Kids are bad at all the stuff they do

Here’s why I’m a worse mom than you: instead of feeling proud and happy that my son qualified for the A-level swim championships, I’m annoyed that I now have to spend two weekends going to two different championships because my daughter is in B-level.

Here’s why I’m an even worse mom than you now think: instead of sucking it up gracefully, I spent this morning trying to subtly convince my daughter that she didn’t want to swim in her championships at all, (which I’ve taken to calling “optional final meet”). To be completely fair, I did also try to convince my son not to swim in his.

To my dismay, both kids are keen to participate and Sally even irritatingly wisely said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in A or B, or if you win or come in last, it’s that you try hard and have fun.” What the hell? No, what matters is that swim meets are a thousand* hours long and that both championship meets are forty** minutes from home, meaning that on consecutive Sundays we need to drag everyone out of bed at dawn, drive, and then sit around for a thousand hours in order to watch a total of four minutes of my child swimming. And, to make it worse, on each of those Sundays we’ll be dealing with the non-swimming child complaining of boredom.

Parenthood is many things, but above all else, it is doing stuff you don’t want to do.

We sit through performances and recitals where singers can’t sing and dancers can’t dance. We play tea party and Minecraft and feign interest in doll houses and Pokemon. We hang bad art on our refrigerators and read the same stupid book twenty-seven dozen times.

“But the performances and the recitals aren’t about raw talent, it’s our precious children learning to express themselves. Look how adorable,” you say.

“Bad art? There is no bad art! Your child’s drawings are developmentally on point. They are expressions of love and hanging them proudly shows your child that you value their efforts, you fucking monster,” you say.

Sure. All of that is true.

I love my children despite their complete and utter lack of any appreciable talents. I’ll beam with pride, “awww” with parental devotion, and take five hundred photos at the shitty concert just like you. But, did you attend these concerts or stand out in the weather to watch a children’s sporting event before you had kids? Of course not. If these things were at all good, then we would choose to attend them regardless of our status as parent. But they’re not good. They’re crap.

Kids are bad at all the stuff they do. It’s not their fault. They’re born not knowing a damn thing. One could hardly expect a person who takes a year to figure out walking to be a great dancer a few short years later. A person who regularly finds herself outwitted by a bathroom stall lock, or who can’t manage to eat a meal without creating a mile wide radius of food debris, can’t reasonably be expected to produce great things.

Kids suck at art

So I will attend two swim championships. I’ll cheer my daughter and remind her to keep swimming and stop waving at me, all while knowing that she’s the greatest kid out there. I’ll feel proud when Luke comes in first, beating all the other kids who can’t do butterfly for shit, because he can’t do butterfly slightly better than they can’t. And after the meets are over and behind us, we’ll move on to some other thing I don’t want to do.

*All numbers greatly exaggerated for sarcastic effect. It is safe to assume this applies to all numbers I ever say, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

**Example of actual number. If it were an exaggeration it would have more zeros.

Below Average Soccer Mom

Each stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. As I slowly transition from little kids to mid-sized kids, my job as mom involves more and more administrative challenges, and, thankfully, fewer and fewer bodily functions (non-self) that I need to take part in. While I’m happy to leave much of the little kid mess behind me, I have not yet mastered my new role.

This fall Luke has been part of our town’s travel soccer team. I was warned. This was going to be a Big Commitment. I figured people meant for him. Like, he was going to have to commit to his team, to hard work, to being part of something bigger than himself, to representing our town in a positive way, and all the other wholesome crap that comes with sports. Turns out, if anyone deserves a participation trophy, it’s Sally and me. Our lives have been turned upside down as we spend so much of our time hurrying up only to wait for hours in the cold.

The team practices twice weekly from 5:30 until it’s finally too damn dark. My kids get off the school bus around 4:00. This gives us 1.5 hours to decompress, have a snack, do homework, eat dinner, change for soccer, and get to practice.

Snack and dinner within 90 minutes? Nope. Dinner afterwards? For my early-to-bed kids, that’s a no go. So my solution was to serve dinner instead of an after school snack. The kids walk in the door and instead of cheese and crackers, I dish up chicken and potatoes; in lieu of apples and peanut butter, I serve spaghetti bolognese.

