Judgement Day (or everyday for parents in public)

As a parent, I feel I am always being observed by other parents, grandparents, non-parents and even dog-parents. While everyone seems to have an opinion on the correct way to care for and raise a child, they really have an opinion on the things not to do in childrearing. Topics like co-sleeping, bottle vs breast-feeding and spanking vs gentle parenting come to the top of my mind.

These spectators/parenting experts feel most called to share their thoughts based off a single moment like when the boys have been picking on each other all day until one grows tired of it and shoves the other. The onlooker only sees the shove, the moment of crisis, and makes the judgement about a lack of discipline, too much screen time or the need for more religion in a heathen world. Remember, we are in the South.  

Helpful, not really.

This weekend, we went to a Fall Fest at a winery. There was a face painter, activities for the kids, booths of junk, food trucks and, of course, wine. After the boys bounced out of their socks and shoes in the bounce house, we bought a jar of salsa, checked out the knick-knacks and retreated from the hot sun with water for the boys and wine for us.

Two well-dressed family sets walked past us, the women pushed strollers and tugged on toddler’s hands while the men brought up the rear.

A man in a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt watched them from a nearby table with a nearly empty wine bottle in front of him. He said loudly to no one in particular, “Yee-haw. One has the fan on the baby and the other has the fan on herself. Makes you wonder which one is the better mom.”

Everyone who heard the man gasped and asked the nearest adult for clarification, “Did he really just say that?”

Somehow the only people who didn’t hear the man were the mothers as they continued pushing their strollers and tugging on their toddlers.  

Daddy Longlegs and I looked at each other and whispered, “Hillbillies.”  

While the hillbilly was offensive, he brought up an interesting question about self-preservation and self-sacrifice, which one makes for a better mother? Its something that each parent should decide for their family. One thing is for certain, moms don’t need judgement. We get enough comments and side eyes from the outside world, not to mention the criticism that generates from our own heads and hearts about what we should or should not be doing.

We need support and understanding. And some of us need fans.  

Fight or flight

While waiting in line for a pancake house, a man with greasy, grey hair and a sunken-in mouth pushed his way through the backdoor of the kitchen.

I held Baby Brother, who is now quite a big two-year old, in my arms and Daddy Longlegs pulled Little Legs close to him.

“Something tells me that guy isn’t supposed to be in there,” I said.

Little Legs yanked Baby Brother’s shoe off. Baby Brother kicked him in the face and Little Legs started to cry. Obviously, we didn’t have the time to speculate long on the unwanted guest in the house of pancakes.

We went back to making observations about the length of the line, the weather, and trying to keep the boys from bumping into people around us with their wrestling.

Suddenly, the kitchen door swung back open and the grey haired man flew through the air, landing on the sidewalk. The cook, a man in a white apron with a backwards ball-cap, stood in the doorway with his arms crossed.

“You ain’t welcome here,” the cook said.

“You can’t tell me where to go,” the man said.

He grabbed the top of the trashcan and threw it to the ground, not unlike a certain set of boys, in an adult-style tantrum. The weight of the lid surprised the man, and it didn’t go far, landing next to his feet. Returning to his rampage, the man snatched the hat from the cook’s head.

The manager of establishment appeared, a woman with frizzy, blonde hair and black pants.

She said, “You gotta go,” and thumbed the air.  

The man threw the hat down and grumbled something at her. He puffed his malnourished chest up at her like a sick rooster.

She planted her feet firmly in the ground and said, “I am not afraid of you.”

Another kitchen staffer arrived on the scene with a four-foot-long wooden stick, wrapped with white tape. He held it in one hand as he approached, prepared for battle.   

“I don’t need this,” the man said, eying the weapon and the growing crowd of kitchen staff.

The man shoved his way through the line of onlooking, prospective pancake eaters.

While this was happening, I slowly crept backwards, carrying Baby Brother and pulling Daddy Longlegs and Little Legs along with me, not wanting to draw attention to our retreat.

In this open-carry state, it would take one vigilante of justice to pull out a gun and fire shots. I was not interested in one of us catching a stray bullet or trashcan lid as the two sides waged a breakfast war.

That night, Daddy Longlegs asked Little Legs, “Did you have any questions about what happened today?”

Little Legs nodded, “Why did Mommy run away and make us leave?”

And now I have questions. Am I a total wimp? (Yes) Should we have stayed? (No) How do I teach my boys to be brave in a safe way? (Still unsure but accepting any and all advice.)

On Making Friends at the Park

Tired of going down the slide, the boys decided to climb up the side.

