Sometimes a Daft Notion

The week before last, Seattle Schools closed for a full week because of snow. More often, the schools here close because of the mere possibility of the suggestion of snow. If someone on the top of Queen Anne Hill accidentally drops a bag of ice on the sidewalk on their way to a kegger, Seattle Schools shut down. If someone on Beacon Hill shakes a rug out of a window, releasing a cloud of dust that might be mistaken for snow, Seattle Schools shut down. If 7-11 has a sale on ICEEs, Seattle Schools shut down. I pass no judgment (and I’m a skinny blonde Olympic skier). Clearly three of those days needed to be cancelled, so let’s not go into the school closure on Tuesday (NO SNOW) and how often the schools here close unnecessarily. I know it’s complicated, and I know that the bottom line is that the schools are trying to keep our kids safe in terrain that can be unpredictably treacherous.

Despite the difference in weather, last week brought back visceral memories of last summer. Visceral as in viscera, blood and guts and tendons and stuff you would rather not think about nor touch. Here in the Skinny House (where I got wider during the week because of compulsive snacking on peanuts and abstaining from my recent abstinence), the Little Monster practiced math every day during the unexpected week off. Not only did he practice math, but the Man I Married suggested that it would be a great opportunity for the Little Monster to learn long division. The long division unit is coming up in school, and MIM insisted that he’d already taught this minor skill to the Little Monster, so it would just be a teeny weeny recap.

Had I learned nothing since last summer? 

School let out for summer on June 21.

Math lessons began at home on June 22.

During the entire 77 days of summer (why does that number seem so much smaller than it felt in reality?), the Little Monster missed only a single day of math. He did math every day even during our two-week car camping trip. He did math on his birthday. Which means: his mother missed only one day of math, too. Genius Mom bought a book that didn’t include answers at the back. All of that work had better help to ward off Alzheimer’s for me. (But don’t tell the Little Monster that I still don’t know my times-twelves. I kept a cheat-sheet handy for those.)

But it’s only fair. If LM had to do math all summer long, why shouldn’t I? Oh, yeah, because I didn’t goof off and play Class Clown during math for the entire third grade, because I processed $1.5 million in payroll every month for a decade and thus am quite done with math and its negative connotations with calculating raises that were never mine, and because I can use something called a calculator.

He’s a stubborn thing, though.

“These are all great, Little Monster,” I might say when he brings me his completed homework, covered with holes that he’s drummed through the paper with his pencil so that it looks like it doubled as target practice. “You’re doing really well. You’ve got almost all of these correct! Wow! You’re making so much progress, but number six is not right. So please go back to your desk and see if you can correct that one.”

Let’s say that LM has written 13 as his answer.

He will return after a few minutes with his first 13 crossed off, with 13 carefully written above it, darker and bigger this time.

“That’s the same answer, Little Monster. It wasn’t correct the first time, and it’s still not correct. Try again.”

He will return a few minutes later with an arrow drawn toward the 13, and a note saying, “It’s correct.”

“Still not right.”

This will go on and on (not quietly on his part, I might add; he could put a grieving Ancient Greek to shame with his wailing and gnashing of teeth). He will fill up all of the white space on the page detailing why his answer is correct. The author of the math book is wrong (I did break down and buy a different book with an answer key, after I had a different kind of breakdown). His mom is wrong. The professors at MIT would be wrong. He is right, absolutely. He is eight, but he is correct.

One look at the math book and our little terrier begins trembling like cottonwood leaves in a stiff wind. At least she doesn’t piddle.

The only smart one in all of this is the Man I Married. “Great job, Mom!” he says to me. “You are really onto something with this. Wow. This is really good for him. Go, Mom!” He waxes poetic on the praise as he passes the math over to me to correct. The only time he couldn’t manage the handoff was when I was driving.

Somehow this happened again last week, when after suggesting that we “review” long division, he sealed himself off in the Barage to bottle cider.

Why do we torment the Little Monster like this? you ask.

Why not let the poor kid off the hook for a summer? Or for the snow week? Smell the daisies, eat the yellow snow (which he told me he did, reminding me of the toilet water conversation), blah blah?

