Bad Mom

I feel this should go without saying, but judging by the amount of hate mail I’ve gotten recently, apparently it does, in fact, need to be said.

I love my son.

More than anything.

More than my own life.

More than coffee.

COFFEE, people.

I’m not just willing to die for him, I’m willing to kill for him if it comes down to it. Granted, the only weapons in my house are a 32-pound dog and a frying pan, but I will throw both at your face if you even feign that you mean to harm my kid.

So, yes, I love my baby. And I love being a mom. I could talk (or write) for days non-stop about his every adorable facial tic and all the amazing ways he’s developing into a person. Seriously. Just ask my husband, who gets an extremely detailed run-down of what Riker did that day the second he gets home from work.

Me: “Guess what your son did today!? He pulled the dog’s tail and then shoved all the dog hair in his mouth! It was so cute. Well, up until he coughed out that hair ball. But still. I wish I would have recorded it.”

Him: “That’s great, sweetie. Now would you mind getting out of the way so I can get out of the car?”

Me (not moving): “And then he had peas for lunch and it got all over his face and it was so cute that I took 27 almost identical photos of it with my phone, here look at them, and then…”

Him: “…(sigh)…”

Needless to say, my life is ten thousand times better with Riker in it and if I die tomorrow, with my last breath I can honestly say that I am dying a happy woman.

Except, it’s not needless to say. Because more than once I’ve been accused of being a Bad Mom.

See, we all have our ways of dealing with the stress of parenting. Some people eat the stress away. Some lock the bathroom door and just sit there on the floor, staring vacantly at the wall for an hour. Some hire a babysitter and head out for a night on the town. I’ve even heard urban legends of strange creatures that do an odd ritual called exercising, where they force themselves to move in a vigorous manner to alleviate stress and maintain good health.*

*Science has yet to actually study these mythological creatures up close since one has never been caught out in the wild. Mainly because most scientists refuse to jog to catch up with them.

As for me? I write about it. For over a decade now I’ve been writing this humor column. It started out when I was that lowliest of low creatures, an intern for a small town paper, and has continued in different newspapers and media outlets across the country as well as here on my own website. And for all those years the main subject has been the same: Finding the humor in everyday life, mostly using my own life as fodder.

And my own life now is all about raising my child. So, I take those frustrating days when he won’t stop crying because he’s teething and those surreal moments where you find yourself saying things like “if you’d just stop poking yourself in the eye, you’d probably feel better,” and turn them into amusing (or at least I hope amusing) 800-word anecdotes each week.

And as the words amass on the page, I can feel myself relaxing, feeling better. I pour it all out. And in the end, it makes me a better mom, refreshed and ready to tackle another diaper blowout (where he grabs his poopy naked butt and smears it on his face before I can stop him) with a smile.

However, writing honestly about parenthood, while it will gain you some fans, also garners enormous amounts of criticism. Because in our society, raising children is Very Serious Business. And making fun of a baby or modern parenting or daring to say that the entire process is anything less than an amazing blessing we should be thankful for each day really, REALLY pisses some people off.

And so I get called a bad mom, an ungrateful mom. And my poor, poor son, who people feel so bad for because he has someone like me for a mom. He deserves better.

I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. But the first thing I learned when I became a mom is that guilt, a lot of guilt, comes with the job. So, I feel guilty for all the regular mom stuff (am I doing this right?) and then doubly guilty when someone doesn’t think it’s funny that I compared my baby to a dog in my column (am I ruining his life just to make some cheap jokes?).

There is nothing worse than being called a Bad Mom. Even if it’s by a stranger. Even if you know it isn’t true.

Because being a parent is hard and secretly we are all a little worried that we might be bad at it.

But that’s exactly why I think it’s so important that we be able to laugh at ourselves from time to time. We’ll go insane if we don’t. Or at least I will. I’d much rather view raising my baby as a comedy of errors rather than a tragedy of sleepness nights. Or worse, as a boring corporate lecture where I have to follow a PowerPoint of parenting rules.

