The photographs (and the captions) are entertaining and hilarious, honest and courageous . . . and sometimes touching. They are mostly of babies and toddlers because that's the target demographic of my daughter's peer group right now. There are babies crying and babies laughing at their own naughty antics. There are sick babies and robustly healthy runaway babies. There are babies sleeping in piles of laundry and other strange places. There are babies running wild, babies running naked, babies in time out, babies locked in cars. There are babies swimming through food, ransacking groceries, and clobbering their siblings. Some babies have bedhead and mismatched clothes, and some are covered in paint or marker or dirt or food. There are babies glued to Doc McStuffins and Frozen rewinds and waiting on chicken nuggets in fast food drive throughs. There are messy houses -- lots and lots of messy houses -- and tired looking mommas. There are mommas chasing dogs and mommas chasing groceries and fleeting, uninterrupted moments with trendy, steaming coffee cups. There are desperate looking mommas who likely need showers or naps . . . and one with a toy train stuck in her hair (that one looks familiar:).
None of the photos are all that shocking. And I would be the very last person to criticize . . . because in my browsing I was taken back . . . way back to the days of my own parenting imperfections and blunders. And I really want to tell all these mommas chasing after their babies . . . that . . . well . . . it doesn't get any better . . . And I mean that in a very literal sense. Right now is the very best time for you to get away with stuff. As entertaining as it is . . . Why you would want to put it out there for the world to see?! As your babies grow, things get more complicated. There's more room for error. And kids get smarter. They remember things. They will point out your mistakes. And they will tell on you! My advice would be to keep your secrets while you can;)
I'm joking, of course. And, honestly, I couldn't be prouder of my daughter who has created an outlet for the inadequacies that we have all felt when faced with the monumental task of keeping tiny human beings alive and raising them up to be healthy and whole. And while some things stay the same, in paradoxical ways, it's got to be more difficult to raise children today than it was a generation ago. Parenting now must be like chasing your children around a fishbowl of social media. Even if you choose not to participate, it's out there and it's dictating the culture. And with information overload -- all the things parents are supposed to know coupled with the overwhelming ambiguity of what they might be missing -- there has certainly got to be more angst involved. I don't offer many opinions. My default mode (beyond tell them about Jesus and give them a book) is that I would not want to be making the kind of decisions parents have to make today for their children . . . things that at one time were relatively simple, or non-existent. Whether to feed them bread, or whether to vaccinate them . . . how to discipline them without ending up on a social worker's caseload . . . how much internet and when to buy them a cell phone . . . how to adequately protect them from environmental toxins and cyber bullying . . . whether to publicly educate them in standardized test hell, or even let them play outside. It's a daunting task to imagine, and it makes me glad for my day when a tough decision was to either let them cry it out or rock them (I hear that's still a thing, but it's called sleep training now. . . really?).
Still, it's a brave and noble thing to bring people together in their vulnerabilities. So since most of my stories are probably out there already, anyway . . . and there is a statute of limitations on recriminating adolescent glares and arrests for more serious parenting infractions (I think), here are some of my best worst mistakes . . .
Lost children -
I have lost my two children a total of five times. One each in department stores, one each in the neighborhood, and one in a locked garage. Brittany was in a very impressionable Sesame Street phase when I took her to the Base Exchange one day when she was two and a half. She was also a runner. I should have seen it coming. Her most recent favorite book was Ernie Gets Lost. It read that Maria takes him to a department store and he ends up on a security counter, feet dangling, chatting up the store clerk, brave and sure that she will find him. We read that book about thirty-seven times before that fateful day when I turned to a clothes rack for four seconds and looked down to find my pixie blonde gone and felt my heart sink into my stomach. She was quick and she must have memorized directions to the security counter because there was only about ten more seconds of heart pounding panic before I heard over the PA system "Can Brittany's mom come to the security counter, please?" And there she was, feet dangling, goofy Ernie grin on her angelic little face. And this incident came after she wandered three doors down to pet the neighbor's dog while I was hauling in groceries and was sure she was tagging along behind me. Fool me twice. Kelsey Brooke actually hid in Kohl's on purpose. She was just about in the same age bracket as Britty with the Ernie impression. But there were no store clerks involved. Just a low-hanging clothes rack and some tiny, pastel pink tennis shoes peeking out. Oh, those blessed pink shoes. That's three. Four. We lost her in the snow. Same kid. There was three feet of snow, and she was only two and a half feet tall. I thought her daddy was carrying her from the car to the house, but she had run to catch up with him. He thought I was carrying her, so he kept going, leaving her behind. There was about fifty yards of total darkness between the garage and the house, and she had fallen off the shoveled path into a snowdrift. When we found her, she was struggling to upright herself in her snowsuit like a turtle on her back. I still don't know why she didn't call out. She was just lying there, rocking back and forth, grunting. Just about the same scenario a few years later, except that eight year old Britty thought it would be a fun joke to hide in the backseat of the car. And was still crouched there after we closed the garage door. Again, he thought I had it. I thought he had it. We're slow learners sometimes. By the time we figured it out, she had screamed herself hoarse, and had beat her knuckles bruised on the inside of the garage door. She still has an aversion to garages.
