Well, they’re still alive, right?
Recently, while perusing the vastness of wisdom found on the Interwebz, I was stunned to discover that my kids should probably all be dead by now. This news shocked me, as I had just been congratulating myself on the fact that they all reached adulthood (mostly) unscathed. How sad to see my self-congratulatory ovations deflated like a mylar balloon in January!
Now, I realize that as a parent whose kids were born in the Dark Ages (early 1990’s), we’d barely seen these new-fangled gidgety-bops like car seats that faced backwards (how am I supposed to shove the spit-cleaned paci back in their mouth if I can’t see them?) and baby slings (how do they not fall out?). But despite our distinct disadvantage when it came to technology and education, we seemed to think we had it together.
I was never one of those panic-stricken first time parents. My sister once remarked on the fact that her college friend, who also had her first baby within a few weeks of my having the Professor, tweaked out over every gurgle and spit, whereas I was very laid back. And I was. From the first time I saw the Professor, I told her that, ok fine, I had no clue what the hell I was doing, but neither did she. So if she didn’t give me shit about it, I would extend the same courtesy to her. It seemed to work out most of the time.
And sterilizing pacifiers, bottles, and the like? Uh, no. At home, stuff was washed with hot, soapy water, rinsed, and called good. However, if we were out somewhere and the paci hit the floor? I’d pick it up, wipe it off, stick it in my mouth, and give it back. Mom spit cleans everything, doesn’t it? Sure it does.
However, as time went by, I had no idea the magnitude of the damage we were inflicting on those poor kids: myself, the Scientist, and every other clueless person navigating our way through the quagmire of Parenting Without a License.
When the Professor was born, we were told unequivocally that we were to put her to sleep on her stomach. This worked well, as even the act of lying her flat on your lap to zip a jacket would result in ear splitting howls. Upright or face down, thank you very much. We did not co-sleep because we owned a waterbed at the time, but she had a cradle next to our bed for ease of nursing. But the cradle, being handmade by my father, was solid wood panels at the ends, and solid wood spindles on the sides. So what did we have? Yup. Arrest us now. Bumper pads. We won’t even get into the fact that, as she got a little older, she would not sleep at all unless her head was butted up against the crotch of her stuffed bunny, with the matching blanket tucked all around her. As each kid transitioned from that cradle to their crib, guess what was also found there? Yeeeeeah. More crib bumpers. The abuse truly was long term.
And while we’re on the subject of sleep? Can we also mention the fact that when the Artist was born, we were informed that it was simply by the grace of a deity that the Professor hadn’t suffocated? And that we absolutely, positively must put the Artist to sleep on her back? Heh. Right. So, here’s the thing. The Artist had a few little quirks in her body when she was born, and one of them was reflux. Any time, and I mean any time she was placed on her back, she yarfed. Even a simple diaper change meant a full clean up from the yarf. For the first 4 months of her life, the Artist, with her pediatrician’s full approval, slept either in her swing or her car seat. When the Ambassador showed up, the Somnolent Powers That Be were aghast that we had two daughters who survived infancy, because the only acceptable sleeping position for an infant was on their side. How could we have been such horrible parents? So we did the rolled blankets, propped him up, and he’d fuss an wriggle until he was face down. We’d sigh, and dutifully shift him back onto his side, and pat each other on the back for being such Good Parents. And then the little bugger would fuss and wriggle and get himself face down again. We didn’t know what else to do, short of becoming Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest, so we shrugged and left him alone.
Food was another realm into which we ventured, unknowing, paving our own express road to hell with the best of intentions.
White bread isn’t good for you – everyone knows this. Whole wheat is so much healthier! So my kids’ first experience with toast was always with whole wheat bread. Peanut butter was an excellent source of protein, and since our personal favorite jam was strawberry, and it had less sugar than grape, that’s what we used to make their PB&Js. All before age 2. Oops.