Only time will tell if this particular strategy really did make me a Bad Mom. But until then, I know my son will grow up in a house filled with laughter. A house also filled with a lot of crying, barking and exclamations of “No! No! We don’t eat Mommy’s mascara!”

But mostly, hopefully, laughter.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go teach my son to roll over and maybe, if there’s time, to go fetch me the newspaper.

 

 

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Mommy Brain: The struggle is real

I had to use a calculator the other day. To figure out what 12 plus 9 was. I was paying bills (during the 10 minutes my baby, Riker, usually agrees to sleep in the crib before he wakes up crying like he’s being murdered by a serial killer named Icepick Ivan) and trying to figure out how much money we’d have left over for frivolous things such as food and industrial strength “wall poop remover.” And then suddenly, this basic arithmetic problem stopped me in my tracks.

Ridiculous? Sure. But what’s even more ridiculous is how long I tried to figure it out in my head before I finally gave up and made technology do my brain’s dirty work (7.5 minutes but you didn’t hear it from me).

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Now, it would be easy to chalk this episode up to our collective intellectual decline or even the new Common Core math. But considering I grew up doing math the old fashion way instead of this fancy “12 plus 9 equals a series of half circles colored blue” method, I can’t even blame my teachers.

I can only do the mature thing and blame my baby.

According to science, the average human only uses about 10 percent of their brain. I don’t know if science has ever examined a mom’s brain after they’ve been taking care of an infant for 14 hours straight, but if they did, I can almost guarantee that percentage goes down to more like 3 percent. And if they’d look really close, they’d see the brain staring vacantly at a Spongebob Squarepants cartoon as it stuffed its face with cold pizza rolls and cried.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t currently living it, but taking care of a baby is by far the most mentally draining thing I’ve ever done. So much so, in fact, that if my husband gets home late from work, I am unable to even string sentences together by the time I see him.

Him: “How was your day?”

Me: “Cry. Many times. Poop. Ceiling has. Dog bad. Licked naked baby butt. I pee now?”

And let me clarify, it’s not mentally draining because my formerly bright mind is now atrophying from lack of use. In fact, it’s the opposite of that. I’m using parts of my brain I didn’t even know existed (such as the part that can calculate the speed and airborne path a binkie is most likely to take judging from the angle of the baby’s head so you can catch it mid-air before it hits your disgusting floor you haven’t cleaned in two weeks).

I mean, granted, changing diapers and playing “Bouncy Knee Silly Time” 104 times in a row isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating. I’ll give you that. But it is an entirely different kind of intelligence being flexed when you’re spending all your time trying to stop a 16-pound unexploded grenade who is determined to seriously injure himself from either exploding into a tantrum or hurling himself off the couch headfirst in a misguided attempt to reach the dog.

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Seriously, just think of the brain power you have to use to try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language, can’t point or use hand gestures and only has three emotions (happy, NOT HAPPY and pooping). Or how many parts of your brain must work together at high speeds to plan for every eventuality that might happen if you leave the house with your baby so you can successfully pack a diaper bag and not be that idiot parent on the subway with a screaming kid everyone hates because you forgot his stuffed animal with the goofy sunglasses, Mr. Hiphop A. Potamus. Or even the mental marathon powers you must possess to be able to sing “Close To You” by The Carpenters over and over again until he falls asleep without your head exploding.

So, becoming a parent doesn’t mean your brain is on an extended vacation despite how much it looks like that from the outside. It just means your brain is becoming an expert in exactly one topic.

Your baby.

And sure, this expertise won’t win you the Nobel Prize or get you tenure at Harvard. Hell, it won’t even gain you respect, not even from your baby. But it’s a worthy, and happily temporary, sacrifice.

So, to the moms and dads out there, don’t feel bad when you forget things like basic math or that you put your keys in the leftover lasagna from last night or that you can’t remember the last time you had a conversation that didn’t include the word “poop.” You’re not dumb. Your brain power is just going to a higher cause. A cause that will pay off when junior is grown up and happy and healthy and rich and buys Momma that beach house she’s always wanted.

