Saturday, January 15, 2011

A little neglect goes a long way.

I have a lot of kids. That is, a lot by most people's standards - not by long skirt wearing, science averse, Dugger types - but still more than most people can fathom, or should ever have to, really. I have squeezed four children from my own body, and have been lucky enough to get three more bonus kids as part of my sign-on marriage package. I love all these kids fiercely and there is nothing I will not do for them. Except write book reports for them; I won't do that. Or get one of those grocery cart covers for the babies so they never have to touch the cart - that seems a bit ridiculous. Oh, and their laundry after the age of seven - what am I, a hand maiden? Truth is, there are a lot of things that I know are expected of me as a Mom, things I simply refuse to do. One might speculate that when you have seven children, those little motherly loving touches may fall by the wayside. This speculation would be absolutely correct, but it is more than that. I happen to think there is value in encouraging kids to just suck it up a bit. Just a bit, mind you. I am not talking about really making them travel to rural India for a summer to try to survive solely to build perspective, though I often fantasize about it. But I am talking about backing off a bit and seeing how they make a tough situation work. I am talking about taking some time for myself and for my husband without feeling like the kids will turn into tiny pillars of salt without my constant supervision. I am talking about letting them experience a natural consequence once in a while. If you don't do your book report yourself, you are going to get an F. If you refuse to put your boots on, you will have to walk to the car in the snow with bare feet. And, I flat out refuse to pay for cavities to be filled for a child who has failed to brush their teeth. Believe me, it only takes one experience with super cold feet after walking through the snow to see considerably more cooperation when it comes to putting on boots. In fact, my son kept his boots on for three years straight after that particular incident. A little neglect goes a long way.

I think this philosophy may be hereditary. I have a sister who actually becomes enraged at the mere thought of wipe warmers for babies. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD" She will scream while tearing out small clumps of her own hair "SOMETIMES WIPES ARE COLD - PONY UP AND GET YOUR ASS WIPED!" She will even use this phenomenon as an adjective "She was a real wipe warmer mother, so I knew she would be horrified that I gave my toddler a king sized bag of M&Ms just so I could finish my phone call." And although I recognize my sister's intense and unfulfilled need for Zoloft, I am with her. Really, wipe warmers? Seriously, the $25 dollars you spend on a wipe warmer could have been a micro-loan for a small Peruvian farm which could turn around the economic structure of an entire village, and you want to use the money to keep constant heat on a stack of pre-moistened butt wipes - which are already a convenience product? Wow. If you are that concerned that your baby will develop coldassicus syndrome or whatever, hold the wipe in your hand a moment to bring it to your body temperature, come on, it is really not that hard. I come by this attitude honestly because I think we place value in that which we invest. When I went to my Mom with a problem she would listen intently with her cigarette and coffee in hand and say "Huh. That sucks. What are you going to do about that?" Thanks Mom. Mom was not a woman overflowing with obvious compassion, but in the end I usually just asked myself "What am I going to do about that?" and then figure out what to do. On my own. There is genuine worth in that and I am thankful everyday for a Mom who gave me space to fall hard and then pick myself up.