Believe me, I asked myself that question every day last summer. Isn’t life good? Do I have to make it difficult? Who the hell cares about how to find the area of a square? Or the perimeter of a rectangle? Or how many weeks are in a year? Or what the equivalent fraction to 6/8 is? A machine can do all of that for us, now.

But on Monday, August 8, the Little Monster, for the first time, got every single problem correct on both sides of the homework page. I hung it on the refrigerator. We high-fived. We hip-bumped. We extra-desserted. This success was repeated on August 10. By jove, I think he’s got it! That’s why I’m doing it. No meltdown, no agony, no crying, no yelling, no tantrum, no Greek chorus. Breakthrough!

The Little Monster consistently tests right at the border of two grades. If 300 is the cutoff between third and fourth grade level, LM tests at exactly 300, across the board in all subjects. Not 299, not 301. It reminds me of my brother, The Agitator, who spent a great many hours computing the lowest score he could get on a test but still pass—instead of just studying for the test.

When the Man I Married voiced his concern to a friend about LM’s borderline passing of his grade level, the friend said, “Gee, considering his history, seems to me like that’s actually doing really well!”

Duh. Gosh, it’s nice to get an outside perspective.

But because of the work he did over the summer, LM successfully mainstreamed into the regular math class with his fourth grade classmates. He’d been having to take a hike down the hall to go to a “special” math class, and we all know how cruel kids can be to those taking the metaphorical short bus. So although we don’t necessarily care about his someday solving for pi, I realized why this arduous daily math was important: because it’s good for his morale and self-confidence, both of which are understandably well-below par. Helping him to be good at something is worth the time and aggravation, because he wants so badly to be liked (don’t we all?), and he makes bad decisions in order to fake everyone out, like being the Class Clown. And as he gets older, Class Clown will pale next to grim possibilities like gangs and drugs. Confidence and safety are the biggest gifts given to MIM and me by our parents, and I never even knew that until I met the Little Monster. I took both for granted. As all kids should.

Between LM’s achievement and the observation of our friend, I decided that maybe I could back off from the poor little guy. At the beginning of the school year, I met with his teacher and school counselors and confided that I thought that the math was hurting my relationship with LM (another DUH), and considering how hard we’d had to work on our relationship, I suggested to them that I not even look at his homework as I had in past grades. I needed to remove myself from the math equation. They heartily agreed. Not checking his homework every night made me feel like a bad, lazy parent, but the dog was happy. Everyone was happy. We were all so happy that we adopted LM, reaffirming the cosmic belief that math equations—particularly word problems—are the root of all evil.

When he asked me the difference between mean and median one night, showing me a chart he had to figure out and fill in, I refrained myself from saying, “Who cares? I’m 47 and don’t have the slightest idea, but that hasn’t hurt my career trajectory one bit.” The fact that my career trajectory is downwards is irrelevant. But I shrugged and said, “Ask your teacher.” It’s a feeling like when you finally cave in and buy a bigger size of pants. Such liberation! But also guilt and self-loathing. Ultimately this can’t be good but right now I can breathe a sigh of relief. Sure, I’ll have another peanut.

But a week of no school in January? No nothing? I could just as well allow that as I could keep my hand out of the peanuts during a claustrophobic, housebound week in which I ran out of gin. It’s one thing to abstain from alcohol while you have gin, which I’d been doing for months. But abstaining from gin while you have none is like having a loudspeaker in your kitchen cabinet making martini-shaker and ice-clinking noises, and then comes the dreaded “neener neener” taunts through a bullhorn.

Enter MIM and his suggestion of a long division “refresher.” Great. Easy. It’ll give LM a nice head start on the next unit, and won’t he feel great about that? Ahead of the mainstream class!

I came up with a strategy, because LM loves to dawdle and waste time. “Okay, Little Monster,” I said after going over a few dozen division problems with him. “Here’s a page of problems. As soon as you can get one page of problems done correctly, the rest of the day is yours to play.”  MOTIVATION is key.

Three days later, with the dog a nervous wreck, I begged MIM to try explaining long division to LM; sometimes a difficult notion can click in to place just by having someone else explain it differently. MIM returned from his mission at the kitchen table thirty seconds later to announce to me, “He can’t do division because he doesn’t know multiplication.”

