I am the Meanest Mama in the World. That’s the word around my house, at least. The criteria for earning this title is ever-changing. Some days, the bar is as low as telling my children that they have to bathe. Other times, I have to work harder, like when I impose a consequence: ‘You hit your sister with the iPad, so now it’s mine.’
To be fair, earning the title of Best Mama in the World, in the words of my kids, is often pretty easy as well. Taking the carpool to get smoothies after school boosts my stock in a jiffy. I’m not sure how my kids manage to have low standards and exorbitant expectations, but they do. Letting them eat cereal for supper earns me hugs and smiles, while the fact that I can’t respond to and assist all four of them at the exact same moment is insulting to them. My kids make about as much sense as Mississippi weather: freezing temperatures at night followed by a light dusting of pollen in the morning.
Any given day in my house is a roller coaster of ecstasy and devastation, good and bad choices, nailing it and falling on our faces. If you parent young children and claim that sentence doesn’t ring true to you, then I’m willing to bet you are either lying or you have incredibly boring children. I have never met a boring child, so let’s be honest about the fact that children are insane and ridiculous AND adorable and hilarious; and try to remember that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we are doing it wrong.
If children came out sane and rational and emotionally prepared to have a respectful discussion with someone they disagree with, then they would only need occupational therapists to teach them how to feed themselves and tie their shoes. Since they don’t come preprogrammed as fully formed adults in smaller packages — they need parents. And, oh my gosh, teaching them to do their homework without having a mental breakdown, or accept that it’s not their turn with the iPad anymore without inciting violence is so much harder than teaching them to tie their shoes. Although, it should be noted that my husband said I totally botched teaching our oldest daughter how to tie her shoes. I utilized the bunny ear version that I learned from Adam Sandler in the movie Big Daddy, and her laces never stay tied. I wasn’t allowed to teach the next kid, so even that is hard—but the ‘making a good human’ part is harder.
If I were a parenting expert, this would be the part where I would share some wisdom on how to make turning these irrational little creatures we start with into thoughtful, kind, reasonable adults that can make it through a whole day without saying, ‘It’s not fair! You’re the worst!’ The thing is, I got nothing. Well, that’s not totally true — I have just enough self-awareness about my own limitations to know that I am not a parenting expert and I’m just winging it like everybody else. Advice, though? Nope. Nothing.
One thing I do have in spades, though, is empathy. So, please tell me all the ways your little humans make you completely lose your mind and I’ll show you the purple nail polish on my kitchen table and the bolt I had installed on the front door to keep the two-year-old from wandering down the street to find her sisters, again. Sharing war stories is cathartic and shouldn’t be confused with ungrateful complaining. We all love our kids and wouldn’t really sell them to the circus like we said we would. Plus, the little stinkers always find a way to pull us back from the brink of madness just in time.
It’s been my experience thus far that every stage of childhood development has a safeguard built in to keep parents from eating their young or leaving them on the floors of the grocery stores they melt down in or closing their dirty little fingers in heavy hymnals in the church pews where they rustle around like a dozen giggling hamsters in cages of shredded newspaper during the quietest moments of church.
Newborns have those sweet, fat cheeks that smoosh just right on your chest, making you want to stay awake and stare at them even when you’ve slept 35 minutes in three days. Toddlers call unicorns ‘loony-corns’ and draw pictures of the two of you together where you’re 10 feet tall and look like what they probably think God looks like, presenting it to you right after you find the Sharpie hieroglyphics on the wall and your brain starts to simmer.
Lower schoolers surprise you by crawling into your lap after they’re technically too big for it, to cry and tell you about something that broke their heart right when you’re convinced they have no heart because of the way they were just screaming at their sibling. Or on easier days when telling them what they need to be doing looks more like trying to take a Labrador puppy on a walk without a leash, ‘Oh, look — a squirrel!’ and you’re wondering if a megaphone or a cattle prod would work better to get their attention; they go just goofy enough to make you laugh instead of strangle them.
I don’t yet know what teenagers have to offer to keep themselves from bearing the brunt of an epic parental crack-up of their own making. I have a feeling that as kids get older, these safeguards get more creative, more subtle, and hopefully — I get better at looking for them. My sanity is depending on that last one.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.