Friday, February 7, 2014

Theory 31: Mama’s behavior determines how well other folks like her baby.

How many of you have offended a new mother? How many of you have been offended by a new mother? How many of you offended others when you were a new mother? Please know I do not consider myself a behavioral expert in any way. I doubt my parenting skills almost daily. Sleep? Ha! Every man for himself! A balanced, organic, diet with perfect servings of fruits and vegetables for two growing boys? Let’s just say that over a week’s time, everyone has had some fruit. I make all kinds of mistakes, but one thing I try hard to get right is helping Sharky and Gnome build their own relationships with friends and family.
Readers, I’m assuming you are alone right now in your office, classroom, car, or living room. We can be honest here on Theories: Size 12, right? I want you to relax, close your eyes, and think of a child whom you should be close to and enjoy, but you just don’t like him/her like you should or like you expected to. Upsetting, isn’t it? Weird, huh? Now, concentrate on the child. See the child holding an adult hand and follow that hand up an arm, over a shoulder, up a neck. Do you see a face? Whose face do you see? The mother? Yep. It’s not the child’s fault you find him untouchable, odd, or annoying. It’s hers.
I figure I’ll get some hate mail on this post. As always, I dug around among my sources (friends) for blog fodder, but I’m not naming names or assigning blame! Oh well, I’ll take one for the team because all you mamas who committed the offenses I’m about to illustrate in Theory 31 choked at the buzzer! You were pregnant, a new mother, raising a toddler, rearing a young child and you missed something important. You failed to set your child up for social acceptance among your adult friends and family, which really stinks for your adult friends and family because they truly love your child and desire a one-on-one relationship with him/her. For those of you who are pregnant, take heed. Avoid what my aunt Terrific calls “bad baby etiquette.”

My uncle Gravy’s father said something long ago that made so much dang sense. He said, “Other people have to like your child, too.” So, how does a new mother accomplish this task? Why, by her own behavior, of course. She can’t always control her baby/toddler/child, but she absolutely can control herself. Let’s examine Theory 31: Mama’s behavior determines how well other folks like her baby, in three phases.

Phase 1: Pregnancy – Start thinking in the stirrups.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
—Matthew 23:12 (NIV)

Check yourself, pregnant girl. Others’ attitudes toward your child start in gestational week one. When you see two pink lines, don’t text the news to close relatives and buddies. Anyone who is going to love the child merits a phone conversation, or better, a celebratory lunch!

Don’t be high maintenance. You can certainly sit in the backseat, unless maybe you are having triplets.

Whining is unattractive. You are eating guilt free. Live it up! Be happy and hit a drive-thru every day! When a certain hen in my crowd was expecting her first chick, she clucked relentlessly. Tall Child compared, “You know, Bug, when you were pregnant with Sharky, you didn’t act like that. It was like you were never even pregnant.” I took that as a compliment. I guess his forty pound weight gain kept him from noticing my fifty-five pound weight gain and twelve-hour naps. I suppose I was more hog than hen. 

When folks ask you about your due date, the sex, the nursery, be sweet. They are simply taking an interest or don’t even care and are just being polite. Don’t be all secretive and snooty. Exercise patience by listening intently to other mamas’ labor stories. They are trying to bond with you in the motherhood club and start a relationship with the baby. Visualize a friend talking to your child four years later, “I remember when your mama was pregnant. We were all so excited.” Trust me; you’ll be just as repetitive and annoying someday.

Refrain from rubbing and scratching your belly. Gross. I itch, too, but I don’t scratch it/them in public.

Let baby shower hostesses decide how many invitations hit the post office. Don’t pressure friends to go broke by inviting people you haven’t seen in years. When a kind soul throws you a baby shower, remember your goal is to collect booties, not loot. That is rude, you come across as a Prima donna, and people may dread what drama and elitism you will birth along with your baby.  Pregnancy may fatten your rear, but it does not by default fatten your friends’ wallets. Be thoughtful with your gift registry; mix up the items by price. Build respect for your growing family by showing respect to those who will love the baby and can’t afford a movie star stroller. I recently heard of a girl who actually has a “stroller fund” because she registered for a $900 dollar carriage. Really? The junior high teachers would have to throw an 8th grade dance to come up with that kind of money!

