cookie jar at floor level

4/20/09

Yesterday’s debate is an excellent reminder of the one holy truth in American parenting: it’s blindingly easy to look at other parents and think they’re goddamn insane. Not that I’d do this with any of you, but how many times have you driven home from some playdate or birthday party or miserable yard-monster-fest and commiserated with your spouse on how freakish other parents’ habits are?

Other parents let their kids get away with murder, they let their kids eat Strawberry Quik right out of the package, they stay up until 10pm or else they’re all put to bed at 5:30 in the afternoon, they hover over their kids like a storm cloud, they have no idea where their kids are, how could they have possibly gotten a Rottweiler, that kid is unbelievably fat, and that kid must be on the autism spectrum, blah fargin’ blah blah blah.

I say these things knowing full well I’ve indulged myself in them a time or two, and it certainly reveals some painfully shallow and judgmental aspects of my own character – especially instances where it’s so easy to blame the kid, even though the poor little soul is, by definition, doing only what he or she knows in order to survive. Certainly I should know better, having felt constantly judged and vilified growing up, even though I had been given ZERO lessons on what the world expected.

Of course, if we simply looked the other way when parents engage in crazy shit with their kids, then the whole “village” concept is a sham, and our community means nothing. As to the specifics mentioned yesterday by the observant la la, here’s where I’d stand:

1) Sticking your kid in a crib and leaving your house to do errands is illegal, unconscionable, and it’s entirely okay to call the DSS. Sean, you don’t count in this instance, because the deli is forty feet away from your bedroom, and Mom is home most of the time with a monitor. True, she’s probably bent over a score of “Peter and the Wolf” making corrections, but she’d know if the place caught fire.

2) Smoking pot and drinking beer whilst in your third trimester is not illegal, and it probably won’t do a damn thing to the baby, but you don’t need a post-doc psych degree from Amherst to sense much bigger issues at work here. I mean, you only have to stop drinking and smoking for nine months, and at 8 1/2 months, you haven’t got that far to go. If your jones is that severe, and you absolutely HAVE to be the chick with the enormous pregnant belly, a Bud Light in one hand and your mouth around a bong, you might be an addict, my friend. Which probably needs to get looked at.

3) Screaming at your kid about a “time out” during a party seems pretty sysiphean, but like my brother says, nobody has any idea how many methods a parent has exhausted in an effort to get their child to behave. Screaming “time out” may actually be the 45th technique she tried.

Leaving aside for the moment our extreme examples, the real battle most of us fight every day is this: where can we draw the line between our kids’ lust for adventure, and our fear for their lives? Obviously that line flutters and wows greatly by temperament and gender, but it remains constant through a series of microjudgments we make every few seconds we’re with them.

To those without kids, this must read as a manifesto of unrelenting misery, a non-call-to-arms if you will, a call-to-not-bother. Like anything gloriously worthwhile, the play-by-play is unbearable to describe. So I’d leave it at this: none of us on these pages will knowingly let our kids do anything disastrous. The rest of your parenting is more about your temperament, and occasionally you’re going to have to ask yourself if your style is doing you any favors.

My brother Kent always says that parenting is basically pass-fail, so, as far as grades go, we’re cautiously optimistic about this semester.

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0 thoughts on “cookie jar at floor level

  1. T.J.

    “Gone, Baby, Gone.” If you haven’t seen it, do. The first hour is great, with a great performance by Casey Affleck, and the rest makes you think deeply, and get really depressed, about this “DSS and bad parents” issue.

    Reply
  2. Anne

    Lest parents believe that “pass/fail” is entirely up to them, know that some kids, no matter how wisely their parents have raised them, will stubbornly turn into thugs, addicts, underachievers, sponges, even sociopaths, etc. Everyone knows of a family with a “bad seed” kid, the one who is determined *not* to be a success like the other kids. At some point parents need to realize they aren’t to blame for basic personality traits. At some point the kid (now a teen or older) must bear responsibility. We are not all-powerful wizards.

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  3. CM

    “Smoking pot and drinking beer whilst in your third trimester is not illegal, and it probably won’t do a damn thing to the baby”
    Whaaa?

