The Parental Ideologue

So here is what happens… you find out your pregnant. You start to share this news with the world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has parenting advice. Family, friends, distant relations, people you talked to once in high school, random strangers will stop you on the street, in the middle of the grocery store, to tell you how they parented.

You have the baby, and the advice does not stop. Especially if this is your first baby. Everyone is a parenting expert, and they will have this irrepressible need to tell you the many ways they succeeded, how they did it, and how you should do it.

I would like to note that rarely do these home-grown experts own up to their failures.

Among the advice givers, you’ll find the ideologue. There are roughly as many different theories on parenting as there are lip gloss samples at Ulta. You’ll find parents from many of these groups, and they will tell you how every decision they make fits within the tenements of their parenting philosophy.

It drives me crazy.

I parent to the kid, not to the ideology.

If I had to pin my parenting philosophy down, it falls somewhere around “Get Everyone to 18 Without Losing my Mind.” We do practice quite a bit of attachment parenting, I do consider us gentle parents. But we routinely find ourselves making decisions out of the definitions of those philosophies.

Each kid is different. There are vast differences between Sprout and Pudge. Already, I am seeing that some of the parenting techniques that worked with Sprout are not going to work with Pudge. She is an entirely different child, technical and precise, then her wild big sister. Making decisions just to stay within the parenting tenements I follow, to have more cred as a gentle parent, will hurt my children, rather than help them.

Along with this, comes the books. There are hundreds of books at my local Barnes and Noble on parenting. Many of them proclaim with bold phrases in bright letters that buying this book will solve all your parenting problems. Or the DVDs. For just $59.99 plus shipping and handling, you can buy this series from world renown parenting expert Doctor Clown, who can solve all your parenting problems!!.

No. It just doesn’t work that way.

Parenting is not finding one parenting philosophy or book or technique, that will solve all your problems. Parenting is continuous problem solving. It is tackling the same problem from different directions. It is giving up on a problem and coming back to it.

Let me be honest. There are days when I wish one book, one technique, one anything would solve every parenting problem I face. But that just isn’t true. Some days I have to drink enough coffee to caffeinate a hibernating bear; do as much as I can with the time I’m given, keep the girls fed, clean and get them into bed, and call it a day.

And that’s my parenting ideology. Do the best you can with each day you’ve got.

 

~Jennifer

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In Praise of the Older Mom

In March of 2011, I become a Mom for the first time. In July of that year, I turned 31. If you’re doing the math, I will be 37 the end of this week.

I remember my midwife, remarking on what an odd case I was. An Army Wife who hadn’t had babies until her 30s. It was the first, but not the last time someone has remarked on my age.

Many, most of my friends have older children. They are past the diapers and potty training, sippy cups, footed pajama stage. Some of the friends I went to high school with have kids graduating high school soon.

Among the many things people questioned, was whether we had fertility problems. Let me answer that, no. Neither of the girls needed much more planning that tossing the condoms in the trash, and maybe a few games of beer pong.

I didn’t have children in my 30s because I didn’t want to. In fact, I swore for years that I wasn’t going to have kids. I didn’t want them at all. At 25 I seriously considered tying my tubes and just not having kids. I didn’t grow up with the idea of being a mother, rather I grew up running from the idea of it.

And I just had stuff to do.

Sometime before I graduated high school I wrote down what I wanted to do with my life before I turned 30. Some of it was typical teenager fare, get a tattoo, stay out all night long, go to a bonfire at the lake; and some of it was deeper, I wanted to travel, to see the sunrise off the coast of Texas, down by my uncle’s place, go to South by Southwest, take pictures of all the flowers I could find in Texas, read all the historical markers between my house and Austin. I wanted to trace my family’s roots back to Europe, I wanted to rescue animals and rehabilitate them. I wanted to shop, and shop, and shop some more.

Just before my 30th birthday, I checked the last one off my list. I got a tattoo. I still live for a good shopping trip.

I was famous, or rather infamous, for the volatility of my relationships. If it wasn’t passionate, I didn’t want to be in the relationship. But there was never any stability with that passion. It took me until the last years of my 20s to find the right alchemical mix of passion and stability and strength, in a man, to keep me interested.