“Yes, he does. He had the whole multiplication table memorized last summer.”

“Not anymore, he doesn’t.”

His current teacher tells them that it’s fine to use their fingers, so he does. Of course he’s going to do what everyone else is doing. All of those hard-won memorized multiplication tables were out the window. I cast no blame on the teacher—I’m filled with wonder and admiration that the teachers manage to teach anything at all with kids like mine disrupting their classrooms. Plus, as a couple of friends reminded me, it’s possible that the kids still need this aid in order to understand the concept. The Little Monster is a haptic and kinesthetic learner (blame MIM that I even know words and concepts like that), so he learns best with touch and movement. Still, he had the mother f&ckers memorized, and we were back to square negative one.

“What are you looking for?” MIM asked me as I rifled through the yellow pages. “Math tutors?”

“Pawn shops.”

“But you can’t drive anywhere.”

“I’ll manage.”

“What, another tiara?”

“No, a gun.” For me, of course. Someplace where I wouldn’t leave a mess, and the gun would be loaded with just the one bullet so as not to cause an inadvertent gun accident if it went off after my swift demise. 

“Okey dokey, how ‘bout I take over with the multiplication tables?”

“That’d be swell, sweetheart.”

“No problem, honey. You know, I think the road’s are clearing. How about I go get you some gin?”

“Thanks, shnookums. Just no bottom shelf stuff, okay, Bubba?”

“Of course not, Bubba Lu!” He returned home with a nice gin for me and a scotch that cost twice as much for him. Once I had a full bottle of gin in the cupboard, I had no need for it, and the cupboard harumphed itself back into silence.

I make suicide-by-gun jokes, although it still makes me sad that Meriwether Lewis took himself out that way. The man accomplished the unaccomplishable yet still felt hopeless. I use gallows humor because, 1) it’s in my DNA, and, 2) to illustrate how f&cking bonkers many moms I know felt during the housebound snow week. And they, to my knowledge, were not even doing long division. But they all, to my knowledge, were running out of booze and/or chocolate, and the distress signals from moms needing a fix or a break from their kids–or even a fleeting moment in which they felt like they’d accomplished one small task from start to finish–began to sound like Starlight Barking.

So now that LM’s re-learned his multiplication tables with the help of MIM and has returned to the classroom, do you think I’m going to be able to resist the urge to check his homework every night?

Damn straight I am. I’m going to beat that mother-lovin’ notion off with a stick.

I may have some daft ideas, but I’m not STOOPID. Parent involvement is important, but parent uninvolvement is more important for me and the Little Monster. We worked too hard to get to this happy place where I feel no anxiety about a small stranger who by some miracle and some tragedy became my son, and I can’t afford for that to go out the window in favor of 8×7. If I did that, somebody should hit me over the head with a 2×4.


Now on Kindle
 
FREE KINDLE DOWNLOADS ON SUNDAY 1/29/12
The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories
by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $2.99 at Amazon.com
 
PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

“It was wonderful to read Munro’s eloquent, funny frustrations and confirmations.”  —Eden, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

 “…a resonant hoot!”  —Paula, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

 “…devastatingly relevant/funny…”  —Rob, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

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The Cider Maker’s Wife

I’m constantly worrying about our safety, especially here in earthquake country. Now that we are responsible parents, the Man I Married finally agreed with me that we should earthquake-proof the house as much as possible. He went to the hardware store to buy a kit to strap our water heater to the wall.

A darn good thing, too, because look how handy the strap came in:

Keeping Us Safe From Keg Bungs
 
Not exactly what I had in mind, but in case of an earthquake, at least we’ll have something to drink.
 
We’ll need something to drink, because you know how they tell you to fill up your bathtub with water at the first sign of disaster? Cormac McCarthy’s hero does it right quick at the first sound of explosions in The Road, enabling him to continue his cheerful, ash-filled existence so that he can finally consent to appearing on Oprah. (Yes, I am conflating the author and his protagonist, so sue me.) 
 
But we won’t be able to drink the bathtub water, because: 
 

Not that I’d necessarily be inclined to drink the bath water from the tub where the Little Monster bathes. Well, bathe wouldn’t exactly be the correct word. Let’s just say that his lower half gets damp from sitting in soapy water.