Remember, you set the tone for the party. No one is really dying to watch you open gifts—until you open the gift she brought. Move quickly, speak up, laugh, smile, pass the sweet pink and blue fluffy loveys (what are those, anyway?) around. Demonstrate appreciation to faithful attendees who wreck their low-carb diets on iced petit fours smack dab in the middle of their day off.

Use your manners, girls. In the South we have legendarily explicit instructions for thank you notes. The important thing is to write them. Please. If you don’t take the time to thank someone who chipped fifty dollars into the stroller fund, how do you think she’ll feel about you and, consequently, your innocent baby? It just ain’t fittin’.

Be gracious to those who come to the hospital, especially older relatives who wait all day, eating Bugles and sipping Coke as they stiffly sit on mauve pleather.  Everyone who waits at the hospital should get to see the baby after it’s born. That same day/night. Tell that mean nurse trying to force you to breastfeed to chill for a second so everyone can meet the baby they’ve mentally labored and prayed for for nine months and twelve hours.

Phase 2: Infancy

The thing that impresses me most about America
is the way parents obey their children.
—Edward VIII

If you say “Shhhhhhhh” to a grown-up, Shhhhhhhhame on you! Children should cater to adults, not the other way around. If, for some insane reason, you must bring a baby to a tailgate, don’t ask any adults to curb their behavior. Go Vols!

If you are worried about cooties, stay home. People relate to and start loving your child when they are allowed to relate to and love your child. I took an eight-day-old Gnome to one of Sharky's baseball games. Sharky and his eight-year-old teammates begged to hold baby Gnome. I asked the boys to sit cross-legged on the ground. They actually got in a line to wait for their turns! Each boy held Gnome and, to this day, each boy loves Gnome. Groups of them will shout his name when he prances into a sporting venue. “Gnome” is to gyms and ball fields as “Norm” was to Cheers.

Gnome and his early fans. Stoller? $120

For the love of Similac, don’t be a nap Nazi. If I can sleep anywhere (band bus, football stadium, my classroom) so can a baby who mostly sleeps anyway. Babies love to be held. Friends love to hold babies!

When your buddy, your coworker, a sweet church lady or friend of your mother-in-law’s spends the time, effort, and money to cook and bring you a casserole, let her into your house. As a matter of fact, hand her the baby. Dig through the goody basket to pile up a plate full of everything she brought. Let her rock the baby and talk to you and watch you enjoy her considerate gift.  If she gave the baby an outfit, dress him in it. She’ll feel appreciated and trusted. And, she’ll feel important and connected to the child. If the baby is asleep, get the baby out of the bed so she can rock him/her.

Church: Go nursery or go home. Let that baby build blocks for Jesus!
Wedding: Go hallway or go home. Babies are the worst wedding crashers. A shrill shriek in the middle of The Lord’s Prayer? Sacrilegious!
Funeral: The last time I attempted a funeral with Gnome, he asked me to take him to the concession stand. I really think this is why SUVs have DVDs.

Phase 3: Toddlerhood into Childhood

A person's a person, no matter how small. — Dr. Seuss

I find it ironic that a woman will fall in love with a man, yet disagree with his mother’s parenting style.  That bride will vow to spend her entire life with a man who is a product of an upbringing that she thinks was done all wrong.

The grandparent-grandchild relationship is sacred. Mama, so long as granny and granddaddy are sane and safe, get out of the way! Delicious prefers the company of Gnome and Sharky without me. I can’t imagine never letting my boys spend the night with Delicious on her farm. That would be a tragedy! 

