To the mother with the crying baby at the movies last night:

I know I’m not supposed to say anything. I’m supposed to be supportive, and understanding, and tolerant, and kind. I’m supposed to ignore how enormously inconsiderate you are.

After all, don’t I have kids? Don’t I know what it’s like to be looked at by people who don’t have kids? Don’t I know how frustrating it is to have to miss out on things simply because you’ve given birth to a needy infant?

Don’t I like to take my kids to the movies? (Yes, at the FAMILY DOLLAR THEATER TO SEE KIDS’ SHOWS.)

But really. People pay 8 bucks a ticket (or work hard enough in their careers to be given complimentary tickets) to attend a PG-13 movie on opening weekend, and you bring your crying baby, and sit right behind me.

And I? I have spent two hours of my Friday afternoon making calls to potential sitters, and shelled out twenty-five dollars of my hard-earned blogging money (which you know took me two weeks to earn) for a babysitter, and I’m out on the town on a date with my husband, without my kids, enjoying a fantastic movie, and you expect me to LISTEN TO YOUR FREAKING CRYING BABY THE WHOLE TIME?

Major fail, Mother with the crying baby, major fail.

Please stay home, or get a babysitter, before you give all mothers a bad name, and me a major pain in the hiney.

The Curious Case of the Never-Good-Enough Mother

Today I went to a mandatory court appearance with my good friend “Annie.” A month ago Annie left her two children, ages 2 and 4, in her (not-running) locked car for twelve minutes while she ran into Best Buy. The car was warm, as she had been running errands all morning. It was about noon in the first week of December; there was snow on the ground and the sun was shining.

The kids were tired and Annie’s oldest, who truly is quite articulate, said that he would rather wait in the car than go in with his mom. The kids were in their coats, in their car seats.

A couple walked by and called the police, who came and had been at the car for three minutes when my friend got back to it. The female police officer who wrote up my friend did not know for sure whether the statute Annie had violated was state or federal, though she guessed federal. She was positive that children have to be 8 to be unattended in a car, and 12 if there are any children under 8 present also.

My friend was so upset and ashamed about the whole episode that she didn’t tell anyone but her husband for three weeks. When she finally told me about it, I did some research. I couldn’t find a state or federal law about leaving children unattended in cars. There are groups pushing for legislation to make cars safer for kids unattended in cars, and there are statutes about neglect, harm, and abuse to a child, but no such allegations were made in this case. (The police made no moves to open the car; they could see that the kids were happy and safe.)

Annie and I scoured the internet. She called the DMV and learned it’s not a traffic violation; she called the district court and realized the clerks had no clue beyond suggesting a call to the city police department, and, oh, wasn’t that odd — according to the code on the citation, Annie was charged with “trespass and graffiti.”

Today at the court appearance, the prosecutor’s case paper had the correct code on it. Turns out, there’s a city ordinance about leaving children under the age of 6 unattended in a car in a public place. Annie was too flustered and intimidated by the judge to defend herself; she pled guilty to an infraction and paid the (happily-low) $100 fine.

Now, there are several issues here:

1) Children die in cars every year from hyperthermia.

2) The couple who called the police did the right thing.

3) The American justice system is probably the most defendant-friendly in the history of the whole history, and yet it is still a maze of Kafka-esque proportions.

4) Mothers who care about their children never stop worrying whether they’re doing it right.

1) Children die in cars every year from hyperthermia. This happens in the summer time, when parents forget (or don’t care) that their children are in the car. Recent cases have involved parents forgetting to drop kids off at daycare. I haven’t heard of any cases in the winter time among children running errands with their parents. In the Ohio case of Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby (whose 2 year-old died after 8 hours in the car), no charges were brought because there was no “reckless conduct” present.

I’ve never heard of a kid being kidnapped out of a locked car in a parking lot, but this could happen. I don’t know how it could possibly happen to a five-year old and not a six-year old, but there you go.

2) The couple who called the police did the right thing. My friend might wish that they’d considered waiting a few more minutes to see if a parent would return. But what if Annie had fallen and gotten hurt? What if you walked past a car with two kids in it? Would you walk by? I hope not. (I hope you wouldn’t act smug when the mother got written up for it, either.)