Would you want to eat that at 4:00 in the afternoon? Neither do they. I tried pushing it off until closer to 5:00, but they get home desperately hungry and there’s no way they can face their homework in that state. (Think: Gremlins)

Weeks and weeks of failed attempts to feed my kids passed until this week when I finally nailed it. I successfully fed my kids dinner at 4:00! They ate second helpings and went into the evening happy and with full bellies. I felt at once triumphant and completely mortified. What magical dinner overcame the awkward timing? Fish sticks, corn, and ramen noodles. Are there foods lower on the nutritional totem pole? I’ve come a long way since my homemade baby food days. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Pinterest, please avert your eyes.

So I haven’t quite mastered the job of soccer mom yet. I can’t figure out how to manage dinner and practice on the same night, and I only have one of my kids in a sport. How parents juggle multiple kids in multiple sports and lessons is far beyond my imagination and skill set.

Thankfully, the season is nearly over. The hours spent on the sidelines between the weeknight practices and the two games each weekend have grown unpleasantly cold. While I’m clearly not yet at a varsity level, I have learned a few things:

  • When the coaches stress the commitment that the team entails, they are talking to you, the parent;
  • No matter how much your child loves the sport, the act of putting on cleats is torture and it is YOUR FAULT;
  • Kids don’t want to eat a complete dinner in lieu of a snack;
  • Sometimes, ramen noodles are OK;*
  • The kid on the sidelines patiently waiting through all the boring practices and games is the kid that deserves a (non)participation trophy.

As autumn presses on and each frosty morning foretells the pending winter confinement, I’m looking forward to life slowing down a bit. Soon we’ll have seemingly endless afternoons in which to fit snacks and dinners. I can have conversations with my kids other than me harassing them to get ready faster. I’ll forget how crazed I felt this fall, and will happily sign Luke up for soccer again next year, and will likely believe that I can also handle a sport for Sally. But this time, I’ll bring out the ramen from the start.

*This might be a new mantra of mine.

Soccer Mom

Actual Fun vs. Parental Fun

There are two distinct funs once you become a parent: actual fun and parental fun. Actual fun is the life I had before kids. It’s travel, adventure, bike rides, hikes, sunsets, big waves, a great meal, a great movie, a great book. Actual fun is conversations that wander and take unexpected turns with people who can make me laugh until I cry. Is it possible that my children are becoming those people? Am I trading in parental fun (baby giggles from the baby swings) for actual fun (squeals from beside me on a roller coaster)? Is it possible that I can once again be the person I was before people wiped their noses on my shirt?

More and more often lately I notice myself having actual fun. Sure, I enjoyed watching my toddlers toddle; no sound is as sweet as baby giggles; and I’ll always miss dimpled knuckles, wet baby kisses, and those hilarious early mispronunciations. I loved a lot about those days, but there was little actual fun. Those days were mostly work, flecked with moments of sometimes transcendent bliss, usually interrupted by disgusting bodily emissions. But not actual fun. 

At eight and nearly six, my kids are (sometimes) actually fun to be around. They’re engaging, happy, and keen to try new things. They might still have a hundred annoying conversations to every interesting one, but at least it’s not a thousand. They’re big enough for so many things, but at the same time, they’re little enough to still think I’m awesome. I sufficiently remember my childhood to know that this stage must be fleeting.

After all those years of doing things I hated, (I’m looking at you, Music Together,) for the sake of my children’s happiness and to ward off the tedium of spending all day with illiterate, inarticulate, incontinent, uncivilized companions, I can’t believe my luck when I get to simultaneously experience actual fun and parental fun.

Actual Fun

Suddenly, we can do things together like go for bike rides in the woods, one of my favorite actual fun activities. I get the actual fun of riding through sun-dappled trails, breeze on my face, and the bonus parental fun of sharing something I love with these little people I love, of watching them steel their nerves to try something new, of seeing their tongue-in-teeth effort and concentration, of those bright-eyed smiles and unbridled whoops when they make it. It is so much ACTUAL fun!

While my shirt might still suffer other people’s snot on occasion, I find myself feeling more like myself lately because I’m doing the things I used to do. Instead of activities that I hate and they like, we can watch movies we all enjoy, read books we all enjoy, and play games we all enjoy. So long, Go Fish! Luke can play Rummy 500 and Sally plays a mean game of chess.

Gone are the baby days, the toddler days, the cry-over-the-wrong-color-cup days. Ahead are the tween days, the teen days, the ugh-my-mom-is-so-embarrassing days. We seem to be in a sweet spot. How long do I have here?