It was the natural order of events that gave me little concern. They were taking a risk by ascending where most would descend but the sweet reward of reaching the top without having to run all the way around the playset was too much to resist.

“I have sticky hands,” Little Legs said as he embodied a boy-sized gecko using his hands and feet to move upwards.

He had the advantage of perpetually sticky hands, from a love of candy and reluctance of washing, to help with the climb. All signs of a bad parent, I suppose, but useful in the case of slide-climbing.

“Feet sticky, too,” Baby Brother added as he lizard-walked effortlessly behind his brother.

From the hill leading up to the playground, a little blond girl ran towards us.

“I’m going to make some new friends,” she said to her mother.

Her mother lagged a few steps behind her, loaded with a backpack, another smaller blond child, water bottles and a pink scooter.  

“Guys, get ready to say hi,” I prepared them.

They were about to make a new friend and I was going to make a new mom friend and we were all going to be the best of friends. We already had blond children, overpacking and the need to get them outside in common.

The girl went straight to the slide having observed the boys from a distance.

“You don’t climb up the slide,” the girl said.

“You go down it,” she explained.

Her mother caught up her with and said, “You aren’t their mommy, that is for her to tell them.”

As the window of friendship potential closed, she gave a meaningful look in my direction. Her dark sunglasses made it impossible to tell her intentions. However, the tight, lipless line that was her mouth filled in the gaps of my assumptions.

I laughed and said, “Boys, slide down. No more climbing.”

Of course, they listened.

They promptly climbed, lizard boy style, back up the slide and camped out at the top where they declared, “No mommies allowed,” and returned to catching flies and scaring off bossy girls and their mothers.   

How to Motivate Maniacs

Two hikers raced past me down the paved trail. They were small boys with dirty blond hair and scabbed over knees. Their dusty, black, Velcro-d New Balance tennis shoes pounded the pavement in unison, differentiated only by the size and the worn heels of the smaller, now twice used pair.

“Red light,” I yelled.

I grabbed my bag to prevent it from bouncing my keys out and ran after the maniacs.

“Red light, yellow light, red light,” I yelled.

They laughed in their temporary state of deafness and ran around a blind curve, accelerating as they went downhill.

I imagined one tripping and rolling down the side of the forested hill or the other slamming into an unsuspecting person on a nature stroll.

Clearly, the light system was not working.  I would have to work with the maintenance department for a reset but in the meantime, I had to put the brakes on the situation.

“Stop,” I screamed.

It was a futile use of my vocal cords.

I assumed they would eventually run out of gas or steam or whatever mysterious energy force gave little boys who refused to eat full meals the energy to still have the zoomies. Yet, I also knew that the chance for mishap was quite high at any point before they petered out and wanted to intervene before the expected accident.

If its expected, is it still an accident when objects collide? Does it become Fate or destiny? Perhaps that is a question better directed to an insurance claims adjuster or someone in the ministry.   

As I continued to consider the possibilities, two older women with grey, curly hair and hiking sticks watched the spectacle as we emerged from around the bend.

“Do you want us to help catch them?” one offered.

She stuck her stick out, indicating her plan to trip or whack them, whichever came first and was easier.

What could I do but laugh? The old stick method was sure to bring the critters to a screeching halt, but it felt wrong to allow strangers to break their high spirits or to use such serious means to an inconsequential end.

“No, thanks. Maybe another day,” I said as I raced past keeping the duo in my sight.

They retired to a bench for a bench break and waited patiently like they hadn’t just gone full racehorse on their old workhorse of a mother.

“Guys, we have to work on listening better.”

I explained that they needed to stay close for safety reasons, obviously, I used the example of a bear or a bobcat grabbing them and taking them into a cave. After that, they stuck around, and we finished the excursion with minimal accidents.   

No tripping, whacking, or yelling needed, just the mention of a wild animal carrying one of them off and they were back on track.      

The Power of A Lifesaver

“If you listen and follow me, then I will give it to you,” I said.

We were in a parking lot, at the edge of a wooded area with a short and shaded trail. It should have been perfect for my young hikers who were already protesting exercise in the heat.

I held a single wrapped, green lifesaver.

“I promise, just give me that green thing,” Little Legs begged.

Baby Brother raised his arms up, “Mine.”

It was impossible to promise the candy to one boy and not the other, so I renegotiated the conditions.

“If you both listen and follow me, then I will break this in half, and you can each have a piece.”

Surprisingly, they both nodded in equal agreement.