*Cough…Riker…cough*

 

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Say it isn’t so, Robin Williams

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The Battle of Crib Hill

Today is the day. The battle lines have been drawn. The weapons sharpened and at the ready. And once the smoke clears, a clear victor shall emerge from the carnage.

For over five months now, I’ve been a prisoner in this war. Day after day, praying and hoping and scheming to win back my freedom. Only to be disappointed yet again as the sun disappears beyond the horizon.

Hungry. Sleep-deprived. Covered in filth. No one should have to live this way. Some might argue that I brought this on myself. But my fellow soldiers in this war, my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, know that when we took on this mission (code name: Operation Reproduction), it was only with the best of intentions.

But no more. Not today. No. Today is the day. The day I end this standoff. The day I ignite a revolution. The day I mix my military metaphors and arbitrarily abuse alliteration.

The air is tense as I put my plan into motion. Feasting on his mid-morning meal, my captor has no idea what is coming. I let him dine in peace, for all too soon the screaming will start. Let him have these last few serene moments.

He falls asleep. With one last look at his vulnerable face, I put the plan (code name: Operation This Kid Will Finally Nap In His Stupid Crib So Help Me) into action.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I get up from the rocking chair. He begins to stir, letting out a small whine. I freeze. Everything hangs in the balance.

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But luck is on my side. He quickly slumbers again.

I carry the tiny dictator in my arms with the gentle yet tense gait of a bomb squad member carrying an undetonated grenade. I carefully lower him into the cage. Against all odds, he continues the deep sleep of the blissfully ignorant. I straighten my body, hardly daring to breath. Things are going well.

Too well.

Freedom is within my grasp. I’m so close I can taste it. Sweat drips down into my eyes as I creep on my tiptoes to the nursery door. Thoughts swirl around in my brain as I allow myself to imagine what I’ll do once I’m free. Eat? Pee? Nap? Finally tweeze my neglected caveman eyebrows?

All four at once?

But then, out of nowhere, BOOM! A shot rings out from the most unlikeliest of places. And I freeze as the dog’s bark hangs in the air, eyes wide, not breathing, not moving. Stuck in what seems like a never-ending moment where the possibility that the shot missed its target is still alive.

The baby starts crying.

Done in by friendly fire.

I stand there, defeated, waiting the obligatory minute or two to see if he will fall back asleep. But deep in my heart, I know he won’t. The chains have been slapped back on.

The cries grow louder.

I pick the enemy combatant up, soothing him. Meanwhile, violent images where I whack the dog repeatedly with a giant cartoon mallet plays out inside my brain. The dog stares me, almost like he knows what I’m imagining. I throw him my best “you’re dead to me” crazed-eye look.

He at least has the decency to hang his head and look guilty.

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Long hours pass. Long hours in which the enemy is cranky and repeatedly spits out his semi-automatic binkie, aiming for that spot under the rocking chair that I can never quite reach. He refuses to go back to sleep now that he knows of my betrayal.

The punishment fits the crime, I suppose.

Later in the day, I make a half-hearted attempt to resurrect my escape plan. Feed him. Lull him to sleep. Lower him once again down into baby jail.

But my spirit is broken. It inevitably fails. As his head hits the crib mattress, his eyes fly open and I’ve barely dropped to the floor and army-crawled passed the changing table before the indignant screaming at being betrayed again start.

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By the time dusk arrives, Stockholm Syndrome has set in. It’s my fault he won’t nap in his crib. I’m a horrible mom. There are moms who have their newborns trained to sleep in their cribs during the day before the babies are even fully emerged from the birthing canal. I should have read a parenting book written by someone other than Dave Barry.

But just when all appears to be lost, reinforcements arrive. Commander Daddy bursts onto the scene like the hero that he is and surveys the battlefield. The broken and mutilated toys lying on the ground. The vultures and flies circling a never eaten sandwich; a sandwich made back when hope was still alive.

The commander immediately cuts off my chains, taking the tiny tyrant in his bare arms.

Free.

I’m finally free.