I recently had the opportunity to instruct the Little Monster about drinking water from the toilet tank in case of an earthquake. The toilet runs and runs and runs for some reason when LM flushes–note the “when” LM flushes, a sporadic occurrence at best. Oh! the lovely surprises he leaves for me to find after he’s gone off to school. How can such a small child manage such awesome mementos?

When he does remember to flush, something about his technique causes a thingie to get stuck under the sealing thing, so the water keeps draining out of the tank. So one morning I lifted the lid off the tank and instructed him on how to fix it if he heard the toilet running. I commented that he could drink this clean tank water if our water supply was ever cut off.

“Why would there be no water?” he asked.

We try hard to keep the Little Monster’s world as stable as possible, because life gets a little too interesting around our house when he experiences emotions that other kids handle with simple screaming meltdowns. He’s had his share of worry and trauma already. We didn’t let him know, for instance, when I went to the emergency room because the room was spinning and I had no martinis to blame. I refrain from voicing the constant thoughts in my head about earthquakes striking when the Man I Married is on the unstable viaduct or of imminent nuclear disaster (although I do teach him how to correctly pronounce nuclear, as in nuclear power plant, not nuclear destruction). I did not state that I was instructing him on drinking clean tank water now because he might have to do it himself if his mommy was squished flat under a fallen house beam.

So I answered, “Oh, you know, in case someone at the water plant turns the wrong knob.”

That’s when he hit me with one of those out-of-the-blue comments about his past.

“I used to drink toilet water at the last house where I lived,” he told me.

The Mask of Neutrality can be really, really hard sometimes around the Little Monster. “Hm, that’s interesting,” I said. “Thank you for telling me. Why did you drink toilet water?” La la la la la, this is just a normal, everyday conversation that all mothers have with their sons. ‘Would you like milk, juice, or toilet water with your lunch, honey?’

I knew his former foster home stocked plentiful supplies of sodapop, so LM wasn’t slurping toilet water because of a lack of options. Also, for being a nine-year-old, LM is a fairly fastidious guy.

“Mm, I dunno,” he answered.

“I don’t know” doesn’t normally fly as a good reason in our house, but in this case it was probably true. Kids who have been through the sorts of trauma that he has seem to be very confused about urine. I imagine the synapses in their little forming brains are a jumbled mess, rather like the tangle of wires running from our stereo/video/computer/lamp/digital photo frame shelf.

One boy that we met during our Child Search peed into cups and then hid the cups throughout the house, which charmed his foster mother to no end. Our poor dog was unfairly blamed for certain incidents before the Little Monster got over a similar delightful phase. Luckily, being a fastidious guy, he always told us what “the dog” had done, so we never had to play hide-and-seek with urine samples.

At this moment over the toilet, I found myself heavily invested in the “got over” part of that last paragraph. Not that we didn’t expect relapses now and then, which is why we didn’t tell him that I was hooked up to tubes in the E.R. when he asked where I was, and I answered that I was relaxing with friends. Which I was. Friends with lovely drugs that made my world a nice, flat place again.

How did we get to the “got over?” Patience. Just like untangling those wires. We kept our cool and treated it no differently than someone accidentally tracking mud in the house; admit the mistake, help clean it up, and there’s no problem. He could not be faulted or disciplined for kneejerk urges that had no logic. He simply (quite literally) needed to work old toxins out of his system. We stressed that blaming the dog was worse than the mistake he’d made in the first place.

Also? We ripped up all the carpet.

“Well,” I said during our head-to-head over the head, trying to keep my voice from climbing a half register, “you don’t do that anymore, do you?” La la la la la, no hysteria here, nope, this is just a hunky dory mother-son bonding moment.

“Yuck, no,” he said.

“You know you can tell me and you’re not in trouble.”

“No.”

“Anything else you want to tell me? Now’s the time.”

“No.”

It gets complicated. Because it’s possible that he never did drink toilet water, but he’s just telling me he drank toilet water. Why would he want to tell me that he did something that might get him into serious hot water even if he didn’t do it? I might as well ask why half the planet can’t pronounce nuclear correctly. Surely it’s one of the most important words in our lexicon, deserving of a respectful accuracy. But I’d drive myself crazy if I needed answers to questions like that.

