The Best Bad Mom

   I read a book once. It was all downhill from there.

  When a little plastic stick told me a baby was on the way, I gave that solid pink line a fake smile and swallowed some panic. This would be the first of many improvisations as a mother to be followed by a steady pace of acting the part. I researched the role of Mom, reading every last word of every last parenting book I could get my swollen hands on. I learned what to expect (the unexpected), how to origami hog tie my bundle of joy (the artful swaddle), and even devoted one horrifying evening to paragraphs on how to nurse my down and out post-labor vagina bits back to health (kegel party…not unlike but totally unlike a keg party).  I  spent nine months memorizing these lines just as I’d studied textbooks as a child. I would ace this test and look to the proud new papa to supply a golden star sticker for my scholarly efforts.

And true to books’ accounts of human gestational periods, 40 weeks later a son was born. I was content to play this part, I decided. I was calm. I was educated. I was the boss of this motherhood deal. I was just about to give the room a tutorial on my boobs and how they can feed folks when the devil entered and wrecked the world. She claimed to be the hospital’s Lactation Specialist. As I muffled giggles at what a doozy of a job that had to be, she showed me there was nothing to laugh about. This Ice Queen in sheep’s scrubs slapped a frigid hand atop my bosom and pinched. Frozen Fire! I shot wide eyes at her, unsure of what I’d done to deserve such fresh a hell and also worried that I’d skipped a chapter on What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting A Stranger Nurse To Tweek Your Lady Lumps. Without ever taking her gaze from my milk jugs, this cold stranger calmly stated what two years and one toddler later I know to be the truest of parenting truths.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

A woman asked why I would supplement my infant’s diet of breast milk with powdered formula. I read an article to be sure a few ounces of fake juice wouldn’t hurt the hefty boy. A relative insisted sleep training my son would cause boat loads of harm to his development down the road. I read three books, two magazines, and one doctor’s letter to be sure my kid wouldn’t start killing people and kicking puppies as a result of letting him cry at bedtime. A friend insisted I only feed the young dude organic, steam-cleaned tofu something-or-another. I spent a day or five in the library to ensure that once-in-a-while meal of mac-n-cheese wouldn’t cause the child to grow a tail. Homeschooled kids are better testers. Well-dressed Gap babies learn early on to make better first impressions than, say, small humans clad in discount duds. Children who play an instrument, speak a foreign language, and perfect circus tricks are much more likely to avoid a life of crime. And as I most recently discovered after reading Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s The Conscious Parent, Shefali is a silly name, and children raised by highly engaged parents are scientifically proven to be 104.26% more successful individuals than those kids largely ignored by Mom and Pop. The doctor explains that when parents dedicate pure and singularly focused attention on their little ones, said younglings will become well-rounded, secure, and generally happy people. On the flip side, parents who are often distracted, flustered, and otherwise absent can lead to children developing behavioral issues. While I couldn’t stomach spending $50 for a mini pair of designer skinny jeans or serving my kid a bland and boring plate of cardboard tofu for a snack, the idea of being a more active presence in my child’s day didn’t seem so out of the box. I would win Hands-On Parenting, I vowed. I would win Mom.

As a stay-at-home parent, my days were already focused around the smallest, soggy-drawered man of the house. If I wanted to truly dominate this interactive mompetition, I’d have to take it up a notch:

- I used his tiny toothbrush in an effort to bond. He spit and mumbled “icky”. I like to think this was his incoherent sign of approval of my tartar-controlled show of solidarity.

- I get particularly hands-on at meal time. More specifically, I like to interact with his Happy Meal to show him that even this mama’s taste buds are in sync with his. Su McNugget es mi McNugget… err something like that.

- Story Time for the supremely cohesive mom & tot crew is a joy. Ever the gracious one, I insist he read his favorite books instead of listening to my boring, old tale-telling. As he cannot speak English, I observe as he picks his nose and reads silently. Dr. Shefali’s book promised brilliance, and despite the boogers and upside-down books, I just know we are getting there.

