Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

July 04, 2003

Surviving Parenthood: The Cave Mother’s Secrets

Now that I’ve become a mother, I think a lot about cavemen. Also, cavewomen and cave children.

When I have questions about what to do with my daughter, I simply ask myself, “What would a cave mother do?”

My theory is that Cave Mothers were the first humans, and therefore, they pretty much figured out all a person really needed to survive. If I do what they did, I’ll make it, too.

Early on, for example, one of the giant challenges was getting over the pain of it.

I have no idea why human beings are designed to give birth from the part of the body that we sit on. It would make a lot of sense, especially for those of us who make our living by sitting, to give birth through our heads. I know that I don’t use that part of my body nearly as much in my job, though I confess, I have to use it a fair amount when I’m trying to beat Lucy in an argument about why she can’t have goldfish crackers for dinner.

But getting back to that thing about pain. I didn’t particularly like how I felt when I’m all hepped up on painkillers. So, shortly after delivery, I did my best to grin and bear it. After all, that’s what cave mothers had to do. And, I took care to sat on a large, inflatable ring, which I am also fairly certain is something that cave mothers did, as well.

In the months after Lucy’s birth, one of the most challenging issues became sleep. Or rather, lack thereof. In all honesty, this hasn’t changed much. This kid doesn’t sleep!

It’s easy to find advice on the topic – advice that ranges from, let the baby cry it out (only intervene if she inverts her lungs), to let the baby sleep with you and you’ll have a happy, healthy family.

Thinking about cave mothers and fathers, Adam and I adopted a hybrid strategy. Did cave parents have nurseries and cribs? Of course not. So, we let Lucy sleep alongside us, while Adam and I let ourselves cry over our sleep-deprivation until our lungs had turned themselves inside out.

My entirely scientific theory is that this sort of parental crying is what eventually evolved into opera, yodeling and other forms of high art. So, yes. That which does not kill you could be the foundation for an artistic career in Europe.

In the nearly three years that I’ve been doing it, I’ve learned that parenthood is full of more challenges than I could have possibly imagined. I know this is not just me saying it because Oprah did a special on this not too long ago, and it generated so much e-mail that she did a follow-up show. Instead of featuring a book club, now Oprah has an Isn’t Motherhood Miserable Club, which, when you really think about it, is a funny thing for a childless billionaire to do.

So what are some of these challenges? In addition to the lack of sleep, I can say that the physical pain continues well into the toddler years. Last week, Lucy bit me on the arm. “Ow,” I said. “Why did you bite me?”

“Because I’m a dinosaur,” she said. “I’m Tiny Diny, and I bite.”

This is one place where my Cave Mother system failed me, I have to admit. Despite what they show on cartoons, Cave Parents and Dinosaurs did not roam the earth at the same time. Utterly at a loss for any better ideas, I just settled for developing a giant hideous bruise.

This brings me to another under-discussed difficulty of parenthood. Despite all those seductive rumors about how pregnancy makes a woman beautiful, this is not my experience. Pregnancy and parenthood is the opposite of a beauty treatment.

It ages you horribly. While this would have come in handy when I was working in a salaried career, where looking older helps you earn more money, all this means it that people say “Ma’am” at the store when they’re asking if they can help me.

In all other respects, looking older has not improved my life. Except for the spring and summer of 1984, when a bad perm singed my hair away in some very prominent spots, my hair has always been my best feature.

Now, it’s is rapidly turning gray, and what’s worse, these gray hairs are all thin and dry. If this keeps up, I’m going to look like I’m wearing the transplanted armpit of a very old man.

Don’t try to find the gray strands, by the way. I pluck them all out. Which is why cave mothers used to let cave fathers drag them around by their hair. It wasn’t sexism. It was a prehistoric spa treatment.

So yes. Parenthood is scary and stressful, two things known to turn your hair gray. But your husband can help, if you let him. And this is the Cave Mother’s secret: seeking support from others.

What else is hard about parenthood? The money, I guess. The only money in parenting is the money you spend. Even if you’re crass and commercial and write a book about it, you will spend more on childcare during your writing hours than you could possibly hope to make on royalties.

Cave parents didn’t have to worry about money, I guess. Just fruits, nuts and the occasional mastodon at holidays. But they did what they could to support their families – they kept at it, and kept their spears sharp. So Adam and I do the same, trying very hard to keep the pointy end away from Lucy, who is a genius at finding pointy things in general.

That’s another challenge of parenthood that really took me by surprise.

My mother would, I am sure, swear to the fact that I never did anything dangerous or stupid when I was a kid. And yet, Lucy seems to be hell-bent on making herself extinct. It’s a miracle humans ever made it out of the cave at all, given our instinct as toddlers to jump off of high places, carry sharp objects and put fingers in things with teeth and/or with high voltage signs.

Is there something high she can climb? Just try and get her off of it. Is there a large dog across the street? Lucy will do her best to run across and make friends. She defines friends, by the way, as “people and creatures I like to lick in the face.” Every day, I thank God our neighborhood has reasonably friendly dogs with reasonably fresh breath.

So what did Cave Mothers do? Little else. They defined success as survival. And that is one of the best lessons I’m taking from them. It doesn’t matter if my cave is clean, or for that matter, if my house is so dirty it looks like a cave. It doesn’t matter if my hair is gray or if my clothes are tattered and furry. It doesn’t matter how many fruits and nuts or stocks and bonds we accumulate, so long as we have enough to keep everyone fed. What matters is that we stay warm and dry and together.

Oh, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt.

And I know the Cave Mothers had one of these. Think of how you’d feel when you discovered that your 2-year-old had drawn all over the living room wall with crayon. Cave Mothers had to put up with entire murals of bison, horses and what look like a whole bunch of stick people jumping off a cliff. Scientist may have their theories about those glyphs, but we all know what happened. Someone left a cave-toddler in a small cavern full of paint.

They didn’t freak out, or toss their children into volcanoes. They left it there for us to see millions of years later.

After all, that writing, and those stories the pictures tell, are a reminder that someone young and precious was here, someone who gives the real meaning and purpose to the family inside the cave. Even 10 million years from now, that will still be the thing that endures, and the thing that matters.

For ambitious mothers, the modern version of a cave drawing is an official baby book, with pictures and official milestones. As for me, I’m going to be truly authentic. I’m just going to leave the evidence of Lucy all over the walls, right where she’s smeared it.


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