Inwardly, I laughed as the ease of the negotiation. All I needed was a pack of lifesavers and I could motivate my sons to do anything. I thought we could tackle a trip to Kohl’s, visit their great-grandparents and maybe even get some yard work done.

We set off on our walk, three brave explorers filled with the promise of candy and good behavior, which lasted about one minute before they began their end-the-walk initiative by alternately crying and sitting on the path, refusing to take another step, like two stubborn, coordinated mules.  

No one got the lifesaver.  

The Anxious Mama Mind

We went to a cookout over the weekend. Our friends prepared a classic fourth of July spread with hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, cookies, cocktails and of course, popsicles. They had a blow-up pool and an inflatable slide with a small pool at the bottom to reduce the impact of the slider hitting the ground.

Little Legs tackled the climbing wall which led to the top of the slide like a professional mountain climber after watching the other kids make the ascent a few times. Baby Brother also attempted the climb. His arms and legs were neither long enough to reach the grips nor strong enough to hold on. He was sentenced to a life at the bottom.  

Unhappily, he threw himself out of the pool and flipped onto his back with his arms and legs in the air, writhing like an upside-down-blonde-haired-boy-beetle.

I ran over to check on him to find him laughing at my worry and noticed out of the side of my eye that one of the hosts ran just as quickly next to me. He stopped a few feet short and to the right of the bug and knelt to examine the black, electrical cord snaking its way through the water to the house.

Without a word, he returned to this seat with the other adults.

It was only later that I learned he was testing the cord to see if Baby Brother was being shocked.

“That’s exactly the way a person looks when they are being electrocuted,” he explained to Daddy Longlegs who then explained it to me.

I felt like throwing up. The known risks that face our children are endless and no matter how much helicoptering and preventative steps are taken, there are still the sinisterly common things which pose an equal and unavoidable threat.

A strike of lighting, poisonous spider bite, rusty nail through the foot, there are too many points of danger to consider. All I can do is my best to protect and care for them and it has to be enough, but oh, how my anxious heart and mind do worry.

Fear of the Bad Man

There is a fear that follows me like a shadow. It has been with me ever since I was small. To be honest, I am still small and some days it seems that only the fear has grown.

It’s the fear of The Bad Man. You know, the man with the baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes lurking in the bushes or the guy crouching down and waiting beside your car in a dark parking lot.

I am talking about the pervasive fear of the predatory man that is perpetuated every time I watch the news or listen to the radio. He is out there, waiting and watching for his opportunity to cause harm.

As an independent, childless woman, I kept the Bad Man at bay, aware and defensive. Now that I have children to protect, everywhere I look, the potential for an interaction with the Bad Man is there.

We can’t go for a walk without the thought that he might be around the corner or back to the car from a store without an extra scan to see if he is following us. I lace my keys between my fingers or carry a metal water bottle, just in case. Yesterday, I priced out pepper spray options that I ultimately decided against due to the absolute certainty that one or two curious little boys would spray themselves.  

This fear is a gift from my mother, creative in her protection, she created the idea of the Bad Man and with years of constant reinforcement, it remains with me. I suppose it keeps me alert and present, albeit paranoid, anxious and a little neurotic, and therefore I keep my sons a little safer in a world that feels so very dangerous some days.

Does anyone else struggle with this fear?  How do you face down your fears, real or imagined?

A Walk on the Wild Side

It is over 90 degrees in Tennessee and with the humidity, it feels like we are near the burning fires of Hell. The heat makes doing any kind of activity outdoors more difficult, but not impossible. And with two very active, young boys, time spent out of the house is an absolute requirement. We are creative in our plans, mindful of the sun, shade and always have lots of water on hand.

Today, we went for a hike in a lovely, forested park. The path was paved and surrounded by mature trees creating the perfect place for my wildings to run and burn off energy. It didn’t take long before they were slowing down and dripping with sweat.

“Carry me,” Baby Brother asked with upstretched arms.

“No, me,” Little Legs insisted as he shoved his brother aside.

“You are both big boys and can walk,” I explained, my hands were already full with their water bottle and abandoned hats.

“Maybe you should carry your brother?” I mistakenly suggested to Little Legs.

Little Legs took this as permission to grab his brother by the waist to start carrying him like a lumpy, sweaty sack of potatoes. Baby Brother fought him off only to get a double back slap-shove as he escaped and tried to run away.

They both cried and resumed their futile request for human transport before deciding it was easier to claim a mobility-impairing injury. Little Legs went down and Baby Brother in true monkey see, monkey do fashion, followed in the exact same way.