3) The American justice system blah blah blah. Ignorance of the law is a poor defence, but when almost no one knows what the law is, and when there’s no intent to neglect or actual neglect or any harm, what purpose is there in humiliating a mother who is honestly doing her best, which is pretty darn good?

4) Mothers who care about their children always think they’re doing something wrong. And if they’re not doing it wrong, for sure some other mother is.

We parents are so hard on each other. A couple months ago I told another friend how tempted I was to leave Spot napping at home while I ran to the school to pick up Sally. I was SO tempted: Spot had just barely fallen asleep, and I hated to drag her out into the cold. The school is only three minutes away; we live in a very, very safe neighborhood. My friend told me she’d recently left her baby asleep at home in the exact same circumstances, only she took the baby monitor over to the neighbor’s house.

I woke Spot up that day. What if there’s a fire, I thought. My friend who had left her baby at home also recounted a time when she left her kids in the car at the printers’. She could see them through the store window and she was only gone for three minutes. But, she said, she would NEVER leave her kids for twelve minutes in a large parking lot.

Neither would I, for that matter. I think. Except maybe I have, at the grocery store? Or the movie rental place? Sally is almost 8, so she’s probably been at least six any time I’ve done that. And probably I was only in the store for nine minutes, so that’s okay.

I do leave Susan and Spot while I get a drink at the gas station (or used to!) — in fact they were in the car when I locked my keys in it last month.

My point: there are large gray areas, despite laws about booster seats for eight-year olds.

And negotiating the gray areas is tough enough without law enforcers adding unnecessarily to the guilt and uncertainty parents feel every day. Surely police officers can tell a difference between a mother running a quick errand and a mother leaving her kids in a car while she bar-hops.

When I told Dick about Annie’s mistake, he said, “Wow, reminds me of that time your friend Andrea passed a car on the right and the police pulled her over and made her feel so bad for endangering her kid who was in the back seat.”

That happened almost eleven years ago, when Dick and I were dating. I still remember Andrea showing up at my house right after it happened. She was shattered at the idea that she might be (thought) an unfit mother. Dick and I haven’t talked about that in ELEVEN YEARS, and when we did talk about it Sally was the merest twinkle in Dick’s eye, but we both remembered it, and I bet Andrea does too.

I’ve joked before that I’m going to wait to have another kid until the American Academy of Pediatrics decides it’s okay after all for babies to sleep on their stomachs. Because if I have to count the weeks until another newborn can turn over by herself and get some quality sleep, I just won’t make it.

I know I make mistakes as a parent. (And I know I’m not the only one). But I hate the feeling that everyone else is watching, waiting for me to screw up.

Jane

p.s. I’m in the running for a spotlight on Mormon Mommy blogs, if you want to go vote (in the sidebar). Because I AM a good mother, dammit, and even if this post isn’t even “funny in a makes you think sort of way” (as one of my sweet readers said), but just plain “makes you think” (I hope), I’m, uh, sure I’ll have something almost-funny up again soon. (Thanks also to the MomNerd.)

Comment of the day (so far) from Keli:

A most excellent post, thank you. I have done this several times. I admit it. I will run into the “Sev” to grab a hot chocolate, and I admit, I don’t want to unbuckle my 2 year old, and wrastle the 5 year old, and then have to buy them crap they won’t eat or drink in addition to my hot cocoa. It’s purely selfish. But if a mom can’t have her selfish time, what can she do?

I usually try to get a 12 year old to sit with my kids in the car while I bar hop, though. That makes me a much better mother.

{Back to the Bloggy Giveaways Post}

Resolved: That on January 1st, 2009, I will look like Liv Tyler, housekeep like FlyLady, and motivate like Mary Poppins

I recently found my list of goals for the year 2003. Hoo-boy! was it old news: Lose 20 pounds, be more patient, organize the finances, meal planning, and laundry, pray with greater intent, write something.

