Control and “The Science of Parenthood”

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One of the most frustrating parts of parenthood is the assumption that you have control of anything. You know it’s true. I see you over there nodding.

And yet, we keep trying. When my kids were toddlers, my diaper bag would always be stuffed full, ready for every possibly eventuality: extra diapers and underwear, wipes galore, changes of clothes for them, change of clothes for me, wipes galore, first-aid kit, toys, wipes galore, snacks, toys, snack, snacks, more wipes, toys, children’s’ motrin, adult motrin etc, etc. Sometimes I’d actually use them (like the time G picked and ate so many blueberries, washed them down with apple juice and carrot sticks, and ran around and around in the sun and then puked, not once but twice, all over himself and all over the back seat of the car on the drive home.) More often than not, I didn’t need every item in my bag but I felt assured and confident that I was prepared for everything. My husband, on the other hand, would simply scoop up a child and head out – with barely a diaper or a wipe on him and have a perfectly successful outing. Nary a blow-out, projectile barf or low-sugar-induced meltdown. I never understood why that happened. Isn’t it ironic? (Secretly I wished for a spectacularly embarrassing poop incident, but alas.) The laws of probability were rarely on my side.

Whether it was strategizing a feeding schedule that would surely induce an infant to sleep through the night or, even now, figuring out how to inspire bribe motivate a child to assist with the laundry, the sad truth of the matter always is: parents have no/limited control over the outcome.

Because kids.

So when I read the new book “The Science of Parenthood,” created by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, I saw myself on every single page. I laughed. I cried. Then I chuckled some more.

Because kids.

The book is chock-full of pithy humor, colorful cartoons and amusing/helpful decision trees, each aiming to decipher and decode the “science” behind the daily irony of life as a parent, the choices we make as we stumble through, trying to make sense of it all. From pregnancy, to the challenges of interacting with our spouses, other kids and other members of the parenting species, the book analyzes the entire spectrum of parenthood through the tongue-in-cheek lenses of biology, chemistry, physics and math. Now, I’m not going to spoil this book for you but I did want to extract a few choice excerpts that spoke to me. Like, directly to me. If you’d have been there, you’d have seen me nodding vigorously, maybe sobbing gently or more likely, convulsing with laughter.

Here’s one from the section on Biology, in the chapter entitled: Post-Birth Conditions Your OB Might Forget to Mention (Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You!):

“Acquired Distraction Disorder: Marked by an impatient Now, what were we talking about?, Acquired Distraction Disorder (A.D.D.) is the progressive loss of the ability to follow a train of thought. A.D.D. typically develops among parents with toddlers who’ve just learned how to run. The adult brain becomes overwhelmed with the strain of excessive multitasking and begins shutting down “nonessential” functions to conserve energy for chasing tiny humans intent on leaping from garden walls and licking electrical outlets. Fortunately, A.D.D. lasts only until middle school, when children stop interacting with their parents altogether.”

Equally amusing was the chapter entitled: Poopology 101: The Gushy, Gassy, and Gooey. I’ll save you the, um, colorful details  but I know you will see yourself on this page. Wait, that sounds bad.

I most definitely identified with the section that served to (ironically) update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V or the “psychiatrists’ bible”):

“Delusions of Launder: The perpetual belief that one day, eventually, the laundry will get “finished.” Symptoms: Moms laboring under this delusion may initially appear upbeat, even enthusiastic, aiming to dominate the heaps of dirty clothes and pee-soaked toddler bedding. But as the laundry piles grow, these moms can sink into a depression as they ruminate on existential questions such as Where does all this laundry come from? and Why is all this laundry here? Fixating on “finishing” the laundry may lead to secondary physical problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, the result of folding endless pairs of teeny-tiny socks and superhero underwear.”

Other highlights to look out for: the Beverage-to-TV Index, the pie chart analysis of where your kids’ food actually goes, the Law of Urinary Dynamics, and the Wintertime Scatter Graph that investigates that annual dilemma “where did all the gloves go?”

And, I’m fairly sure the venn diagram on page 218 pretty much sums up my life right now.

Bottom like: I am no scientist. I’m just a parent, trying to make sense of it all, trying over and over to impose some iota of control over something that is scientifically uncontrollable. “The Science of Parenthood” sums it all up brilliantly. You can buy it for yourself (to reassure you) or for a friend (to reassure him or her they are not alone) over here.

Because kids.

the law of when you kid needs to poop

 

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A Lesson in Letting Go of Fear

I took my newly-minted eight year-old to the park yesterday to ride her bike. The snow had melted, the sun was shining and she was eager to be reunited with her bike after such a long, hard winter.

Teaching her to ride her bike and riding with her has always been her father’s job (I’m not a confident biker and I’d always rather walk on my own two feet than balance on two wheels.) As I wrote here, if it wasn’t for him, she’d have never learned for I was always too fearful, terrified she’d fall, scared she’d hurt not just her knees but also her confidence.

Oh, I was so wrong.

It wasn’t her who needed to conquer her fears, it was me.

She set off on her bike yesterday, pumping those pedals, the wind in her hair. “Be careful, don’t go too far out of my sight,” I cried out. But it was already too late. Her hair was streaming out behind her, her helmet getting smaller as she accelerated away from me down the path, picking up speed. Though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.

She rounded the corner. I could still see her flying like the wind. And then, she was out of sight, around another corner.

I listened acutely for for the high-pitched wail that I would surely hear as she’d crash off the bike and hurtle to the ground. I hastened my already speedy pace, desperate to catch up to her or at least spot her in the distance.

A glimmer of stranger danger dangled on the edge of my nervous system, taunting my imagination with every parent’s worst fears. Yes, there were lots of people at this park but maybe among them, there might be one with ill intent, looking at her that way?

What if she gets scared when she realizes she can’t see me, I worried? I picked up the pace even more, blisters forming on my sockless-in-shoes-for-the-first-time-since-winter feet.

Panting and sweating and on the brink of panic, I rounded the corner and stared into the distance, squinting to make her out among the swarm of adults and kids walking, biking and skateboarding on this beautiful spring day.

Suddenly in the distance, I spotted the shape of her helmet, her long hair, her knees moving fast up and down, zooming towards me. Triumphant, happy, cheeks aglow. “Mama!” she cried. “I was pedalling so far, so fast. It was so cool.” She grabbed a sip of water and took off once again, yelling that she’d meet me back at the park entrance.

And it was then I realized.

She’s now a confident bike rider. There was no fall, no wail, no grazed knees.

She knows how to get out of a stranger’s grip. She’s a blue belt in karate – she can punch and kick and shout, really loudly.

She knows my cell number, we’ve talked about what to do if she’s lost, what kind of adult to find.

For parents, fear is a constant. Fear that we don’t know what we are doing, fear that we’ll screw up, screw them up. Fear they’ll get hurt. Fear they’ll get lost. Fear of strangers. Fear they won’t accomplish what we – and they – want to achieve.

Yesterday, for me, was a solid lesson in letting go of some of that fear and replacing it with confidence in my child. Confidence in her abilities and smarts. Confident that her father and I have equipped her with many of the tools to succeed. Fear will always be there, but as I learned yesterday, it’s my problem, not hers.
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