Tuesday, August 20, 2013

THAT parent

I'm pretty sure it's safe to say those of us who know all along that we'll become parents have an image of that parent before actually having children. Sometimes that vision is created and tweaked long before even being ready to start a family, and when that happens, the imagined future narrative of one's life as a parent can become an utterly daunting ideal constantly flashing in the back of your mind as you navigate the oftentimes stormy waters of parenthood. (Because comparing parenting to attempting to control and right a constantly flailing, listing, wayward ship is not wholly inaccurate, am I right?)

This was--and is--the case for me. I began babysitting here and there starting at a very young age (10, I believe, as I was ever the astonishingly mature child...yes, I seem to have devolved in many areas...) and eventually turned my love of children and caring for them into what I suppose I can call a career nannying. And the fact that I have a hard time referring to the 14 years I spent as a nanny a "career" really does speak to the ridiculous values this society places--and doesn't place--on things deemed "work." Or maybe those are my hangups. Hmmm. Something to consider.

Anyway. The point is, I nannied for a LONG TIME. I should say, I had the absolute pleasure of nannying for a long time. Because while it was still a job, and I didn't always necessarily jump for joy at the thought of getting up and doing it again the next day, I really did love nannying. I was honoured the parents I worked for trusted me to help raise their children, and I felt thankful my "work" was helping me learn valuable and very applicable life skills. And over the years, as I spent time with many different children and was exposed to many different ways of parenting, I developed a pretty detailed blueprint for my eventual approach to parenting.

All the while, though, I was repeatedly told, and readily agreed, that things would be so very different when I had my own children. However, I think maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, I rolled my eyes a bit whenever this was mentioned. Of course it would be different. I would have the weight of full responsibility for EVERYTHING relating to my children bearing down on me at all times. I would be sleep-deprived and hormonal--and I certainly wouldn't be able to just go home at the end of the day. I would be home. All the time. But even knowing these things rationally, I'm pretty sure I still thought I could overcome a lot of it and stick to these lofty ideals I had so meticulously assembled for myself. 

Then I had babies. Two of them. AT THE SAME TIME. Remember that whole thing? 

That is not to say things would necessarily be different if we had only had one to start. We'll never know, I suppose. What we do know, though, is that having twins, especially, I think, for your first (and second), effectively renders any vision of your list of dos and don'ts as a parent null and void. NULL. AND. VOID. 

Like TV, for instance. I'm not much of a TV-watcher myself (neither is The Barbarian). In fact, up until briefly last year, I had never even had broadcast or cable TV in my home, and had gone quite a while without even an actual TV. I'm also well aware of the research linking early TV-watching and media influence in general with all sorts of not very desirable effects. So I had firmly decided my children would not watch ANY television until two years old at the earliest. Wanna know how long it took me before I scanned Netflix for something that wouldn't make me more insane than I already felt while attempting to distract them for even two minutes in order to quell the fussing and clinging and neediness so I could breathe deeply and stifle the urge to scream out of sheer exhaustion and frustration? Seven months. SEVEN MONTHS. Which, if my math is correct, is really nowhere even in the general vicinity of two years.

And now, at one year, they watch TV daily. And I shouldn't really say "TV," I suppose, because it's not uncontrolled nonsense spewing into my home, and they certainly don't watch commercials. But I put shows on for them from either Netflix or Amazon Prime when I need to clean up a bit, hold them off for nap (we're still technically in the transition between two naps and one nap, so lengthening that morning gap can still be a struggle sometimes), or just feel like having something on in the background. Which is terrible. I admit that. And, as not a TV-watcher--as not even someone who generally ever even watches movies or shows alone--I never got the whole background TV thing. In fact, it drove me crazy when I walked into people's houses and it was just on, all the time. My mom eventually had to get used to the fact that when I arrived at her house, the first thing I did was head straight for the TV and turn it off. She eventually began hurriedly doing it herself upon my arrival. I'm so rude.

