Isn’t it about this time of year that we all start to feel the pressure? Had it up to here with everyone’s perfect lives on Facebook? The holidays are nearly upon us and you are struggling…with work, with kids, with partners, with parents, with life. You take stock in the last year – or decade – and wonder how did you fall so far behind? Why are the expectations so high?
It doesn’t help that society seems to sell us this unattainable, successful, exemplary family, or children, or friends. You know who I’m talking about. The endless posts from that certain person in your life who always has something wonderful to say about themselves, or their husbands, or their kids, or themselves, or remodelled kitchens, or themselves, or…you get the picture.
With that in mind, I thought it’s time to pull back the curtain. Take down the smokescreens! No one’s perfect. Life is hard. We all make mistakes. Oh, Lordy, do we make mistakes. Mine would fill a book larger than War and Peace.
So I’ll start with one category: Parenting. Let’s call this Bad Parenting, Chapter 1 (as I’m sure there’ll be more). Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, or laugh at them. Either way, it might help to put things into perspective as you head into the holiday season. Main takeaway? Most parents have absolutely NO CLUE what they are doing. And yet, kids are remarkably resilient and (usually) turn out fine. If I could tell my younger self one thing I’d say don’t sweat it. All will be fine. But at the time, it’s terrifying and you question everything about your judgment, your instinct and your I.Q.
DAY ONE: FIRST BIG MISTAKE
Our very first mistake! On the day we arrived home from the hospital! Mom had given us an old copy of Dr. Spock’s bible on newborns from the 1960s and my husband, trying desperately to partake in this birth process proactively, read it cover to cover. I think it was chapter two that opened with “You can never overfeed a new born”. Ahhh, well, no. Not entirely true.
Walking in the door 36 hours after she was born, we put the Child in her little car seat on the dining room table, looked at each other with genuine panic and wondered “What now?” I think every parent wishes there was a set of instructions to go home with, some manual you are given as you leave the hospital “How To Care For Your New Child!” like you’d get when you bring home an orchid from the garden centre.
I had breastfed her and she was still fussy. I breastfed some more. Still fussy. I breastfed until there was nothing left. Still fussy. We skipped anxiety and went straight to panic-mode. Made up a little bottle of formula and fed it to her. She guzzled it all and got even fussier. Then it was wailing and crying. We really panicked. Called the paediatrician who asked us how much from the bottle we fed her. Apparently we fed her the amount you’d feed a 2 month old – not a day old child – plus the breastmilk.
She calmly told us to lie her on her back, wiggle her teeny legs like she’s riding a bicycle, try to gently smooth down her stomach. After which, in about an hour, “there will literally be a river of poo coming out of your child” as she so eloquently put it. And oh, was she right! It was phenomenal how much could flow out of that little being. Like a Volkswagon Beetle full of clowns. Amazing Scientific Discoveries would have been impressed. Of course, right after, she fell soundly and snugly asleep. I never looked at that dining room table the same again.
MONTH 3: AIRPLANE MISERY
We were returning to the States after going to the U.K. to introduce her to all her English relatives. I had just cut down and completed breast-feeding before going back to work after 11 weeks off. I didn’t feel comfortable working in a male-dominated environment, being in meetings, talking to my executive producer and news anchor with leaky breasts. Just wasn’t me. And good old “family-friendly” Disney – owner of ABC News — only gave us 6 weeks off maternity leave, so I had to make up the rest in sick leave, holiday time and a very sympathetic boss.
The day before getting on an 8-and-a-half hour flight, I ran out of the soy milk formula I brought for the transition as she was intolerant to cow’s milk (remember? Day One?). Without any breast milk or soy milk, though, my only choice in Boots chemist at the time was regular formula. We got on the plane and it all kicked off. She was sobbing and wailing in decibels I had never heard. People around us were glaring. The flight attendants came by several times politely asking if we needed help. We were patting her back, bouncing her up and down, giving her the pacifier. We were miserable failures. Soon the whole plane was throwing dagger looks. As a parent with a wailing kid, you DEFINITELY notice. They’re thinking “Why can’t they shut that kid up!?” I know because until I had the Child, I used to be that person!
Slow that we are, it finally dawned on us that it was the whole “river of poo” thing except maybe the opposite. Perhaps she was constipated? We took her to the Lilliputian airplane bathroom and both of us squeezed in with her. At least the screeching was now behind a door. After undoing her diaper, the problem was obvious. Yes, there was a rock-like poo stuck half-way trying to come out. Poor little thing! My news producer mode took over. “OK, let’s move her little legs in a bicycle”. Husband was moving them so fast she would have won the Tour De France. He was very stressed. I was rubbing her belly and trying gently to push that little poo out. Nothing was happening. We were in there for what felt like hours, but it was probably only about 20-30 minutes? We definitely heard maybe 2 knocks on the door at some point.
