This Wasn’t in the Manual. Epic Mom Fails

pee sheet

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that many grandparents lack satisfactory knowledge of today’s safety guidelines for children. It seemed the majority of those grandparents surveyed gave the wrong answer to questions like the best position for infants to sleep, the correct positioning of a car seat, and  whether walkers were good devices to help babies learn to walk (grandparents said yes, Academy said no).

Notwithstanding the fact that medical recommendations do change over time, we tend to raise our grandchildren the same way we raised our children, so what this survey suggests to me is that grandparents have been botching up this childrearing thing since our own kids. My mother always said, “Kids are like pancakes. You usually screw the first one up.”

When my son, Jake, was born, what I knew about raising a child was basically zero. I was the second-to-the-youngest kid and never babysat, so my experience with babies and tiny toddling humans was virtually non-existent.

During my pregnancy, I read countless books on childrearing from self-proclaimed experts who, by virtue of being on Oprah, claimed to possess The Answers to raising productive, future world leaders, but whom all disagreed on the magic formula to accomplish it. Completely overwhelmed with conflicting information and verging on advice meltdown, I finally tossed the books and decided to just follow my instincts.

Turns out I didn’t have any.

When Jake was born, I didn’t get him circumcised. It seemed a tad barbaric (“Welcome to the world, son. Now we’re going to chop off part of your joy stick”), especially since doctors are reluctant to anesthetize an infant under the age of one. After an emotional, post-partum promise to my tiny miracle that I’d never let anybody hurt him, I wasn’t going to start with whacking his wienie.

When he was a year old, I took him in to get it done. Afterwards, still groggy, he looked at me, his long eyelashes wet with tears and his willy all bandaged up, like “Why??” Feeling like the worst mother ever, I dropped him at my parents’ house for a nap and set out to buy him a new toy.

Jake loved horses. Every horse siting would cause him to clap his hands, bubbling over with delight. At the local toy store, I found a blue polka-dot rocking horse that I just knew would cheer him up.

A. Rocking. Horse.

When he woke up from his nap, I gave him a big “Mommy’s sorry” hug and plopped him down on the horse, anticipating his joyous laughter. Yeah, no. He immediately began screaming loudly enough to be heard in three counties, while grabbing at his crotch.

At that moment, Dad walked in and cried “You straddled him on a rocking horse?? He was just circumcised three hours ago! What the hell were you thinking??” Oh. My. God. I just broke my son’s penis. Jake has never gotten on a horse since.

And so it began.

We had a nanny for Jake until he was three, so I was quite used to coming and going without much thought, knowing Jake was safe and supervised. (A blessing, I know, but this was as much for Jake as it was for me. Seriously, I knew nothing.) But Bing-Bing eventually moved to California, narrowing the household head count to just Jake and me for most of the day.

Shortly thereafter, Jake was napping and I needed to run to the grocery store. On mental autopilot, I did what I’d been doing for the past three years. I hopped in my car and left. Halfway down the produce aisle, it hit me, big time. My son was home alone.

Immediately abandoning my shopping cart and frantically rushing out to my car, squealing the four blocks to our house in eight seconds flat, heart pounding, I rushed through the door to his bedroom, where he remained sleeping, blissfully oblivious to his hysterical mother patting him down like a TSA agent bucking for a promotion.

As Jake grew, he became quite the ham. He loved being on stage and could work a room like a pro. When he was 10, our church selected three kids to perform a song of their choice at the Christmas Pageant. I asked Jake a couple of times what he was going to sing, but he just smiled and said it was a “surprise.”

A mother with instincts would have insisted upon knowing exactly what her young progeny was going to belt out on Christmas Eve in front of a couple hundred members of their local community, but I figured he had it under control, so I didn’t pursue it. Big mistake. Big.

