Are You KIDDING Me With This???

Monday, July 17, 2006

Shouldn't There Be Some Licensing Requirements For This Or Something?

I don't profess to be the world's greatest mother. Not even close. I love Turtle and I think I do pretty well at providing the basics: love, discipline, consistency, guidance, support, food (and lots of it....this kid can EAT!), that kind of thing. But when Mama Jo or McMama, after spending time with my little boy, tell me what a great mom I am, I demur. I'm far from perfect. And Turtle probably watches entirely too much Playhouse Disney. And we don't spend enough time outdoors (although I blame that primarily on the fact that it's 115 degrees in the summer.) And he has at least one temper tantrum a day. I'm certainly not up for any awards.

Of course, my self-perception changes a bit when I'm face to face with a mother who is struggling to provide even the basics.

Oscar's step-brother, as I mentioned, showed up with his new girlfriend and her three kids mid-way through my vacation. They had to drive 24 hours straight to get to New York. And since they barely had the money to make the trip, they didn't have much money left over for incidentals. Such as toys. Or food. Or lodging, apparently, as they ended up staying in a tent on his mother's property. That being the case, we saw quite a bit of them.

I actually thought I would like the girlfriend (whom we will call Joan for the purposes of this exercise.) Despite the fact that I thought it pretty odd that a woman who had only been dating a man for three weeks would then move herself and her three kids into his home, and then take an exceedingly long road trip with those kids to visit that man's parents, I was prepared to enjoy the unique solidarity of having a fellow mom, my own age, in the house. I thought it might be fun to bond over toilet-training techniques and the like. I was completely prepared to enjoy her company. Unfortunately, that feeling only lasted about an hour.

It didn't take long to discover that our parenting styles were polar opposites. That is to say, I actually had a parenting style, and she, regrettably, did not. Joan wasn't often bothered by the fact that her kids were running wild in a house that wasn't their own. That probably has something to do with the fact that she was most often found on the back deck, smoking her cigarette and drinking her beer, blissfully ignoring the fact that she actually HAD kids. When she could be bothered to notice that a) she had kids, b) her kids were, in fact, running wild, and c) they probably needed some discipline, her solution was to yell at them and then head back out to the deck, thereby providing zero follow-up. So her admonitions only lasted as long as she was in the room, watching them.

It's not like this is the first time I have come across this kind of hands, ears and eyes-off parenting approach. I do spend a lot of time at the play areas at the mall with Turtle, after all. But in those cases, at least, I could feel a tug of sympathy for the kids, but then go home with my own and not have to worry about it again. In the case of Joan, I was an authority figure in the house in which her kids were running rampant. Not to mention the fact that I was the parent of the little boy who was chasing these little girls around. And I DO pay attention to what my child is doing. So, by default, more often than not, I (and McMama and McPapa and Oscar's sisters) ended up parenting her kids. And that really chapped my lily-white ass.

Not just because it wasn't fair to me, but because it wasn't fair to Joan's kids. They barely knew me, but all of a sudden I was in a position to order them around, mediate their fights and keep them in line? Joan had known me less than an hour before she decided that it was just fine, since I was watching my kid anyway, if I watched hers, too. I'm not saying that first impressions aren't important, but I am saying that in the case of Turtle, I expect a hell of a lot more face time with someone before I decide they can be trusted with my little boy. For all Joan knew, I was way too strict and would have made her kids stand in the corner for hours on end for even the most minute of offenses. Or worse, I could have been too lax, and let them play in traffic without batting an eye. The point is, she didn't know me, or even McMama and McPapa, well enough to blithely turn her back on her kids. Which is exactly what she did.

To be fair, things could be completely different when they're back on their home turf. Vacations do tend to mess with a family's routines, after all. I will be the first one to admit that. But honestly? I don't think that was the case here. The behavior of those kids indicated to me that they had been attention-deprived for much longer than that one week. And at the heart of it, that's what upset me the most. These kids were suffering because their mom wouldn't muster up enough parenting know-how to attend to their basic needs. They weren't bad kids. They just had a bad mom. Which just makes me wonder: why even have children if you're not going to love them, nurture them, and pay attention to them? Get a goldfish and call it a day. The rest of the world will thank you for it, trust me.


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