At least I can have peace of mind that if The Big One hits, LM will be ready, willing, and able to drink toilet tank water.

We will be able to save all of the safe water for him, even if the Man I Married and I both survive the initial catastrophe, because we’ll be drinking this:

The Cider Maker
 
 

 
Now on Kindle

The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $2.99 at Amazon.com

PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

“[I] was fixated. I really laughed out loud (by myself)…”  —Bobbi, Literary Mama Reader

“…marvelously refreshing…”  —CleanSheets

“Munro writes with an honesty and rawness… a brilliant piece of writing…”  —Innsmouth Free Press

It’s All In a Name-Spelling

The Man I Married wrote me a check and spelled my name wrong.

“You’re joking,” I said, hopefully.

“Just tired,” he said.

He wrote me a huge check. We were transferring money to my bank account, where it would earn more interest. This kind of home activity is one of the signs that you are getting old.

Seriously, I could understand if he spelled my last name wrong. His entire family still can’t spell it right, although I think this is a subtle form of Midwestern protest that I kept my birth name. But my first name? After almost twenty-five years? That’s officially half his life.

In the For__________ line at the bottom of the check, he said he’d write Sex.

That gave me a huge belly laugh. He can still make me laugh like that after all these years. Kind of balances out the name-spelling thing. I suppose as long as he calls me by the right name at key moments, we’re still good.

A couple of days later, MIM said, “I need to write you that check.”

Hm, should I tell him that he already gave me the check? I wonder how many times I can get him to write me a big check? My passport is renewed but his isn’t, so it would take him quite awhile to catch up to me on a Mexican beach.

Truthfully, there’s no one else I’d rather be on a beach with than the Man I Married.

On a somber note, studies have shown that folks with Traumatic Brain Injuries are more likely to develop unhappy conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia later in life. MIM has had two serious brain squishes; it’s a good thing he still has a lot of hair, because he’s got one gnarly scalp. So now that we are officially “later in life,” I could theoretically spend many sleepless nights worrying if the memory lapses are harbingers of doom.

Oh, wait, that’s what I do every night, anyway. So, business as usual.

*     *     *     *     *

Up next week: The Cider Maker’s Wife, in which the Man I Married appropriates home safety preparedness items for making hard cider, a humorous post that gets a little heavy when I sidetrack to discussing unsettling behaviors by traumatized kids.


 
Now on Kindle
The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories
by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $2.99 at Amazon.com
 
PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

 “…beautiful essay…with wit, humor, and ultimately an encouraging understanding of how to take that which [her] body has thrown at [her] and press on.…” —Mama Speaks

 “It was wonderful to read Munro’s eloquent, funny frustrations and confirmations.”  —Eden, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

 “…a resonant hoot!”  —Paula, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

 “…devastatingly relevant/funny…”  —Rob, Clean Sheets Reader Comments

Torque: Necessary Force Used by Wives

I tried out a new book group. They were meeting at a bar, so I said sign me up.

I used the excuse that I was leaving the house to be literary, but really it was all about the Copper Gate’s Manhattan (which featured a fantastic maraschino cherry, nothing like the icky sweet red-dyed kind that I give to the Little Monster if I discover one lurking atop my dessert; that it was soaked in rye whiskey didn’t hurt the taste any).

This book group had a nice blend of folks, with actual males in the mix. I’ve been in a few book groups over the years, and nary a whiff of testosterone has been present at any of them, unless the host had a tomcat. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this group diverse—c’mon, this is Ballard—but it was nice to see a broad age range and mixed genders engaging with each other.

And they all read. Seriously read. None of them write. Wow. I’m lucky to be surrounded by writers, who, yes, do read, but I’m rarely out with the group of folks we are writing for—passionate readers. They discussed the characters in the book as if they were real people who actually existed. I’d like to hang out in a bar with them every night.

The most exotic creatures to me at this book group were the man and the woman who were married to each other. They read the same book. They attended the same book group. They discussed books. I wonder if that’s better than sex? I’ll never know, since I’ll never be able to compare one to the other. Add one more thing to the list of things I want to do before I die: have sex with a man who is reading the same book as I am.