Anyway, I finally did what any mother would do and took my little pinkie fingernail and started scraping away at that poo to get it out. Sure enough, that little pebble shot out like a bullet, hit the door and ricocheted to the floor. “Which way did it go?” my husband yelled. “We’ll get it later!” I yelled back. A few smaller little pebbles shot out too, like one of those tennis ball machines, pop pop popping out in succession, but we actually caught those. And then, like before, the crying stopped, and she fell sound asleep. Problem solved. My husband went back to the seats with her while I cleaned up the bathroom. I was fine, but he was clearly shaken. Speaking later, we both realized how helpless you feel in a long metal tube 40,000 feet over the Atlantic with only Greenland insight. We’ve all been there, right?
MONTH 9: GERMS (AND A HIT ON THE HEAD)
I was working hard, had a full-time nanny, husband back at work and all is fine! We can DO this parenting thing! Travelling alone up to Nova Scotia to meet up with my husband and the family, I was sitting in National Airport getting work done and the Child was a crawling phenom. Fine. Let her be free! She was crawling all over the floor, the carpet, the chairs, lifting herself up to stand by the trashcan (in retrospect, should have seen the danger there), getting her little fingers on everything and then putting them in her mouth as she was teething at the time.
We got on the plane, switched in Montreal to a little 16 seater plane and as I arrived at the gate the overhead speaker announced “Can Dianna Pierce please return to the Security Area?” Apparently, as I went through security and left the sippy cup, passports and boarding passes at the magnetometer machines. That’s Mommy-brain for you. So had to double back running through the airport OJ Simpson-styel with the Child in her handy-dandy forward facing papoose. Completely breathless, went up the stairs of this really teeny plane and everyone was already seated and glaring. Standing in the middle of the aisle I had to pull her out quickly from her papoose but in doing so, lifted her up and out so fast I didn’t realize how tiny the plane was (did I say? It was VERY tiny!) and literally banged her head against the ceiling. Another trip with passengers unhappy with us.
Got to Nova Scotia, lovely holiday for about 48 hours after which she got a very high fever (103.5 degrees) and the Tylenol wasn’t helping. We rushed her to the hospital in Halifax where the doctors asked “Has she been anywhere recently where she could have picked up some germs?”. Ahhh, er, hmmm. All of National Airport’s floors? Bad mother. Bad, bad mother. She picked up a virus and the doctors tended to her. But these little babies are resilient and after 3 days of misery, along with lots of love and care, she was fine.
18 MONTHS: LOOKING AWAY…JUST FOR A SECOND…
My last instalment for today was while we were living in South Africa. We’d gone to a bicycle shop to pick out a new bicycle for my husband’s birthday. In tow I had her…and the GINORMOUS bag of paraphernalia that comes with an 18-month old: the diapers, wet wipes, diaper disposal bags, binkies, burping cloth, an extra hat, or sweater, her blankie and her favourite stuffed animal.
In the shop was a short set of stairs (I counted later – exactly 8) leading up to a platform with more bikes and tires. I walked up the stairs with her in my arms and the bag over my shoulder. I set her down on my right as she fingered the tires. I turned to my left to put my massive diaper bag down and as I was setting it on the floor, thought “hmmm, I put her down awfully close to the stairs.”
I turned around in time to see her little feet teetering on the edge of the stairs, she facing me with a look of surprise, and waving her arms. As she’s falling backwards, I lunge out in desperation. This was all happening in extreme slow motion. My outstretched hand reached out and snatched…air…about one inch from her little coat.
My next thought as she tumbled down was to watch carefully as she went to see where she hit what, watching for possible breaks. The good news is she was dressed to the hilt in winter clothes, covered up like a little Michelin man. And she cartwheeled down in a way that, as best as I could tell, an elbow got a whack but everything else seemed ok. She landed on her stomach, arms and legs splayed.
The whole shop was silent for about 2-3 seconds as everyone had turned because, without realizing it, I had shouted out. The delay was interminable. She had this look of shock…then wonder…her eyes blinked, then hang on! I’m in pain! And then the wailing. Most parents will tell you the longer the delay, the better, as that means they are processing the pain and hurt and it’s just dawned on them that something scary has happened to them, and THEN they start to cry. If it’s really real pain, it will come sooner.
Anyway, she had a bruised elbow, a teeny bruise on her cheek, but all was fine. I never set foot in that shop again. And my husband bought an insanely expensive bike with the guilt he felt for traumatizing everyone.
So, there you have it! Just a few examples of bad parenting mistakes. And we’re only up to 18 months old! Many many more. I should point out that said Child is now a lovely, well-adjusted, bright, intelligent, funny, athletic 13-yr-old. She remembers absolutely nothing of these moments that have scarred my husband and I for life.
I suppose perspective is everything, isn’t it? I look back at any of the more trying moments of my life and realize I just did whatever it took to get through them. In retrospect, I’m somewhat amazed at what we did. I think there were 14 cross-Atlantic flights between the US and UK and South Africa before our Child was 4. I have no idea how we did it. In the moment, it’s awful. But now we look back and laugh.
Next, I’ve got more from the toddler years (trying to catch projectile vomit with our hands (!) on another plane journey as she covers us and the South African rugby team captain with throw-up), a fabulous 4-yr-old tantrum story, and then we can move in to the horrendous first generation parenting of kids with mobile devises!! Fun stuff!