Parenting is a tricky bastard. It moves. It shifts. It misleads. As soon as you feel you’ve got a firm grasp on it, it turns to dust in your hands, blowing right through your over-confident fingers.
It leaves you frazzled. Wishing for a do-over. It makes a fool of you. I have been a parent for only 12 years. Yet I recognize it for the nimble minx that it is.
When I think about the kind of parent I want to be, I picture a scene from a movie. Like Diane Keaton in The Family Stone. As loving as she is loved. Filled with compassion and joy. She radiates in the company of her husband and children. The dinner table scene? It gets me. Every. Time. It. Gets. Me.
But life isn’t like a movie. The dinner table at my house is more like a scene from Animal House than The Family Stone. There’s nothing romantic about a family dinner. Real life is a bunch of rowdy kids around a table making fart noises with their armpits. They say things like, “Your meatloaf is disgusting,” and, “When’s Dad going to be home? He’s more fun than you,” and, “I never remember what happened at school, why do you always ask?” and, “I hate Everyday Math.”
Oh…wait, that last statement was mine.
Have you ever seen Bridesmaids? Remember the part when Rita talks about her three boys? Well, we’re almost there. Actually, we may even be there, but I may be a little bit in denial. The disgusting part has arrived, uninvited, on my doorstep. The scent that filled my home and defined my first decade of parenting is now gone.
Not a trace of baby powder left.
Armpits whizzing past me smell like hoagies.
Sneakers left by the front door stink like roadkill that has been left to bake in the sun for days.
Showers are taking forever.
When I pick through the piles of dirty laundry to locate and wash the totally overpriced and quite frankly butt-ugly Nike Elite socks that are all the rage among middle school boys, I find washcloths. Oy. Doth my nose detect a waft of shampoo when the boys emerge from the shower? It does not. I don’t want to know what’s happening in there. I don’t need to know what’s happening in there. That’s why God put doors on bathrooms, to keep some mystery in the house. If my boys could be a little less European about how frequently they shampoo, I’d be super jazzed.
I’m saying things I never thought I’d have to say aloud. Things like, “I think it’s a bad idea to be naked in the same room with the cat.”
And, “Please remove your nose from your brother’s butt cheeks. You’ll smell that fart soon enough.”
And, “Dancing on the breakfast table naked sure looks like fun. But swinging your man jewels around like that is considered inappropriate in most circles. Also, I don’t really want your penis near my avocado smoothie.”
Did you grow up watching The Cosby Show? Remember when Heathcliff Huxtable would threaten his kids, “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out”? And your parents would laugh, and you’d think, I don’t get it. Mom and Dad are laughing. I’m supposed to be laughing, so I’ll laugh, but I don’t get it. We’re officially there. And, S.O.B. four times over, I get it. Indeed. I get it.
There are no prize-winning scripts in parenting. It’s just you, your children and the great unexpected. What will they do? And what, pray tell, will you say in reply?
Just last week, I sat across the dinner table from Waldorf and said things to him I never imagined I’d say to my child.
“Listen to me, and listen to me good,” I hissed, jabbing my finger in his direction to hammer my point home.
“You are acting like a colossal dick. Your attitude is crap. You had better turn it around, or when your father gets home from work, he will fucking JACK you.”
Say what? Jack you? Like carjack you? And how big is the difference between acting like a regular dick and acting like a colossal dick? Is it measurable?
But I was on a roll. And there’s no stopping Mom when she’s on a roll…
“Look at my face,” I said. “I am the Gatekeeper. Every decision that is made in this house must come through me. If you don’t change your attitude immediately, I will remove everything fun from your life. I can do that. Because I am the Gatekeeper. And I control all the things. The fun things. And the not fun things…all the things. I control them all.”
In all of the Hollywood-inspired visions I’ve had of myself as a mother, I never once fantasized about cursing my oldest son out. Or threatening him physically on behalf of my husband. And I especially didn’t picture myself reaching into the depths of 1984 to channel a character from Ghostbusters.
Does Diane Keaton do that? No, she does not. Apparently, I do.
I’m a little worried about this new phase of parenting we’re entering in my house. We haven’t even hit driving yet. Or sexting. Or driving while sexting.
One thing is for sure: This parenting gig is hard. It’s nothing like the way they portray it in the movies. I know this. Because…
I’m just a girl.
Standing in front of four boys.
Asking them to pee with some precision.