Monday, November 29, 2010

Birth Order

Where have I been, you ask. Let me assure you that I am alive (barely) and still pregnant (extremely). I have used all my spare time and mental energy the last few weeks on full-time language training. I'm sure it will take exactly 48 hours of post-partum sleep deprivation to forget everything I have learned not only in the last month but in my lifetime. By Christmas I'll probably be calling Africa a country. Her 5 kids are no doubt the source of Sarah Palin's own ignorance on the subject, and every other subject for that matter. They are also the reason I can't vote for her in 2012--any woman who has that many kids clearly lacks the sanity to have access to nuclear weaponry. But I digress.

I have a theory that becoming a parent is particularly hard on last born children. Sure, youngest kids are just hysterical amounts of fun, which logic would suggest aids good parenting. But one of the reasons they are hysterical amounts of fun is because they grew up having other people take care of all of the logistics in their life and were responsible for very little. It's a very relaxing lifestyle. When my parents weren't around or couldn't be bothered, my sister took care of everything for me. For instance, she got me settled in college, which included taking me to Wal Mart and telling me exactly what I needed and what I should buy. That is something I would never do. If I were responsible for getting someone settled in college, I would give them directions to Wal Mart. Maybe. Then I would take a nap. People are adults and can buy their own comforters and plastic storage shelves without my assistance.

But what happens when people are NOT adults? And what happens when the only "adults" around are BOTH youngest children? Well, then you have a problem. Not necessarily for the kids--Kevin and I were after all raised in good families and can be responsible when pressed. It's not like our kids are out there robbing banks. Yet. But being responsible for others is definitely not my preferred way of operating. When I am given responsibility over others, I either go the most lax route possible to ensure as little work as possible--thus the reason Charlotte will not go to Disney World until she is old enough to drive me there--or I overcompensate and become a German prison matron, as I do when it comes to Charlotte's sleep schedule, although this is primarily motivated by my own comfort more than anything else. But in general, the responsibility of parenting requires an incredible amount of logistics and planning that youngest kids find boring and exhausting. You have to make sure they have the right size and season clothes at any given time, that there is more than just peanut butter in the house to eat (you may even have to--gasp--plan meals and make grocery lists, one of my most hated activities), that they have something to do, which often involves leaving the house, which then requires more forethought and preparation than the D-Day invasion. Kevin and I had a hard enough time leaving the house when we didn't have any kids. Mostly we sat around and had conversations that went like this: What do you want to do today? I don't know, what do you want to do? I don't know. We could go to a movie. Which movie? I don't know. Hmmm. Wow, look it's already time for bed. Now, of course, when it's too late for us, I can think of lots of things we could have done with our childless time. I was 8 months pregnant with Charlotte when we discovered we had a mutual desire to play tennis. Now if we want to play tennis, which we rarely do, who has the energy, it involves more preparatory steps than a Martha Stewart craft project. Maybe when we retire.

Most of the Classic Moms that I know are oldest children, or at least middle children. Take my friend Kenna. First I have to say that despite her claims to the contrary, this woman is a Classic Mom, for which her lucky kids and husband should be thankful. Kenna has a 2 year old and a 1 year old, they are 18 months apart. If I had found out when Charlotte was 9 months old that I would be having another one, I would have called my mother-in-law crying and begged her to raise one of them for me (because she is that nice of a person). Kenna was unfazed and remains so from what I can tell. Between diaper changes and breastfeeding (which of course she loves to do), she frequently bakes cookies and repaints entire bedroom suites singlehandedly in her spare time. According to our mutual friend Christina, when Kenna went into labor with her second child, she finished a craft project, probably even a Martha Stewart craft project, and made lunch before mentioning to Christina or anyone else that she was having contractions. Kenna is such a competent mother, her husband seems to think motherhood is easy, as evidenced by his insinuation that I complain too much (I don't know where he would acquire such a ridiculous idea, certainly not from this blog. As if!) Kenna is, of course, an oldest child. Oldest children ENJOY taking care of people and managing the logistics of life for the happiness of others. This is the key to being a happy, Classic Mom. I on the other hand think other people, including small children, should manage their own stuff and leave me alone. And I'll bake cookies only when I want to binge on something and we are out of Readiwhip.

Our youngest-child-as-parent situation is not improved by the fact that we are currently raising a first born. When we decided to have kids, this was an inevitability. I don't know how you avoid having an oldest child (maybe with twins? or are they both oldest children?) In any case, we are completely out-bossed by her. She is particularly draconian about our "nap time." She lays out pillows and blankets and demands that we lay down on the floor. She covers our heads with blankets, and God help us if we try to lift the blanket a little for some air. She then pats us on our backs and whispers insistently in our ears, "Close your eyes!" I'm not going to lie to you, it's more than a little Stephen King-ish. She is also very demanding of our attention, probably because she is accustomed to getting it. The other day she stood in her room and wailed for 10 minutes because I had the nerve to walk into the living room instead of sitting in the chair in her room as ordered. Kevin, the sucker, finally went in and got her (I ultimately blame him for all her bad behavior). I fear Baby Brother's arrival is going to be something akin to the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis open the Ark and the fury of the Lord melts everyone's skin off. Studies have shown that oldest kids get more of their parents' attention not only before their siblings are born but throughout their lifetimes. I believe it. Parents are afraid to have their skin melted off for one thing. That, and old habits die hard. I already have it in my mind that Baby Brother is just going to have to adapt to whatever we have going here, such that it is, because I don't really have the energy to accommodate another little dictator.

