I’ve only been a parent for a little over eight months. I’m not trained in psychology or neurology (or any other field where I’d have a greater than 50/50 chance of ever hoping to pay off my student loans), but that seems like it’s probably more than enough time to permanently damage a child’s chances of having a happy, healthy, successful life.
Before I start self-flagellating, I should acknowledge that there are a lot worse parents than me –for example, nearly everyone who has ever starred on any iteration of Teen Mom, especially most of the dads. I give you Ryan, speaking to his son on the occasion of his first birthday: “Hey, Bentley. I ain’t buyin’ your fuckin’ cake mix, buddy.” First of all, Bentley. Second, pretty sure that line is a direct outtake from American Psycho 3: Tennessee Drift. BUY YOUR SON A TWO-DOLLAR PILLSBURY CAKE MIX, YOU MONSTER.
But if I’m actually going to raise the bar high enough to make this limbo tournament competitive, there are also a lot of way better parents out there than me. This is based on nothing more than a gut feeling, but Sandra Bullock. How would she not be an amazing mom? I have seen no concrete evidence to the contrary, so there you go. Sandra Bullock: America’s Sweetheart, And Also Probably Mom of the Year. Thanks for making the rest of us look like assholes, Sandy! (This is the playful nickname used by Sandy’s close personal friends, such as George Clooney and me.)
Finally, before we get to the list, I want to point out that these are just three MAJOR ways I’m screwing up my son. I won’t even discuss the fact that I’m terminally messy, or helplessly disorganized, or relatively unmotivated. And I’ll just assume it’s a given that I’m setting a terrible example with regards to fitness and nutrition. Oh, and that I’ve probably done the kid a major disservice by passing on my genetics at all, what with my dozens of allergies (some potentially fatal!), crippling anxiety, and tendency to break out in mysterious rashes.
And no, my tendency to gloss over huge life issues did not make the list.
ONE. I have a job.
I can sense that you’re underwhelmed by this confession. I do think it’s the norm now for both parents to be working outside the home, assuming both parents are fortunate enough to be employed if they so choose.
You’d never guess this from most of the parenting literature I read, though, which appears to be geared toward women whose only occupation is to gaze adoringly at their child all day long, waiting with bated breath to meet their every possible need. I guess not everyone can be a high-powered lady office drone like me, sitting at their desks all day writing run-on sentences to post on their personal blogs while they’re technically “on the clock,” or whatever.
Like, setting a daytime nap schedule for my son? I have no idea what my son does most days of the week. He could be running a prostitution ring out of a seedy by-the-hour motel, and I’d be none the wiser until I saw the room charges show up on my credit card bill. So if he’s napping at all, great! I’m not the one stuck wrestling him into unconsciousness twice a day, so who am I to be picky about the particulars?
Holding down a full-time job might be “normal,” and for our household, it’s not really optional — but I still can’t shake the constant, lingering guilt. I wasn’t there when my son rolled over for the first time. I wasn’t there when he said “mama” for the first time. For most of the daylight hours in any given week of the year, I’m not there.
And when I am there on weeknights and weekends, I’m so exhausted and stressed that sometimes I realize I’m just holding him and zoning out — not talking to him or interacting with him or encouraging him to develop any skills. Just kind of… staring at the wall. Like Sandy Bullock probably NEVER does.
TWO. He sleeps in bed with us.
This one really snuck up on us. My sister-in-law co-slept with her kids, and she’d warned us it was a really hard habit to break. No problem, I thought, we just won’t ever start. LOL SO SMUG.
It started innocently enough, when his reflux made it uncomfortable for him to sleep flat on his back. So for a while when he was tiny, he slept curled up on our chests. I had some obvious safety concerns, but it was tough — after putting the same squalling baby to bed three times in an hour, you start to make some compromises. (See how I projected that onto you all of a sudden? Don’t blame me; I’m just doing what YOU would do!)
By the time he was about three months old, though, he was doing a great job sleeping on his own in a little padded recliner meant to help keep the reflux symptoms at bay. And by the time he was going on six months, he slept straight through the night twice within a single week. All by himself! I really thought we were getting somewhere — like we had accomplished something.
Cut to a couple of months later, and the kid cannot sleep for more than an hour unless he’s touching one of us. He’ll wake up screaming inconsolably until we cuddle him back to unconsciousness.
A few weeks into this (ongoing) phase, I actually tried to let him cry it out one night. It turns out he doesn’t have a “cry out” function. Instead of getting worn out, he got progressively more hysterical. Being picked up and soothed by my husband only served to further enrage him. After 40 minutes of this experiment, the kid was so worked up he was choking on his own vomit. Per Dr. Spock [I’m assuming? CITATION NEEDED], puke-gargling is not a component of a healthy bedtime routine, so he once again spent the night in a parent sandwich.
Now that he’s getting very punchy and kicky and slappy in his sleep, we’ve invested in a proper crib, and we’re hoping to transition him into it over the next month or so. Or maybe our future second child will get some use out of it.
THREE. He totally watches TV.
Ugh, I know. Everybody hates TV, and it’s the worst, and it’s ruining society. But I’m a drooling moron, and I actually feel uncomfortable if the TV is off. I like to have it on as background noise, even if I’m not in the room — it makes me feel less alone in an otherwise empty house. Like there are other people puttering about and doing things just in the other room.
On the other hand, if I have music playing in the background, I can way too easily convince myself that I’m in a scene from a horror movie. You know… the woman is home alone with a baby, and she’s listening to an old Simon & Garfunkel album, and then the next thing you know three intruders break in and she’s being gutted to the tune of “Cecilia.” Better safe than sorry, I always say!
Anyway. I used to watch a lot of Investigation Discovery and I Survived on Bio and History Channel stuff about Caligula, but the baby is way too cognizant of his surroundings at this age. So we mostly leave the set tuned to PBS Kids when we’re home, and he now has a Pavlovian response to turn immediately toward the screen when he hears the theme song for Thomas & Friends.
“Is it a bad sign that he knows the Thomas theme?” I asked my mom last week. She stayed home with me when I was a baby, so she clearly has the moral high ground here.
“No!” she said. “That means he’s smart enough to recognize it.”
Meanwhile, he still hasn’t learned to respond to his own name. But! At least we know his ears work properly. That’s kind of milestone-ish, right?
On the other hand, I did totally miss the ear infection he was cultivating last month, so… if it were up to me, he probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy TV until he was old enough to read the closed captioning. But I would probably make him sit there and watch it anyway, because — as we’ve seen — I can be a real Ryan-from-Teen Mom sometimes.