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No matter where, no matter when, anytime you get a group of women and their children together, you start to overhear criticisms of those mothers and their parenting skills.  I’ve done it; we all do it.  Our society has accepted altogether too well the Freudian attitude that our mothers are to blame for everything.  We see a Mom who’s too strict or lenient, and we criticize their skills at disciplining their children.  We see a kid who’s throwing a fit in a store and we criticize the parents.  We see a kid who’s crying and pouting, with their Mom lecturing them, and we think that Mom is being too tough.  We see a kid who’s running around in the yard in a diaper, or a kid with a dirty face, and we criticize.  In our early and mid teen years we rebel against everything our Moms say, and have screaming matches with them.  We think they do not know us and they don’t know anything about what we’re arguing about.  In our later teens and early adulthood, we criticize our parents behind their backs, telling our friends about how strict or mean they were.  We tell a lot of people that our parents didn’t know anything about being parents and weren’t very good at it.

I’ll give you a clue…they didn’t know anything and they probably didn’t do everything right.  But they did the best they could with what little they knew about raising children, with the example that was set by their parents, with what they learned from books and magazines and TV.  They tried to understand us and make us happy.  They tried to turn us into productive, well-adjusted, successful, and moral members of society.  And whatever their shortcomings were, their intentions were better than we realize, their aspirations were higher, and they criticize themselves much more than we ever could.

No one can ever criticize a mother until they’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and raised their child under their circumstances.  You know the saying “I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.”  In our society today, we tend to criticize the man who has no shoes because his feet are dirty, he’s ill-prepared, and he couldn’t manage his finances well enough to be able to afford a pair of shoes; we then criticize the man who has no feet because he didn’t care for his health, or did something dangerous that caused him to lose his feet, and then criticize him for being a drain on public resources.  Yes, in today’s society we are complete jerks, devoid of any compassion toward our fellow men (and women).

Parenthood, namely motherhood, as that is my side of it, is a state of constant fear.  You worry from the time you find out you’re pregnant, and I imagine there is some level of worry that continues until the day you die.  From the time a Mom-to-be realizes she’s going to be a Mom, the fear kicks in.

For the first half of the pregnancy, you worry that every ache or pain means you’re going to miscarry, and you worry about the financial strain of all the prenatal care bills.  At some point the doctor decides you need tests, and some test has a result that terrifies you, with which the doctor scares you into believing that your baby is about to be born with a debilitating birth defect of some sort.  Every time the doctor listens for the heartbeat you hold your breath in fear that it won’t be there, and then rejoice when you hear it; then you worry because the heartbeat isn’t fast enough or slow enough.  You think that every muscle twitch or gas bubble in your abdomen is the baby moving, then when you actually do feel movement, you worry that it’s too much or too little, and you begin to have nightmares of the baby getting tangled up inside or growing claws and scratching it’s way out of your belly in the night.  And you’re nauseated a lot.

Through the remainder of the pregnancy, you worry constantly about the baby’s movements.  You worry whether you’re eating the right things, gaining enough weight or too much, taking the right vitamins.  You worry if you take a Tylenol for a backache, and your sinuses flare up like crazy.  You invariably get a cold and can’t take anything for it.  You’re tired all the time and would kill for a cup of coffee, but you’ve heard that that’s bad for the baby too.  You get lightheaded at the drop of a hat, and you can’t remember anything, except that your heartburn is killing you and you can smell something awful that nobody else seems to notice.  You continue to have crazy nightmares about things like forgetting where you put the baby, or the baby being born with the features of some animal.  You’re afraid to go to the bathroom because the baby might fall out in the toilet; we’ve all heard of those stories.  You worry all the time about money; are you going to be able to afford the hospital stay, the delivery, the time off work?  And the more you’re worried about the money, the more likely you are to end up on bedrest for the last few weeks, just because it’s Murphy’s law.  The whole time you’re off work you worry whether your job will still be there when you finish maternity leave, if you’re going to be able to afford child care, and who will provide your child care.

