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.