Here’s what the Man I Married is reading:

Yes, the Man I Married is the proud owner of a tractor. An Allis-Chalmers. I’m in a ménage-a-trois with Alice.

Torque can be defined as:

the force that impels a wife to escape a house in which she shares her husband with a tractor, so that she can discuss the book she is reading with a group of total strangers at a bar.

A girl’s gotta get her rocks off somehow when the Man She Married starts dressing like this:

 Hubba hubba.

*     *     *     *     *

 Up next week: It’s All In a Name-Spelling, in which my husband of nearly a quarter-century spells my name wrong.


 
Now on Kindle

The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $2.99 at Amazon.com

PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

“…utterly new and eccentric…really a great piece of wit…[with] magnificent brevity…”  —David Lenson, Editor, Massachusetts Review

 “Not since reading David Sedaris have I laughed so hard…talented, funny and insightful.”  —Gitana Garofalo, Hedgebrook

 “…made me laugh out loud…I still chuckle…” —Samantha Schoech, Editor, The Bigger The Better The Tighter The Sweater

Venting

An actual hot and steamy email exchange between the erotica writer and the erotica writer’s husband after he reorganized the laundry room (to create room for his cider bottles) and then went to work:

From: Wife
To: The Man I Married
Subject: Can I use the dryer?

BTW, nice change with re-routing the vent so it doesn’t block the storage door anymore.

—–

From: The Man I Married
To: Wife
Subject: Re: Can I use the dryer?

Hopefully it holds- I can always use some duct tape for the dryer duct if needed.

———-

From: Wife
To: The Man I Married
Subject: Re: Re: Can I use the dryer?

So I can use it?
 
And how will I know if it comes loose so that I can turn it off?

———-

From: The Man I Married
To: Wife
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Can I use the dryer?

Yes, use it-

you will hear a rumbling right before it explodes- turn it off before it explodes

———-

What can I do but laugh?

Speaking of The Erotica Writer’s Husband, my collection of short stories is now available as a Kindle e-book ($2.99). Thanks to my publisher Tod McCoy at en theos press for formatting it for the 21st Century.


 
Now on Kindle
The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories
by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $2.99 at Amazon.com
 
PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

 “At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Jennifer D. Munro’s writing crackles with wit and hard-earned wisdom. Her prose is snappy and eloquent, and often laugh-out-loud funny about the most unfunny things…”  —Janna Cawrse Esarey, The Motion Of The Ocean

 “I laughed like a little maniac. I just loved it. Hilarious.”  —Mary Guterson, Gone To The Dogs

 “…poignant…”  —San Francisco Chronicle

 “…touching and funny…”  —Slowtrains.com

What are the Two Biggest Parenting Mistakes?

At the end of 2010, I blogged about the books I’d read that year. My comment about a book featuring a kilted-hero significantly drove my blog traffic up. Based on the number of people directed to my blog by searches about kilts, what’s under (or not under) a kilt appears to be a cultural obsession.

I noted that I read one parenting book in 2010 (The Three Martini Playdate, highly recommended because, for one thing, it’s short). I also viewed one parenting DVD, Magic 1-2-3, recommended by our Harborview specialist, who looked young enough to be studying for the SATs.

As a result of the new parenting skills I’d learned based on the DVD, I posed a question to my readers:

What are the two biggest mistakes that parents make (according to the author Dr. Thomas Phelan)?

Nobody responded.

I wish they had, because a year later I totally forget what the answer is. I’m too busy making the other 7,493 parenting errors I commit on a daily basis. But if I could just cure myself of those two, whatever they are, I’d be down to 7,491.

By admitting to countless daily mistakes, I’m not being humble. I’m not flagellating myself and calling myself a poor mother. We live in an age of vilified Bad Mommies, which I have been called. According to my observations, it takes one of two things to be sent packing to the Bad Mommy camp, where 24/7 the loudspeakers play, “Can I have another one? Please? Can I have another one? Please? Can I have another one? Please?”:

1) we murder our children, or, 2) we write truthfully about our mothering experience.

