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Gradually Graduating: Reflections on Parenthood

Mar 30, 2019
by Mo McElroy

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What made me think that anyone would want someone sitting on the edge of the bathtub while they were on the toilet trying to poop and hearing, "You got this! I know you can do it. Don't you want a reward sticker or special Disney movie?"  Yet, somehow it worked because hundreds of eliminations later they are all potty trained adults.

This was not a singular incident and its blocked from my memory bank, but picturing it again makes me laugh out loud. You can’t make another person pee, eat, or sleep and most of the times I parented surrounding these three pillars of persuasion following the footsteps of parents from the 1300s. Gradually, one step, one response, and one sung praise at a time.

Like trying to feed spaghetti to a three-year-old one awkward bite at a time while it misses the bib, infiltrates her chin wrinkles, then she suddenly grabs the bowl and dumps it on her head! Then, locking me with her big green eyes she shouts, "I do by myself!!" And I'll be damned, she has for the last 28 years as a vegetarian sans the meatballs.

I found a way to teach sleep and give nap lessons with a family bed. Yes, that unthinkable "against the norm" paradigm that sleeping with children will exhaust everyone for years on end turned out not to be true.

Suffering many unsuccessful attempts to put my first baby to bed in her own room was an exercise in futility. In response to her howling, solution number one was patting her back until she slept. The problem was when my hand was removed, she would begin howling even louder. At 2:00am one night, in the delirium of exhaustion, along came the brilliant idea to stealthily place a deck of cards on her back while gently removing my hand, letting the weight of the cards lead her to believe I was still present, and she wasn't alone. The next morning, I peek into the nursery, and my baby is sleeping peacefully with a deck of cards on her back. The thought of trying to escape my baby in the middle of the night to return to my own bed felt ridiculous.

The next day mattresses were on the nursery floor, and mom, dad, and baby Sara slept like angels. Over the next eight years, we had wall to wall beds on the floor with the three cubs curled up together with us in the bliss of family sleeping. 

There was always a beautiful, spare room set up with a crib and a bed ready for them to move out whenever they chose. One by one, the cubs gradually left at ages two, three and five and came back from time to time when they felt like it. My heart ached with each gradual departure and reclaiming my own "big bed" was a hallmark moment too.

The first days of kindergarten to middle school were a toss-up between the glory of being needed and the angst of letting go.  "Momma, don't go. Walk me into the class."  Or "Drop me off, and DO NOT GET OUT OF THE CAR. And when you pick me up, wait outside the gate!"  An actor who starred in the Oscar Mayer Weiner commercials drove his son to school for years in the Weinermobile. Remember the car with the big hot dog on top and loudspeakers playing "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner"? He had to be the coolest dad in elementary school, and his son was so stoked to arrive with fanfare each morning. Until the boy grew into a man in 8th grade and took the car keys away from his dad.

The term " helicopter parent" never resonated with me, but gosh the "Weinermobile parent" hit home.  Being the fun mom, present, part of, included, teeing my girls up for success, sleeping with, and in the know are hard parental urges to transcend. Gradually I have graduated with them.

While contemplating this topic, my kitchen got deep cleaned along with the 20-year-old shelf paper that was layered three sheets thick. Like an archeological dig, there was the 2015 paper, the 2006 paper, and finally the 1999 paper. I actually wept over a shelf. Right in the middle of my kitchen, I'm bawling remembering the girls helping to line shelves when moved in. Peeling that paper off took hours. Inch by inch it happened. Finished, I stood back, admired the fresh new start and made myself a hot dog for dinner.

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