One of my favorite pictures and moments of all time: Sharky with Granddaddy

The same goes with nieces and nephews. I love my sis-in-law Dogwood Debutante, but I savor every alone moment I have with my nieces Balloon Girl and Cake. We have our own traditions, inside jokes, and tender moments. I would be sad without that trust from Dogwood Deb.
Mama, let your child get dirty. I made Sharky and Balloon Girl walk through our creek all the way from The Crippled Beagle Farm to Big Booty J’s farm. It was a hoot and one of my favorite memories with my sweet niece. If you set your child up to be untouchable, others will see her that way and may hesitate to interact with her.

Balloon Girl and Sharky wading in Kellum Creek. Guess what she stepped in in the cow field!

Mama, now and then, loosen your rules. One Halloween, a mother told me that she was going to let her daughter (a well-behaved pink princess) fill her orange pumpkin door to door, but when the princess went to bed, mama planned to throw all her candy in the trash. Say what? Boo! As soon as the mother was distracted in another conversation, I gave pitiful princess a cupcake. Oh, yes, I did. And she liked it. Oh, she liked it.
BBJ and Trout introduce Sharky to a large mouth bass.

One should not sweat in a grocery store, dressing room, or restaurant. Is a toddler tantrum tearing you down and making it tough to select the right yogurt, bra, or mixed drink? Don’t make excuses, make an exit. If I take the time to drive Gnome to the farm, I dang sure don’t want to sit next to your screaming meanie on date night with Tall Child!

My cousins actually bought a bicycle for Sharky and taught him to ride. What a great memory for them to share! My cousins and friends are also generous with pictures on social media, which I really enjoy.
If distance is an issue, send some baby swag to loving relatives and friends. I love to mail Gnome's and Sharky’s sometimes impressive, sometimes disturbing schoolwork to loved ones. The recipients gain knowledge of my boys’ development and typically get a laugh out of their academic prowess or funny mistakes.

I am a teacher and I hate to admit this, but when parents are rude to me, I have to fight not to look at the child differently. Take good care of teachers. Don’t tempt them to tag your child as obnoxious just because you are.

~  ~  ~

Now, all that being said, my personal parenting skills are suspect. The first three months of his life, infant Gnome often slept in his Owl-themed bouncy seat beside me in a full-sized bed, which was beside his perfectly suitable baby bed. Toddler Sharky spun permanent grooves in our hardwood floors with his Big Wheel stunts. For the life of me, I can’t talk now 3 ½ year-old Gnome into using the toilet. I begged, “Do you want to take your diaper off and do number two, pleeeeaaaaase?” He said, “No way, that’s disgusting.” I just laughed and powdered his precious bottom. Heck, he still drinks from bottles (it makes sneaking him 5 mL of Amoxicillin so much easier). One spring break, all Sharky’s affluent schoolmates scattered to sun, sand, or ski slopes. I felt guilty/sorry for him, so I let him “cuss for spring break.” He was seven. That was probably not the best parenting move. But, as offensive as his language was (he even exhibited road rage; he called a driver a “shut-up man”), he at least only offended me and we kept his inappropriateness private. Why? Because, it’s important to me to raise children that other people can stand, I mean, like.

I hope a grown Sharky never shouts “Out of the way, ‘shut-up man’.  I hope my boys turn out alright. If they don’t, I likely won’t notice. By the time Gnome is a legal adult, I’ll be approaching teacher retirement age (I hope) and Tall Child will be collecting Social Security (I hope). You see, I turn 40 on February 14. I’m still maturing; I have mama meltdowns over grownup stuff like polygamy through the IRS and youth sports drama. Sometimes the Tupperware flies. I admit I show my tail. But, like any well-raised girl, I act better out in public. Most folks like me okay. Good work, Delicious! And, to tell you the truth, at this age, I’m just glad I like myself. Actually, as I age, I love myself more and more, so forget the old “I’m 39.95” cliché. Check with me next week, on my birthday, to read Theory 32:  40 is the perfect age. I might even show you some leg. Hmmm.

See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn.

Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...