Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tales of Denial

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, 37 Days, when I came to a startling revelation. Now I do usually have many have epiphanies while on Patti's blog, but rarely would I classify them as "startling." More like peaceful, spiritual, enlightening, Zen-like epiphanies.

This particular blog was a thank-you from Patti to a reader for giving her food for thought about handing out stickers to cranky toddlers and preschoolers on airplanes. I happen to think this is perfectly acceptable and friendly behavior on such a horrible experience such as air travel (especially for the other passengers listening to a wildly uncomfortable or bored child for several hours.) But it set one mom off just a smidgen.

The rather heated comments that followed Patti's gratitude for another view point, ranged from "how dare someone give stickers to a misbehaving two year old" to "what kind of mother are you that you don't bring your own darn stickers!" I felt so protective of Patti, the "What Would You Do With 37 Days To Live" guru, that my "mother hen" meets "fellow blogger" instincts came out. My hackles, once raised cannot be denied. I just had to put my two cents in as well. I didn't say this much in my comment on Patti's blog, because I try not to wax poetic in someone else's space. But...this is the tale of how I became a legend among tired, single, poor, working mom college students, and infamous among poor, tired, cranky, selfish, tyrannical toddlers.

I spent six years as a full time working, 2/3 time studying/acting, 1/2 time single mother of two sons. That is to say, I did all the above, including being a mom all the time, but only had my sons with me every other week. During that time, I did a financial dance of poverty level income, meets reasonably low mortgage, meets money pit home repairs, including a furnace that was once hit by lightening and ever since was very fickle, especially in the dead of winter. Somewhere around the middle of that time period, I also totaled my (completely mine, no loans) car and had to replace it in a jiffy with a decent used one, adding a previously unnecessary car payment to my already "subsidized by home equity/student loans" income.

Now my sons were only 2 and 5 when I began my single mom (and all of the above) status. Like all little kids with no understanding of money or lack thereof, they made the usual requests on our trips to Acme/Target/or (God forgive me) Walmart. I'm always reminded of kids in supermarkets when I read the Very Hungary Caterpillar.

You know the part where he eats all the junk food and then gets a stomach ache?

These necessities included but were not limited to-

several different kinds of pop-tarts, cereal, squirt guns, silly putty, coloring books, action figures, Hot Wheels (all in the cereal aisle of course,) potato chips, corn puffs, candy bars, packs of gum, and stuffed toys from crane sporting money eating vending machines.

I said no.

Hard to imagine looking at the angelic picture above that I could, isn't it? Luckily for me I had two things going for me. One could say it was born out of necessity and lack of funding, but as luck would have it they did at times resemble heathen aliens rather than this picture.

Oh and actually, I found I rather liked saying no.

So when stores came out with those "solutions" to keeping kids amused, i.e. carts with huge plastic cars attached (causing the boys to fight over who was "really driving") or instant daycare centers as germ filled as the aforementioned "autocarts" I'm sure) were more trouble than they were worth. So I said no even though it was FREE.

I so much started to enjoy my absolute power, that I became...

The Keeper Of The Fun

Throughout the next several years of my poor, unamused sons' lives I did my best to only reward good behavior with fun. I rationed out financial or material fun, as though they were sugar and cigarettes in war torn Europe. Sometimes if they were really good in the store they got 50-cent toys out of the "gumball" machines , or a ride on the 50 cent jumbo jet/train/dinosaur outside the store. Or they were allowed to pick two or three things (a piece!) from the Dollar Store. Or, on the many occasions where I was too tired (see crazed schedule I was keeping above) to fight one more "Pleeeeeeeze mom! " Too frail to utter one more "Define 'want' vs 'need' for me!" I occasionally gave in, but added such a dose of guilt that any spoils of war were, well...spoiled. My sons still comment on this strategy and it's success, and I'm sure that they will employ the same techniques one day for their own kids.

*(Note to my future grandchildren- Don't worry, I'll spoil you as all grammys and grandmas do, and help to drive your parents crazy with my hypocrisies! It's a payback for their teen years. )

When I met and remarried, my frugality relaxed some, and my kids now have many more wants than they need to. I still share the boys with their father and stepmom, but am also full time mother of one step daughter and our joint project- two and a half year old Anna. When I met Rick he was amazed at my sons' reaction to my first, sometimes second (intonation rising if I had to repeat it) "No" to whatever they asked for. My sons were very interested in their new stepsister's frequently given into requests, as she was an only child of two professional level income parents, and was used to extra money for all those aforementioned "necessities." She came by her shopping savvy by way of material appeasement from two parents who were not on the same page (Rick was on the Wall Street Journal sites while his ex was on the Home Shopping Network.)

During one of our early trips to Target then Kohls, Adri had managed to snag a crossword puzzle book and the boys a gumball out of the machine at the first store. The second one had all the kids eyeing the toy department (right across from the shoes, God love 'em.) Adri started begging and Rick became agitated. Then the boys said, "Mom, can we get?" And I said, "Nope-we're here for shoes." And that was that.