    Reply
  4. Sean

    I had a friend who was reported to Child Services for breaking his son’s arm. The kid was playing in the kitchen, took a corner too fast and slipped, and my friend caught his arm and *pop* it broke. Now he has a record, because the kid’s school reported the abuse.
    A dear friend of mine dislocated her son’s elbow a week ago. She was goofing off with him, and she picked him off the changing table by his hands, not realizing that the crazy kid’s feet weren’t on the table.
    You can hover all you want, you can obsess all you want, you can watch for signs and deal with the signs all you want, you’re not gonna catch every problem. You know what’s worse? You will be surrounded by nitpicking jackasses who will see your every move and judge you for it. People just like you.
    These are the same people who saw the horror in Columbine unfold and immediately decided that the parents of the murdering kids were to blame.
    http://tinyurl.com/cptk6y
    Let me offer up this…
    1) You don’t have any help with your kid during the day. You’ve been going for six or seven straight days. Then for six or seven more. Then, for five more weeks. Then for two more months. Then for six more months. You know your kid, you know what he likes to play with, he’s smart, you’ve spent a shitload of time with him, and if you give him six books, all of which he has memorized, he will sit in his crib with you in the room and ignore you for 45 minutes. You run out to the garage for five minutes one day, you come back, and your kid doesn’t even care that you left. Maybe one day, you run a half-hour errand…
    Then, your jackass neighbors discover that you’ve done this and CALL THE POLICE. You’ve spent years of your adult life devoted to raising a child, and now you’ve got the government asking you why you would be so CRUEL.
    2) You’re in a difficult marriage, and you get pregnant because you’ve always wanted kids. You have a child on the way, and you’ve been pretty careful. Even though you spent the first six months gagging down salads because you want the baby to be healthy (completely not realizing that you could have exposed the blastocyst to all kinds of toxins and, on raw vegetables, possibly e coli or salmonella) It’s all coming down on you, and, since you take your responsibilities VERY seriously, the pressure gets really high and one night when you’re out with your friends, you do a bong hit.
    Then your jackass neighbors talk shit about you, as if you care nothing about your offspring.
    3) You have given your child an enormous amount of latitude, believing that he will learn some independence and self-confidence, but, coinciding with the start of the terrible twos, that independence has turned into something really awful for other kids and parents. You decide, a month before his second birthday, that you are gonna switch gears. In one year’s time, it has all worked out, the child has both a sense of responsibility *and* independence. However, you remember his second birthday as a real nadir in your relationship.
    However, your jackass neighbors, who only saw you two for a few hours on one day in the middle of this grand battle, are all talking shit about what a bitch you are for screaming at your kid on his birthday. Despite the OBVIOUS FACT that a two year old doesn’t give a shit that it’s his birthday.
    Man… I should just keep my own blog. I’m sorry, Ian. But the logical idealogical next step is the idea that Palestinians like it when their children die because it engenders international outrage. The assumption that someone else cares less about their children than you do is the ultimate in demonization, and it’s deplorable.

    Reply
  5. Sarah

    I hate to add to the parental criticisms, but from personal experience, watch your children VERY CAREFULLY when they are on trampolines. I broke my neck (compression fracture of C7 vertebrae, plus a ton of torn ligaments) on one when I was 10, and NO amount of netting or padding would have prevented it. It was spring break, and I was at a friend’s house. She was a gymnast, and did a back flip, and I thought “I can do that!” Well, I did half of one, and landed on my head in the middle of the trampoline. I heard a crunch, and it knocked the breath out of me. We went inside and sat down (I remember it being kind of funny — the torn ligaments meant that I couldn’t hold my neck up very well), and decided to call my mom. She picked me up and we spent the rest of the day going back and forth between the hospital, xrays, and the doctor’s office. I was amazingly lucky that nothing slipped and I wasn’t paralyzed (and with my knowledge of physics, I can’t understand how it wasn’t worse). Regardless, I spent 4 months of a miserably hot Alabama summer wearing a soft brace, and couldn’t jump in a pool, or do anything that could have jarred my neck.
    Obviously, my mom wasn’t (and isn’t) the helicopter-type, and I wouldn’t change that about her. However, while babysitting in high school and college, I was always the party-pooper who wouldn’t let the kids go jump on their friends’ trampolines.