Granted, it is only temporary. But it will have to do for now.

I go into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. A tiny consolation after yet another day of defeat.

By the time I make it back to the main battlefield in the living room, I see the commander sitting in the rocking chair, arms empty.

“Where is he?!” I demand.

“Sleeping in the crib. He was exhausted. Went right down.”

I turn back around and grab a bigger wine glass.

With great power comes great therapy bills

I had no idea, you guys. No idea. I was ready for the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers and even the ass-numbingly dull act of reading the same stupid children’s book over and over again. But nothing, NOTHING, could have prepared me for the power that comes with parenting.

The sheer POWER, people!

And I’m not just talking about the immense physical power you have over a baby. Although I think we can all agree it would take very little effort on your part as an adult to kick a baby’s ass. I mean, sure, their little hands are always balled up in tiny fists, but most babies can’t throw a decent punch. So right there you already have a pretty big advantage. Plus it’s pretty difficult to execute a decent roundhouse kick when you can’t even hold your head up properly.

And I’m not even talking about the almost god-like power that comes with you being the only thing standing between your baby and certain death. They count on you entirely for food and shelter and clothing and hitting that button on their toy that starts the music. (They’re not like cats. You can’t just put them in a crib with a bunch of bottles and a litterbox and leave for three days. They’re much more like dogs in that they will alert you every five minutes with their status update. Hungry now. Want attention now. This ball appears to be stationary and I’d really like it not to be now). In fact, a baby’s survival rate without your direct interference is pretty low.

But even so, the greatest power you hold as a parent is that you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Seriously, these kids come out of the womb knowing nothing. They haven’t even heard of the Kardashians yet. You have to teach them EVERYTHING. (Well, everything except how to suck on a nipple and how to poop in the tub, both of which they do automatically by instinct).

As a new parent, this is a pretty intimidating thought. One, because with that much power, it’s very hard not to become corrupt. History has taught us that. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and whatnot. I mean, just think how easy it would be to teach them that the sky is called a nurple and that they should call your mother Dave instead of Grandma. If you think about it, there’s really nothing stopping you from doing this besides basic human decency and the priceless look on Grandma’s face when junior yells “Hi, Dave!” across the restaurant pretty much trumps that.

And two, that much power leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Take, for example, how my husband and I have accidentally set back our son’s language skills by years, if not decades.

It all started innocently enough. About three months ago, when Riker was at that stage where he was smiling but not quite laughing yet, we were doing everything short of standing on our heads to get him to giggle. Goofy dancing. Silly songs. Some Louis C.K. jokes while standing in front of a brick wall.

Nothing.

And then we did stand on our heads. And then we stood on each other’s head.

Again. Nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Just the vacant stare of a baby who is wondering just how crappy of a person he was in his previous life to end up with these two yahoos as parents this time around.

But just when we were about to give up and face the reality that we gave birth to a tiny Ben Stein, we finally discovered his particular brand of humor: The Horsey Noise.

Yes, for this kid, that sound when you vibrate your two lips together like a horse’s neigh was the height of comedic genius. He just laughed and laughed. And so we kept doing it. Because once you hear your baby laugh, you never want that sound to end. We did it 50 times in a row. And then another 100. He would just laugh and laugh and then poop and then laugh some more.

We did it so much, in fact, that he started imitating us. Spittle and drool flying all over the place as he Horsey Noised and then we Horsey Noised and then we all Horsey Noised together. We just couldn’t stop. It was so adorable. Not to mention so monumental considering it was his first major attempt to communicate with us that wasn’t in the form of screaming.

So there we are, the three of us, just doing the Horsey Noise back and forth for weeks. When one day we noticed he started doing it the moment he saw us. He’d greet us with Horsey Noise and say good-bye with Horsey Noise. And then he started doing it every time we talked to him.

“Are you hungry?”

“…(horsey noise)…”

“Can you say ‘Momma’?”

“…(horsey noise)…”

With growing uneasiness, we also noticed that whereas he used to babble and coo and make different sounds, they’d all been replaced by Horsey Noise. My name? Horsey Noise. Daddy is also Horsey Noise. The dog? You guessed it. Horsey Noise.

