Sunday, January 04, 2009

What's missing from every parenting book

When we were at the only Christmas party that we went to this year, a friend gave back a stack of parenting and childcare books that we had loaned her. It was nice to have them back for reference, although we haven't looked at them since.

This points out one of the great failures of parenting books--all of them lack the ability to be read while sleeping. I swear, if I could read those books in the few spare hours I have every day, I would. The only problem is that I have a previous commitment to my pillow during those hours.

A few other fatal gaps in parenting books came to mind as I was thinking about this:

The unlikeliness principle.
While it is likely that 3B will get a sore throat, ear infection, or appendicitis, all of which the books cover thoroughly, it is even more likely that I will stay up too late, get up too early, and have one or all of the following symptoms of persistent sleep deprivation: headache, eyeballache, kneeache, backache, and that thing in my neck--nerve? muscle? tendon? bone spur? arthritis? water on the neck?--ache. And yet, I will somehow have to work through those symptoms and wake up, stand up, walk around, feed myself and amuse a toddler. Advice on how to do this was left out of all of those brilliant parenting books.

The typhoid parent principle.
As soon as you have a child, know that you will be sick for at least the next two years. After 3B turns three, I'll let you know if the sickness lasts for three years, however preliminary reports indicate that it lasts until at least two years, five months and fifteen days. Often, it is low-grade, nagging sniffle or cough that is not debilitating, but that will slowly suck the life out of you. Sometimes, however, it flares up into something like a tear-my-eyeballs-out-they're-on-fire! fire! fire! virus or a why-buy-an-Abdominizer-when-I-could-just-cough-1,200-times-a-minute upper respiratory tract infection, but this will only happen when you are encased in a vehicle for over eight hours with your child. This will most likely happen while you are the driver, but it might also strike while you are on one of those flights that's so overbooked, you have to fly all the way to Cleveland with another passenger on your lap. Again, total silence from parenting books on this.

The daily tornado.
I grew up in earthquake country, so I instinctively close cupboard doors, refuse to place items atop bookshelves, and only purchase furniture that can support five tons of rubble just in case I need to dive under it when the big one hits. However, none of those instincts could prepare me for the daily tornado caused by a toddler. First, there's the sound. Some people say a tornado sounds like a freight train, but I say it sounds more like a shrill scream followed by an earsplitting chant of "No! No! No! I don't wanna!" Then there's tornado itself, upon you in an instant, tearing apart and tossing aside all the contents of your house in a dizzying flurry. Finally, there's the debris cleanup, which is endless. I swear that one day the remains of the day stretched from under our living room couch all the way to the Oklahoma panhandle. And while parenting books have plenty of opinions about what toys and activities are best for your child, none of them mention that daily tornado that results from those toys and activities.

The collapse of the time/space continuum.
There are two parts to this. The first, time, is covered by what I call Fred's Axiom, because Fred is the dad who laid it out for me: When you have a child, everything you do takes twice as long. (Corollary: When you have two children, everything takes two-and-a-half times as long. --Yeah, those second kids always get shorted.) As for the space portion, I had written down a witty, pithy formula for how much less space you'll have in your house when you have a child, but I can't seem to locate it. I think it's under one of these stacks of papers over here...but it gets down to this: your child's possessions are like The Borg. Resistance is futile and you will be assimilated. And although I've searched the parenting books for advice on how to get rid of this cybernetic arm and ocular implant, I've come up with nothing.

The laundry paradox.
When you have a child you will always be doing laundry, and yet never have any clean clothes or linens. I believe that parenting books gave up trying to explain this in favor of working on superstring theories, which have much greater promise for resolution.

These are the only ones that I could come up with between bouts of coughing and cleaning, so please, if you've noticed any other topics that those parenting books lack, add them here.

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  1. The Tornado thing lasts well into the 20s. My policy is keep it in your own room and I am fine. Of course when you move out, it is always best to leave plenty of misc. garbage and toys and things in your room so no one else can use it. Even after you have moved out a second time.

    Laundry, laundry, laundry, all day, and still it seems like you are making no progress at all. It only gets worse as the child(ren) grow and they need larger clothes. Sorting also becomes a challenge when socks are the same size between you and your child. They end up with all the socks.