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  6. Caroline

    Confession: I strongly dislike one of our friend’s kids. She is a true brat. Now, I know, technically, the parenting has probably made her that way. (The mom is quite a princess who lives in a big bubble herself, though is nice and has a kind heart. Realism, however, is not a strength in that home.) And I know I shouldn’t take it out on the kid because it’s not really her fault. (She’s a toddler.) But the kid grates on my nerves something wicked. She is shockingly spoiled. And she can tell that I don’t like her – kids sense this stuff. So, she gets EXTRA fussy around me and wants even more attention. It makes me feel terrible because I feel like it’s my fault to begin with, I’m somehow altering the normal dynamic. It’s just icky and makes me feel really uncomfortable. My husband and I want to have kids soon but this example is so bad it makes me nervous about the whole endeavor. There. That’s my big kid-related confession.

    Reply
  7. josie

    A little off topic from the post, but as a benefactor of numerous neuroses courtesy of my parents (whom, in turn, were raised in a sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, but always culturally fucked up setting a hundred times more challenging than anything I could imagine), I can tell you that we do the best we can with the tools we have. Over time, those tools go from hammer to laser-accurate scalpel (if we’ve been good at taking notes).
    Point is, it’s a journey, and regardless we will still manage to pass down a bunch of neuroses and bad habits to our kids. Those with a modicum of self-awareness will have something to write about in 30 years.
    P.S. Great pic! I will have to make sure I preserve pics like that…..Do you think subliminal messages with such images will make their teen years easier?

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  8. Ian

    Let me clarify: doing one bong hit and drinking one beer probably won’t hurt the baby in the ninth month, but that’s a country mile from actually recommending it.

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  9. kjf

    Many years ago my daughter was jumping on her bed and fell and broke her collarbone. While at the hospital they sent in a social worker to ask questions and I knew why they were there. I did not object at all to the suspicion because I knew that some kids who came into that ER were smacked around or worse. Sure mistakes will be made in suspecting abuse but what is worse – overcalling or undercalling.
    And a child’s brain undergoes significant growth in weeks 36-40 so the third trimester is more than a fattening up period.
    My kids are adults now and turned out well. When people complemented my husband and I on them we always realized that a significant part of that outcome was nothing more than luck and dodging bullets. There really is only so much control you have over any of it!!

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  10. Lee

    Well, it seems like one thing to discuss something with your co-parent and another to gossip to all the neighbors. In my mind, those are pretty different things. For one, I feel like I’m often trying to figure out how to be a better parent by watching other parents. I know that there are some things from my childhood I like to emulate, but a lot more things I don’t.
    In my house growing up if I was told to do something and I said NO! I would have ended up on the other side of the room. So knowing that I’m not gonna do that, doesn’t mean that I know what TO do. So I watch other parents and see what works/doesn’t seem to work and we often discuss it and try to figure out what we think will work best for us.
    Don’t we all do that?

