Does too much cute hurt?

Overheard from the other room:

“Don’t you remember what Mommy said? Just because you’re little and cute, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.”

Amen, Luke. A-freaking-men.

As Sally rounds three and a half, and heads into the homestretch towards four, I see the error of my ways coming to hit me in the face. I see a future adolescent, a future teenager. ::shudder:: And I don’t think I like her.

My problem is that she’s soooooooooo cute. I can barely stop myself from constantly smooshing her, petting her, kissing her, turning her upside down to hear her giggles, nuzzling her, hugging her, adoring her. All of this fawning has taught her one thing: I’m cute, I’m little, and therefore, I can do whatever I want.

I make sure to tell her that I value effort, caring, sharing, kindness, and manners over looks, cuteness, prettiness, pigtails and tutus and mismatched rainboots. I say it, but I don’t act it.

I’m not just talking about cute as in pretty. Part of it is just being so dang small. Why do you think those mini-liquor bottles are so appealing? It’s the cute factor – they look just like regular ones, but teeny. This defines Sally.

cute

The truth is, her cuteness is really her best trait so far. She’s not a great conversationalist, she can’t sing, she cheats at cards, picks her nose, and cries at the tiniest perceived injury or disappointment. Her sense of humor and personal hygiene are questionable at best and her table manners leave much to be desired.

I need to find a way to balance reveling her in her cuteness with not letting her think that being cute is her free pass. Part of me wants to put my foot down, nip this in the bud. I can see the catastrophic tantrums of a demanding nine-year old, the epic battles with a self-centered sixteen-year old, and the crushing disappointment of a disenchanted twenty-five year old. My job is early intervention to prepare this child for when she’s regular-people-sized.

But then part of me knows that my little kids are getting bigger, that my days of hand holding and Eskimo kisses are numbered. That part wants to make sure I soak it up while I can.

Which is worse: reigning-in a foot-stomping tween, or regretting not getting enough cuddles in when I could? Is it possible that today’s excess equals tomorrow’s strong foundation rather than tomorrow’s rude awakening?

It’s not my fault – my teacher was a baby

It’s entirely possible that I’ve learned more from my children than they’ve learned from me. This is worrying because my children know next to nothing. Thankfully, they’re not responsible for teaching me any facts, of which they know none, or any language skills, or else I’d be difficult to understand, or any manners or social graces, or else I’d be a pariah. What they have taught me is how to parent.

I think all parents learn how to do this parenting schtick from their children. Get one of those happy, sleepy babies and you learn that parenting isn’t so tough so long as the child’s needs are met. Get a pliant, eager to please child and you learn that patient guidance and consistency are key. What kind of child you have, and thus what kind of parent you learn to be, becomes the lens through which you judge all other parents.

Our firstborn children really mold us. Any subsequent children come as a surprise and we need to relearn all that we thought we knew. Many parents take this opportunity to humbly regret all the judgement they might have passed on others because they finally got the difficult child the rest of us wished upon them.

My sequence is opposite. Luke has been a challenge since the day he was born – at 10 lbs 3 oz. My c-section was my first hint that nothing for the rest of my parenting days would ever go according to my plan. I wanted to be the baby wearing mom, whose baby smiled and cooed and slept peacefully in his sling while I went about my business. This was not to be. None of it. Luke hated being in a sling, Ergo, Bjorn, or any other device that I tried. When front-facing he’d mash his face against me, screaming, scraping off his own skin against my shirt with the vigor of his face-mashing. When he was a bit older he could tolerate facing forward in the Bjorn, but I could no longer carry him in one because he weighed too much. The Ergo was a no-go as he then still refused to face forward and I never figured out how to get the kid onto my back.

I learned that parenting is hard. That I basically couldn’t go anywhere or do anything unless I was willing to endure Luke’s screaming, baleful looks from sympathetic moms, uninvited advice from everyone, and judging eyes from all non-parents or parents of easier babies.

