I give up. I quit.
Yes, yes, I know. We tell our kids that they shouldn’t quit. When they decide that they don’t actually like soccer after begging to join the team, we make them finish the season. When they ask to quit tae kwon do after we bought the uniform, belt, and gloves, we make them finish the three-month session.
But, look, I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve had enough. I hereby hand in my resignation for this sport of competitive parenting. I’m far enough behind anyway, I doubt anyone will even notice.
Right out of the starting gate, I was behind the pack. I struggled with post-partum depression. I didn’t breastfeed. I let my kids cry it out. I cried it out. I gave my kids whole milk before they were a year old. We didn’t do baby sign language. I fed them yogurt with sugar and fruit snacks (i.e., crack for toddlers). My oldest son’s baby book is a haphazard collection of random dates, and my second son doesn’t even have one.
And it seems that I’ve only fallen farther behind as my kids have gotten older. Everyone else knows what they are doing. Everyone else seems so together. Everyone else has the answers. I’m exhausted, sweaty, and I have a cramp in my leg. Can I just call it quits already?
Wait, what’s that? There is no such thing as competitive parenting, you say. No judgment here, you promise. Well, it may not be a race and you may not be judging, but honest to God, it sure as heck feels like there is this giant rule book – How to Be the Best Parent – that I didn’t get when they shoved my ass out of the hospital exhausted, sore, and scared as all get out.
Like I said, I fell behind right from the start, and here are just a few of the ways in which I’m continuing to lag behind in competitive parenting (if anyone were keeping score, of course):
1. Kids Concerts. When my oldest son was in preschool, his class had a holiday concert. While all the other kids were wearing clothes fit to see baby Jesus himself, my son was wearing a t-shirt that said “Monkey Trouble” on it. But, hey, he dressed himself that day which has got to be worth something, right?
2. Dinners. We pretty much survive on a constant rotation of mac & cheese (the florescent orange powdered kind), peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and pizza. Baby carrots, apple slices, strawberries, and broccoli do make an appearance, but they are by no means a guarantee.
3. Fashion. Look, if my husband comes home from work at night and I’m not in pajamas or yoga pants, he wonders whether he missed a birthday or anniversary. But even aside from my own inability (and unwillingness) to keep up with the latest fashion trends, I have two boys and let me tell you it is like pulling teeth to get them to wear pants with a button for goodness sake, let alone a collared shirt once in a while. They pretty much live in a t-shirt and running pants (which, when you think about it, are kind of just a little boys’ version of yoga pants) and a t-shirt. No matching outfits, no hip fedoras, no trendy hoodies, no stylish sunglasses. Just t-shirts and running pants, one of which is usually dirty before we even leave the house.
4. Sports. Sometimes I cheer. Sometimes I clap. But mostly I sit on the sidelines and just watch. I don’t make signs or banners. I don’t jump up and down. I don’t yell out from across the field. I do get my son to practice 3-4 times a week and tell him “great job” when he’s done – that’s pretty good, right?
5. Halloween costumes. Every year, the Interwebs is filled with all of these super-creative, super-cute, my-kid-is-so-adorable photos of children in unique and (of course) handmade Halloween costumes. My kids, on the other hand, are usually wearing some last-minute, store-bought, polyester, totally unoriginal costume. And the second kid is usually wearing his brother’s costume from three years earlier. Well, except for the year my son wore a pretty cute elephant costume, but that was a gift from Grandma so I can’t even take credit for that one.
6. Birthday cakes and school treats. No homemade, gluten-free, vegan, low-fat, sugar-free cakes made by this mama. IF I remember to bring treats (and that is a very big IF), they are generally store bought, usually full of sugar and fat, and devoid of any nutritional value. But, hey, the kids LOVE them!
7. Preschool art projects. Okay, I’ll cut to the chase on this one. Preschool art projects are great in theory. I mean who doesn’t love adorable creations with globs of glue and cotton balls and glitter. (Always so much glitter. Seriously, what is with all the glitter?!?!) Don’t get me wrong, I love a handprint in clay as much as the next parent, but I can only take on so many scribbled pages and Jackson Pollack-style paintings. Fortunately, the guys who drive the recycling truck just love preschool art work so most projects find their way into the recycling bin.
8. School volunteering. When my oldest son was in kindergarten I had all these twinkly visions of helping in his classroom and “being involved” so I volunteered to be one of the room reps. I hesitantly agreed to coordinate the Halloween party (you would think that given my track record with Halloween costumes, I would learn, right?). I figured I would throw a few orange and black tablecloths on the tables, organize a few games, pass out a couple of treats, and the kids would be thrilled. These were kindergarteners, after all, isn’t the whole costume-and-candy thing exciting enough? Turns out I had guessed wrong. The other classrooms had streamers on the door, balloons in the classroom, more decorations, more this, more that, more, more, more. Yep, another parenting fail.
9. Outings. Adventures with my kids include trips to Target, bike rides, and maybe visit to the library (which is conveniently right across the street from our house). Congrats to the parents who can handle outings to the museum, the aquarium, or restaurants. I seriously have no idea how you do it. We’ve been to the Shedd Aquarium once, the Museum of Science and Industry once, the Field Museum once – and I think that that’s more than enough for, oh, the next five to ten years I’d say.
10. The playground. I have nothing against the playground, per se; in fact, it’s a great place to let my kids blow off steam after school and reduces the amount of time I have to listen to them whine and bicker at home too, but nothing reinforces the fact that you never escape high school like the school playground. And you won’t find me kibitzing with the other parents gathered around. I’m a pretty shy introvert and I can only handle so much small talk. Plus after nagging my boys all day to brush their teeth, comb their hair, flush the toilet, wash their hands, pick up their socks, stop picking their noses, push their chairs in after dinner, stop pulling down their brother’s pants, do their homework, put on underwear, and any number of absurd things that I never thought I would say, I pretty much can’t stand the sound of my own voice.
So you won’t find me chatting with the other parents, gossiping, or brainstorming ways to improve the PTA. Instead, you’ll find me sitting on a bench at the far end of the playground, just trying to catch my breath a little bit (did I mention how exhausting it is trying to keep up with all of this?). Sometimes I might even be so bold as to pull out my iPhone and return some emails or (gasp!) check Facebook.
So there you have it: just ten of the reasons why I feel like I’m losing at this sport of competitive parenting.
So I’m done. I quit. I’m exhausted and just can’t do it anymore.
To all of you who are still playing, good for you. Keep on keeping on. To each their own, I say.
To the rest of you parents who are as tired of the rat race as I am, won’t you join me over here on this quiet bench in the shade? We can smile and nod at each other (no small talk needed), admire our super-awesome kids, and maybe even sneak a peek at our phones.
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