With over 58 years of combined parenting experience, 6 children and a multitude of head scratching and eye-rolling moments, I have narrowed parenting survival down to the 5 “M”s of “mom”ming.
Modesty – As sung by my BFF Elsa, you gotta “Let It Go”. Serious, it’s okay that your kid is stripping the moment your van rolls in the drive. With my first child, it was a rule that shoes, socks and all clothing stayed on…all day. Then as we added more little ones, I noticed various states of undress. And then there came a day that my three youngest were in the backyard in their skivvies and I had a dawning of realization. If they play all day in the mud and grass in their underwear, I didn’t have any clothes to wash, stain stick to utilize or anger at ruined muddy shoes. And if it happened to be a day that I didn’t go to town, I realized that I would have dressed them and would not receive credit. It was like this beautiful epiphany that was released from the heavens, sweet Jesus, how in the world have I never happened upon this.
As for my own modesty, I have come to the realization that I will never dress without an audience. There is some type of built-in alarm that alerts my children the moment I go to the restroom or if I have decided to change my clothes. They then proceed to track me down, much like blood hounds on the scent of a fugitive. If the door is locked to facilitate my privacy, events will ratchet up to emergency proportion and blood, vomit or torrential tears will manifest outside my door. So, I leave the door cracked open and I’ve learned to dress faster than a junior high girl changing for the first time in the girl’s locker room.
Medical – With my first precious child, Web MD was my home page. I was scared to death when she had her first fever and within an hour I had narrowed my first born’s symptoms to a diagnosis of either Hanta virus or Ebola. It was later confirmed to be the common cold, but I couldn’t be too careful. I know how scared and neurotic we can be as first time moms. Who wants to admit they went to the ER for a weird rash that ended up being dried strawberry jelly? Who hasn’t posted symptoms and pictures on Facebook and then taken it as gospel when brand new parent friends check Web MD and give you a diagnosis? After a few kids, I started realizing how resilient the little boogers are. Now I receive a call from the school and I always reply “yes, I’ll be right there”. When deep inside I want to ask, How high is the fever? Was the vomit real? Did you check to see if that rash was dried strawberry jelly?
Mini-Vans – You are going to cave…I remember saying that I would never drive a mini-van or a large vehicle; and my vehicle would stay clean no matter how many kids. And one day as I sat in the drop-off lane in my tiny Toyota 4-runner filled to the window with arguing kids, weeks of school papers, stripped off socks and shoes, and fast food bags, I realized the error of my ways. I was looking with envy at a mini-van mom. Her mini-van had automatic doors, a buffer row between two of the seats, and sippy cup holders were everywhere! I imagined how easy it would be to clean that van. You just open the doors and grab a broom. I determined that I needed a larger vehicle and I needed to open my mind about the vehicle hygiene now that I was car-pooling six offspring. So here are three rules I have learned in regards to the vehicle,.
- What happens in the car, stays in the car. Yes, I am one chill mama that will look away as long as peace reigns. I am so chill that last month when I looked back and saw my youngest son eating a chicken nugget, I kept my mouth shut and rolled with it, even though I hadn’t purchased nuggets that day, or even the day before,.. yes, I kept my mouth shut and I rested in the fact that I saw a YouTube video showing a Happy Meal that had sat for 6 months and remained unchanged, so it was probably fine. I was chill because he was quiet and not whining at me, and it is all about road safety.
- I have let go of the fact that my car will ever be free of unidentified sticky substances or weird smells. And there is one rule above all that I have learned about the mini-van. If you find an old sippy cup beneath the seat it must go directly into the trash, DO NOT OPEN, no matter how big the urge! If you open one of those, it’s like the breath of an Orc from Lord of the Rings has breathed it’s hellish rot in your face. Sippy cups left in the car must go directly in the outside trash.
- Do not try to clean out the van with your children. It might seem like a good idea and you’ll think it will teach responsibility. Nope, it will only facilitate the packing of all school worksheets, cheap fast food trinkets, and old straws to their bedrooms to be hoarded and cataloged as treasures. And guarantee, one of your kids will open that sippy cup and accidentally spill it in your van, but that’s a whole other post about smells you never knew existed…
Meals – I think that I can easily explain perfect meal planning with multiple children and a full-time job by the following phrase “my existential experience does not match my preconceived notions”. And this is when we made the leap from gourmet meals and fine china to mac and cheese and paper plates. It’s real, it’s gritty and it’s survival. I started with the best intentions and thought my kids would be eating a variety of healthy foods at each meal. What I have learned is that my kids are on their own. My house is like an episode of Naked and Afraid, a survival show where people are dropped off in a jungle naked and they forage for food. My kids are always half-naked and they forage for food during the day. I am teaching them how to survive without parents constantly intervening. The prize for our reality show, is children capable of living on their own someday.
Mom Pants – Just own it. My mom pants are yoga pants that I purchased 4 years ago in bulk from the local Nike outlet. If I stay home, I wear them. I have realized that dressing up for the day would constitute time for hair, makeup and possibly clothes that need ironed. I just can’t deal and Lycra is forgiving. The other day, I got mad at my youngest for smearing peanut butter on my good pants. Yep, I heard myself say “oh man, those are my good pants”, and I looked down and I was wearing my faded black Nike pants. My mom pants can go several days before washing and they also stretch to my liking by the second day. If you see me in my mom pants and ask me if I just worked out, I’ll just smile and nod “yes”, because 6 kids and a husband is a marathon everyday.
Magic – Yes, I have utilized magic. I have told my children that I know Santa personally and I talk to him on a regular basis. I also took a picture with him at the mall and I pull this photo out at opportune moments when all else fails. I admit that one day I “called” Santa and held a one way conversation about the arguing and whining between my kids. I’ll admit I was pleasantly surprised that it not only worked with my kids, but it felt a bit therapeutic.
But here’s what it has taken me years to learn, there really is no magic to parenting. This parenting stuff is tough, and with our first child the world revolved around her needs. Now with 6 kids, I’ve been forced to focus on what is most important. I’ve stripped it down to what truly matters, and the details don’t matter as much as the bigger picture. I thought that doing all the detail stuff is what made me a good parent. Amazing packed lunches, themed birthday parties, and keeping them fed and entertained all day. Doing these things are not wrong, but they also don’t teach my kids what we want them to learn before they leave our home.
We recently adopted a child from Eastern Europe who had lived the first four years of his life is a horrible orphanage. He came to our home with no ideas of what family life should look like. He has taught me so much about parenting and forgiveness. He has taught me to forgive myself when I miss a performance, or forget to sign a homework log, or am just too tired to cook dinner. He has forced us to raise our children to be independent, because I cannot do everything. So, I’ve let go of the details and my children have gone to school with mismatched outfits and cowlicks. They’ve forgotten their homework and packed their own lunch without a protein. And the natural consequences of life happen to my kids while they are still safe under my roof. They are learning how to push boundaries and fail while the consequences aren’t so great. But the most beautiful part of me letting go of the details, is watching them step in and pick them up. This morning I watched my kids pick out clothes, help dress, and then load/unload their paraplegic brother for school. I did not ask them, they naturally have started helping each other because I’ve stepped back. Maybe that’s the “magic” of parenting, realizing that we should parent with the big picture in mind. Don’t do all the details, and watch your children learn self-confidence and self-reliance. Magic=Do Less and your child will be capable and confident to Do More. Now that’s magic.