“My knee hurts,” Little Legs wailed

“Knee hurt,” Baby Brother cried.

“We can’t walk,” Little Legs explained as their spokesperson.

They both proceeded to go belly up for a rest on the pavement.   

In a surprise to no one, the heat brought out the crazy in both of them. They were only willing to move for the promise of orange push pops and blue Gatorade.  

As for me, I was glad we found a way to beat the heat, that they could walk unassisted (if it wasn’t for their double knee injuries), carry their own water bottles (if they put their minds to it) and we could spend the day together.

Hot and crazy, but together.

The Kindness of Strangers

The house was blissfully quiet aside from the gentle hum of the air conditioner. I peeked outside to check on Coco, the dog.

Minutes earlier, she was dozing on the front porch, her black head resting on her paws. Now, there was a brown magnolia leaf, a desiccated spider, and a pile of sand (a hallmark of the boys) but definitely and absolutely no dog.

She wasn’t around the back or in the grass, hiding behind a tree or romping in the woods. I called and whistled and shouted, all with a growing dread in the pit of my stomach.

It was still nap time. I couldn’t leave and I didn’t want to wake up the boys early. So I waited and paced around the house, checking the front door and then the back porch.

I ticked off the list of things we would need to do if she didn’t reappear within the next few hours: create a flyer, make copies, post flyer and wait.  

“Boys, we have to find Coco,” I explained when they woke up. “She ran away, again.”

They took matters into their own small hands, went outside and began shouting in squeaky voices for their beloved dog to return. Pleas that went unanswered.

Little Legs held his pointer finger up in the air, Einstein style, and said, “I have an idea.”

“I’m listening,” I said with the keys in my hand.

“We should get in the car to look for Coco,” he said.

“Great idea! Let’s do it, guys.”

We were off on a Coco rescue mission to the tune of Mission Impossible, with a fully rested squad and three quarters of a tank of gas, we were set.

After driving up and down side-streets for an hour, yelling out the windows, we had to call it and accept that we might not find her.

“Coco’s gone,” Little Legs told his brother.

Baby Brother said, “Car go, Coco,” unwilling to end the search.

“Who wants cartoons and a snack?” I asked and was answered with unanimous support.

It took Daddy Longlegs, after a long day at work solving other people’s problems, to say, “Did you check on the nextdoor app?”

And there she was, in all her floppy eared, tongue hanging-out glory, never lost at all, just passing time in a neighbor’s garage, eating milkbones (which later would wreck havoc on her GI system).

The post said, “Here until the owner claims her.”   

In spite of every trash bag and diaper ripped open, toy destroyed, mud tracked in the house, she is a good dog. She guards the yard from nothing and steals the boys’ snacks, through it all, she is ours, home and officially reclaimed.     

These are the days.

Enormous waves rolled up and crashed down on the beach. A red flag flapped overhead declaring dangerous water conditions which we did not dispute. We settled happily on the sand with towels, buckets, and shovels.  

Little Legs focused on burying the lower half of his brother’s body in the sand. He dumped scoop after scoop of wet sand onto Baby Brother’s chubby thighs and shins. With Little Legs’ tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, he was the very image of concentration and Baby Brother, the image of patience and grace.

Who agrees to be buried alive, aside from a sibling?   

Suddenly, Baby Brother rose with a roar, a toddler sized King Kong, and broke free from his sandy bondage. Little Legs screamed as sand flew up in a thousand different directions and his work was destroyed.

“No,” Little Legs yelled and lunged to pull his brother back down to the ground.

I assume his plan was to rebury Baby Brother.

Not interested in this, Baby Brother escaped and ran for the crashing waves.   

This time, I yelled “No” and raced after him.

I apprehended the runaway and brought him back to work on a new project, the construction of a sandcastle. Spoiler alert, it never got off the ground because Little Legs smashed every bucketful of carefully packed and formed sand.

Two beach-walkers with matching black sunglasses, maneuvered around us, holding hands. They were freckled and leathery from the sun.

“These are the best days of your life,” the man said.

“You don’t know it yet, but he’s right. These are the days,” the woman agreed.

The pair continued their path, straight ahead, leaving behind their prophetic wisdom and the thought that if these are the days, I want more, so many more. I am greedy for time with our children, satiated only by more time.

I am also overwhelmed with sadness to think this period could be it, the pinnacle of our time together. And I hope that the beachwalkers were wrong only in the omission of the word some, these are some of the best days of our life.

There can be more best days, many more.