And "that's all she wrote" for Rick. I think he may have fallen in love with me that day. I know he fell in love with my mean old mom techniques at least. He told me so later. And I'm afraid that it didn't take long for my "No means no" to material bliss attitude to rub off on Rick , much I'm sure to Adri's chagrin.

I have continued what is now our family tradition with Anna, in that she doesn't get to buy something very often either. Though my future grandma hypocrisy does shine through with her being my "late life" baby and my first baby girl to boot.

Therefore I have indulged myself on several occasions on her behalf, most recently on a leotard, tutu, tights and ballet slippers-

Oh yeah- and the Princess Play tent to go with it that I couldn't resist at Pat Catans. So in addition to not being in the running for "Mother of the Year," I am only human after all.

In my defense, I don't give into her demands for a toy at the grocery store, just because they're right there in the cereal aisle, or impulse candy purchases at the cash register.

No small feat now that even places like Home Depot sport a full service cash "Candy Bar" at each checkout. (When will the madness end????)

And so I am determined to "mean" the materialism out of her just like I did her older brothers.

One mother on Patti's blog discussed the unfairness to children who are dragged along on errands and proudly claimed super mom status because her purse is a virtual arsenal of candy, gum, stickers and...

A harmonica.


I'm not sure who the harmonica is for, the child? Or is mom going to whip it out and entertain the kid? Either way, I'm not sure I want to hear the toddler version of the blues while I'm in line with Anna.

I don't battle carry boredom ammo (Rick likes how his military influence makes it into my blog posts, so there's one for you honey. ;)

My purse contains (if I'm lucky) my gum, my wallet, and if Anna hasn't pulled them out to play with and misplaced them, my list, a pen to cross things off it, and my ever growing key chain of store id/discount cards.

No stickers...just the boring store. No food for her (I don't even go for the free kid's cookie-now there's a bad habit to start.) Not even the cool kids car/cart mutation, no matter what other nicer mom passes us trying to fit everything in the tiny top compartment, and manage steering it with her toddler/preschoolers weighing it down. Thank God those steering wheels don't work on those things. I tried it once in a moment of weakness with a cranky nap deprived Anna, and nearly crashed into another harried mom with a toddler driving underneath her. I don't think my USAA auto covers grocery store aisles.

But..my mean anti-material momness goes further than the store.

I possess no in car DVD players (not even on long trips) because the thought of my two and a half year spending any more time watching DVD's or TV than she already does now (say, when I'm blogging for instance) makes me cringe. My older kids have Gameboys and I did break down for a Leapster (no games just drawing) for Anna for when we are desperate to quiet her on a 6 hour drive to see her Grammy and Pops. And for the older ones, they may bring along their Ipods if I'm really nice, (purchased by other parents) which Rick and I take away at the slightest sign of ungrateful behavior.

You know? I used to LOVE long trips in the car to my grandparents. I would lean back and look out the window and imagine tons of things. Create whole tales for people walking along side of the country roads, or watch the moon follow us home. Before we all had to "Buckle Up-It's the Law" I laid down in the back seat if I was the only passenger. Sometimes it was to try and keep from breathing in the fragrant countryside, or gravel road dust storm on our short jaunt over to my Aunt Kathy's house. On longer car trips,which were few and far between when I was growing up, I laid in the back of our station wagon and daydreamed with my friend, or read a book, maybe took a nap. At night I loved to lay back there and watch the patterns of light dance across the window.

Kids may be bored. It is through boredom that true creativity is born. I am not an entertainer of my kids, they must fend for themselves a little.

And yes, I might be annoyed if a stranger gave my children anything when they are throwing fits. But, I can be graciously subtle, and will never curse the kindness of strangers, no matter if they offer Anna stickers when she's screaming in the checkout line about wanting "animal crackers now first!" She might not even accept them herself (she's quite shy about strangers.) As a matter of fact, the other day a nice old lady (probably a Grandma) gave me some tissues when Anna was coughing and crying because she was afraid her cough would make her throw up. I said a tired, "Thank you, but I'm not sure they will help," because she had been sick and coughing herself into throwing up all that week. However, the tissues helped her calm down. Thanks Somebody's Grandma. You definitely have the credentials, patience, and a purse to make Magyver's Granny proud.

Now before I get all kinds of defensive Mommy comments about my soapbox I want to let you all know that I do say, to each their own. However, as the mother of two thirteen year olds, I have to warn you. The male version is not so bad about name brands and buying things, but the female of the species went from "Why do I have to comb my hair in the morning?" to "Why do I have to use cheap Suave Shampoo instead of 4 dollar a bottle Herbal Essence " in one short year. I have seen the future of your indulgence, and though as I said I can be guilty of it myself, it's never by way of giving into a child's impulse (oh- and yes those teenagers are still children, not your buddies, your pal, your peer. But that's another blog for another day.) So mother's of toddlers, if you aren't careful now, they will have an insatiable drive for material bliss when they reach adolescence. And believe you me, you will want to have the "No means NO policy in place well before then.

Oh- and one last thing to ponder.

I may not be up for mother of the year any time soon, but I am proud to know I have successfully given (at least some of ) my children enough material for their future best selling memoir called,

My Mom Ruined My Life and Other Sad Tales of Denial

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