A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
As the mother of a one and a half year old, I’m hardly an expert on much of anything. But I’m rapidly learning, and ever eager to share my hard-won knowledge with those of less experience than I. In the spirit of end-of-year listicle-mania, here are the top five things I’ve learned in 2014 as a parent of a newly minted toddler:
You are being watched. Everything you do, say, eat and wear is now under intense scrutiny and is subject to immediate and implacable requisition. That sandwich? Hand it over. Your necklace? She’ll be taking that—in one piece or eighty two—it’s your choice. Oh, and that four letter word you just used after accidentally shattering a pot of hot coffee all over your feet? That’s her new favorite. Don’t use it unless you’re willing to lose it. Or rather, don’t use it unless you’re willing to lose it or you feel it’s worth enduring a screaming, sobbing tantrum. But the first one fits better on a decorative pillow (which you should know better than to display for the next two or three years).
All television programs must be pre-screened for suitability. I’m not talking about child-friendly language or content, either. Those are important, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to run into sex stuff or overly sophisticated themes on Nick, Jr. No. What I’m saying is, don’t you dare show your little one a television show unless you’re fairly certain that you’ll be able to withstand hours and days and months of repetitive viewing without devolving into a twitching pile of useless grey matter on the floor. A careful judging process is required. Questions to ask yourself while watching: Do I have a headache yet? How about now? Does the educational value for my child outweigh my own visceral discomfort? Have I fallen asleep because I’m sleepy and bored, or because my frontal lobe has shut down in a preemptive act of self-defense? Am I finding myself penning angry letters to the show’s writers in my head regarding flimsy dialogue and unbelievable plots? If you answered yes to the last one, you’ve likely lost your mind and should make notation of such in the “con” column.
It’s great to say no, but you don’t always have to. You know that your kids need “no.” Without it, they will become whiny, spoiled brats who will not receive any goodwill from the outside world once they outgrow this precious phase in which they resemble cartoon squirrels with eyes the size of dinner plates. As a new parent, this concept seems easy enough. Kids need limits. We don’t want them to have everything they want, because everything they want includes things like “eating batteries,” “falling down the stairs,” “running into oncoming traffic,” and “climbing on top of the television.” As it turns out, our instinct as brand new humans is to kill ourselves and destroy everything of value in this world. Sometimes I watch my daughter and her little friends and all I can think is how amazing it is that we made it this far as a species. Anyway, the tiny, insane heart wants what it wants and it’s our job as parents to say N-O. And it’s their job as toddlers to subsequently dissolve into the purest form of white hot rage that can exist on a physical plane. Stay strong when it counts, but choose your battles. Sometimes you just have to get through your day, and that’s all right. At least, I think it is.*
Most other mothers know as little as you do. Are you worried about your child’s B52 intake? Are you now, that you’ve had a conversation with a relative stranger on the playground in which she told you of the existence of B52 and how it is thought to affect your child’s crucial spinal development and it’s probably maybe what made the ancient Mayans so smart but it only works if you don’t ever feed your kid any dairy ever of any kind ever? Yeah. She may have made that up. And by that I mean that she likely read and/or verbally received bits and piece of questionably sourced information and then mangled it and filled in some blanks on her own without entirely realizing what she was doing. Relax. We’re all doing our best. Your child is in good shape. And if he or she isn’t, your own research and a doctor’s opinion are worth a whole lot more than random, unprofessional opinions from fellow (well-meaning) parents. In a week, B52 will be revealed to be highly toxic and antioxidant shrimp eyeball supplements will be the talk of the blacktop. And besides, have you met any ancient Mayans lately? That’s what I thought.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Hackneyed though it may be, this phrase didn’t resonate with me until very recently. Actually, I must warn you that this entire bullet point will read as goopy, cliched blahblahblah, but I mean it sincerely. Hundreds of thousands of babies are born still every year or die before they reach the age of one. Kids get sick. They get hurt. They’re born with severe disabilities or into tragic circumstances. Is your child healthy? Is he happy? Is she warm and safe and fed and having fun? Then things are probably pretty okay. Sure, the sleep thing could be better. Maybe you wish she’d eat a vegetable other than ketchup once in a while. Perhaps he’s clingy or not speaking as much as you’d like or you’re wondering if she should be more social with other children. These things are all important, but they’re not that important. I just get this feeling most of it will fall into place eventually. Our parenting instincts have to be worth something, right? When your child is drooling and weeping at 3AM with her fist in her mouth and you can’t do anything but sit and rock with her and hope the Tylenol kicks in soon, just remember how lucky you are to have her and that in ten years, she won’t even let you touch her in public. It really helps.
*Disclaimer: final results of child-rearing still pending.
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!