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 the grandparents surveyed gave the wrong answer to questions like the best position for infants to sleep, the correct installation of a car seat, and whether walkers were good devices to help babies learn to walk (grandparents, yes. Academy, thumbs down).
The simple truth is that most of us tend to raise our grandchildren the same way we raised our children. What this suggests to me is that grandparents have been botching up this childrearing thing since the first generation of humankind. My mother always said, “Kids are like pancakes. You usually screw the first one up.” Go Grandma.
When my son was born, what I knew about raising a child was basically…well, nothing. I was the second-to-the-youngest kid in the family lineup. I never babysat anyone’s kids. My experience with babies and tiny toddling humans was virtually non-existent. So the Virgo overachiever in me kicked in shortly into my second trimester. I spent an entire day at Powell’s bookstore, buying every book they carried on childrearing. I had six short months to figure out how to be Super Mom. Somebody out there had The Answer to raising productive, future world leaders. But to my dismay, by book number five, it was obvious that most self-proclaimed experts disagreed on how to do this. Now, with barely three months to go, I was completely overwhelmed and confused, verging on an information-overload meltdown. I finally tossed the stupid books out the car window and decided to just follow my instincts.
Turns out I didn’t have any.
When Baby Boy 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 8-pound miracle that I would 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 ‘er done. Afterwards, still groggy, he looked up at me, his long eyelashes wet with tears and his willy all wrapped in gauze, like “Why??” It was official. I was the worst mother ever. I dropped him at my parents’ house for a nap and set out to buy him a new toy.
Baby Boy 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 howling loud enough to be heard in three counties, while simultaneously grabbing at his crotch.
At that moment, my 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.
And so it began.
Not surprisingly, Hubs thought we should have a live-in nanny for Baby Boy for the first two or three years. Our new hire was crazy about the boy, and never let him out of her sight. I became quite used to coming and going without much thought, knowing he was happy and taken care of. But “Bing-Bing” eventually moved to California, narrowing the household head count to just one infant and me for most of the day.
Shortly thereafter, Baby Boy 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 into my car and left. Halfway down the produce aisle, I saw a mother giggling with her daughter in the shopping cart and it hit me. Big time. I’d left my son home alone.
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 slept, blissfully oblivious to his hysterical mother patting him down like a TSA agent bucking for promotion.
As Baby Boy grew, he became quite the ham. He loved being on stage and could work a room like a pro. When he was ten, our church selected three kids to perform a song of their choice at the Christmas pageant. I asked him a few times what he was going to sing. He just smiled and said it was a surprise. A mother with instincts would have insisted upon previewing exactly what her young progeny was going to belt out on Christmas eve in front of the entire congregation, but I figured he had it under control. Big mistake. Big.
After the annual Nativity story, the three 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.” The my son took the stage. He grabbed the microphone, turned to the pianist and said “Hit it,” enthusiastically belting out:
“Grandma got run over by a reindeer,
walking home from 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, my boy came 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 it was tomorrow. Seriously?? I don’t cook. I’ve never cooked. There is no family recipe. And he knew that. “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, then sent him off to school with instructions to keep our secret or die.
When his teacher complimented the cookies and asked about the ingredients, he grinned and said, “Well, my mom made me mac and cheese last week and we didn’t have any milk, so she used Hazelnut coffee creamer instead. So God knows what’s in here.” Way to watch my back, kid.
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 into the world without too much damage, knowing that we undoubtedly learned more than they did. Then, if we’re lucky, we become grandparents.
SoI don’t care what those idiot doctors say. Bring us those babies. We know everything.