I will admit that this is an area in which we are just recently realizing we really should step it back. Because, seriously--they love TV. I mean, what kid doesn't? What person doesn't? It's a well documented phenomenon that those of us who don't watch TV on a regular basis simply cannot take our eyes off the damn thing if we find ourselves in close proximity to one that's on. Dude. It's uncontrollable. I get it. It's a (in our case) huge box exploding with lights and noises and music and shapes and movement and it's just plain neat. King Toad Agooga and The Goblin Queen especially like the music because they LOVE to dance. Especially TGQ. Sometimes she wakes up and the very first thing she does, while still literally half asleep, is sit up and start dancing (which for her is holding her arms out in front of her, bent in at the elbows a bit, and moving them side to side while twisting her body just slightly. We realized some months ago that she must associate this move with dancing, as Ehren would stand her in his lap when she was tiny, grab her arms, and then pump them in and out, making her whole body, but especially her booty, shake side to side while he sang, "Shake, shake, shake your booty..." And she was so floppy, it was wildly entertaining. He also used to animate her arms and make up raps for her to perform when she was really tiny and it was hifuckinglarious. I'm not sure we ever actually got one on video, though. It's official. We suck.). It took KTA a little while longer to pick up the dancing thing (apparently TGQ, who is very like me in many ways, gets this from me, as, according to legend, I was always, always dancing...my parents still call me "Boogie" actually), but he has his own very distinct style consisting of bending his knees and bouncing up and down. And he almost always looks to see if anyone is watching him perform. With the cutest little smile on his face too. It's ridonculously adorable. And I love that their dancing styles are so different. They're just the coolest.

But I digress.

TV, right. TV is bad, m'kay? I mean, they're asking for it now...and getting a bit pissy when I turn it off sometimes. Nothing distraction doesn't immediately quash, but it's a definite change from even a few weeks ago. And obviously part of that is because they're developmentally more advanced every week and are "getting" the TV way more. They certainly don't actually watch it the entire time it's on, but that percentage is getting higher and higher. And interestingly, I was re-reading some research on TV and the developing brain after beginning this post, and most things I came across noted that children their age don't even understand what's happening on TV. But I'm not so sure--they laugh at funny parts and sometimes imitate what a character is doing, like jumping. I mean, we know they're geniuses, but... 

So anyway, my point is that we are making a concerted effort to not have it on so much (and are excited to finish our fenced play area in the backyard so we can spend more time outdoors during the day...walks in the stroller only do so much for my busy children and there is no way I can handle taking both to the park alone--a few minutes on the patio the other day netted us a scraped chin, quite a bit of ingested dirt, and a faceplant into a cooler still filled with water leftover from their party. As hard as I try, I still can't seem to be everywhere at once. I'm not sure what the deal is...), but the reality is that it's on sometimes and will most likely continue to be on sometimes. And I'm okay with that. The main sticking point in the research seems to be that children who are watching TV are not being interacted with, especially verbally, by their caregivers, and that's really where the negative effect on brain development comes in. But this is not the case for the beebs. Truly, it's challenging to ever really shut me up, and those poor things are stuck here all day with me. Can you imagine the inane bullshit they have to listen to? Poor dears. And while there is definitely still lots we don't know about how TV and media in general affects babies' brains in those crucial first few years, much of my generation--and I realize we are wading firmly into logical fallacy territory here--watched a hell of a lot of TV starting early on (Sesame Street FTW!), and we turned out this side of pretty okay, I think. That's a rhetorical statement, by the way. No commentary needed.

So there's that.

Also, cloth diapers. That's a crunchy, post-hippie thing to do, right? Well, by golly, I was gonna use cloth diapers. And what's not to love? Better for their skin, better for the environment, better for your budget. I had used cloth diapers on babies in the past and thought it was a no-brainer. 

And we did...for a while. Well, not to begin with actually, as the hospital (where we never expected to be in the first place) supplied us with all the Pampers we could go through, and seeing as KTA was in the NICU for a while and they sent TGQ home with plenty, we just used those. Which felt like such a copout, not just because they weren't cloth, but because they were Pampers. They weren't even good hippie diapers. They had characters on them and smelled like baby (that's a trademarked scent, right?). But whatever, they were free and handy. Eventually we started using cloth on TGQ, but poor KTA, being only 4lbs, 13oz at birth, was way too tiny for even the preemie cloth diapers we ended up ordering. However, by two months or so, I'd say they were in cloth most of the time, except at night, and except when I hadn't done the laundry, and except when we weren't at home, and except when we felt lazy. But I'm pretty sure it was still, overall, a majority.

