A couple of weeks ago my friend Sam complimented me when he said I articulated an 11th commandment for him in one of my columns: Honor thy Daughter and Son. I hope I don’t disappoint Sam this week with the 360-degree turn I take in confessing that I was a scary mommy when my children were younger.
In fact, I’m having vivid flashbacks to the days when I counted the hours until Ken came home from work or a babysitter relieved me for a solo trip to the grocery store. That’s because I just read Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood – the Good, the Bad and the Scary by Jill Smokler.
The book is an offshoot of Smokler’s popular blog of the same name. She has not only chronicled her faux pas, her indignities and ultimately her intense loving moments with her three small children, she has also created an on-line community for women to anonymously post their grievous maternal sins.
What catharsis to read that I’m not the only one who gave my baby Benadryl so I could survive a three-hour flight to Florida. Yes, I too irrationally worried throughout my second pregnancy that I couldn’t possibly love another baby as much as I loved my little girl. And then I freaked out that the second little girl I was so sure I was having was actually a little boy.
Even after all of these years, it’s comforting to know that I wasn’t the only woman who was scared to have a boy. But then something even crazier occurred after Adam was born; I was completely smitten with him. Ken had to practically wrestle my baby boy from my arms when it came time for his circumcision. I was so distraught over what was about to happen to Adam that I stayed upstairs in the fetal position until the deed was done.
Like Smokler, I was never a baby person. I occasionally babysat in high school to earn pocket money and surreptitiously read the dog-eared copy of “The Joy of Sex” or “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex” that seemed to be in every house. In college I never thought about my future children or anyone’s actual children. And in my 20s, when my girlfriends cooed over babies being strolled down the street or holding court from a high chair in a restaurant, I just rolled my eyes.
It’s a good thing that for the vast majority of us the instinct to reproduce is innate. It’s also a good thing that it’s impossible to understand how difficult and frustrating parenthood is until you’re actually a parent. And it’s an even better thing that an intense feeling of love will sweep you away when your child falls asleep in your arms.
But in between the ridiculous and the sublime, Smokler humorously catalogs the big stuff and the not so big stuff that can drive a mother to the edge of her sanity. For example, there are the vacations. Sure, it’s easy to romanticize the days when we played the license plate game on long car rides. Remember magnetic checkers? Well, if you think really hard, I’ll bet you remember that all of that good, simple fun got boring pretty quickly.
Sure, it’s easy to be judgmental about installing DVD players in cars. But until you’ve been lost in Canada for hours and hours with two fidgety kids, you have no right to chastise me for secretly thanking a higher power that we had DVDs and a player with us. What’s that? Children should be able to entertain themselves? You’re probably one of those mothers who tried to take away her baby’s pacifier at six months. Believe me, it all works out in the end. No kid uses a pacifier once the braces go on. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only exhausted mother who, once upon a time, gave her kids chicken nuggets too many times in a week. I was also relieved that I wasn’t the first woman to be jealous of her nanny. The kids adored her, and she folded laundry like she worked for the Gap. It was a nightmare.
But what tripped me up for so many years were the birthday parties. Smokler has a chapter dedicated to the Birthday Party Wars. Who comes up with the most creative theme? Orders the most memorable cake? Or, worst, bakes the best cake themselves. I remember for Anna’s third birthday, I had sand pails and shovels personalized with every kid’s name. Adorable. Original. Except chaos ensued when the kids grabbed the nearest pail because none of them could read.
So yes, I was once a scary mommy. (I probably still am). But the truth is, even though those days of early motherhood were sometimes unbearably long, the ensuing years have gone by all too quickly. That’s the confession of a scary mommy who wished she had a little more wisdom and understanding when she started out.