It’s gotten to the point that I know we should stop but I worry that if we do, it may cause some severe psychological damage. The Horsey Noise is the first time we’ve been able to verbally relate to each other. So suddenly no longer doing it back to him would be like your parents having spoken to you in French your entire life and then suddenly addressing you in Chinese with no explanation.

And he’s just so proud he finally mastered Horsey Noise. I can’t take that away from him.

So, obviously there’s only one solution. Everyone is just going to have to make Horsey Noise their primary language. Even Dave.

Time flies when you’re elbow deep in poo

It is currently 9:04 p.m. as I write this. If you were to put a gun to my head right now and demand that I recount how I just spent my entire day, I’d be dead. Like super dead.

(Super dead, of course, being more dead than just regular dead and a lot more dead than mostly dead).

That’s because I have no bloody idea what I did today. Or yesterday. Or for the past five months.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to be able to flawlessly recall my daily activities, from what Netflix show I was currently binge watching to what specific type of pizza roll I was mindlessly eating while binge watching said Netflix show.

And then I became a parent.

See, as it turns out, parenthood is a constant state of being where you never have any free time and yet nothing ever seems to get done. And even though my to-do list has now been whittled down to just one main objective every day (“keep kid alive”), at the end of the day, I can’t tell you how I got there.

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I mean, sure, in general terms, I can say, yes, I fed him and changed his diapers and played “I’m Gonna Eat Your Tootsies” roughly 316 times. But the math just doesn’t add up. Because doing those things technically only takes up a relatively small portion of my day.

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So, how is it then that when I crawl into bed at night, I have no idea where the other 70 percent of my day went?

Well, being the scientifically minded person that I am, I came up with some theories.

Possible Theories On Where The Time Actually Goes:

  1. Babies are like vampires. You look into their adorable eyes and are unknowingly glamoured. But since they can only babble instead of talking in full sentences, your brain isn’t filled with false memories but rather with a jumble of random sounds and images.
  2. Just like road hypnosis, where you are suddenly sitting in the parking lot of work but don’t remember driving there, there is such a thing as diaper hypnosis, where you change diapers so often you no longer remember doing it.
  3. Patrick Stewart invented some kind of machine that steals minutes from the lives of anyone who watches reruns of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and that’s why he hasn’t aged in 30 years.
  4. Maybe time really does fly when you’re having fun. And it shoots off like goddamn rocket when you have a baby screaming directly into your face.
  5. Technically bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly because their bodies are too heavy for their wings and other science stuff. And yet, they still fly. I don’t really know how this relates to me never having any time but you gotta admit, that’s pretty shady. They’re up to something.

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Or it could just be that you can no longer remember what you’ve done all day because as a parent, you’re doing 12 things all at once, all of them one-handed and at least three-fourths of them half-assed.

For instance, I still watch Netflix but now I’m also trying to shovel a spoonful of glop (the technical term for rice cereal mixed with breast milk) into a tiny and constantly moving target at the same time. And then I’m cleaning up the glop from the floors and the walls and the target’s hair and feet while trying unsuccessfully at the same time to keep the dog from eating the leftover glop that is smeared all over the kid’s face. All while also talking to my mom on the phone because this was the only “free time” I had to talk. And then I empty only half of the dishwasher because I just remembered I need to take the clothes out of the washer, the same load that’s been in there for 11 days because I keep forgetting about it, just rewashing it over and over again because by the time I remember it’s in there, all the clothes are dank and musty. But on my way there, the kid throws up and so I go to change his clothes, putting him in my old Nirvana T-shirt because all his clothes have been in the washer for 11 days. And then he’s crying so we go for a walk in the park (first packing a diaper bag with 98 percent of my son’s belongings inside it) while I try to pay bills online via my smartphone, steering drunkenly one-handed and running over squirrels and small dogs. And then we’re home and I take him out of the stroller only to discover he left behind the entire contents of his lower intestines. So then I’m elbow deep in poo and bleach and my husband calls to see what we want to do for dinner and all this continues for 16 more hours until I go to bed wondering what the hell just happened.