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  11. Neva

    Sean, I have to ask, are you depressed? Are you overwhelmed with your SAHD role? You seem very personally offended. Did someone accuse you of something?
    I ask because your point of view seems awfully extreme. In your mind is there ANY situation where DSS should be brought in?
    By the way, at least in our state, the police are not involved in reports of possible child abuse. If someone has a concern – it is always an anonymous report to a government agency (in our state it’s called DSS, sometimes it’s called CPS) They go out and investigate. In my experience it takes an awful lot for them to actually substantiate abuse (or create “a record”). I feel fairly certain your friend has no “record” to speak of just as kjf doesn’t. But at least they go out and look around and possibly ask questions. Usually, as in kjf’s case no problem is noted but there were injuries or something that raised eyebrows. Personally, I’d be happy to see someone show up and ask me questions about how my kid broke his arm because it means they are looking out for all kids. If I had nothing to worry about, then I have nothing to worry about. BUT.. there are many, many parents who do truly hurt their kids – through either neglect or abuse ALL THE TIME. I see it every day. Fortunately we have a government that thinks it’s important to protect kids!
    Your first example Sean is the perfect set up for one of those situations. That stay at home parent who is overwhelmed, not supported and tired, is exactly who might hurt their kid. Babies get shaken and killed. Children get beaten and devastated for life. This happens every day and if you try to blow it off and say it’s none of my business then you are part of the problem.
    This is not to say that we should be gossiping about our neighbors but if a “friend” is telling you that she leaves her child for extensive periods of time and this is a regular event then be a “friend” to her child and do something about it. At least say to the person “I’m really worried about you. Do you need some help watching your child? Is there something I can do. I really feel uncomfortable with you leaving him/her”. There is nothing gossipy or self righteous about that.
    As far as talking about other people’s parenting – it isn’t very nice to do. I do think it is VERY important for parents to discuss it among themselves. Watching how other people parent really helps me decide what feels right or doesn’t. Watching when other parents allow certain freedoms etc. helps me decide what is appropriate for me and I think is part of why Ian asked about this in the first place. It’s good to discuss how to parent. It makes us better parents and makes partners work on the same page as a united front.
    Okay, I’ll shut up now but Sean I’m beginning to worry about you.

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  12. LFMD

    I agree with Neva. It takes a lot to substantiate abuse, and it is comforting to at least know that there is an agency that cares about what is going on in kids’ lives. In the past, when accidents happened involving my daughter, I know for a fact that the doctors took notes and asked about any patterns of injury. They did and they should.
    Three years ago, I heard the adults in the house behind our’s yelling and screaming at each other. Violence was threatened. The screaming continued. The minute that I heard childrens’ voices (in the form of pleading and crying), I called the police. Screaming adults did not bother me, but thinking that children were in danger did. The police showed up and diffused the situation.
    Using Sean’s logic, I was a jackass neighbor who was interfering with a family fight. All families fight, and sometimes it involves kids or is at least in front of kids. Did I mention that it was the night before Thanksgiving? I don’t care. I called the police and would do it again if anything like that happened.

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  13. Sean

    Here’s my problem. Nobody has said, “A child burned herself because she was left home alone.” Nobody said, “Our neighbor’s kid was born with fetal-alcohol syndrome, and I found out she was smoking pot and drinking in her third trimester…” The whole argument is “Here’s a situation that *might* end badly”. Man, we just LOVE talking about what other parents are doing, with no regard as to whether or not it has any effect on the kids.
    As to whether or not I’m depressed or overwhelmed…
    (sigh)
    It’s exhausting. Every question I ask gets met with “where do you get your information” or “But *why* do you feel that way.” We’ve become an ad hominem culture, where there’s no information or opinion, there’s only “You got that from Fox News” or “Of course you think that, you’re a man…” It’s dead easy to ignore anything anyone says. Of course, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to be both depressed and RIGHT.
    Look, I’m friends with a large group of women and, when they are accidentally not living up to the impossibly high standards they’ve set for themselves, they are talking shit about all the other mothers who aren’t either. Good people become complete assholes when they get to sit in judgement on each other’s parenting. And yet, here we sit, with eight lovely two year olds behaving like normal two year olds, broken arms and 6 PM bedtimes and everything.
    I am utterly beyond reproach. My kid has been raised by two doting parents, and three incredibly involved grandparents, he’s beautiful and kind and he responds well to most parenting styles. And as soon as he hits his terrible twos and starts shoving other kids, there will be a whisper campaign against us. “She works *TEN HOURS A DAY* you know, of *course* the kid needs his mother.” and “well, *HE’S* always at *rehearsal*, how can you expect that poor boy to behave?”
    Nobody could possibly understand the one billion daily variations in your child’s behavior, let alone some government agency. Go ahead and call the police if you want, but don’t be surprised when the same knock comes on your door.

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  14. Mom

    Well, in all this, there IS the matter of kids from about one to three years old. Never out of sight or at least confined and in earshot when they are awake. Overprotective? Sean, Ian, one word:
    Matthew.