DANG am I glad I reached those goals and can now focus on planting a garden, finishing my basement single-handedly (because I don’t like to use my left hand for construction projects), and learning Farsi for the Foreign Service.

Everybody is resolution writing and year in review-ing. I’m scared to check if I posted my goals last January. And despite often thinking that my latest post is the best thing I’ve written up until five minutes after I hit publish, I won’t be listing my favorite posts of the year. Because six minutes after I hit publish, I want to go snivel in bed, covers pulled tight over the lower half of my face.

Two of my favorite bloggers, one as secular and brazenly-career-minded as possible and the other as devoutly on fire as only the recently-converted can be have led me to think on my resolutions in new ways.

Surprisingly, what Penelope Trunk and Jennifer at Conversion Diary have to say about goals and potential is compatible enough to convince me:

Penelope says:

Living up to your potential is not crossing off everything on your to do list on time, under budget. Or canonizing your ideas in a book deal. Really, no one cares. You are not on this earth to do that. Trust me. No one is. You are on this earth to be kind. That is your only potential.

Jennifer says:

Any list of New Year’s resolutions should having growing closer to God as the ultimate goal. I need to remember this and ask myself with each one, “Is my true desire with this goal to better conform myself to Christ?” This is true not only of the goal itself but the way I approach it (e.g. you could approach a budgeting goal in a God-centered way or a greed-centered way).

I do have goals for this year. I’d like to lose 20 pounds, be more patient, organize the finances, meal planning, and laundry, pray with greater intent, write something. Oh, and plant a garden.

But I want to chose one overall goal, one goal that’ll bring me closer to God and bless my children. One goal that has a hundred applications every day and would correct something that I have rationalized and defended as my right as an overwhelmed mother.

I want to go an entire year without yelling.

Probably I am delirious about the possibility of even approaching this, but I want it. I want it so bad I can taste it. I want to believe in the grace of Christ, the tender mercies of our Lord, that if I try really, really hard, and pray really hard, I can change what is all too often the fundamental dynamic of my interaction with my children.

I would never yell at a friend the way I do my four year old when she won’t put her boots back on. Right. Now.

I would never yell at my boss the way I do my seven-year old when she touches something I’ve told her thirteen times not to touch. (If I had a boss.)

I would never yell at my two-year old in front of my Savior. (I think.) (Unless I somehow forgot He was standing there.) (Like, say, if my two-year old threw her syrup-drenched pancake squares on the floor. Repeatedly.)

So that’s it. The goal I am going to resolute over all others:

No Yelling.

Can I do it?

Yes and no.

Beth at Blog O’Beth has a family tradition of writing predictions rather than resolutions. This makes a lot of sense to me. I could predict, for example, that I will lose 20 pounds but gain back 15 or that I will organize the finances only to give up on meal planning altogether. But I’m too young for that sort of realism.

Instead, I predict that:

1) My kids will disobey, and annoy, and irritate beyond all hope of bearing.

2) I’ll backslide on the yelling. In fact, one day in early February, I will snap in the middle of a crowded grocery store and implore at the top of my lungs “Why, oh everything holy in heaven and in earth, WHY?”

3) I’ll feel bad about this yelling, which means that my goal is working. Because:

4) I’ll learn for sure that it is possible to interact with minors who share my DNA without resorting to threats of violence, and:

5) Just the act of trying, really, really hard, and praying, really hard, will improve the spirit of our home.

Jane

What do you predict or resolute?

Am expecting call from Who’s Who any minute

Normally I’d blush before drawing attention to my intimidating array of accomplishments, but this one happens to be the culmination of eight years of near-constant slogging, tearful patience on the part of my dear husband and long-suffering children, and really, the first time since I saw The Sound of Music as a child that I have burst into a refrain of I Have Con-fi-dence in Con-fi-dence A-lone without the express purpose of irritating my kids.

You see. Yesterday? The entire day from sunup to bedtime?

I went an entire day without yelling. At anyone. Not Sally, not Susan, not Spot. Not even Dick.