I am the mother who is often the subject of scorn. Don't argue with me. Seriously. Is anyone out there arguing with me? Well please stop it if you are. I know it is true. Moms are always coming up and saying "Is that your son 60 feet up in the tree? You know he could fall." Yes, I realize he could fall; I am lenient - not delusional. Or "You know your toddler is lying of the floor where people have walked." Again, very well aware that people walk on floors. Thank you. Also aware that people have existed for thousands of years in less-than-sterile conditions and yet the human race manages to survive and even thrive. I can't tell you how many times strangers have freaked out seeing a small child, apparently "lost" (uh, yes, I'm speaking of one of mine) and picked them up, frantically looking for proper authorities. Meanwhile I'm running to stop them before Social Services gets all over my case, as I realize it is only a matter of time. Inevitable. See photo above. In situations like these I am always watching the small child, just not standing so close that it actually appears as if I am the child's puppeteer. I am letting the kid discover their own little piece of the world. There is value in this.
Sometimes my daughter wears a Snow White dress every day for three months and sometimes dinner is popcorn and peanut butter on apples, but there is more than one right way to raise a child. In our house we often make up sophomoric lyric parodies, and I am comfortable with my children declaring their atheism and expressing controversial opinions in colorful language. This is not to say we live without boundaries. Not at all. In our house you need to be respectful of other people, pick up what you drop, contribute to the home and family, and take care of yourself. And may God (or lack thereof) help you if you bring food anywhere outside of the kitchen.
The "R" Us franchise will probably never become a sponsor of this blog, but I don't actually buy most things you allegedly "need" to raise healthy babies and children. It goes with out saying that I don't buy wipe warmers, as I am sure my sister would literally rip out my ovaries if she ever found one in my home - but I also would never buy things like a sleep positioner. This is a wedge you use to have your baby sleep ever so slightly on its side - it is a real thing and you can buy one. If you find yourself in need of something to prop your sleeping baby up, use one of the boatload of stuffed animals you acquire the moment sperm hits the egg. And you know those baby food processors, mills, and grinders you use to make baby food? I call mine a fork. All these kids and I have no idea what a layette is. I also don't buy toys for my kids. They have some, from birthdays, Christmases, and and the occasional friend who takes pity and drops by with hand me downs - but I just know that secret Geoffry the giraffe guards with his life - kids don't really play with toys. I mean, they like the IDEA of toys, and they play with them for a while, but they are just as happy playing with real things like utensils from the kitchen and building with books and cups. If you visit our house you are very likely to find the baby happily sitting on the floor playing with a Tylenol rattle and a roll of duct tape. Besides, living without toys makes it all that much more fun to visit an office waiting room or the children's area at the library. It also makes it unnecessary for me to hold yard sales every few years.
Years ago, when I had only two children, I visited my Zolaft-deficient sister at her beach house with my three-week-old baby and my four-year-old, "Boots" who actually wore his winter boots to the beach that day. My sister's in laws joined us on the beach, bringing their two-year-old for his first beach outing. Their family brought a tent, a video camera, a regular camera, a large bag of clothes and towels, another large bag of sand toys and sun screen. We're talking about enough beach ground coverings to erect a tent/towel city on the beach with at least one red wagon full of provisions. I brought my stroller, a baby blanket, sunblock, and my kids. I proceeded to let Boots play in the sand while I took the newborn in her basket car seat and set her down in the sand, a blanket protected her from the sun. I then turned my stroller/beach chair to watch the most entertaining thing on the beach - our companions with the two year old unpack. The tent itself was a marvel of engineering that took two parents, fifteen poles and forty-five minutes. Watching them set up and then have to cover their son with lotion, a sun suit and one of those hats with the long, floppy ears was hard work. Boots was getting hungry and needed a snack. I told him that I was sure he had some Cheese-Its under his seat in the car. Nabisco probably won't be sponsoring this blog either. Lucky for Boots, the mobile snack bar that came with us in the red wagon was open, and Boots was able to choose from several varieties of child-appropriate lovingly-prepared foods, while the whole process was recorded on no less than two forms of media. I watched all this unfold from my reclined stroller and thought "Impressive." At one point, the two year old's Mom said to me "Your daughter has been under that blanket a while, is she OK?" I scootched down in the stroller so my foot could reach over to her car seat basket and gave it a kick. My baby startled and I turned and said "Yup, she is fine." And she was.
It turns out that duct tape has other uses later on in life. Here's the newborn, eight years later:
She's still fine.
More from Karen:
Five Easy Steps to Misery and Unhappiness
Show Me Your Awesome!
Kick in the Aspergers


  1. Excellent! I could not agree more. But the cake topper was really the picture at the end. I am a huge fan of mondays (where I recently heard about the aforementioned picture) and am so glad I actually got to see it!

  2. Someone sent me your post because she thought of me! You're a riot. This was a really funny post. I will be sure to read again.


    Here's a similar post by me:

  3. Wow, do they make wipe warmers for adults? I want one!

  4. A little dirt, freedom to explore, small footprint in the toy market, responsibility from the beginning--well said, Karen!

  5. Letting kids figure many things out for themselves - YES! Giving them all the time in the world to play, or just sit - YES! A seashell, a bunch of measuring cups and spoons, soft-edged wooden blocks, kitchen towels, pile of dirt ... Children do not have to be in an "organized" (yecch)group or sport every hour of the day. Kids need to spread their mind and body wings. Thank you , Karen - I love your posts. :) Tina

  6. That was a hoot, Karen! And so true. I've raised two darlings into hardy, efficient and wonderful adults in a similar manner. It always vexed my Christian friends and some of the kids' teachers, but I'm getting the last you will, too. Beautiful blog. Love to the fam.


  7. Ahhh, a kindred soul. I knew I was on the right road when my eight year-old son came to me and said "Mom, you haven't taught me how to do laundry yet!"

    And, HA, I got a wipe-warmer at a baby shower, and it struck me as the Most Ridiculous Item Ever. Especially after I gamely plugged it in, which caused such static on my portable phone that it was rendered unusable. Back to the store the superfluous EM radiator went, exchanged for a couple of packs of nice cotton onesies. An excellent lesson learned, early in the baby-rearing process. Thank you, gift-giver. :-)