I can say only one thing for sure about Bad Mommies:

We Good Enough Mommies can handle a situation badly with our children and then look in the mirror and say to ourselves or our partners or our friends, “Well, sh&t, I sure f&cked that one up.” Then we knock back a stiff one, hike up our stretched elastic waistbands, and vow to do better next time our Little Monsters try our patience. It’s their job to try our patience—to push boundaries so they can figure out where the limits are. Dr. Phalen declares (and this I do remember because I loved it so much) that it’s the parents’ job to constantly irritate their children—to push back harder at the boundary lines. Huzzah, I get a perfect score on constantly irritating the Little Monster.

I can’t imagine the gall it takes to call someone a Bad Mommy. Because if we are judging another mother, that must mean we think we are ourselves perfect. Which we are not. Oh, believe me, my eyebrows raise sometimes at other people’s parenting, and the Man and I Married and I congratulate ourselves heartily on the vastly superior job that we are doing. Then the very big Little Monster does something like have a protracted, screaming meltdown in the middle of K-Mart, a store that I’d largely managed to avoid for the last quarter century, and the eyebrows all raise in my direction. I pat myself on the back for allowing all of the parents in the store to feel smug about themselves for that small moment.

Because the Good Enough Mommies I know are a lot harder on themselves than on other mothers. So they need a smug moment or two.

I know only one mother who was not capable of admitting her mistakes and wasn’t hard enough on herself, and the sad fact is that I am now raising her child. Her biggest mistake was my greatest gift.

Is it tempting to call her a Bad Mommy? Sure. Especially after two martinis (with the Little Monster tucked into bed with the stuffed animals that are frighteningly adept at procreating), and I find myself waxing poetic about the answers to all of life’s questions. She helps me to understand during these ridiculous Mommy Wars that it’s not about how much sugar or television we allow them, or what our discipline methods are, or whether we said a really bad word when the dump truck almost pancaked our car. It’s about doing our damndest to keep them safe.

How about we eliminate the term Bad Mommy and rename it Struggling Mommy?

Which is also what Good Enough Mommies are, if we are honest: Struggling Mommies.

Which means that we are all in the same camp, doing our best.

 

Pictured throughout this blog post are the motherhood memoirs I read in 2011.

Just seeing if you’re paying attention on that last one, The Vibrator Play. I did read it, and it is about motherhood, among other things. I had to read it because what mother has time to go see an adult play? No mother does. But we need to make the time, because when we mothers go to see plays about things like vibrators, we are happier, and a happy mom is nice for her kids to have around. And when our child asks us where we were, we can grin widely and say, “Oh, I went to learn about inventions after the age of electricity,” confirming to our children that we are uninteresting.

That I read this many motherhood memoirs surprises me in retrospect. While I read zero parenting “manuals,” I hunger (apparently) to hear the shared experience of other mothers. It surprises me even more that I not only started but finished them. I’m further surprised that I vaguely remember a small amount of what I read. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to read, since I can’t seem to remember most of what I’ve read since becoming a mother. But I read for the same reason I have sex: because the intimate experience is pleasurable and I’m connecting with other humans (just to clarify, that would be plural humans for reading and singular human for the hanky panky). I thank these authors for their courage in sharing their truths, which twisted a lot of knickers in some cases, causing such an uproar that Oprah herself had to mediate. Hmm, note to self: Writing a book that calls forth the Bad Mommy Police could mean selling lots and lots of copies.

I long for us to return to the halcyon days of Shirley Jackson in Life Among the Savages (1953), when she freely wrote, with no one condemning her of being a bad mother, such scenes as smoking in the back of a taxicab while in labor and on her way to deliver her third or fourth child (I’m sure there’s a difference but both are unimaginable to me). I’d share more scenes but I can’t remember any. She wrote of her children as “savages” and “demons,” but nobody questioned her mothering. They just thought she was funny and that she brilliantly understood the realities of the human condition, which she explored equally well in her horror stories. There’s not much difference between horror and humor in my book.

Because it’s horrible and hysterical that despite the overwhelming problems in the world, apparently what we really want to know is what’s under that darn kilt, anyway? My guess is that my mentioning a vibrator will lead a lot more people to this blog than people interested in books. Not that books are superior to vibrators! Just saying. If anyone’s going to get their knickers twisted, I hope that it’s a result of charged batteries and certain inventions.