This pattern went on for a while and we were happy. Except for that damn yeast diaper rash that kept rearing its ugly head. This led to the adventure known as "stripping the diapers." So we stripped them in an attempt to rid ourselves once and for all of this terribly annoying affliction. And we stripped them again. And again. And again. In different solutions. In different machines. Using different methods. And just when I think we had finally rid ourselves of it, our washing machine stopped performing in anything close to an efficient manner (which is so not an okay reality in a household with babies), so we bought a new one. And because I have been wanting one for years for all sorts of efficiency reasons, we got a front-loader. Now, I actually knew in the back of my mind that front-loaders are NOT good for washing cloth diapers. I had read this in an article or two or five at some point in my research about cloth and caring for cloth and stripping and all that. But did I remember this at the time of purchase? No. No, I did not. Why? Because babies. That's why.

So we got our front-loader. And I loved it. But I began to hate our diapers. That efficiency thing I loved so much about front-loaders turns out to be the thing that makes them so shitty for washing cloth diapers--they don't use nearly enough water. It adds water based on the weight of the load, and since most diapers that go in aren't completely saturated (we opted not to keep them soaking in between loads as some people do), the machine adds much less water than it should because as soon as the water hits the diapers, they just soak it all up and are being tossed around mostly wet, but not actually in water...which as you can imagine, does not get them particularly clean. There are all these workarounds to the problem like adding a soaking wet towel or two to the load or--get this--standing there and adding a few GALLONS of water through the detergent dispensing drawer during the cycle. BWAHAHAHAHA!! Yeah. Right. I so totally have time to do that. Every time I wash diapers. Because I even have time to wash the fucking diapers regularly as it is. Fuck me.

And do you know what happens when cloth diapers don't get properly cleaned? As soon as they get peed in, they stink. Really, really badly. Like obnoxiously bad. Add to this the fact that after babies start eating solids, their poop doesn't just wash off in the machine anymore, and you have to devise some way to catch, scrape, or rinse the poo off before washing them, which is seriously NOT a favourite in any sense of the word past time of mine, and you have us arriving at the reality of choosing, nine or ten months in, that we were going with disposables full-time "for now." Because that's what I keep telling myself. But that's totally a crock because we're not going back to cloth. Maybe next baby. But definitely not these. I make myself feel better by getting environmentally-friendly diapers at a fat discount on Amazon, but I still feel less than because of this. But you know what? Fuck it. Disposable diapers are SO MUCH EASIER. And that is the name of the game these days, my friends. The name of the game. 

So I realize that's a fairly high word count for only two examples of how and why I'm not exactly the parent I imagined I'd be, but that's what you're getting. The Barbarian has been royally on my case about finishing a new post (he likes to read what I write, or something? I dunno), so I'll compile more examples of my imperfection as a mother in some (many) future post(s). 

The takeaway from this, of course, though, is that all the planning and scheming and visualizing and promising and smug feelings of preemptive satisfaction in the world cannot ever adequately prepare you for the realities of having your own wee progeny in your own house on your own time ALL THE TIME FOREVER AND EVER. Or at least until they move out, which, in this economy is probably never anyway. 

Oh, also? It's okay to let your kids watch TV and wear disposable diapers. Why? Because I said so, that's why. But never actually say that phrase to your kids. Because that's DEFINITELY on the "do not do" list--and it's staying there. 




  1. Sounds familiar. I had so many plans for my kid. Cloth diapers. No formula. No TV. No daycare.

    Until he showed up with a sensitive bum that had continual diaper rash until we switched to disposables (even with frequent changes and various brands of wipes), a week before my milk came in, requiring more stimulation than an exhausted momma could provide.

    My definition of a good parent is a person who can dynamically adapt to the needs of their child, dropping the preconceptions and expectations that don't serve in the real world. And it sounds like you're doing a great job at that x2!

  2. Oh. Thanks, I finally get why my running shirts smell so bad *instantly* upon breaking a sweat: it's my front-loading washer. I've managed to sorta' fix it with a bit of Oxyclean added to the load. Otherwise, I just ran across this: http://jezebel.com/what-to-do-when-your-gym-clothes-reek-1141402734

    We were lucky bums in regard to rashes. Rather, both girls were lucky to have rash-resistant bums, allowing cloth diapers, though perhaps it was the diaper service we used (do they still have diaper services?)