters are now friendly, which gives her license to poke around their nests.

And so that was the end of lying for me, an end that came at a somewhat unfortunate time. As part of Lucy’s general education, I am teaching her how to put on clothes. She’s glacially slow at this. But she has mastered stripping down to her skin. “I want to be nude,” she explains.

I suppose it’s only natural that frequent nudity has led her to discover some extremely personal parts of her body. She knew from discussions on the diaper pad what the general region is called.

“I’m touching my bottom,” she explained.

I couldn’t risk her getting friendly with any monsters who might live down there. So, I explained to her that that body part is actually called her vagina. I was cool. It was no big deal. I was just reporting the facts. No one could fault that. Lucy would grow up informed and wouldn’t feel any shame about her body. She’d never have that dream about showing up for school without her pants on. It was just flesh, after all.

And then Lucy went and studied the matter a little more thoroughly.

“What’s in my vagina?” she asked.

“Skin,” I said.

“No,” she said. “What’s in it? It feels like a sprinkle.”

I momentarily considered the possibility that one of the sprinkles in Lucy’s art box might have found its way in there. But then Lucy said, “No. It feels more like a peanut. What is it?”

Without my friends, Candy and Lies, all I could do was tell Lucy the truth, strange-sounding Latin words and all. She’s two, but she knows more about the female anatomy now than most grown men, and probably quite a few grown women. At least we were able to have the conversation while Lucy still thinks I’m the center of the world, and not just someone trying to embarrass her to death.

She’s brought up the topic a few more times since then, and has deemed her anatomy to be “pretty and shiny.”

So, I think I have managed to keep her safe from shame about her body. It would probably be fair to call her shameless. But that’s just fine. I will teach her modesty using my new foolproof parenting technique — once I figure out what it is.

January 21, 2003

Lucy's guide to riding the potty train

Let’s get something straight about potty-training. It’s not the kids who are potty trained. It’s their parents.

I’m Lucy Berliant, and although I sometimes lie and say I’m three and a half, I’m actually two years old. I’ve recently completed potty training my parents, and I have some advice to offer all you other kids facing this milestone.

When you should worry about potty training
When that day comes when your parents take you to the toy store muttering something about a new train for you, prepare yourself. They’re not buying you a toy train. They’re planning to potty train you. I thought I was getting a train.

To tell you the truth, I’m still confused about the whole naming thing. When I pee in the potty, I can’t help saying, "I have potty train! I have potty train!" But, I am sorry to report, this is not the kind of train you can play with. It’s not even close. It’s a little plastic seat, and if your parents are stupid and cheap like mine, they’ll get you one that will pinch your bottom mercilessly if it’s not properly reassembled after a cleaning. They’ll also try to make you use it as a stepstool for hand-washing. Watch out for this, or you’ll find yourself meeting the sink teeth-first. Now, one of my perfect baby teeth has a small chip in the corner. But my case has been made, and Mama holds me when she’s washing my hands.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The point is, you will know your parents are ready for potty training when they take you to the toy store and don’t buy you any toys.

How you should break your parents in
The first thing you should do with your new potty is drag it around the house. This will let your parents know that you really are the boss, here. If you were to drag it around, say, after you had peed or worse in it, they’d be faced with some serious unpleasantness. As with any discipline regimens you use on your parents, your goal is to remind them that you make the rules.

After the pecking order has been established, feel free to sit on the potty seat. Test its strength and craftsmanship by holding the handles and wiggling it back and forth really hard. You’re going to be spending a lot of time here and if the seat is going to let you down, you want to know before you’ve filled it with anything unpleasant.

Under no circumstances are you to pee, poop or pass gas on the potty seat before you’ve spent at least two weeks sitting on it, and doing nothing else. If you are to gain anything material from the potty training experience, besides liberation from crinkly and uncomfortable diapers, you must remind your parents that bodily functions are an achievement.

I don’t mean to brag here, but to illustrate my point, I will share with you that I have received numerous hand stamps for the simple act of urination. For my first bowel movement, I received a purple helium balloon. I have also received entertainment in the form of aunts, uncles and grandparents jumping up and down and cheering, and from this I have learned that it’s true what they say: There is no joy that comes from knowing you are less dorky than everyone around you.

Your parents may be stingier, or they may be more generous (though it’s highly likely they will not be as dorky). You will never find out what the case is, however, if you oblige them right away. So exercise some control.

The first time
In a related stream (no urine pun intended, I assure you), your first successful effort should look meager. This awakens the compassion in a parent. The less you produce and the more you appear to exert yourself, the greater your reward will be. This may require a bit of control. It’s not easy to tinkle a teeny on the potty and then get up without dribbling all over the floor. I know that I once was not done pooping when I was removed from the potty, and I suffered the indignity of walking across the family room with what looked quite a bit like a tail protruding from my backside before Mama allowed me to finish the job.

The bright side is, though, that these "accidents" are tolerated very nicely when they are committed during your potty training sessions. And they are essential, for if you do not have accidents, you will not train your parents to cut you any slack. What kind of teenage life do you think you will have if you don’t defecate and urinate on the floor every now and then? One with altogether too-high of expectations, that’s what. So take heed. And take to the floor on occasion.

Advanced potty training
After you have demonstrated your ability to eliminate on your potty at home, your parents will soon decide you’re ready to face the outside world in the comfort of a small pair of panties or briefs. This is a major step, and you need to make sure your parents are ready for it.