And Hubs may piss me off. May infuriate me. May send me into fits of anger so bad I send long, ranty messages to my friends and drink too much coffee. But I am never bored.

We are stable. Bills are paid, house is cleaned, laundry done, all that domestic stuff. Last night we cruised around town looking at houses and talking about grass versus gravel, plants to put in flower beds. We are not lacking for stability. I’m not bored though. I’ve discovered that a stable relationship is more encouraging for creativity, gives me more opportunities to create and play music, than the wild affairs I found myself in.

I am a better person than I was. I was not in the right place to have babies in my 20s. I was struggling from the pain of an unhappy childhood, cutting myself free of a toxic extended family that has poisoned me for most of my life. I would not have been able to dedicate myself to my kids the way I needed to. Motherhood is one sacrifice after another, and in my 20s, I was too selfish to do that.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a little selfish. It gave me the freedom to chase my dreams.

I had a second adolescence in my mid-20s. It was less about my body changing, and more about my brain changing. I was settling into life as a grown up, and realizing I had responsibilities. I was learning how to balance a checkbook, pay my bills on time, do my own laundry, and cook my own meals. It would have been so hard to have a baby in that time of my life, before everything settled into place.

I’ve heard the phrase “I grew up with my children.” And while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. The first time I held each of my girls, and looked them in the eyes, I met them not as a half-formed girl, unsure of herself. But as a grown up, as a woman. Confident in herself, in her abilities to raise a child, secure in a stable relationship, sure of herself as a person.

I am a better mother for having waited. And my children deserve the best of me.

 

~Jennifer

 

Here’s to Us

It’s been a long, sweaty, uncomfortable few days at Casa de Brown.

Last week the AC went out. After a long series of screw-ups that will be funny in a few months, when we look back on this, the repair guy told us it would be until the middle of this week before the parts are here and it can be fixed.

For reference, it’s been 100 or higher for weeks.

Hubs and I were walking through the store, on the hunt for a portable ac unit, grumbling about inept repair guys, and the house being too hot, and why did this have to happen July 4th weekend; when I mentioned that we have lived through worse times before.

Our first place, the first that was ours with no roommates; back when he was in the Army, was a trailer. A painted bright green, trimmed in yellow, so garish you could see it from orbit, trailer. It had bay windows that faced the east, and during the summer, even with the ac going full blast, it was outrageously hot.

The next place was a trailer in the same park, this time painted aqua and trimmed in purple. (This was a theme in the park.) Across the street from our driveway was a hundred or so acres of swamp. We had gators. We had carnivorous bugs that hunted fish and flew. THEY FLEW. We had snakes. We had mosquitoes so large they would carry you off.

The summer Hubs was in Afghanistan, it rained every day for 6 weeks. The grass grew water-logged and died, and I am here to tell you that rotting grass stinks. Bad.

Once we had feral cats get up under the trailer, fighting, and one of them tried to crawl up the dryer vent.

One day, during the Summer of Rain, I went outside to get the mail. There was a nearly 5 foot long gator sunning himself in my driveway. He hissed at me, and I nearly broke my ankle getting back up the steps to the front door.

A hurricane came through, just the outer bands of rain and wind made it in-land to us. The trailer rocked in the wind, we sweltered through a day without power.

We drove nearly 3,000 miles in the summer, across the Deep South, to move to California. I was 20 weeks pregnant, we had a 3 year old, my Mom and our dog in my truck, Hubs had both cats in his car. Someone needed to pee all the time. There were stretches of time where the only stations on the radio were Christian music, NPR, and Tejano music.

After we made it here, we scrambled to find a place and get settled before I had Pudge.

We have fought, and fought, and fought some more.

He has deployed twice, leaving me behind.

I lost two siblings to cancer, and then an aunt. Hubs had to stand by, pretty much helpless, as I struggled through layers of grief. He still has to deal with it, when it comes back to me.

We have faced the prospect of life after the Army, and put ourselves back together. The time apart took its toll, and there have been incredibly rough times, where we fought each other, and fought towards each other, slogging through the bullshit that was between us.

So this? This is uncomfortable. This has been stressful, and hot and sweaty.

But we have been through worse. Here’s to us.