- Seeing eye to eye with a toddler is tricky, mostly because I am a solid six feet tall. So this hands-on mom got knees-on and spent one sunny Monday shuffling around on some halves of legs. The pint-sized precious thought this newest parenting trick a hoot for a few hours. He mimicked my broken gait and crawled about on his knees as well. To accommodate his shrinking I broke myself down to upper thighs and elbows and slid about like a fine, young Army recruit. But he copied as copy-cats do and slithered on his tiny arms. By noon we both flopped flat on our bellies unsure of the next logical step. Not to mention we’d yet to check the mail.

- Against all medical studies and parenting advice, I let my child watch TV. I remedy this alleged shortcoming by interacting the hell out of those colorful cartoons. Defying all sense of pride and rhythm, I make a point to participate in wild-armed, loud-voiced song-and-dance routines, joining the choir of limber Disney characters and encouraging my son to do the same. He sits still and staring at the floor most days with a demeanor some might mark as severe shame. I like to think he’s studying the art of The Hot Dog Dance.

- We aren’t your average couch potatoes, though, and some days stray from the sofa long enough for some lively, outdoor rumpus. To prove myself the ultimate interactive parent, I shove my person into wonderfully compromising positions for the sake of playtime. There is no Tonka truck I will not zoom, no puzzle I will not solve, no tunnel I will not squeeze through to show this boy his mom is all about some hands and putting them on his toys.

Rollin' with the homies, naturally.

- So apparently the kid hates sharing his toys, and quickly begs to play the tantrum game. I oblige, matching his screams and wailing until we are both so engaged and interacting with decibels and fury, and I finally let him when we gets red in the face or cries or both. That, parents, is dedication.

- I, the much improved maternal robot, took to napping when he napped in the afternoon. I’d like to say I read somewhere that babies can sense a mother’s moral support three rooms and two levels of deep sleep away, but mostly all this hands-on activity just wore me out.

Cribs have so-called "weight limits". Ask me how I know.

- The rubber ducky, aptly named Dub Rucky, hijacks a neon race car and sends it flying into a sailboat just as the vessel capsizes from striking the massive tip of a wash cloth. I swirl my arms through the soapy water, showing my sudsy son how on my hands are by orchestrating elaborate toy scenarios. He shrugs, ready for the lights and my hands to shut off, yawning towards bed. He lathers and rinses his own hair. Repeats. Best not to interrupt the mama when she’s interactive parenting.

   Weeks of extreme hands-on parenting was exhausting. I was annoying myself and spilling obnoxious onto everyone else like a bottle with a busted nipple. Busted nipple. I found solace in this thought one night, two years and millions of failures after my first night as a mother.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

This nurse, this stranger, she clamped my nipples with her frosty hands. I shot beggy eyes at her, silently pleading for her to go easy on me with the harsh words and harsher grip. I began to cry on mute, unsure if the titty twister or the imminent threat of bad news opened the flood gates. I held my son, a boy I had grown forever but only just met. She held my boob, a dry well  which she seemed to be all too familiar with. I cried. She gave an exasperated humph and shook her head. I cried. She palmed my other boob and this newer, more arid blob seemed to infuriate her. I cried. It was the shame in finding you are so horribly lost when you could’ve sworn you knew the way. And as I wept tears flowed onto my chest cradled by a stranger. Perhaps the kindest words she could muster that night remind me today of why in life and parenting sometimes oblivious-&-winging-it is the absolute right wrong place to be:

Ugh. You’re doing it all wrong. At least you’re trying, I guess.”

Cupcakes for breakfast? That's definitely in a parenting book somewhere. Definitely.

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45 thoughts on “The Best Bad Mom

  1. One of the reasons I didn’t have a kid was that I knew – KNEW – I would kill someone who invaded my space and gave me unsolicited advice. Your son has to think you are the most fun mom on the planet, and I know from reading this blog that you’re good at it.

    • I’ve thought about punching a few moms in the nose over the last few years. You’d be amazed what women feel they have the right to say to eachother just because one is growing a baby.

  2. You captured the earnestness of wanting to do what’s best for your baby so well. I can totally relate. At least you were well read before the delivery. I fell behind on reading ‘What to Expect ..’ and was just up to the chapter on perineal tearing after being wheeled into the labor ward. Thank you for sharing!