Accidents, Injuries, & Unfortunate Events
Once Brittany shoved a rolled up sticker up her nose and we didn't figure it out for three weeks, and only then by the smell (would you believe it was an Ernie sticker?). Kelsey swallowed a German mark, which is the equivalent and size of an American quarter. The X-ray showed a perfect circle, and the doctor told us not to worry and that it would pass, but it was important that we verified that. Really? I lost my grip on Britty at the top of a giant slide when she was two and could only watch in terror as she went sailing down at a hundred miles an hour and launched into the air like a pinwheel, her momentum carrying her forward and dumping her face first into a sandpile (mercifiully). The quickest way to get to her was to slide down after her, so that it must have looked like I was having loads of fun while my child was bleeding from the nose into the dirt. A few years later, she broke her arm rolling down a hill and we didn't take her to the doctor until two days later because I didn't believe that an injury that serious could result from such a benign activity. I once burned Kelsey's forehead with a curling iron. I winced for weeks every time I looked at the mark above her eye. But she let me curl her bangs again. She was just as forgiving when I was running late to pick Brittany up from kindergarten one morning and forgot to strap her into the umbrella stroller. Instead of sticking to the sidewalk, I decided to cut across a field. I was really late, and I began to run. Kelsey thought it was great fun until the stroller wheel hit a rut. I watched, horrified, as my toddler catapulted through the air and landed six feet in front of the stroller on her belly, arms outstretched, with a resounding thud. We stayed on the sidewalk after that.
We once had a Cockatiel named Emmett who liked to sit on our shoulders as we moved about the house. One morning as I was feverishly preparing for a garage sale, gathering everything that wasn't nailed down or that we hadn't used in three days, I quite forgot that Emmett was there, perched on my entrepreneurial shoulder. I stepped out the back door, and before my daughters had even finished shouting up a warning, Emmett jubilantly flew off, soaring higher and higher into the breezy sunshine until he disappeared. We stood there, gazing upward, all of us, in complete, bewildered silence for the space of about five seconds. In unison, my girls' lips had begun to quiver, but in my visualization of dollar signs, I had already recovered and was slapping a price tag on the bird cage even as they looked on through their tears. That was bad. This is worse. Over the years after that, Kelsey had acquired a string of rodents to which she had grown quite attached. Her favorite was a mouse named Reepicheep (after a C.S. Louis fantasy character) who used to perch on her feet as she lay on her stomach doing homework. One morning, Reepicheep escaped from his cage and met with an unfortunate ending with one of the family cats. And then I made her go to school, anyway. Yes, I did. I really did that. Not long after, it was my contention that one of our family cats, one belonging to Brittany (not the killer cat) was wholly underappreciated and neglected. Britty disagreed. To make my point, I took the cat to work with me one Thursday morning and passed her along to a coworker. And since nobody, not even Britty, took note of her absence til the following Monday, I don't feel quite so guilty about that one.
Miscellaneous Bad Parenting
One Christmas just after a big move I was too tired to wrap Christmas presents, and on Christmas morning I just handed each kid a plastic garbage bag full of new toys. I can still see the disconcerted looks and the disappointment on their sweet faces. I wish I had a do over. I would have chugged coffee and stayed up all night. I was still tired (it was a stretch during my college years) when I volunteered to chaperone Brittany's eighth grade field trip to Toronto. So much for quality time. In our weekend whirlwind tour of the city, I fell asleep in virtually every stop along the way -- in every museum, at the mall, in a box seat at the Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play. I even dozed on the bus rides in between. I actually slept through the last three quarters of The Phantom of the Opera. And I'll confess . . . there wasn't even much chaperoning going on between snores. And then there was the time that a friend and I took our girls to the clinic together for Hepatitis immunizations, and Brittany, frightened, had a meltdown of epic proportions before the needle even touched her arm. No worries. I just pretended she belonged to my much more sensitive friend who took over like a boss. It worked inasmuch as she has never contracted Hepatitis. I did not earn the mother of the day award for that one either. And that holiday play that Kelsey narrated -- I still remember that my daughter was the loveliest child onstage in the velvet purple dress and the matching purple bow in her long, flowing hair. She probably remembers her mother's laughter ringing out loud and long over all the gasps in the ensuing silence when she tripped over the microphone stand. I do not know what came over me.
If there are any contributing respondents to the #letsgetrealmoms movement who might have been harboring the slightest bit of residual guilt over any parenting 101 mistakes, blunders, or shortcuts before reading this post, I am trusting that you're cured. You're welcome.