Having spoken about the importance of structure and limits, I’m now going to stress that the only way to live through your child’s early years (let alone the early years of several children) is to LIGHTEN UP. Most things are not a matter of life and death; save your no’s, your yelling, and your worrying for the things that are important.
Actually, it’s hard to remain rigid with small children because--prepare yourself--they are going to embarrass you, probably in public. I’ll never forget the times I took our oldest daughter to the orthodontist with three little ones in tow. Hilary was four, MaryRuth was two, and Josh was a crawling baby. I tried to take stuff for the younger ones to do, but we usually had to wait at least an hour in a crowded waiting room, and all my preparations wore a little thin.
On a typical day, I looked up to see MaryRuth coloring all over a wooden chair with a white crayon. Since we were in a dentist’s office, I found some toothpaste and managed to work it off with a paper towel. Hilary had to go to the bathroom and announced it loudly. While I was taking her, Josh pulled down the plant from the window sill. When I came back, I tried to sweep up the dirt surreptitiously with a magazine cover. This whole time people watched us over the tops of their magazines, but no one said a word. And every visit was similar.If you’re easily embarrassed, when you have small children you’ll either get over it, learn to live with it, or die. A friend told me about taking her two-year-old son clothes shopping. She decided to be brave and try on some things for herself, and took the little boy into the dressing room with her. Just as she had taken off her dress and was standing in her slip, he dashed out the door. Unthinking, she ran out after him. Fortunately it was the women’s section of a department store because she was zipping through the racks in her little white unmentionables trying to catch her son. She finally cornered him in the shoe section and with all the dignity she could muster, she carried him kicking and screaming back to the dressing room, trying to ignore the stares of the other shoppers.
Once my sister, Marilyn, and I were in a department store with her three-year-old daughter, Valerie. Valerie knew lots of words, but usually couldn’t say them clearly. While we were looking through the racks, Valerie pointed and said loudly and as clear as a bell, “That lady has funny hair.” It was too late to shush her, so we just quickly left.
At least Marilyn never saw that lady with the funny hair again. I once invited some of my husband’s colleagues over for dinner. I’d never met them before, but they seemed like nice people. The wife, Sarah, and I were in the kitchen putting the final touches on dinner. Three-year-old Jennifer wandered in brushing her hair while I mixed up the punch in a big punch bowl. Before I realized what she was doing, Jennifer reached out and stirred the punch with her hair brush, then tilted back her head and shook the drops of liquid from the brush into her mouth. It all happened so quickly I couldn’t move until it was over and too late. Sarah and I stared at her, horrified.
Then we looked at each other and both of us burst out laughing. She said, “I won’t tell the guys if you won’t.” I knew we were going to be friends.
I read of another woman who went to visit a new family that just moved into the neighborhood. While she and the new woman were talking in the living room, one of the children called up from the basement, “Mom, Richard’s using my toothbrush to clean out the rat’s cage!” Her mother yelled back, “Tell him to use his own toothbrush!” That’s my kind of neighbor.
Every mother has similar stories about times when she wished the ground would open up and swallow her because of something her child has said or done. It never does, however, and you are left to bluff or brazen your way through, or else slink off humiliated into the dark. But it all evens out in the end because in a few years, when those same children are teenagers, just the fact of your existence will be hideously embarrassing to them. As one of my teenage sons said one day when I picked him up at school, “Mom, couldn’t you meet me around the corner? Everybody knows only nerds have mothers.”
A bumper sticker I saw near a high school:
I have an embarrassed teenager crouched down and hiding in my back seat.