I know what you’re thinking:

Jane, it was Sunday. Who yells on Sunday?

or

Jane, it’s the holidays. A time of cheer and peace and adoration of the sweet baby Jesus. Who yells during Christmas?

or

Jane, your kids were all sick, vomiting and lethargic on the couch. Who yells at sick kids? Even Andrea Yates took the day off on the Sunday after Christmas.

But what you don’t realize (or what you might realize if you have children of your own and you are the kind of person who has two arms, two legs, and a healthy fear of the IRS — Not that people without arms and legs wouldn’t realize this too) is that Sunday is usually the worst offender when it comes to the aggravated provocation of mother-yelling. And that the Christmas holidays, when children have multiple days off of school and there are (heaven forbid) parties and shopping and general merriment are an even worse agent provocateur of the dreaded mean voice. And that Andrea Yates probably went crazy precisely because she worked so hard to never yell at her kids. It just ain’t natural, friends.

But I did it.

And NOTHING can ever take that away from me. No matter what the future holds, I’ll always have December twenty-eighth, in the year of our Lord 2008, as a great, shining monument to the power of clean living, a positive outlook, and medicinal quantities of jet-puffed marshmallow creme.

Who knows what I might accomplish next?

Peace in the Middle East?

Stabilization of the world financial markets?

Kicking of the Mountain Dew dependence once and for all?

Now wait.

Let’s not get carried away here.

Jane

Don’t call me mother. Not fit to — The letter kept will remind me.

I have the body of a mother. The belly that has swollen and teamed with life three times, that now furrows over the waist of my not-so-skinny jeans. The breasts that sag like a misfired whoopee cushion. The scar (I imagine) from the 27 stitches that put my womanly bits back together again after the birth of the great conehead.

The fading stretchmarks on my calves from the first-pregnancy Entenmann cheese bun cravings.

I have the heart that melts, the lips that yell when my oldest tries to help but is doing it wrong. I have the eyes that tear-up at the intolerable cuteness, the hands that yank hair when a two-year old cannot stand still for five seconds for ponytails so we can see your pretty eyes.

I have the heartbreak for the baby who never swelled and teemed. The regret for the swearing and the yelling and the times I wished they’d just GO AWAY for two minutes. I have the arms that comfort and the lap that is spreading to accommodate my ever-taller almost-eight-year old.

I have the ears that hear phantom crying and panic whenever the snurgling baby suddenly starts breathing quietly. I have the dry, cracked skin from washing endless milk cups and water cups and juice cups and sippy cups.

I have the feet that stomp on the gas as we rush to be on time for school. I have the nose that cringes from smelling another pair of panties, and the miserly practicallity that cannot even consider JUST WASHING a pair that might be clean.

I have the neck my youngest now considers her personal handwarmer and the patience (laziness) to count to three five times before employing a humane time-out. I have the featherbrain that forgets early-out day at school and the knees that remember to pray with the kids, even when I forget to pray by myself.

I have the hormones that insisted at 22 that I have a baby RIGHT NOW, instead of going to graduate school, and the neural-synapse-thingies to wonder if that was a smart choice.

I have the sing-song voice that can cajole and the imagination to make them want to want what I want them to want. And the impatience often to wish that they’d simply do it because I said so.

I have the hopes and the dreams and the remorse and anxiety and fear and the certainties and the what-ifs and the could-have-beens and thank-God-it’s-nots and the thank-God-it-ises.

I have the wisdom to realize, and gratitude to be thankful, that most of what I am today is shaped by being a mother. And the selfishness to resent that three small beings dictate and describe and delineate me.

And I have the desire of a mother to see my three girls become mothers themselves. Because then they’ll know, and they’ll forgive, and they’ll get what’s coming to them, and they’ll love as fiercely and as imperfectly as I do, and they’ll wish I lived close enough to babysit, but I won’t, because I’ll be on a trip around the world.

Until I come home to smell the baby smell, and cuddle the baby warmth close to my mother’s body, and then hand that baby back at the first sign of action in the lower abdominal region.

