Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perfect Parenting

When I was a first time mother, I was fairly insane. Looking back on it, the fairly seems a generous modifier. I do remember taking my son to the pediatrician and explaining to the doctor how I had all these books and notes on how to take care of (my then) one week old son. He looked at me, and asked why I had done all that.

I thought that was pretty obvious. "So I don't make a mistake."

He was an elderly man, almost ready to retire. He laughed when I said this. "Honey, you are going to make mistakes every day. Get used to it."

I didn't believe him. I read all the parenting books in the same manner I had once read all of Jane Austen's work - only I took more notes on the parenting books. I had color coded charts on the wall. I rinsed his toys in a bleach solution -- every night, then triple rinsed the bleach off them. I bought air purifiers. I banished the cats.

I didn't view any of those behaviors as mistakes.

I do wonder now if we ever know we're making the mistakes WHEN we're making them, at least as parents. I seem to get it only in retrospect. Of course, I have teens and a younger daughter, so they help me see my mistakes, at least with her.

Yesterday, my daughter came home from school a little upset. She had a substitute in the afternoon, and her regular teacher had left instructions that they write a piece for their writing folders. My daughter is obsessed with fairies, and she wanted to write a story about two fairies who lived inside a walnut shell. The substitute teacher told her, "No, it doesn't say in your teacher's lesson plan that you can write fantasy."

"But that's what I like to write," Emma protested, "and I already started it."

"I'm very sorry," the substitute teacher said, "but you'll have to work on something else."

My daughter leaned over to her friend and said, "You know how they call Dumbo Dumbo because his ears are big? Well, maybe we should call this teacher Dumb-Butt."

Of course this was overheard, and the substitute told Emma she would report this to the classroom teacher. (Emma has never been in the slightest trouble before, and so far, no calls from the classroom teacher)

After school, I listened, and her brothers listened, too.

I responded first by saying "I don't get why you couldn't work on the fantasy story. Did it say that specifically? Emma can't work on her walnut fairy story?"

"It didn't."

"I don't think it's up to the substitute to determine what genre you can work in at all. That's ridiculous. She's not an editor."

Christopher looked at me. "It's like the only part you heard was about her writing. You can't say anything about someone's butt. She's the teacher."

Philip, who is no stranger to school trouble, said, "If that was me, they would have sent me to the office for the rest of the day. Lucky you got away with it."

"But, Philip, she should be able to choose her genre."

Christopher rolled his eyes. "Mom, this isn't about the genre. It's about listening to the teacher."

Emma, looking a little better, said, "I feel like just because they're taller than us they can tell us what to do all the time. They don't have to be right, they just have to be taller."

"I just really disagree with her picking what you should write..."

"Mom! It's not about her writing," Christopher said.

It wasn't?

Christopher looked at his sister. "You can't say stuff like that in school."

"I know, but I was mad. And her butt was gigantic. It plopped over the chair seat."

"It doesn't matter," her oldest brother continued, "you can think it, but you can't say it. You'll get in trouble. Only not with mom. She just wants you to finish your story so she can read it and send a copy to Grandma."

I opened my mouth to protest.

Only he was right.

I missed the parenting book that offered advice on what to do when the kids point out your mistakes.


Katie said...

Oh Lordy, you have done it again (cracked me up, that is). and I must say I am with YOU! I was thinking, "yeah, what's this no fantasy stuff? a fairy walnut sounds downright adorable to me."

I thought the big butt comment was actually well deserved.

But Anne, do you tell your kids, "Hold on! I have to get all of this down!!!" because I just LOVE reading y'alls dialogue.

And that Philip is a trip!

adrienne said...

LOL! I thought the same thing - why can't she finish her fairy story?
Love the pediatrician's comment.

Mary Witzl said...

All of your parenting stories are just wonderful!

I love that pediatrician's comment too. And I was just the sort of first-time mother you were: I had a sterilizer and used it relentlessly. When the second kid came along, I rinsed stuff off with hot water. If I'd had a third, I'd probably have picked stuff up off the ground and blown the germs off, and for the fourth, I'd have applied the five-second rule...

I'm with you on the fairy story too, though I also agree with Christopher. And I can't help being peeved with the substitute: it's tough enough to get kids interested in writing, for pity's sake.

Anne Spollen said...

Ha, Katie, yeah, Philip is a trip - among other things. He's one of those kids who's very lovable and very good at apologies.

And I only remember the dialogues I think about later on. They're the ones that stay with me. Then I forget to pick up the dry cleaning...

That pediatrician, Adrienne - I was so happy he was retiring after he said that to me. Now I wish I had gotten to know him. He was a very wise man.

LOL, Mary. I boiled EVERYTHING with Christopher. I wouldn't let anyone who had coughed while at my house hold him. (Hormones come in handy - that's what people blamed my nuttiness on) I wouldn't go to the mall or even the post office. Good Lord.

And you guys are all such WRITERS. Emma is really interested in writing, but I was so blindsided by the lack of reasoning, it didn't occur to me to maybe remind Emma, in the tiniest way, that you can't talk about rumps belonging to adults - at least while they're still in the room. I also know my dd, and I know she said it at the perfect volume so all her classmates heard. If Christopher hadn't been there, I don't think I would have heard anything but about her story.

TerriRainer said...

I have to admit I would have done the exact same thing. Hopefully my older kids would have corrected the younger one too (my 8 year old is my writer).

As for parenting mistakes, we constantly tell our kids, "We don't get a damn parenting manual, so we're going to make mistakes. Just shut up and do what we say whether you think we are right or wrong."

:) Terri

Sara said...

Oh that is too funny! I love how you were all about the writing and blind to the big butt comment!

Cool blog by the way. For some reason I only just saw that you left a real friendly comment on my blog back in January, I never replied, which must have seemed rude, but I truly didn't read it until today.

Good to read you.


Anne Spollen said...

In fairness, she brought her writing folder home last night, and they ARE studying non fiction writing, at least in the reading section. I'm sure the teacher is correlating the reading with their writing. Maybe the sub could have phrased things a little more clearly, but I do see the point.

And Terri, my kids love when I goof up. My mistakes last for months, and there's evaporate, water on a desert rock. Mine have the staying power of cathedrals...

Hi, Sara! I'm a blog cruiser, so I'm sure I did stop by. Welcome here!