Basically, I'm hoping that given a few more years, Charlotte will just take over completely and put me out of a job. We'll probably be eating a lot of chicken nuggets, but if I don't have to cook them, who cares?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A season for Thanksgiving

I am in a really REALLY foul mood. We went to the mother of all malls this morning, with Charlotte, so I could go to the maternity store and buy a few more tents to wear, having grown out of almost everything I already own, and Kevin could watch Charlotte play on the indoor playground. I should have known better--this particular indoor playground is probably one of the most dangerous places in America (I won't say in the world, since that includes several war zones). On a given day, it is virtually crawling with children, many of them far too old to be playing on this playground, and all of them raised by wolves. The older kids are invariably jumping off the top of the adorable foam elephants and birdsnests and things, landing on the toddlers for whom the playground was designed and giving them concussions. The toddlers who remain conscious, meanwhile, are zipping around, up, and down, trampling over anyone in their path, including any parents who may be futilely trying to save their child's life. So I don't know what I was thinking. Sometimes it's like I subconsciously set myself up for a nervous breakdown because I just can't allow myself to be sane. I think that's why I had children in the first place. Either that or I am just insane to begin with, which going by Ockham's Razor is the correct explanation because it is the simplest one. In my defense, it is a very nice day, so I thought maybe most parents, or at least those who are not the size of a Buick and can walk across a playground without a cane, would have taken their children outdoors to play, with the wild animals where they belong. But apparently not. It was INSANE. And Poor Charlotte. She wanted to play on the playground so badly but really lacks the aggression to do so successfully. She has the distinct disadvantage of being raised by enlightened humans. She would near the steps of the slide and get overwhelmed by all the little demons swirling around her. At one point, she looked at me pathetically and said, "They aren't waiting their turn!" while I tried to give her a crash course on what you do when you are the only moral, civilized person anywhere in the tri-state area and risk being destroyed if you don't bring yourself down to the level of the unwashed masses to a degree, never forgetting that you are in fact better than that and retaining the ability to revert to superior living when once again in kinder circumstances (kind of like driving on the Beltway. Or worse, in Africa). Then I just fled the scene and left Kevin to figure it out. She must have gotten it OK because she was still alive when I got back from the maternity store.

Ah, the maternity store. There's a depressing place at 8 months pregnant. This is where you go in desperation when you either can't fit in or despise every last item in your closet, when you have somehow managed to outgrow even your socks, when you are reduced to wearing your wedding rings on a necklace (as if you would be beating back the interested men without them), when watching college football has the added intrigue of seeing how many players you now outweigh (in my case, pretty much all but the offensive line). You go the maternity store with the deluded notion that you will find something in which you will resemble a human being. You try on everything in the store and are left with the choice of either spending good money on items you will only wear for 5 weeks and which basically cover your body and perform no other redeeming function or to leave with some underwear and the mirage of dignity, dignity which you in fact shed months ago, somewhere in between wearing sweatpants to church and pulling a groin muscle while turning over in bed. I did the latter, although I did cave and buy the overalls I have been threatening to buy, the overalls that will pretty much finish off what is left of our "marital" relationship. The saleslady perkily assured me I could paint my house in them after I am no longer pregnant. Thanks, once I recover my abdominal muscles and my will to live, I'll definitely be painting my house in those overalls.

In any case, I arrived back home in a foul mood and very depressed at the next 5 weeks, but really at the next 5 years, to be honest with you. Sometimes I think I live too much in the moment. In one of my favorite movies, Out of Africa, Dennys tells Karen that if you imprison a Maasai he will die because Massai live in the now and can't conceive of one day being free. While I think Dennys is full of paternalistic colonial crap about the Maasai, I think he is describing me quite well, because I really suck at looking forward, at enduring misery to reach a goal down the road. I tend to wallow in the putrid muck of the present, like an elephant, a particularly apt metaphor at this point since I am the size of one. But this is really ridiculous, as I know I will be returned to human form (still an obese human form, but nonetheless) in another month or so, and I know, rationally, that if I can just make it through the next year, the worst will truly be behind me. And besides that, my life overall is really blessed and, God willing, in 20 years, I will have adult children who come to see me on my ranch in Montana at Christmas, if not out of affection, out of the hope they will inherit the millions I have earned from my career as a writer, and who hopefully know me well enough not to expect me to do for them and their kids all the stuff my mother and mother-in-law are currently doing for me.

So there's lots to look forward to and be thankful for, in this month of Thanksgiving. Even just here and now, there are things for which to be grateful. For instance, I'm thankful my mother and mother-in-law are indeed better people than me and are willing to help me out. I'm thankful I don't outweigh the Sooners' offensive line, because if I did, watching them would truly be unbearable, given how they have been playing. I'm thankful I probably won't outweigh them, given that severe acid reflux is putting an end to my late night binge eating. I'm thankful I'm not a Maasai and don't have to wash my kids in cow pee, not to mention breast feed in a culture without brassieres. I'm thankful that I am enlightened enough to use formula if it comes to that, as it inevitably will, so I can merely be post-partumly depressed instead of suicidal. I'm thankful for my Weight Watchers membership, which shines like a beacon of hope for the future every time I get on a scale. I'm thankful I have no weddings or big events or even many reasons to leave my home over the next several months that would require me to get dressed and/or photographed. I'm thankful men are so oblivious and therefore can't tell how much I hate them all right now. I"m thankful that my husband is clearly too busy and consumed by his work to have an affair so that I can wear those overalls after all.

It's the little things.