After the annual Nativity story, the children got up to perform. The youngest child did a surprisingly poignant version of Silent Night. Child #2 danced his way quite admirably through “Jingle Bell Rock.” Then my son took the stage. He turned to the pianist and said, “Hit it,” grabbed the microphone and began to belt out:

“Grandma got run over by a reindeer.
Walking home for our house Christmas eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.”

And that’s the nice verse.

People around town still tell that story, and I learned that good parents know that the more your child doesn’t want to tell you something, the more you need to know it.

Then one day, Jake came home from school and announced that they were having a school fund raiser and he was supposed to bring a “favorite family dessert” for the auction. Oh, and the fund raiser was tomorrow. Seriously? Family recipe?? He knew I didn’t cook. “I thought you’d just figure something out,” he said, “You’re good at that.” Gee thanks, kid.

I grabbed him and hauled his procrastinating little butt to the local bakery. Agreeing to “find something that looked homemade,” he took the cookie aisle, while I scouted the cakes. We finally agreed on apple strudel cookies, which I put on a ceramic tray, sending him off to school with instructions to keep our secret or die.

When the teacher complimented the cookies and asked about the recipe, Jake grinned and said, “Well, my mom made mac and cheese last week and we didn’t have any milk, so she used Hazelnut Creamer instead. So God knows what’s in these.” Next year, I’m on the decorating committee.

My mother used to say, “Don’t be too hard on yourself, dear. Not everyone is a natural mother.” Ouch. And yet, somehow we manage to launch our cherished offspring out into the world without too much damage, knowing that we undoubtedly learned more than they did. Then, if we’re lucky, we become grandmothers.

And I don’t care what those idiot doctors say. Bring us those babies. We know everything.

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  1. says

    The first time I got out of the house after having my daughter I went to the library. I was in no way used to lugging that heavy carseat around, and so set her down while I searched aisle after aisle of books…checked out…got in my car…

    Drove back two minutes later, squealing tires in the parking lot, while the librarian stood by the door holding the carseat with my daughter inside it. She smiled while I sobbed like a lunatic and said, “It’s okay. Everyone does it, we just don’t ever talk about it.”

  2. says

    Drove around with my kids bouncing back & forth between the front & back seats! No helmets or knee pad when riding a bicycle or skateboarding! Made them sit at the table until there plate was clean of portions they either took or agreed what I put on! Letting them have friends for a sleepover, during the week, a school nite no less! Yes we have all done our share of big no-no’s, but you know what? They survived & are very responsible adults! Now I get to have my fun with the grandkids!!

  3. says

    Ha ha. First, I really like the first pancake. I think it’s usually the best one of the whole batch. Second, if being a good mother means following all of their recommendations, then I am the worst mom ever. Don’t think I’ve followed any of them … oops. I once read something about not having to be a perfect mom, but a good enough mom. Basically, keep them alive and you’re doing a good job!

    • says

      Carol, I think of the things we did to ourselves as kids, and I’m not sure which was more dangerous. What our parents did to us, or what we did to ourselves! :)

  4. says

    Oh the things I did…when my daughter was 10 weeks old, her infant seat was on a table, and when the table was bumped by someone, the seat flipped over and fell to the ground. She was buckled in, thankfully but we still had to have a CAT scan to make sure there were no fractures to her skull. Fun times.

  5. cate says

    Tied my 4 year old son by his belt loops to the dog run with the dog while asking him if he knew why we tied up Amos. So he will stay out of the street he replies. Exactly my child. Stay out of the street or get tied with the dog. My younger sister wanted to turn me in to Children Services, and then she had two boys, she is still apologizing. My 40 year old son has no desire to have children…I wonder why?

  6. says

    I made so many mistakes with my first kid, occasionally I decide it’s “apology and explanation for my shortcomings” time, to which he always responds “Mom, it’s no big deal. I was one; I don’t remember any of that.” Thank God. But I’m Catholic, so I’ll always feel guilty for that time I yelled at him for mixing the Playdoh colors. Catholic + OCD = Crazy Parenting 101.