It could be that’s where all the time goes.

But personally, I think it’s the bumblebees.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Toy Assembling

I was told a lot of things about being a parent before I had my son. For example, some of my favorite gems include:

“You’ll never not be doing laundry.”

“You’ll never not be covered in fluids that aren’t yours.”

“You’ll spend the first part of their life trying to teach them to talk and the rest of their life telling them to shut up.”

But the one thing I wasn’t told? That I would need a degree in engineering.

Yes, I was, and still am, highly ill-equipped to deal with the barrage of “some assembly required” items that have entered my home since junior arrived. Toys, activity play sets, swinging chairs, various contraptions that basically serve as baby jails. All of them needing a toolbox and a set of skills that are more advanced than my current level of construction knowledge, which begins and ends with the phrase “rightie tightie, leftie loosie.”

And silly me, wasting all that time getting a journalism degree (which now should just be called a “Hey, want to write for my website for free? It’ll give you good exposure” degree) when I should have been building a replica of the Death Star or whatever it is they do in engineering school.

Take my most recent baby item building adventure. Last week, I discovered a still-in-the-box bouncy chair, which was revealed after the Great Stuffed Animal Mountain Avalanche of 2014 (a mountain hastily constructed by me a few months ago while “cleaning” the nursery closet, which should already give you some idea of my engineering capabilities).

I immediately decided I had to put it together because as I’ve learned (and here’s a little parenting gem I can pass on to you), you can never have too many places to set your child down. So, I opened up the instruction manual and spent the next three hours doing the following:

Step 1: Hold down the two sides of the dobbler and insert the dobbler into the doohickey. But only if you happen to have the natural strength of Hercules because the dobbler is actually manufactured to be just slightly larger than the doohickey because we here at Generic Toy Company have a cruel sense of humor. In a last ditch effort, use a hammer (not included) to just bang the crap out of both parts until they fit.

Step 2: Take the oddly shaped bright red thingy and screw it into the oddly shaped bright yellow thingy.

Step 3: Insert the dancing cow beside the singing duckies until you hear it click into place.

Step 4: Hook the canvas piece onto the tiny plastic hook and then attempt to stretch it all the way across to the other tiny plastic hook. Which is, of course, impossible because we manufactured it to only go three-fourths of the way across. But that won’t stop you from pulling and stretching and pulling and cussing and getting all red-faced and sweaty until you finally get so fed up you throw it across the room while your dog cowers in the corner.

Step 5: Spend a frustrating 20 minutes looking for that stupid blue piece, which was JUST HERE A MINUTE AGO, DAMMIT!

Step 6: Locate the battery panel. Which you probably won’t be able to do because we hid it. Extremely well. And even if by some miracle you do happen to find it, we screwed it tightly shut because of all the criminals out there who sneak into homes and steal all the batteries from children’s toys. Even though technically that’s a counterintuitive measure considering there are no batteries in there yet. Spend 45 frustrating minutes trying to unscrew the battery panel screws, which are specifically designed to not fit well with any standard screwdriver. Insert 28 double AA batteries.

Step 7: Debate internally for at least an hour on whether or not this death trap is safe enough for your child.

Step 8: Decide “screw it” and plunk him down in the bouncy chair because you’ve been up since 5 a.m. and haven’t peed since 5:01 a.m. and it’s now 8 p.m. and your arms are numb from carrying him around and he hates the crib and the swing this week and you haven’t eaten since Tuesday and hey, kids in the 60’s survived licking lead paint walls and cars with no seat belts.

Step 9: Enjoy 12 blissful minutes of peace as he plays in the bouncy chair, which seems, at least marginally, structurally sound.

Step 10: At 13 minutes, take him out of bouncy chair because he is now crying hysterically.

Step 11: Add bouncy chair to the Corner of Useless Baby Crap, which is now no longer really a corner but more three-fourths of your living room.