Looking back, I would encourage any Mom to use this time to pamper herself.  Don’t worry about the baby getting what they need from your diet; they’ll drain your body of whatever they need.  You should definitely take plenty of calcium and drink your milk; a woman who’s had 3 kids back-to-back will end up with dentures on average 25 years before a woman who’s had no kids.  Get lots of sleep and lay around the house.  Have sex everyday if you can, because this is the last time you’ll ever be able to without listening for a child’s cry; besides, it’s about the only exercise you feel like doing by this point.  Take long baths and shave your legs; it’s very likely that once you have that baby you may not get to bathe regularly, and the kid may celebrate his first birthday before you get to shave your legs again.  Take quiet walks, and hold hands with your husband.  Watch lots of movies, and enjoy the fact that you aren’t being interrupted.  Screw the worries of setting up the nursery or cleaning the house at this point, you’ll have plenty of time to do that when the kid is keeping you up all night.  Besides, newborn babies don’t leave the bassinett or you very much the first few weeks anyway.  My son, Sam, spent his first two weeks in a laundry basket lined with towels so I could carry him around the house without waking him up.

Anyway, you finally start approaching your due date.  Every time the baby moves around you worry that labor’s about to start, and every time the baby isn’t moving you worry something’s gone wrong.  You worry about high blood pressure, because you have a lot of headaches and sometimes you can hear your heartbeat in your ears when you’re lying in bed at night.  You worry about getting diabetes even though you drank that horrible orange drink and they did that blood test to check for it.  You can’t sit down because your back hurts, you can’t stand up without help, and you can’t get a good night’s sleep either because your belly’s in the way or the baby is kicking hard enough to rattle the bedsprings and waking you up (or kicking your husband in the back and waking him up).  Your shoes don’t fit, so you have to buy some ugly slip-ons, but that’s okay because you can’t see them anyway; you have to buy slip-ons because you can’t reach your feet to tie them.  When you do manage to see your feet, they don’t look like they’re yours anymore, all swollen and about 2 sizes bigger than they used to be.  You waddle, and everyone has to comment on it, and for some reason your belly has turned into a friggin’ magnet that everyone needs to rub.  Complete strangers will try to rub your belly at some point.  And everyone has to comment that you’re glowing; all the while you’re thinking “I’m flushed and sweaty and bloated, not glowing!”  You’re terrified of labor, and no matter who you are and how well prepared, at some point during the delivery you will decide that this was a bad idea and you don’t want to do it.  I had both my kids naturally, without drugs, and the only thing that helped me get through the labor was I kept telling myself that once the head was out the pain would get better.

Finally, you get to a day like any other day, except your back starts hurting and your pants feel too tight, even if you’re not wearing any.  You start getting little contractions and you figure they’ll go away after a bit, but they don’t on this day.  Eventually you realize they’re coming pretty regularly.  At some point when the contractions are regular you find you can’t walk anymore, and it feels like your knee is tied to your chest with an invisible rubberband, because you just can’t quite straighten up to walk anymore.  That’s when you decide you should go to the hospital and have a baby.

Then the baby comes.  Your labor and delivery is something you will never forget, even though you can’t quite remember it all.  It’s a magical day, more important in your life than your graduation and your wedding day put together.  You’re overjoyed and terrified at the same time.  You hold your baby for the first time, and it’s beautiful, but when you look back at pictures from that day years later you will realize that your baby was puffy, wrinkled, and not quite the right color.  You give the kid a name at this point, maybe it’s even the name you picked out for the kid.  I would advise any new Mom out there to pick a name ahead of time and stick to it, and not to do it alone.  I named my daughter by myself, during this very euphoric time after being awake for two days and giving birth, which is how she ended up with the name Hallelujah Selah.  I guess I was really happy at that moment in time!

Then, after a day or two in the hospital, you are wholly responsible for the care of this child.  If you’re lucky enough to have been around babies before, it’s merely terrifying.  When Sam was born, I knew in theory how to hold, feed, and change a baby, but I hadn’t had much practical experience at it.  It was a state of sheer panic.  The day we brought Sam home from the hospital, Erm carried him in and laid him in the middle of our bed, changed his diaper, and then left for work.  Sam stayed in the middle of our bed until Erm got home from work late that night; I cradled him in with pillows so he couldn’t roll off, and stared at him the whole time.  I changed his diaper and fed him a couple times right there on the bed, but I never picked him up until Erm got home, because I was so scared I’d drop him or break him somehow.