The most essential readiness factor comes down to planning. If your parents are smart, they will bring a full change of clothes, wipes, a diaper and a towel, in case the worst happens. Informed children can bring out the best in their parents by urinating in the car seat while still in the driveway. This will make it far less likely that your parents will ever forget essential supplies again. I don’t wish to embarrass my mother, but I had to remind her a couple of times that We Don’t Leave the House Without Spare Pants.

In a similar vein, you must train your parents to locate the nearest public restroom wherever they are. Are you on the third floor of a very crowded bookstore? Duck behind a display, get a faraway look in your eyes and start grunting. This will make your mother think twice about spending hours shopping without taking the necessary breaks and offering appropriate bribes. Remember: Any place that has something your mother wants to buy will also have something you can’t live without: stickers, bouncy balls and gourmet rosemary rolls sprinkled with just the right amount of Kosher salt. Delicious.

The final touch
I don’t call this the final touch because I like using clichés. Au contraire. As much as it will disgust you, you must be sure to touch the seat whenever you’re in a public restroom. Otherwise, your mother might be hasty with the hand washing. Everyone knows that hand washing that doesn’t involve elbow-length bubble gloves and at least five minutes of hearty water play simply isn’t hand washing. It’s an unsanitary rinse. Collecting germs from public washrooms is really the only way you can truly get clean. Sometimes, one must destroy cleanliness to achieve it.

In conclusion
The time will come when you have potty trained your parents so well that they are beyond all these hurdles. They won’t forget extra pants. They will keep an eye on the clock and on your innards, and they will know when you’ve tarried too long away from the potty. Sadly, however, they will stop rewarding you with treats and acrobatics.

Children who believe they have gifted parents — parents who can withstand some significant challenges — can pose those by refusing to go, even when everybody knows that the situation is urgent. There’s a risk to this, of course. You may find yourself wet, stinky or both. But if your parents rise to the challenge and figure out how to negotiate a successful "release," they will a) remember who is in charge; and b) be so relieved that you can squeeze out a few, final precious bribes.

They may be the last such things that come until it’s time for you to learn to read, or you have a sibling. And if your parents are anything like mine, that could take forever.

January 06, 2003

Three evil myths about parenthood

Marriage and parenthood bring out the evil in certain people. You know these types when you see them. Once they get married, they never refer to themselves as "I" anymore.

It's "we, we, we." We like the opera. We don't wear our shoes in the house. We don't think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is funny. Or, my favorite, we liked you better with long hair.

It's a closed club, and if you don't agree with the "we," well, that's too bad for you.

Parenthood can inspire similar crookedness. I had dinner with a friend recently. Lucy snored in my left arm while I ate dinner with my right, making jokes about having to do everything one-handed since the day she was born.

That's when my friend mentioned a trip she'd taken to visit an old pal of hers who has three children. One is a baby, and this woman keeps her to an extremely strict schedule. All sleep is conducted on precisely timed intervals, which do not vary more than five minutes per day.

The baby never cries, this woman claims. "She doesn't need to. She's never tired. She's never hungry. She always wakes up laughing."

This is only the sort of baloney sandwich you can serve someone who has never had a kid. People who are parents know better. Some cry more than others, and some are very easy to soothe.

But the fact is, on some days, your kid will cry even though you've tried everything -- fresh diapers, fresh clothes, food, snuggling, sleeping, burping, singing, begging, bribing and despair. Maybe they just need to stretch their lungs. Maybe they're just bitter about being born in the first place. Heck if I know.

But what I do know is, it's really mean to tell someone that it's possible to have a perfect, smiling baby, if only you're the kind of parent who knows the secret formula.

I didn't waste any time in setting the record straight with my friend. "Babies cry," I said. "You'll both get over it."

It got me thinking, though, about some other myths of parenthood.

Myth No. 1
Childbirth doesn't hurt. The baby just slips out!

I heard this myself from a few well-meaning folks. I actually even read a description in a book that said my vagina would open up like a flower during labor. If that's what a flower feels like, bouquets should be illegal. Either that, or they should be sold with Preparation H.

Sure, some people have an easy time of labor. And it is magical to hold a brand-new baby -- almost enough to make you forget about how hard it was to get her out.

But who are these people trying to kid? If childbirth was such as snap, the process wouldn't have killed so many women and children throughout the course of history. No one's a failure or an unnatural freak for using a doctor or anesthesia. And after all, the important part of having a baby begins after the birth.

Myth No. 2
Children make a marriage closer.

If they mean closer in the sense that you will have less room for your stuff, this is true. But having children makes for tired parents. And tired parents don't tend to be as thoughtful or as fun as ones who are well-rested.

This is not to say that marriages can't grow stronger over time. But what makes that happen is when people decide to work together when the road gets bumpy. The thing is, you can choose to increase your commitment to each other without having a baby. So for anyone considering having a baby to strengthen their marriage, I wish they'd just get a goldfish instead.

Myth No. 3
It gets easier.

I was talking to the parent of a two-week old baby today when I heard this one. "It'll get easier," he said. That doesn't happen at all. When you have a two-year-old, you look back on the days when she was two weeks old and you could carry her in the crook of one arm, and she didn't say, "No," run away, bonk you on the head with a plastic hammer, or tell you that you're "really, really yucky," all in the space of five minutes. Being a parent doesn't get easier. But you do get better at it ­ almost as fast as your child can figure out new ways to challenge you.

One true thing
It's worth every scrap of pain and trouble.

It's worth it, because as quickly as your kids discover new ways to challenge you, they also find new ways to thrill and amaze you. And when that happens, it's like holding a damp newborn, all over again. Even though you knew this baby was coming, you didn't know until just then how much had arrived.