    • And TRUE. I fail at just about everything everyday (even without the Nipple Nazi there to point it out). I’ve just gotten some comfort in knowing that trying counts for something!

    • I hear they’re made of real chicken. That should count for something, right? Also? Twizzlers are known to have healing powers and be an excellent source of vitamins. I made that up, but God do I love Twizzlers!

  3. CA daughter had to call me this past weekend to tell me she still hasn’t succumbed to feeding and eating the highly touted seaweed, tofu, etc. her neighbors insist are soooooo healthy. Listen to your own drummer, too. If it’s every been thought, there’s probably an expert book on the subject. I suspect you know that.

  4. I’ve always been grateful for the advice a family friend gave my wife when she expressed her worries about making a mistake that might cause harm to our child later in life: “Don’t spend too much time worrying about it. No matter how hard you try, everything is gonna screw them up.”

    • Haha! Brilliant and so true. I figure if my kid can survive having me as a mother then technically I’ve equipped him to handle a slew of major disasters when he goes out on his own!

  5. I actually snorted when I read your post – kudos to you best bad mom ever!! I too had my post-delivery boobs massaged by my own mother. Ewwww.
    What I want to know is, how do you find the time to write with the wee man at home and all your other wifely duties? You’re amazing!

  6. Oh, wow! When do you find time to write?!!

    Your text is so rich that I’m there with you instantaneously. And then there are those awesome photos.

    Great fun. Very addictive.

    I’ve gotta get our grandson’s mommy hooked on your stories, too!

  7. Hmm… how do you know that cribs have weight limits, Tori? :) Best line ever– I laughed and laughed trying to imagine the moment right after that shot was taken. :)

    I would have a really hard time being a parent, mostly because I can’t stand unsolicited advice as is, and also because everyone seems to feel they have a right to provide unsolicited advice when it comes to the rearing of children. You are doing an awesome job of being a mom, sans tofu and all! :)

  8. Ugh. Lactation Specialist. I had one of those, too. She had to wheel in luggage with her to fit all the guilt she planned to heap on me because it wasn’t working out right. After two weeks of pumping (now there’s something that really brings a couple together) and crying the whole time because it hurt so bad, I gave in and fed him formula.

    With my second son? I told them to cancel the Lactation Specialist, hold the condemnation, and bring in the Similac.

  9. I had the same Lactation Specialist. She still haunts me in my dreams.

    Jay ate 6 Oreos for breakfast yesterday. He thought he’d do me a favor and help himself to breakfast so I wouldn’t have to be bothered. I appreciated his gesture…I’m not so sure his teacher did.

  10. God blessed me with a hefty chesty…..but they were broken. No milk floweth from those jugs. Ugh! I remember! I remember the grasp and “here, I just showed you. You’re not trying.” YES…I pumped and pumped FOREVER with the heavy duty hospital pumper. I eventually got it to power 10 (the max) my husband could hear the motor whirling outside our apartment…half way down the street. What little ounce within in hour was like gold. DON’T SPILL IT! :)

    Ohhhh and then flowing nature mothers would serenly say “oh, you’re just not pumping enough or eating enough or drinking enough water.” I wanted to slap them! GOD BLESS the peditrician.

    “Breast is best, but what’s on the market is pretty good too…what’s important is enjoying motherhood and bonding with your child. Are you enjoying it? No? Then stop. He will be fine and healthy with Similac.”

    My kids are now 6 & 8…had a tiny amount of breast milk the first few days of life & then formula, and are the healthiest of kids. They rarely are ill and when they are it’s like 24 hours and done!

    Sandi

    http://www.ahhsome.wordpress.com

    Lake Forest, CA

  11. Oh, Tori, after reading this, I can’t help but think how great it is to be a woman: The joys of someone pinching your bits, the pleasure of pushing out a bowling ball between your legs, and then a lifetime of trying to recover from it all.

    It just makes me want to sing, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain. hehehe

  12. A friend of mine told me that the fact that I was thinking about my role as a mom, and how I would affect my, then unborn, son was more or less a guarantee that I would be a good mom. I have clung to those words for the past three years now. He is a wise man, so he must be right! and you’re doing the same, so you must be a heck of a mom too :)

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