So then follows a period of time you can’t quite remember.  It’s a blur of exhaustion and sleeplessness, getting up every couple hours to feed the baby or change a diaper.  Even if you’re lucky enough to get a baby who will sleep more than an hour, you still wake up several times to check on the baby.  Your arms go numb from holding the baby.  Every item of clothing you have is covered with burp stains, and your house starts to smell like diapers, but you’re too tired to do any more laundry or take out the trash.  You start having crazy crazy CRAZY dreams every time you breast feed.  Your breasts hurt all the time and you are completely frustrated because either they or your baby will not cooperate through most feedings.  And the breastpump…don’t even get me started; simply said, it should be used for torture purposes only.  Half the time you’re on the toilet you’ve got a baby on your lap.  You get peed on, pooed on, and puked on.  At some point this beautiful child will either pee or puke, or both, directly into your face, and you will still love it; this is why you keep your male children covered during diaper changes, and never ever hold a baby up over your face.

The kid doesn’t know anything but you talk to it, and sing to it, and tell it stories, even though you’re so tired you can’t remember what the heck you were saying.  This is when it begins.  The horrible affliction of the Stupid Song Disease.  You start making up songs every time the kid does anything.  SSD strikes swiftly and silently, and before you know it, you’re singing about washing your face, eating your food, and using the potty.  The symptoms of SSD will continue for many years relentlessly, but will eventually resolve itself when your children begin to roll their eyes as they recognize the stupidity of the songs you sing.  Hopefully you will make it through the period of affliction without singing to any adult acquaintances in a business setting; I did not, however.

Eventually, you have to leave the house.  You have to go grocery shopping, or run an errand.  That’s when it happens.  At some point someone approaches you in a store and wants to touch your baby.  Maternal instinct kicks in and you really want to rip out that person’s windpipe with your teeth, but you smile and politely remind that person that they are a stranger and let them know that you would really appreciate it if they would not touch your child.  At some point during this trip out into civilization the kid will take a giant dump, leaking runny yellow poo all over the insides of their car seat.  And you’re a new Mom, so you don’t think to pack a change of clothes.  So you take the kid to the bathroom and clean it up.  And the kid finishes the outing with the carseat lined with paper towels, wearing only a diaper, covered with their little blanky.  And you hope to God that kid doesn’t kick off the blankie.  This is when you begin to realize that you cannot truly die from embarassment; you have to remember that it’s happened to every one of us at some point, usually more than once.

The worry continues through months of diapers, feedings, sleeplessness, days and nights of colic and crying, teething.  You worry about this kid falling off a piece of furniture, which they eventually will do and hopefully be okay; Sam’s first time rolling off the couch he laughed and tried to do it again after I picked him up.  You worry about your kid getting an appendage stuck in between the crib rungs, which they will also do and hopefully be okay, although they will scream through the extraction of said appendage; it’s usually a foot that they stick out between the crib rungs in their sleep and then roll over so they can’t figure how to get it loose when they wake up.  You worry about the kid being too hot, being too cold, getting sick, getting hurt.  You watch their breathing and stare at them for endless periods of time, holding your breath waiting for that kid to take another breath.  You worry if they’re eating enough, gaining enough weight, pooping enough, if their pee smells right.  Eventually this kid does come down with an illness and you stay awake for days on end watching over them.  You eventually have to trim their fingernails and you’re terrified you’re going to draw blood, holding your breath through the entire procedure.  You eventually have to cut their hair and you fold their ear under your hand for fear you will lop it off.  At some point the kid’s poo will be the wrong color and you will be afraid for a short time, but as long as it’s a one-time deal I wouldn’t get too concerned.

And then it happens…you left the kid on a blanket in the middle of the floor, went to answer the phone or something, and when you came back a second later, that kid disappeared.  This is the day you discover your child can move around on its own.  Your worries become exponentially larger.  You start babyproofing every surface, crawling around everywhere.  And no matter how good of a job you do, that kid still finds something on the floor he thinks should go in his mouth.  Most parents don’t have to worry about this for the baby’s first few months on Earth; Sam started crawling around on his face when he was 8 days old, but was thankfully enough of a glutton that as long as he had a bottle he stayed put most of the time.  The nightmares about not being able to find the baby return.

Once the kid starts moving around the house on its own, we start finding foreign objects in their diapers.  This is when I learned that you can still read crayon wrappers that have passed through the digestive tract.  It’s not pretty.  As the kid moves around, they also relocate their bottles.  And you don’t find them until days later, or longer.  I’ve seen formula, juice, and milk turn just about every known color, fermenting and molding and clumping up into all sorts of disgusting traits.  A lot of bottles get thrown away because they are just too gross to have to wash.

