The Pioneers Didn’t Have Netflix

JudeSnow

The morning of our first snow in Iowa, we had three meltdowns over putting on snow gear and one of the meltdowns was mine.

I am not a native Midwesterner. I spent most of my formative years in Texas, before moving to South Dakota, then Minnesota, and now Iowa. In Texas, snow is mythical, like a toddler who eats anything without a fuss—often heard of, but never really seen. As a child, I fantasized about long, cozy winters, filled with snowmen, hot chocolate and Pa Ingalls tying a rope between the sod hut and the barn, so he doesn’t die while feeding the cattle.

No matter how good I become at being a Midwesterner–making tater tot hot dish and passive-aggressively saying, “Well, he’s nice.”–I don’t think I will ever be good at winter. Some Midwesterners view the first snow as magic. I view it as a warning to abandon all hope until April.

And this is why I dread the snow, because winter with children is less sweaters and snowman and more like a five month long scream of anguish.  As I struggled with the sadistic tango of hats, coats, mittens, hats, coats and more mittens. I had to send my three-year-old to time out for throwing off her winter apparel because it wasn’t sparkly enough. Then, I had to grit my teeth against the baby screaming, “No hat! No hat!” He has few words, but the words he does use are lobbed as weapons. “Up.” “All done.” “NO!” And now, I guess, “Screw you, I want to freeze!” Just in time for the winter. Write that one in the baby book.

Of course, when we got outside and the wind whipped around his fuzzy little head, he grabbed his ears and said, “HAT! MOM! HAT!” Like, why didn’t I think of putting a hat on him? What kind of mother am I? Thank you infant son, for making such well-articulated points. Could you do it without pulling my hair?

In High School, I read a book about a pioneer woman, who, left alone by her husband in a sod hut over the winter, goes insane. There is a scene in the book, where the husband returns from his chores to find his wife sitting in the cold, rocking in the rocking chair. I never understood that at the time. Why did she go insane? It’s just winter. But now I know. She had kids and she lived in a sod hut. I live in a charming house, but I’m one rocking chair away from going insane on the prairie and it’s only November.

To be honest, I don’t think my kids could cut it as pioneers either. My three-year-old won’t even put a toe outside unless she’s donned head to toe in pink winter gear. I try telling her that Laura Ingalls never had Minnie Mouse hats and she still survived, but my husband points out that it goes both ways. Ma Ingalls also didn’t have Netflix or a coffee maker or a heating system, so why am I whining?

I could think deeply about that question, or I could just go out and buy a rocking chair.

 

EllisSnow

 

This was originally published in The Gazette as part of my column, “Pants-free Parenting.” I usually republish these on Fridays, but this was too apt going into Thanksgiving.

I Won’t Tell My Children To Lose Weight

babyJeating

When my daughter was a baby, she was fat. And I don’t mean, chubby, I mean good, old fashioned, wearing 24 month clothes at 9 months old, kind of fat. She was glorious. During that time, I had a lot of well-intentioned parents assure me that she would thin out.

“Don’t worry,” a friend said gently, “my sister was fat and now she’s really thin.”

As if when looking at my child all I could see was a meaningless societal standard of beauty as opposed to the adorable, smart, happy little baby before me.

I’m not going to tell you what my daughter looks like now. Because it doesn’t matter. Because even if the doctors were concerned and Michelle Obama was knocking on my door to stage an intervention, I would never tell my child to lose weight. I will talk about being healthy, I will talk about being strong, but I will never, ever tell her to change the way she looks.

On Talk of Iowa, Iowa State counseling psychologist, Taylor Locker, noted, “Children as young as first grade or kindergarten want to be on diets, want to be thinner, or believe that they are too heavy or too fat. […] At least by first grade, children are starting to notice their body size.”

This isn’t what I want for my children. It’s not what I want for me. Of course, children have to notice eventually, that’s the world we live in. But before that, before they begin to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, before they start staring in the mirror and wishing they could magic themselves away into another body, I want my children to always know that they are loved exactly how they are. Even if they smoke. Even if they knock over a liquor store. Even if they are fat. Even if they don’t like queso. I don’t want my children to change. I never want them to be more (or less) than what they are.

I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood and childhood desperately wishing I was prettier, thinner, more athletic, less brunette, less socially awkward. I think of all the time I’ve wasted fighting against my body instead of dwelling in it. There is also the time I’ve wasted trying to be something other than what I am—a loud mouthed, kind of pudgy, imperfect white lady.

