Do you believe in karma? I do. What you send out into the universe comes back to you. You judge: you will be judged. Karmic paybacks are a bitch, but we can’t say we didn’t earn them. And I earned a big one. Boy howdy.
Before I had children, I was the best mother ever. My future children were perfect. They slept through the night at a ridiculously young age, ate the food put in front of them without complaint, were potty trained easily and with no accidents, and could write their name legibly by three. I had it all figured out.
Because of this, I believed that my Sister-in-Law, who preceded me into motherhood by a decade, was completely out to lunch. Here are some examples of my perfect pre-mommy responses to her “bad parenting”:
-What do you mean she walks the hall with her baby son because he will not go to sleep on his own? Why doesn’t she let him CRY IT OUT?????
-What do you mean her five-year-old brings her a diaper when he needs to poop. He won’t poop in the potty? You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING!?!?! He’s FIVE FREAKIN’ YEARS OLD!!!
-What do you mean she makes a separate meal for her son because all he eats is mac and cheese? WHAT IS SHE THINKING!??!?!?
We perfect pre-mommies shout these things in our heads because we are experts at incredulous derision as well as excessive use of punctuation.
And my Little One #1 lulled me into thinking I was right. He slept through the night at 6 weeks, self-weaned from the breast at 9.5 months, and at least tried any food put in front of him. He potty trained easily and at the reasonable age of just-turned-three. Instead of realizing that he was an easy baby, I naturally assumed that I was a perfect mother.
You real mommies out there know what’s coming next. I was ripe for a karmic bite in the butt, and my tushy has been smarting ever since.
My Little One #2 did not sleep through the night until 8 months because he deeply loved my breasts and could not go more than five hours without having them. Mothers, I learned the hard way, have a physiological response in their brains to crying babies and simply cannot “let them cry it out” without massive support, so I deliberately waited until my Darling Husband had returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to do this. “Welcome home from the war, dear. Guess what we’re doing tonight!” We let Little One #2 cry three hours the first night (oh, the horror!), an hour the second night, and ten minutes the third. Little One #2 got the point. But I already knew things were . . . different.
I forced him to give up booby for the bottle. Then I forced him to use a sippy. But he still refused to drink from a cup until recently. Why was this so hard? His food choices were frighteningly limited and freaked out the pediatric intern at his 24-month well-baby check, so she insisted we spend twenty minutes drawing enough blood to make sure he wasn’t anemic. Yeah, that was fun, and no, he wasn’t anemic. As chubby as he was, I knew he was getting enough. But put a green pea on his high chair tray and he’d scream as if I were trying to poison him.
He’s now approaching six, and I still make a separate meal for him each night. Often, it’s macaroni and cheese. (What kind of kid crack does Kraft put in that unnaturally orange cheese food substance anyway?) If we even casually suggest he take a bite of something not on his personal and very short list of edible foods, the immediate response is “NO!! NO!! NO!!” He does incredulous derision and excessive punctuation as well as I used to.
Darling Husband wants to make an issue of this now, to make Little One #2 eat the same food we eat. I find myself on Little One’s side because mommies also have some sort of physiological response to making children happy with food.
Besides, I’m just too tired to take up arms in the food fight because potty training took almost two years. “I don’t want to poop in the potty,” he said. “It’s too dangerous for me.” Where, in the name of all that is good and holy, did THIS come from?
Finally, at age 5.5, Little One #2 came into the light. I now hear choirs of angels singing back-up for his shouts of “Mommy, I pooped on the potty!”
Let’s recap. First, I scorned my Sister-in-Law for walking her son up and down the hall to soothe him. Then God gave me a baby who needed booby every night at 2:00 am. Second, I scorned my Sister-in-Law for letting her son bring her diapers at age 5. Then God gave me a son who did the exact same effing thing. Third, I scorned my Sister-in-Law for fixing separate meals for her offspring. Then God gave me the pickiest eater on the planet.
Hmm. Methinks I spy a pattern here.
My Little One #2 taught me just how wonderful a mother my Sister-in-Law is. He taught me that mothers cannot take credit for their children’s perfection, nor should they take the blame for the children’s issues and problems and quirks. Children are what they are: little people with big personalities and generally bad manners. A precious few enter this world agreeable, amiable, eager to please, and easy to please. Most make us wish (at least once or twice) that Dr. Spock had authorized duct tape and sound-proof cages as appropriate parenting tools.
Furthermore, children are all different and not one of them comes with an instruction manual. All we mothers can do is fumble through as best we can and hope they don’t hate us when we are old and need them to choose our nursing home.
My Sister-in-Law recently sent me pictures of her two boys. Her first born graduated from high school this year, and his senior picture was perfectly handsome, in that airbrushed and soft-focus sort of way senior pictures are. He’ll attend university in the fall, is well on his way to successful adulthood, and will choose a very nice nursing home for her when the time comes.
The picture of her second born was smaller. He was wearing his wrestling uniform and sporting a completely ridiculous blonde Mohawk flopped over one eye.
After I stopped laughing, I realized that my Sister-in-Law is an absolute genius, and I want to be her when I grow up because she is a damn fine mother and a model for us all.
She chooses her fights carefully and knows that embarrassing hairdos are a lovely substitute for more dangerous forms of teenage rebellion, like drugs or smoking or knocking up random girls. She also, at least as I see it, is making a strategically brilliant move in giving her son just enough freedom to incur a karmic debt to be paid at some unspecified time in the future, such as when he brings the love of his life home to meet the parents. Ah, the good time she’ll have.
As for me, I’ve paid my own karmic debt and learned my lesson. Thank you, dear Sister-in-Law, for putting me in my place. I needed that.