  7. says

    I certainly didn’t do everything right..I think if they survive and can function as adults and are mostly happy, then I’m breathing a sigh of relief.

    • says

      I agree, Michelle! He’s happily married, with two beautiful children, he’s an officer in the Army and a college graduate. My work is done. Bring me those grandbabies! :)

  8. says

    Omgoodness. I fell asleep while nursing my daughter, woke up to her chocking and turning blue. I then practicly threw her to my husband and he turned her upside down until she threw up. I didn’t sleep for a year after that.
    I have 13 grandkids and what I find very odd is how they can recite the rules.” Mom-Mom you didn’t buckle me correctly, put the lid on tight, is that a can in your trash,” on and on. It gets annoying. I wish they could just play and not worry about so many rules.

    • says

      I agree, Doreen. It seems like we’re always breaking the rules and potentially scarring the wee ones for life. Relax, everybody. I constantly remind my DIL that I raised her husband and did a pretty good job, so I’m probably okay alone with the grandbabies. :)

  9. says

    My son told everyone he took culinary arts in school because otherwise he would starve…He wrote the following in second grade,”I am tall and thin, unlike both my parents.” He’s lucky I did not kick him out of the house immediately.

  10. Marta Charles says

    When we were kids, my mom and dad used to let us ride in the truck of the car. Yeah. They did. So when my daughter was seven, I asked her if her and her stepbrother would like to ride in the trunk. “Yes! Yes!” So in the truck they go, the husband and I went to the grocery store. Let the kids out. We’re all laughing. Then… came the stares and gasps and hands over mothers’ faces. Oops. No cops followed us home. Put the children in the back seat of the car. I should get Mommy of the year award for that one…

    • says

      Marta, isn’t it interesting that when we do with our grandkids what other people did with their kids, we get gasps of disapproval. C’MON people, WE lived through it! :)

  11. says

    OMG — too funny!

    As you know, I’ll never be “Mother of the Year”. I’ll just stick to being who I am, which, more often than not, is a woman who resembles a “cautionary tale”. It seems I’m in good company :)

  12. Mac says

    Love all the stories. I’ve done at least my share of “oops” with my kids. My oldest tried to give me grief about it once in her best Mom attitude. It is a burden to know everything when one turns 13. Anyway, I told her that she should know now that no one is perfect and therefore she does not have to be perfect because no one can live with perfect and not always feel less than. She is now a strong, confident, college graduate and recently thanked me for that piece of wisdom. When in doubt, turn it around so they think you are helping them. I guess I was, who knew.

  13. says

    I think we parents get less neurotic with each additional child. Thus, we only realized our 5th son had gone missing when there were two sausages left over after the evening meal!

  14. says

    Oh my god. That rocking horse part made my bullwinkle tingle (and not the good tingle; the oh-my-god-I-feel-his-pain tingle).

  15. says

    My favorite line..”Well, my mom made mac and cheese last week and we didn’t have any milk, so she used Hazelnut Creamer instead. So God knows what’s in these.” LOVE it! I’m notorious for buying desserts instead of baking them. And believe me, they do not want me on the decorating committee!

  16. says

    Kids are like pancakes…you screw the first one up. Oh I couldn’t stop laughing…wait…what if you only have one child…he’s screwed.

  17. says

    Thanks for the laugh, Vikki! This is hilarious!! I’m not a grandparent yet but I still can’t keep up with all the recommendations of the AAP! Besides, no parent is ever really prepared, right? We just wing it and hope for the best. As they say, as long as we don’t kill them or have them end up as serial killers, then they’re fine and we’re ok! ;-))

  18. Jessica Rabon says

    When my daughter was five she was a flower girl for one of my best friends. At the wedding they were singing “summer lovin” from Grease for karaoke. I’m across the banquet room when they hand the microphone to my daughter. And all I can think is she doesn’t know this song… She starts belting out nelly’s “it’s getting hot in here (so take off all your clothes)”

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