As your baby begins to move around the house and realizes his world is bigger than just where he happens to be, he starts wanting things from alternate locations.  This is when you begin your point-and-carry drills.  The kid asks for something, but you can’t understand, or just cries and grunts.  So you pick your kid up and carry them around the house, while they point towards what they want.  Half the time they just want to look at stuff.  It’s fun for them but really tiring for you.

One day, you look over and your child is standing, holding onto a piece of furniture.  Then they’re really moving around the house, not really walking, but getting around with crawling and furniture-walking.  They sure fall down a lot.  Babies should have helmets at this age, but there just aren’t any manufacturers out there that make helmets that small.  They invariably insist that the best place to stand up is under a coffee table or another piece of furniture that’s just about an inch or two shorter than them.  Sam still has a ridge across the top of his head from standing up under Erm’s computer table when he was little.

As your baby starts walking around the house, and you finally relax and don’t hold your breath everytime they do, there will come a day when you have to call poison control or rush your kid to an ER because they swallowed something they shouldn’t have during that one moment when you thought it was safe to look away.  (We once found Halle standing in the garage with a handful of weed-and-feed one day; the poison control lady said we should take her to the ER if she started acting drunk–how do you tell if a baby who can barely walk or talk is acting drunk?)  And at some point your child will hurl themselves headlong into a hard object and end up with the forehead bruise.  All kids from the age of about 18 months to about 3 have a bruise on their forehead or a black eye at some point.  You worry during this period of time that people are going to think you abuse your baby because they’ve always got a bruise.  Sam managed to jump while in the shower once and gave himself a black eye, and very shortly after it healed, he put a blanket over his head and was jumping around pretending to do martial arts moves, blackening the other eye on an endtable.  Which is the last time I ever let him watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns, and also explains why we have no pictures of him for a two month period when he was two.

As a mother, you get the daily joy of trying to make your children presentable.  While your kids may prefer to run around with nothing but a diaper on, you have to dress them to leave the house.  If you’re lucky they’ll keep the clothes on, but they usually begin stripping before you get the door closed behind you when you get home.  More than likely, you’ve spent so much time and energy getting those kids ready to leave the house, that you go out looking like you just rolled out of bed.  People who’ve never had kids look at that and think that the Mom is really lazy or a slob; other moms look at her and her kids and understand.

At some point shoes and socks will get lost in the store.  Shoes lost in the house will be found when the kid has outgrown them by four sizes, but shoes lost in the store will never be seen again.  Sam once took his shoe off and threw it while we were shopping, almost hitting a lady in the store; while I was apologizing to the lady, he then proceded to yell “bish” repeatedly, which sounded a lot like something else, while pointing in the lady’s general direction.  After apologizing profusely, the lady left the aisle quite hastily, and I realized Sam was only pointing at a book called “The Rainbow Fish” and he was trying to say fish because he wanted it.  This once again affirmed to me that I cannot die of embarassment.

At some point, without you realizing it, things do get easier.  It’s a long, hard road until that point, but it’s something you wouldn’t trade for the world.  You still have to feed, clothe, and care for your child, but at some point they begin to do things on their own.  The day they are able to walk somewhere without being carried, life gets easier.  When they start dressing themselves, life gets easier, even though you start to hear a chorus of “where’s my blue shirt” and “where’s my coat” and “I can’t find my shoes.”  One day your kid will be able to buckle their own seatbelt, help with chores.  Things do get easier.  Someday they will even be potty trained.

I still have a lot of raising to do with my kids.  I’m still looking forward to the grade school, puberty, teenagers.  And I’m terrified.
But at least now I know that I can handle things as they come.

The whole point is this: no parent knows what they are doing, and no parent is perfect.  There are always times when a parent is too strict or too lenient, too involved or too distracted, coddles their kid too much or is too insensitive.  Every parent is different and every child is different.  Forgive your parents and understand that they tried.  Be understanding when you see something out in the world that you want to criticize.  Don’t mention the bad memories of childhood, and let your parents know that you love them and appreciate their efforts.  Do the best you can to be as good of parent as yours were, and try to set a good example for your children so they can grow up to be good parents too.  That’s all we can do, right?

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