Let me get one thing straight: I have learned more than ten parenting lessons. But on today, the day that marks ten years of my being a mother, a day when my friend Angie is likely to give birth to her first child (I hope I didn’t just jinx the pace of your labor, Angie) I offer these lessons as a good cross-section of those things that the books don’t teach you.
In no particular order:
1. Band-aids are required for booboos that do not necessarily involve bleeding. As a parent, you just have to accept that you’re going to blow through a box of band-aids in a week, whereas when I was single the same box would linger in my medicine cabinet for over a year. A bruise, a bump, it doesn’t matter. Band-aids are accessories.
2. Sleep begets sleep. Early on as a parent, you may think to yourself one night, “we are having fun, drinking good wine, having conversation. Let’s let the kids stay up later, then they will sleep later and we can sleep in.” It doesn’t work that way. Kids who stay up later wake up at the same time in the morning, but are sleep-deprived, or in other words, cranky. But by some miracle, kids who go to bed early (and/or have a good nap) will sleep until their usual wake up time — or sometimes later.
3. On a related note… no amount of fun the night before is worth the pain the next morning. Now that my kids are of an age that they don’t wake me up in the morning, it doesn’t matter quite as much, but back when they were younger, I would have loved to hire someone for the morning after even more than being able to have the evening out.
4. If your child gets him or herself dressed, you look the other way if it doesn’t match. For several months, Jack’s “go to” outfit was a pair of bright red athletic pants and a kelly green tee-shirt. It hurt my eyes to look at him. But as long as that outfit was clean, I didn’t have to pick out his clothes or get him dressed. Then one morning, he was in said outfit at the table having breakfast, looked down at himself, and exclaimed, “I look like Christmas! I have to change.” In other words, he eventually figured it out.
5. Kids tell the same jokes and play the same annoying games we did as kids. You have to pretend you haven’t heard the banana/orange knock-knock joke a gazillion times. You suddenly understand why your parents wanted to leave you at a roadside stop after two hours of you and your sibling playing the copying game where they say what the other just said. Where they say what the other just said. Mom, he’s copying me. Mom, he’s copying me.
6. If there is anything worth crying over, it’s spilled milk. I forgot about this one until the other day when Nancy’s daughter spilled a whole pint of strawberry milk in her car. Neither of my boys really drink milk anymore, but back in the day, a cup of spilled milk seemed like it took longer to clean up than the oil spill in the Gulf. In other words, it’s no laughing matter.
7. Kids always know how much money they have in their wallets. So if you have to borrow some (like when you have to call the emergency locksmith because you grabbed the wrong set of keys while simultaneously closing the locked door behind you and you don’t have the required cash to get him to then leave your house once he has broken you back in) you must replace their money immediately (before you forget) and in the same denominations you took. You should also try to crinkle the bills up like they have been in the grasp of a sweaty hand.
8. Reverse psychology was invented to be used on kids. You want them to do something? Pretend you think it’s too dangerous or complicated or that they aren’t old enough, and before you know it they will be fighting over who gets to do it.
9. Kids cannot keep secrets. Ever. Not even small ones like, “don’t tell your brother I let you ride shotgun (watch TV, lick the bowl, stay up late).” And the bigger deal you make of the secret, the faster they will reveal it.
10. When you are having a bad day, your kids will inevitably make it worse. After a long day, coming home to cook a dinner that they won’t eat (even if it’s their favorite) and argue with them about bathing (“but I’m clean!”), teeth-brushing (“why?”), reading (“one more chapter?”) and bedtime (“I’m not tired!”), just when you are at your wits end, one will say something to make the day better. My favorite is this:
Child: “I love you.”
And suddenly all the drama is worth it.