As Luke grew up he became many things, but easy was never one of them. (Still holding out hope on this one!) He did, however, become fastidious about wiping his face on his sleeve after every bite of food. This is pretty gross and untidy and I throw napkins at him constantly, but he is always clean.

Sally was an entirely different baby. Ever since she grew out of her colic, which I’m still surprised I survived, she has been easy going, happy, pliant, and eager for approval. I had to learn how to parent this much simpler* child, and I’m still learning. One thing I have not learned yet, is to wipe her face after eating as she does not fastidiously self-clean on her sleeve.

I never notice her crusty face until I’m out in public. Then I notice that she is the only child with a full milk-crust goatee and jelly stripes up to her ears. And again, even with my easy child, I find myself looking like a careless mother. “But my older kid is a sleeve wiper,” seems like a lame thing to say. And anyway, that doesn’t speak so well for my parenting either.

Oh well. I have mostly come to terms with the fact that I either am or appear to be a lousy mom no matter what combination of kids I’m out in public with.

*Don’t get mad, I don’t mean stupid.

Children are Stupid

As a parent I have a front row seat to the My Kids Growing-Up Show. Turns out, growing-up is an arduous task. Unlike other mammals, who get up and walk around while still placentally coated, our babes are born witless and floppy. They know nothing at all. From the moment that first breath is smacked out they begin to undergo the process of learning every single thing. As I watch this show, which appears to have no intermission whatsoever, I realize that they have to learn things that I previously believed were instinctual.

Like how to vomit.

There is no baby who spit-up more than Luke did. His mouth was a constant source of disgusting variations of slightly used formula. It ran the gamut from barely used, copious, fast flowing liquid to almost all used up cottage cheese’s evil twin. He was never not spitting-up. Never.

But spit-up is no vomit. I don’t know whether to credit his natural constitution or the fact that he licked every disgusting surface in his toddler years for his apparently supernatural immune system. Either way, we made it 5.5 years before I had to deal with puke from this kid. And it wasn’t until that moment that I learned that puking is a learned skill.

Luke had no idea what was about to happen. He suddenly felt listless and weak. He crumpled to the carpet. Tim and I exchanged a look of worry. When Luke began over-salivating and spitting on the carpet, we sprang into action. Tim carried him into the bathroom and stood him by the toilet. I expected him to lean over and puke. Silly me. Luke looked at us confused, and continued to look around, the entire time he puked.

It was the weirdest thing to watch. I guess vomiting into a toilet can’t be an instinct since toilets are relatively new on the scene. But to stand there and look around? He even walked over to the mirror to watch himself. He puked all over the bathroom as if he were on a casual stroll. All of this strolling and puking only took a few seconds, but strangeness has a way of stretching out time.

Afterwards, Luke began to genuinely freak the fuck out. Not only did he not know proper, civilized vomiting procedure, but he actually didn’t know anything at all about vomiting. He had no idea what had just happened to him, just that he DID NOT LIKE IT. A freaking-out child is barely a human thing. There’s no reason. There’s no power of speech. In his feverish, bewildered, miserable state there was barely a glimmer of recognition in his eyes as he looked at us for help.

Luckily Tim kept his wits about him. Sally and I stood dumbfounded. She quickly took off skipping towards our bathroom, “Yay! I get to brush my teeth in Mommy and Daddy’s room because Luke threw-up!” I could barely snap out of my Twilight Zone moment. That look of total detachment and confusion on Luke’s puking face kept swimming before my eyes. Unfortunately, it swam in a vile pool of vomit.

When I had my babies I expected to teach them how to eat solid foods, how to walk and talk, how to use a potty, how to share, how to dress themselves and tie their shoes, how to drive, and how to move out. (Did I miss anything?) I expected the rest to be learned on their own, in school, from experience. I even naively believed that some things would be naturally acquired on a body-level. Now I realize that aside from breathing, blinking, and blood pumping, my kids’ bodies don’t know how to do anything. They can’t even eliminate their own waste without daily administrations of laxatives and stool softeners.

Looks like this Growing-Up show is gonna be a long one. Still no intermission in sight.