I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them to struggle to come to terms with who they are. I don’t want them to waste time with self-loathing. There is only so much of their journey I can control, and I’m sure they will have to find their own way. But for now, I want to be their compass, pointing them the way toward love. But I have to calibrate myself first—I have to check the way I talk about how I work out, how I eat and how I dress. I want to model healthy and active and acceptance.

Because, besides keeping our children alive and warm, that’s our first job as parents to model an unconditional love. A love that meets them where they are as chubby little babies and deeply flawed adults. I don’t know who my kids will be—fat, thin, mean, nice, smart, in jail—but I do know I will love them, not based on what they could be or will be, but based on who they are in that moment.

The people that my much-abused body created—a body that deserves some appreciation.

The Trouble With Dinner

kidseating

Based on the look my 3 year old is giving me, which is a mixture between a sneer and revulsion, you would think that the food on her plate was made up of partially cooked fecal matter. It’s not. It is macaroni and cheese. “Dis will make me so sick!” She declares holding her head in her hands.

She starts sobbing. “I fink I will be too sick.” Then, she starts making gagging sounds.

I’m okay with protests and outraged accusations that I’m trying to poison her with my homemade macaroni and cheese. But I draw the line at gagging noises. So, into time out she goes. All I have to do is point and she goes without a fuss. Lately, my daughter spends the majority of meal time oscillating between her dinner and the little stool in the corner of the dining room. I think Stockholm syndrome is setting in.
When she comes back she asks for a cheese stick and a cracker. She asks for a banana or gummy snacks, anything it seems, rather than to eat the cheddar cheese and whole wheat pasta that lies before her. I don’t negotiate with three-year-olds or terrorist. And some days, they are one in the same. Tonight, with ice cream as a motivator, she chokes down half of her food in between huge swallows of milk.

But other nights we aren’t so lucky. Other nights, she declares everything will make her sick and “garbly garbly” and that she’d rather go without a cookie than choke down a bite of lasagna. I admire her strong moral convictions over the evils of lasagna, if nothing else.

My mom tells me to make her special food. Advice on the internet says if I speak to her kindly and let her help me make dinner, she will suddenly eat everything put before her and ask for seconds. I read a book that said I brought all of this on myself by giving her rice cereal as an infant instead of steel-cut oats or letting her baby-led wean, which is just crazy talk for giving kids normal food. My neighbor suggests a gluten allergy. Someone who reads my newspaper column emailed me once to tell me my daughter might be on the “Autism spectrum.” Another internet search reveals that perhaps my delicate flower turning her nose up at macaroni (which she devoured last week) has a problem with texture. I would kindly like to say this is complete and utter partially cooked fecal matter.

Sure, some kids have problems. But not every kid who acts like a jerk at dinnertime is some sort of special snowflake. Sometimes, they are just jerks. And the overwhelming dearth of information that parents have at their fingertips gives them the illusion of control. And that somehow, if your child becomes a demanding little fiend, it’s all the fault of GMOs or the fact that you didn’t breastfeed past nine months old.

But the reality is, toddlers are little wackos. You know what else makes my daughter feel sick and “garbly garbly”? Putting away her princess dolls and wearing pants. So, gluten be damned. That macaroni is all she gets. And after she goes to bed, I’m eating all the ice cream.

Last night, as my 3 year old watched me make enchiladas, she frowned. “Your children don’t like dat food. Your children only want macaroni.”

I glared at her. “My children can starve then.”

She ran from the room sobbing. Later, as we ate she turned up her nose at dinner. Declaring it too yucky, to “terwibble.” Finally, after she choked down a bite, she smiled. “Oh wait, mom, I do like this. I’m like Sam I Am!”

And me? I poured some whiskey in my tea and smiled a serene smile that masked all the cursing I was doing under my breath.

Oh, Brothers…

jqande

While wrangling my children out the door of the frozen yogurt place one evening, my daughter started crying. “Bubba pulleded my hair!” I was holding the bubba in question, her little brother. I highly doubted he had pulled her hair. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said distractedly. Gently guiding her through the door and into the car. She was sniffing still as I buckled the baby in. “Bubba, dat hurt!”

