I am constantly coming to certain realizations about the small, everyday batshit crazy experiences that make up the essence of being a parent. A mother, specifically. Being a mother, to me, means doing all sorts of things that just don’t make sense. It is a game of contradictions in which the very things that are frustrating and exhausting are often the most rewarding and the easy way out often results in feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Common sense is often the corner stone of good parenting, but it rarely ever seems to actually make sense.
For example, yesterday I made the incredibly smart decision to take my children, both under the age of three (2 1/2 and 2 months, specifically) on a road trip to Oklahoma and back. Now, just so you know that I’m not actually insane, it was a very necessary trip that I don’t regret making. My seven year old sister Jocelyn got to stay at my house and spend two weeks with me and the kids and our older sister Liz and, since I only see Jocelyn once a year, it was totally worth it. The trip to Oklahoma was meant to help our dad by meeting him roughly halfway between Houston (where I live) and Kansas City, Missouri (where he lives).
If it meant I’d get to spend time with Jocelyn, I’d definitely do it again. She’s an amazing kid. My kids are amazing kids. All of us in a car from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m… not so amazing. I can’t lie, though. The trip went a lot smoother than it could’ve. There was no hitting or extended bouts of fussiness. Considering the infant and the toddler in the car, things could’ve been a lot more hectic. The biggest hiccup was when Ellie spilled 3/4 of a bottle of water all over herself, her car seat, and the floorboard beneath her. Aside from that, it was as easy a ride as you could have when facing 13 hours of driving.
The crazy lesson that I learned was that the easy way isn’t always the best way when it comes to dealing with my children. A lot of people talk about finding the convenient way to tackle the everyday tasks of parenting and, believe me, I am a believer in the thirty minute meal and yes, I let Ellie watch TV for an hour while I sweep and mop or cook dinner. I am not a perfect parent, nor am I a Stepford Wife (though, I do have my Stepford tendencies). On the road, though, the convenient options are just garbage, particularly when it comes to eating. It was bad enough that she spent a couple of hours altogether in front of a screen because at a certain point in the return trip, educational games on the iPad was the only thing that could prevent a marathon of crying and kicking the back of the driver’s seat. Just to add insult to injury, we had to eat whatever food we could get from a drive thru along the way. (Even when we stopped at our destination in Oklahoma and ate as a family, the only decent restaurant in that area was Chili’s. I. HATE. CHILI’S.)
I tried to plan ahead a little bit by buying juice boxes and a six pack of bottled water so we wouldn’t give into the temptation of soda, but I didn’t do very well in the snacks department. We got breakfast sandwiches from Sonic when we first set out and they actually weren’t too bad. Mine was just bacon on bread (because I don’t eat eggs) and Ellie and Jocelyn split an egg and sausage breakfast burrito. We skipped the drinks and only got one order of tater tots to split between the two girls, Liz, and myself. It definitely turned out better than the donuts I originally planned to get.
We drove straight through lunch, snacking on Funyuns and our hopes that the road would lull the girls to sleep for a little nap. It didn’t. Then we got to Durant, Oklahoma, where we met my dad at Chili’s and ate. Ellie had two ears of corn on the cob and a big plate of broccoli. I had a salad and a side of mac and cheese. It was the least spectacular meal we’ve ever eaten, but at least it wasn’t fries and nuggets.
After such a light lunch, we found ourselves hungry again around 9 p.m., of course. Luckily, there was a Buc Ee’s outside of Huntsville where we’d stopped on our way out of Houston. (If you aren’t familiar with Buc Ee’s, I’m sorry. They are easily the best place to stop and gas up, use the restroom, and buy snacks and souvenirs in the state of Texas.) We stopped and everyone used the restroom, including Grayson. The deli turned out to be a godsend because when Ellie asked for Cheetos as a snack, I obliged but didn’t realize how hungry she was until Liz and I decided to split a chicken Caesar wrap on an herb tortilla. I gave Ellie a piece of the chicken (impressively, white meat and fresh) and then another and then she was asking for more. I ended up marching back into Buc Ee’s and ordering another wrap, but I paid the $1.50 for double meat, which I had them put on the side. I felt much better about her having chicken and Cheetos for dinner, rather than snacking her way to a full stomach.
The impromptu dinner, however, made me feel extremely guilty and it got me thinking about how most of the convenient options for food and entertainment these days lead me straight to guilt every time. As I handed Ellie my iPad to keep her occupied, I was hit with another pang of guilt. Should I feel that way though? The game was educational and interactive. Every time she sees the letter A and says “Mommy, A is for alligator” or something similar, it’s certainly partially due to the educational games she plays on my iPad. Still, something about the glow of the screen reflected on her face makes me feel bad about myself as a mother. It’s like the words “lazy, irresponsible mom” were projected on her forehead. Am I the only one who feels guilty about indulging in modern conveniences?
On the opposite end of the spectrum are all of the things I do as a mother that are definitely not convenient. Every time I swap a load of cloth diapers from the washer to the dryer, I am reminded of the extra effort I am putting into my motherly duties and, most of the time, the extra fulfillment I feel in doing it. Yes, cloth diapers require more work than opening a box of disposables, slapping one on his butt, and tossing it in the trash after he soils it but the comfort I take in knowing that my son’s bottom isn’t resting on chemical-soaked plastic makes it totally worth it. The same goes for every meal I make that involves more than ten or fifteen minutes of prep work and thirty minutes of cooking. Yes, spending an hour and a half making a meal is definitely work, but the end result is a meal that is almost always better than the quick ones I whip up when I’m in a hurry.
It’s not surprising to me that I feel better about the decisions I make when I avoid options that offer convenience at the expense of substance, but it does surprise me a bit how much guilt I am racked with when I take advantage of those options. More and more, I find myself purposely choosing the more cumbersome road when deciding what to do with my children. It’s more work, but more rewarding. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Parenting is the ultimate thankless job, and yet the most rewarding thing I think I’ll ever do in my entire life. I figure I might as well make the most of it.