Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Parenting Plan Backfired

Before you become a parent, it is easy to make all sorts of definitive proclamations. “I will only feed my child organic food.”

“I won’t ever use a pacifier with my baby!”

“I would never let my child use/watch the (insert technology here).”

To these parents I say – just you wait. It is impossible to know what type of parent you will be until you are catapulted headfirst into a narrow tunnel with a speeding freight train (read: a hysterically crying, tantrum-throwing, screaming two-year-old) heading towards you. If you are anything like me, all at once you throw the first snack you can find, a pacifier and an iPad at that child in response. And relish the fleeting moment of peace that decision brings.

In January we celebrated my older daughter’s fifth birthday. I can count on one hand the number of “mistakes” that I have made in these years of raising her. I think we watch too much television (though, to be fair, that girl is pretty brilliant and often credits her favorite shows with teaching her the random facts she knows). I know that her diet is nowhere near as balanced as it should be (though, show me a five-year-old child’s whose is and I’ll be shocked). And she sucks her thumb. Her birthday in January was supposed to mark the first day of trying to get her to really stop – it's not going well.

But there was one parenting decision that I made that – while not major – completely backfired in my face. And it was because of one of my definitive pre-parenting statements.

“I won’t have one of those kids who is obsessed with, like, a blanky or a stuffed animal or lovey…”

When Rebecca was born, she was given all sorts of cuddly friends. A clear early favorite was the Angel Dear lovey – an impossibly soft, perfectly huggable small blanket with a stuffed animal head on it. They come in all different varieties – farm animals, safari animals, pets – they have them all.

And so do we! Because this was my brilliant parenting move – in order to keep her from being obsessed with one particular one, I would get five or six different ones and keep switching them out. It was perfect! She would love them all and not care which one she had at any given moment… until…

She needed them all. At every given moment. So instead of being the kid who was obsessed with like, a blanky or stuffed animal or lovey… she was the girl addicted to five of them. She could tell instantly if one was missing and which one it was.

“I need Ducky. Where’s Lamby? Hi Hippo! Ooh ooh ah ah Monkey! Yay Munchy (that’s the giraffe)!”

Sigh. It was exhausting keeping track of five best friends. And we didn’t always do such a good job, resulting in endless hunts for them, a situation any parent of a child who has a favorite toy will recall with a wince.

A photo posted by Lesley Neadel (@lneadel) on

To combat the possibility of losing one of your child’s best friends, you do what any normal parent does – you buy a backup. Or two. And if your child has five best friends, as mine did? Yes, that means ten backups. Two of each of five animals. I should have bought stock in Angel Dear when she was born.

And I truly didn’t think she knew the difference. I assumed that one Lamby was as good as the other, and she never really seemed to mind which she had. And best of all? The backups were hidden in the top drawer that she couldn’t reach, so she knew nothing of them!

Until one night putting her to bed when she was two-and-a-half, when she asked for Lamby. I scrambled looking for him and was thrilled to find him peeking out from under her crib. “Here you go!”

She grabbed him, popped her thumb in her mouth, rolled over and rubbed his soft fleecey material between her fingers in her special way. I was about to turn off the light and leave the room when she sat up.

“No, Mommy.”

“No what?”

“Not this Lamby. I want the other.”

I froze, unsure of what to say next.

“You want the… what?”

She looked straight at me, holding Lamby out, and said, “I like the one with the longer nose better. Just open the top drawer and give it to me.”

And in that one moment, I accepted humble defeat, gave her the other Lamby, and walked out of her room, hysterically laughing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Keeping it Real: On Turning 36

I have a husband. And two children. And a mortgage.  I sit on the board of a nonprofit, have started a freelance career doing writing and public relations consulting, and am working on a startup too. We own a car and lease another. We have wills, life insurance policies and various types of savings and checking accounts.
But if you ask me if I am an adult? If I look around at my life each day and feel equipped to lead it? The answer is emphatically no. I still feel like an insecure middle school girl who is just faking every move of every day to try and hopefully seem like the popular group. Despite creating a life for myself with which I am thoroughly in love, I often don't feel like it is mine.
I consistently call my parents for advice - or more accurately, to tell me what to do - on any number of issues. I Google everything. I can't wrap a present to save my life. I have no knowledge of how many teaspoons go into a tablespoon, which my husband asked me just the other night, and hardly ever make our bed. I routinely shrink clothes in the laundry accidentally and smell cartons of milk to see if they are still good. I live in an apartment that is constantly messy and has at least one light bulb that needs to be changed. (I actually think our electricity zaps bulbs quicker than any other place in the world, but that's for another day.)
Today I am 36 years old. At this point in her life, my mother had lived in the immaculately-kept home where I grew up for more than ten years. She had a seventh-grader and a second-grader, volunteered at the local hospital and cooked dinner for us every single night. I rack up more Delivery.com points than is healthy. When my now-husband and I first moved in together I would often joke that it felt like we were playing house. And it still does! Who am I to tell this guy to take out the garbage!? And parenting? Forget about it - I am the biggest pushover there is, because I don't feel like I command the respect that a real adult does. (In fact, I've started telling my daughter to only speak to me as she would her teacher. Sigh.)
More and more, there are occasions where I feel like another adult should be coming to handle them, only to realize that I am that person. I am the one advocating for my daughter in her school, attending PTO meetings and handling the parent-teacher conferences. Rewind to the day they let us take her home from the hospital - I was in shock that she was ours, that we were in charge of keeping her alive. But we did - and ourselves too! And even went on to have another, who is thriving as well. They are even usually - gasp - happy, well-adjusted, incredible girls.

Us. We're a real family. Apparently.
Perhaps it's because I am always with myself - you  know how if you see something every day you don't notice the subtle changes that have all added up to create massive shifts in a person? The tiny bits of growth that add to inches, the baby steps that combine to leaps and bounds?
But whatever the reason, just know that while I may seem confident, or on a random day come across like I have everything together, inside I feel like it's all capable of collapsing at any moment. There are times when that truth shows through - on the playground, when my older daughter collapses in an epic tantrum, and I drag her out by one arm - while also holding her shoeless baby sister who is laughing at the spectacle - or if you are a fly on the wall during our dinnertime, when pasta is more often than not the star of the meal.
It makes me wonder - and hope - that I'm not alone. That many others have decided to "fake it 'till they make it" at adult-ing too, and that we are all awaiting the handbook that leads you through things like deciding which school is best for your child, buying a whole entire house, or dealing with insurance companies, or - especially around the holidays - wrapping all those damn presents.