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  15. GFWD

    Natalie Merchant and her other 9,999 Maniacs summed up Sean’s earlier post nicely and succinctly and theirs was one of my favorite songs my freshman year of college when it first came out:
    What’s The Matter Here?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47Wm_IAu_yM
    I think there’s a clear difference between judging other parents’ innocuous lifestyle preferences versus passing judgment on those specific things which are clearly and objectively dangerous to a child.
    I don’t care whether someone gives their kids wholly natural and organic food or whether they stuff them with pre-packaged Soylent Green. That’s their preference and it affects my life as much as my Vegan friends do–which is to say, not at all.
    The problem with your examples, Sean, is that it’s okay to THINK about trying to sneak in that 30 minute errand while little baby sleeps for an hour in the crib. But it’s entirely another thing to actually do it.
    In the immortal words of Buford T. Justice (help me out here, DFB’s & T’s with the quote): “You can think about it . . . but DOOOONNNNN’T do it!”
    I think Neva’s right–maybe a good friend is the one who says, “WTF, you actually left your kid in the crib alone while you went 5 miles up the road to Target? Really? Seriously?”
    My daughter recently had an allergic reaction and welts on her face and body. As I stated in a FB status update, she looked like the offspring of Mikhail Gorbachev and a leopard. She was absolutely covered and her eyes looked puffy, as though she had gone 12 rounds with Apollo Creed.
    Several of the daycare teachers and even our friends inquired about her well being and asked what was wrong. We explained it and that was the end of the story. I’m fine with that altruistic intrusion upon my privacy because I recognize their intentions. I didn’t resent them.
    If people are talking behind parents’ backs about things that are inherently dangerous, then the parents doing those deeds need to look in the mirror. And so do their friends.
    If, however, the behind-the-back whispering and gossip is over whether the kids drink Strawberry Quik (like my son does), then tell the nosey bitches to shut the fuck up and go about your day.
    Or, you can do as Natalie sings and bury your head in the sand and pass it off as none of your business.
    And Sean, I’m not picking on you. I recognize where your position was coming from. Besides, it’s not the long rehearsals that your mommy group is going to be talking about as a source for whatever your kid does wrong . . . it’s the Soylent Green you’re feeding that kid.
    It’s PEOPLE, don’t ya’ know.
    We need more posts and debate about this stuff because it ain’t easy raising youngins and God Bless us all for keeping our sanity (most of the time) as we try to make our way through the toughest job we’ll ever love!
    Have a good day mommy’s and daddy’s. And keep on trying to do your job as best you can.

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  16. Rebecca

    We all look crappy under a microscope. I’m doing the best I can, and I’m going to assume that everyone else is too.
    When my oldest child started Kindergarten, my youngest was 3 months old. My neighbor had twins a few months older, so we carpooled at school pickup (2 blocks away) and left the kids sleeping in their cribs. We exchanged monitors and house keys each day, so that the other person could get inside in case the “house was burning down.” It never happened. We did that all year and the babies were fine.
    The BIGGEST problem is if something happens to the PARENT who is gone. What if the parents gets in an accident, and nobody knows the baby is home alone for hours? Anyway, I’m not proud, but it’s what I had to do to survive.

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  17. Rebecca

    I’m about to do something with Henry that is going to open me to a LOT of criticism in my circle of friends and neighbors. Most likely, Henry is not going to kindergarten in the fall. Yes, he will be 5 in June, and yes he looks fine, but please don’t judge my child’s kindergarten readiness based on his birthday or size. He’s had years of physical and speech therapy to look normal, but his development has always been delayed.
    In the past few weeks I’ve had him evaluated by a professional developmental psychologist, a psychiatrist, as well as by his preschool teacher and the teacher of the kindergarten readiness program through the school district. The professionals all agree that he should wait a year. (All the testing is overkill, I know, but I wanted to get a variety of opinions to make sure we were making the right decision.)
    So please, please think of me when you hear people talking shit about parents holding back their kids. You may know NOTHING about that kid, and what’s he’s been through. Holding Henry out of kindergarten for a year will not change his IQ, it will simply give his body and mind a year to catch up to his chronological age. Be VERY thankful if your children are completely normal.