He smiled and waved a clenched fist in my face. I gasped. In his hand was a tangle of long blonde sister hair. “Oh, brother!” I said. And he laughed.

At fifteen months old, the baby, who is on the fast track to becoming a toddler has shut his sister in the closet, assaulted her with tools from the doctor kit and repeatedly pulls her hair. Once, as my daughter lay on the floor playing Sleeping Beauty, she called to him, “Bubs, come give me a kiss and wake me up.”

He toddled over and smacked her full on in the face. There is no greater evidence for the cruelty of human nature than a little brother.

I have three little brothers. Two of my brothers are 10 and 13 years younger than me, we are too far apart to have much of an antagonistic relationship. But my brother Zach is only 16 months younger than me and it was clear from an early age that his greatest talent was driving me crazy without even touching me. You know in “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter somehow convinces the man in the cell next to him to swallow his own tongue? It was like that. My brother knew the exact sounds to make to push me to my psychological limits. He would sit next to me on long car trips and whistle in my ear until, at my wits end, I would haul off and punch his arm. Then, he would begin sobbing. I got in trouble every time.

To this day, he is my best friend.

My parents handled the fights between me and my brother by rolling their eyes and declaring, “You deserve each other!” At the time, that seemed entirely unfair. But as I watch my children beat the crap out of each other, the wisdom of their insight washes over me. When the baby shut the three year old in the closet, she just began sobbing. Of course, she could have opened the door, but no, she chose to wail. “Bubs, you trappeded me! You trappeded me!” The baby, banged on the door and laughed, while I stood back and watched.

When I had one child, my parenting was guided by love and a nurturing spirit. Now that I have two children, my parenting is guided by natural selection and Lord of the Flies.

I think they are going to be best friends.

You’ve Been Warned

whiskey

I plopped dishwasher soap and whiskey on the conveyor belt. When I had my second child, I switched from wine to hard liquor. Wine was giving me heartburn and I had two kids. A Malbec just wasn’t doing the job.  Also, we were out of dishwasher soap.

The cashier didn’t even blink, but the two High School girls behind me giggled. The laughs grew louder as I rifled through my bag for my driver’s license, pulling out teething rings, wipes, cloth diapers, and wadded up tissues before finally reaching my wallet. It was 10:30 at night and I was in my yoga pants, hair still unwashed, no make-up, and a spit-up stain on my sleeve.  After I handed the cashier my license, I turned to look at the girls and give them a smile. Surely, they weren’t laughing at me. I was just being paranoid and self-conscious.

Both girls fell silent as I turned around. Then, the oldest pointed to a popcorn-crusted mitten ground. “I think that’s yours,” she said.

“Oh, yes! Thank you,” I said smiling brightly. The mitten was one I brought in support of the Olympics. It had “USA” stitched on the palm.

“Go, USA,” I said as I brushed off the mitten and shoved it back in the purse. There was silence. “Two kids.” I offered. Both girls rolled their eyes.

“Look,” I wanted to say, “get a good look. This is what happens when you sleep with boys and have babies. It isn’t pretty. And this is me trying. I really did try today because I put on lip gloss when I dropped my daughter off at school. So, see, I tried. And I understand that this isn’t what you want. You think you aren’t going to be like me. You think you’ll be like Gisele or some other hip famous mom (whose name I can’t think of right now because it’s past my bed time), and maybe you will. But you won’t be all the time. One day, you’ll look in the mirror expecting to see that cool 16-year-old and all you’ll see is eye bags, yoga pants and belly fat. And on that day, you will think of me, the lady at the store buying dishwasher soap and whiskey and you’ll get it.”

Of course, I said none of those things. People don’t go to the grocery store looking for karmic signs. They go for Cheetos and panty liners. But it was hard to keep my mouth shut, because I hear women say “No one ever warned me it would be like this” when they encounter potty training, sleep deprivation, or a toddler throwing a tantrum because you made her blueberry pancakes. And when I hear those words, I want to laugh. You were warned. You were warned by every exhausted pudgy woman standing in the check-out lane buying children’s Tylenol and wine. You just chose not to listen.

But, I kept my mouth shut, took my change from the cashier, grabbed my bag, and put on my one mitten. When I got home, I started the dishwasher and made myself a hot toddy.

You’ve been warned.

 

This is from my Gazette column. This was published a while ago. So, I want you to know that things are so much better…who am I kidding? Everything is the same.

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