    Food would be the part you are missing. Somehow, even though you just walked in from the grocery store, or Costco (where food shopping is done in bulk quantities) there is nothing to eat in the house. When my oldest was in middle school, I would usually eat a late lunch, around 2 in the afternoon. If I made too big a lunch for myself, I would leave it on the kitchen counter and on his way in the door, he would pick it up eat it and all that was left was the plate. I should consider myself lucky he left the plate.

    I hope you have some time to read this. I tend to be wordy.

  2. I missed food? That's not unusual, I suppose since, as you point out, food is always going missing around here. I'll add it to the list and write a book about all of this.

  3. Agreed on the food issue:
    what he liked at a year old, he'll no longer touch at age 3.
    what he liked yesterday, will no longer due today.
    what he eats at the neighbor's house is okay in that setting, but suddenly offer the boy raisins here at the house, and they're "yucky" while he spits on the floor for exclamation.

    Oh...and could your parenting book touch on the subjects of sharing & potty training? although the ones already published may cover these areas---they haven't worked for us yet. So, I'm just lookin' for that ONE---you know---the one that works.

  4. --------you don't put things on top of bookshelves?
    do you put books on the shelves?

  5. L-P: Yes--what you said about food. There's no room for books on our shelves, they're too full of laundry.

  6. The food thing should also include how you can feed a child a 7 course meal and when they go to the neighbor's house, they are starving and need to eat... this happens at any age, not just the teenage years.

    The comforting words of potty training, spoken by someone with older kids and who can't remember the hours it takes to potty train completely are: Your kids will not go to college in diapers. I know, little help now, but I do what I can do.

    Sharing happens when they are teenagers: If you have something they want, suddenly 'Sharing is Caring' and I have to share. They also point out that their mother taught them to share.

    Of course Laundry is on the shelves, because books belong on the floor... DUH!!!

  7. I think you already have added them up.

    Have a great days,

    Toddler Books

  8. Anonymous10:58 PM

    I never realized how much laundry we do in this family until we moved and had to start using coin-op laundry facilities. Now it's $2 a load, and I can tell you it's mind-boggling.

    And the food, THE FOOD! The kids have been "so hungry" these days, so we're feeding them more, of course. A dozen eggs will not suffice for two days of breakfast for our family any more. And don't get me started on bread.

    I would concur on the "2 kids = 2 1/2 times as long" thing, except in the case of putting on snow clothes to play outside. Then it's "2 kids = 57 times as long", double if they have to put on snow pants and gloves.

  9. Anonymous10:59 PM

    Oh, and the only upside to the toy tornado is that once they're a little older, you can make them clean it up themselves!

  10. KMoo: Have you been spying on us? Otherwise, how did you know all the books were on the floor?

    Amama: One of the major miracles in my life that I celebrate daily is the washer and dryer set that Grammy gave us before 3B was born. No matter that it required ripping out our kitchen to install the plumbing for it. It was worth every dime. (And really, we were having the kitchen redone anyway, because what better during a pregnancy than demolition and construction?)

  11. You are still related to me... the books are on the floor!! Talk to my kids about that. I keep trying to convince them otherwise. It is in the blood.

  12. HI! I surfed in from somewhere and I'm so glad the wave brought me! I haven't laughed this much in days.

    One other thing you might mention in that book is some 3- to 7-yO's obsession with having to go into EVERY PUBLIC RESTROOM! Every. Single. Time! Every store you walk into in the mall; every eating establishment; every gas station... ARRRGGH!! Just had to deal with that with one of my nephews here while back. My boys are all grown up so I'd forgotten how much of a pain it is.

    Loved this post. It's nice to see a dad who GETS it!

    Damama's at it Again!

  13. Has she been talking to my mother? She once said it was not just the need to see the restroom, but the timing. When she reached the checkout with two full shopping carts of groceries, and was next in line, then I would have an urgent need, which seemed to evaporate when we reached the little room, with all my siblings in tow.

  14. CAGirl: He has perfect timing like that. When that comes into play in a supermarket check out line, I'll know who to call to thank them for that genetic gift.