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  18. Joanna

    Rebecca, you may be interested in this article . . .
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/magazine/03kindergarten-t.html
    My son was developmentally on target, but every educator I encountered told me boys with summer b-days are usually better off waiting a year for kindergarten. My son’s one of the oldest in his class and at this point I see only benefits.
    It’s so hard to foresee what will be right for your child. On this topic, I think the child of any parent who cares enough to deliberate is probably going to be just fine. Good luck!

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  19. GFWD

    Rebecca,
    Tell your nosey neighbors to STFU when talking about when Henry goes to kindergarten. As long as he ends up at Carolina playing varsity basketball on a national champion team, NO ONE will care when he started kindergarten. I promise. Smile.

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  20. Sean

    Rebecca, I know it’s hard to figure out what to do, but, as I’ve been arguing, nobody knows better than you do. Our son, Barnaby, has a Dec. birthday, and it gives us the option of him being the youngest in his class or the oldest, and we’re firmly in the “wait and see” camp. He’s gonna let us know if he’s ready, and if he’s not, then he won’t go in.
    You should feel supported in this decision. I’m just one idiot, but I think you’re making the best decision.

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  21. Piglet

    By the way, at least in our state, the police are not involved in reports of possible child abuse. If someone has a concern – it is always an anonymous report to a government agency (in our state it’s called DSS, sometimes it’s called CPS) They go out and investigate.
    Yes, and when they start to investigate, it’s a can of worms you can never shut again. I’ve been involved with the child welfare people in my area and you never know what you’re going to get with them. Every caseworker has an agenda, but it’s not usually the same agenda. People have gone into the field looking for children to intervene with on pretexts, or to keep families intact whatever the cost, or to protect children from atheist parents, or to protect children from ThoseCrazyChristian parents, or to get power over parents and bully them. I’ve seen cases where having several beer cans in the recycling bin was evidence of bad parenting, or where having a cat litter box in the house was evidence of bad parenting, or where a laundry pile was evidence of bad parenting.
    I’m calling child welfare if I believe that actual child abuse is going on (fortunately, this has yet to happen), and even then I may feel like scrubbing myself afterwards, in case I’m wrong. In other cases, if I feel like the parent needs a clue, I’ll talk to the parents.

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  22. emma

    Here is something that Sean and I do agree on – I think the parent is the best person to make the decision about when to start kindergarten. Make your decision, stick with it and feel good about it. My son has a late august birthday – he started kindergarten on his 5th birthday and is one of the youngest in his grade (he is a 3rd grader now). There are kids older than him in the 2nd grade, but he has done great where he is. I didn’t want to split him up from all the friends he had made in preschool and he really was ready. Even had I made the wrong decision and he was in kindergarten too early – I could have decided to hold him back at that time.

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  23. Annie H.

    As a non-parent (just a very lucky godparent) I can’t speak with authority here, but I do find myself thinking about a logical fallacy I can’t let lie: Living in New York City, leaving your apartment to go to a storefront in your block is much more like just going into another room in your house, or perhaps another floor, or the garage, or the backyard (you are literally steps away–you can be back in the apartment in less time than it takes to brush your teeth) than it is to getting in your car and driving away somewhere. Those two scenarios are not in any way equivalent, in my mind. One of my oldest and dearest friends is raising her new (5-month-old) girl in the city by herself. When Lila is asleep, she occasionally dashes down to the laundromat (right next door) to begin a wash or dry cycle. It takes 4 minutes. That, to me, is NOTHING like driving miles away from your infant while he or she is alone in the house.

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  24. T.J.

    “It takes a lot to substantiate abuse”
    Speaking as an attorney who represents parents in CPS cases: Actually, no, it doesn’t take a whole lot, despite what the law might say about burden of proof and the constitutional right to parent. “We have to protect the children,” and all that. And the investigation itself is devastating and incredibly stressful, even if the report is unsubstantiated.

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  25. Salem

    Too much great stuff, I have to walk away, or I’ll way over comment.
    I just have to know. Yesterday’s post with you and Sean in the pool. Is that a “Union Jack” or “Stars & Stripes” speedo yer sportin’.

    Reply

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