We weren’t completely technologically deficient, though. We had a baby monitor. Of course, it only had one “channel” to it. And there was no video feed. And it couldn’t be hooked up to the Internet. And we couldn’t talk back to them through it. OK, shut up. We still had one, and it was cool! Want to know how cool it was? When the kids were old enough that we didn’t need it, but too young to be left alone for an evening, we would put them to bed, wait til all 3 were asleep, and then set the monitor in the hallway on the floor. We gated the stairs so they all had access to the bathoom, but only upstairs. Then we took the other part of the monitor, went next door, and played cards with our friends for a few hours. We never heard a peep – the kids were great sleepers. But I’m quite sure that little snippet of ingenuity would get us arrested today.
Each of the kids got a Tonka dump truck for their first birthday. Not the modern, cheap, crappy plastic things. The real ones. The metal ones that could crash into another truck and still keep going, could haul rocks and dirt, and reflect every “Vrrrooooooommm” back with its sturdy rumble. Know what else they could haul? Kids kneeling in the truck bed, rolling down the just-inclined-enough driveway. Don’t raise your eyebrows at me – of course I told them not to do it. I took the physics lesson and brought it to the level of the 5 year old, and explained why it was going to hurt like hell if their weight shifted even a little over the back of that rear axle. They listened, dutifully nodded, and went out to play. The Artist still wears the scars on her toes from scraping across the pavement after falling out the back of that damn Tonka truck. And hell yes, I said it. “I told you so.”
All of my kids have scars, though. Another that comes to mind in my Memoirs of Child Abuse is on the Ambassador. Across from our house was a construction site for a neighbor’s house. The crew dug a pit, ringed it with huge bounders and concrete blocks, and left it there. They might just as well have set up neon-lit arrows pointing to it, and billboards saying, “Come play here!” Seriously. Again with the cautionary lecture about falling, hitting the rocks, getting hurt. This one also came with a bonus admonishment. “I don’t want to hear it if you go over there anyhow and get hurt. Don’t whine to me about it.” As expected one afternoon, I hear the front door shut, and scuffling up the stairs.
“SHHHH! Shut up, don’t let Mom hear!”
“Ohmygosh don’t get blood on the carpet. Mom will tweak.”
I went to investigate, and found the bathroom door shut and locked. Nice touch, guys.
They finally admitted me to the bathroom clinic where I found the Ambassador with a gash on his leg. I growled and muttered and tossed in a few mild expletives, but as any parent does, I also painstakingly cleaned every speck of schmutz out of his leg before cleaning and bandaging it. And then I popped a few ibuprofen when I glanced out the window an hour later and saw all of them back on the “mountain climb”.
My kids truly were raised in a different time. I proudly was (am?), as my inlaws sniped, a “car seat nazi”, demanding that they be buckled any time they were in a vehicle. But kids were in rear facing ones until their legs got cramped; then they swapped. The best convertible one at that point? Had the bar that swung over their head, down in front of them. They were in that until they were 3; then it was a booster seat until they were 4, and then a seat belt with a height adapter. Nowadays, I know parents who had to have car seats for their 7 and 8 year old kids. Let’s be clear – I am all about safety, and if that’s the way it should be, then that’s great. But man, they’re really making us old fogeys look bad, here!
We started leaving them alone in the house for short periods (30-45 min) around age 8. We could go for an Adults Only walk around the neighborhood and converse with our friends. They knew where we were, and could easily find us if needed. Say, if the Professor had stapled her thumb and was too scared to pull it out. Yup. By 10, it was 60-90 minutes, and by 12, the Scientist and I could go get a bite to eat without freaking out. They had my pager number (ha! A pager! Yes, I had a pager because I was a doula) and they could always call it if needed. The first time we left them overnight, I think they were 14, 16, and 17. We provided food, strict instructions to clean the kitchen, and off we went. They didn’t clean the kitchen, and they had a miserable subsequent few days because of that choice, but they were in fact, still breathing.
Injuries during childhood are going to happen. But it seems like parents these days are really trying to bubble wrap their kids like they somehow shouldn’t. My kids played sports, and played outside, and they got hurt. We saw concussions, the occasional broken bone, cuts, bruises, scrapes, and a couple of shiners.
But as I read parenting blogs and see the products available and popular for parents, it makes me realize that I owe my kids a huge apology. Sorry I almost killed you all those times, guys. Hope you can forgive me…and maybe even let me hold a grandchild if one appears?