Jane

I wrote this as part of the Mother Letter Project. I had mixed thoughts on the MLP, ranging from “gimmick” to “how sweet” to “how come Dick couldn’t think up something like this for me?” And then I read that you could purchase, for the low, low price of FORTY-TWO DOLLARS, your very own WOMB (fabric bag) to hold your copy of the Mother Letter Project, and I barfed a little bit in my mouth, even though I hate that phrase, but that’s really what happened.

Then I remembered when I first became a mother, when we lived in the bottom floor of a little A-frame Archie Bunker house in The Bronx and I had no mother friends (22, remember? in NYC?) and my own mother lived two thousand miles away in Utah. And she asked a couple of her young mother friends to write to me and tell me I’d survive. My mother admitted that she’d been out of the trenches long enough to forget how stinky and deep and dark they are. So these wonderful women emailed me, and I printed out their letters and read and re-read them. And I SURVIVED. (so far). And so will you. (I think).

(Back to the Bloggy Giveaways Post)

Because They Would Do The Work Anyway

Leslie Kaufman had an interesting article about caregivers in the New York Times last week. It explored the special care that a caregiver who is related to her charge can provide. According to one such caregiver, Tracy Keil, she* can help her charges who don’t want “just a baby sitter” to live as they would like to live, to “get out and about, go grocery shopping or see a movie.”

Mrs. Keil quit her lucrative accountant job to stay home, and she wants to be “compensated” for what is now her “full-time job” of caregiving. “She sees it not only as a battle about income but also about dignity and respect.” She’s never regretted leaving her paying job, she enjoys her new role, and she’s confident in her competence, but she worries about the financial repercussions of working for nothing.

There’s a growing group of caregivers who are lobbying to not be taken advantage of anymore. Advocates for these caregivers suspect that the government does not pay them (so far) because “they know they would do the work anyway.”

Have you guessed who the charges are?

All of the issues in the article could apply to a stay-at-home mom caring for her kids, but instead it’s about soldiers who come home from war in need of full-time care. In many cases the health aides paid for by the government provide unacceptable care, so many wives of soldiers have quit their jobs to care for their loved ones themselves.

I don’t want to make light of the atrocities of war that render grown men and women in need of full-time caregivers. And, of course, the least we could do as a grateful nation is facilitate our veterans’ return to living to their full capacity.

But.

How come we don’t talk about mother-caregivers in similar terms? I’m not saying I’d like the government to pay me for being a mother, though I do find it appealing when Nora Roberts has characters choosing to accept the “professional mother stipend” in her futuristic Eve Dallas crime books.

I’ve pointed out before that the Child Care Tax Credit is unfairly preferential to working mothers (and fathers) who pay non-relatives to care for children.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about “compensating” (or at least not punishing in the tax code) mother-caregivers? After all, it’s not just a matter of income, but of “dignity and respect.”

Also, why weren’t there protests about this betrayal of feminist ideology — this suggestion that people are happier when cared for by a relative rather than a paid aide or in an institutionalized setting? Shouldn’t someone warn these women of all they are giving up and how they are setting feminism back by settling for a mere caregiver role?

Jane

*I’m not saying a man can’t be a caregiver, but all of the examples in this article were female.

Drinking Buddies

I have three daughters. My sister has two daughters and a son. (I was going to say that she is lucky to have a mix of genders, but I don’t know how to phrase that without making it sound like I regret having three daughters, which I don’t, except when I think of poor Dick never getting to teach his own flesh and blood to write his name in the snow.)

When my youngest, Spot, and her cousin, Track, are together, they act how I would expect twins to act. One minute they are making up silly games like Touch The TV And Fall On Your Bum In Gails Of Laughter, Repeat Ad Nauseum; and the next they are pouring sand on each other and guarding their own siblings’ shoes from the nefarious clutches of That Cousin You Have To Watch Out For.

Now that Spot is racing towards potty training (on a very, very slow horse), I can tell you that I think I will probably have one more kid, despite the fact that when people warn you to “enjoy this stage because it goes by so fast,” they are completely lying.

Babyhood and toddlerhood in fact creep by, but now that it is my youngest doing the creeping, I feel an intermittent and uncontrollable craving for newborn neck to gobble.

Or maybe I am looking forward to Twilight more than I expected.