A Day Without Water

Last night a pipe at the local water system plant burst, causing our household and much of Anderson to be without water for about fourteen hours.

Luckily we had plenty of bottled water and a couple of gallons of distilled water on hand, so I wasn’t terribly worried about it. The powers that be would eventually get the water running and life would return to normal. The water shortage really only affected us from the time I woke up around 7:30 until noon, when our taps finally began to work again. We remain under a boil water advisory, but that isn’t nearly as alarming as not being able to flush the toilet. However, during the course of the morning I thought multiple times about the implications of this incident.

Mainly I realized how bitchy a lot of my posts would sound to someone outside of America. I’m complaining about how my daughter only wants to wear two of the twenty-five dresses in her closet, and how I’m just not as “fun” as I used to be, and how my house is too messy. Really? When there are moms and dads out there trying to parent without running water? And probably without disposable diapers? If my children didn’t have this basic necessity my life would be a million times more inconvenient than I think it is now, and I wouldn’t mind a bit; who worries about inconvenience when they are focused on keeping their family alive?

How much I take for granted. After less than five hours of catching myself in the process of trying to wash a dish or rinse off my toothbrush (and spending a portion of those hours swimming in my full pool), I am shamed and humbled. Being a mom is hard no matter what culture you’re in, but we live in a country where, for the majority of people, the most important element of life on earth flows freely at the twist of a faucet. At least we’ve got that much covered- everything else is just details.

The Stupidest Struggle Ever: How I Stooped to My Child’s Level

Today I spanked my child for the first time.

Now, I know that there are two distinct camps when it comes to spanking, and there’s not a whole lot of middle ground. There are those who believe that spanking teaches children a definitive lesson about their behavior – don’t do it again or here’s what will happen – and there are those who see spanking as hypocritical and confusing, particularly when using it to reinforce a point about children exhibiting aggressive behavior toward others. While I have always belonged to the second group, my three-year-old has brought me to the verge of spanking more than once.

Those who are merely acquainted with Maggie in social settings express doubt when I tell them what a you-know-what she can be. In public she is generally a darling, acting shy at first but eventually dazzling onlookers with her adorable giggle and unusual perceptiveness. But in our home, especially when we are out of our typical school year routine, she is an expert button-pusher. (Quick aside: Not that I’m big into astrology, but October 7th, her birthday, is listed in this birthday book I have as the Day of Defiance. It’s proven accurate even from the time she was about eighteen months old, when she was told that if she put her feet on the dinner table she would be removed and the meal would be over. She quickly figured out what to do when she didn’t feel like sitting at the table anymore…)

Anyway, I thought our day was starting out pretty well. The kids slept in until 7:30. I managed to feed them breakfast quickly enough to usher everybody into the car and head to the gym so I could enjoy a yoga class. We came home and they played outside while I weeded the mulch beds. So far, so good. I had planned to take them to meet up with some friends at the small water park at the Y after nap time, but lo and behold, neither child was really in the mood for a nap. Despite my better judgment, I forged ahead. Quoting my neighbor, who had suggested going to Waterworks, “The thought of them hanging inside the rest of the day was giving me hives.” I packed everything we would need, got the baby in her swimsuit, and focused on getting Maggie ready to go. If only it were that easy.

The struggle began over something completely idiotic. For about the past year, getting Maggie dressed has been the least favorite part of my day. The child has literally 25 dresses hanging in her closet, and while she has probably worn each of them at least once, it chafes me that she wants to wear the same stupid two every single day. It doesn’t matter if someone she loves bought her an outfit or sewed it for her themselves, she cannot be convinced to wear something that she doesn’t want to wear. As I have stated before, I am a woman of principle. I do not believe in wastefulness, and I have a problem with the fact that time and money have been spent on giving her things that she refuses to use. As a result, every day I attempt to steer her away from those same two dresses and try to get her to wear something she doesn’t usually wear. This is the way it normally ends: she may agree to try something on, but after about five seconds she starts clawing at it, claiming that some very specific thing is wrong with it: it’s too tight, too big, not long enough, she doesn’t like the buttons or the way it feels. Then she goes completely boneless and basically can’t function like a human being again until I remove the offending garment.

I understand that my ideals about clothing use are far beyond the ability of a three-year-old to grasp, yet I can’t stop trying. So, today, in the midst of getting her changed into her bathing suit to go to the Y, I grabbed a tank top and skirt from her drawers and stared to toss them into the bag so she would have something dry to wear when she was done swimming. My precious child snatched them from my hand and threw them across the room, screaming, “No! Not those ones! I’m going to choose them!”

An hour later she was eating cookies
and kissing on her sister. Jekyll and Hyde much?

This was one of those pivotal moments when I could have changed course and avoided a fiasco, but no, I had to stand on principle. “Maggie,” I said, “You may NOT grab things out of my hand. I am going to put these back in the bag, and if you take them out again, we will not go to the water park.” You can guess what happened next. Out came the skirt and shirt, and I, the reasonable adult, responded. “Okay then. We’re not going.” I had to do it. I had made the threat, and there was no backpedaling. Either I was a woman of my word or I wasn’t.

I knew it wasn’t going to go over well, but I couldn’t have predicted that my naked banshee of a daughter would pick up her (rather heavy) piggy bank and throw it at me, narrowly missing her baby sister’s head. I mean, that kid put some muscle behind it. And with her naked bottom right there, I couldn’t help myself. If anything warranted a spanking, this was it. One quick pop and down to time-out she went.

You know, I wish there were a moral to this story. Did the spanking make me feel better? Not really. Am I going to do it again? I don’t plan on it.  If there is anything to be gleaned from this experience, it’s that arguing with a three-year-old is pretty much the most unreasonable thing an adult can do. (But of course, I’m going to do it again – you know, being a woman of principle and everything.)

The Transformation of Loss

Two nights ago I went to see the movie The Fault in Our Stars. For those of you unfamiliar with the film or the book by John Green that it is based on, it is the love story of teens Augustus and Hazel, one recently cleared of cancer and one undergoing experimental treatment that has kept her alive years longer than anyone had thought possible. It is a beautifully written, sometimes funny, heartrending story, but it was especially poignant on this particular evening.

Ten years ago on this day, my friend Sean turned twenty-two. Two days later, on June 10, 2004 he was killed in a car wreck on his way to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. It was the worst day of my life. I have largely avoided writing about it, partly because I don’t quite trust my memory to get the details just right, and partly because of the pain I knew it would cause myself and all of the people that loved Sean. You see, I was there that day. I just happened to be in the right car, the one that wasn’t clipped by a tractor-trailer cab changing lanes at seventy miles per hour.

I have had ten years to mourn for my friend, the foul-mouthed musician with a heart of gold. He was my best friend’s boyfriend, and as such he was a kind of brother figure- making fun of me for my crushes, handing out noogies, telling me that I needed to gain some weight, which I guess is why he forced about half of his breakfast on me when we stopped at a Hardees a few hours before he died.

Every time I see a dragonfly, I know that Sean is okay.
(That’s a story for another day.)

For a long time, too, I mourned for myself. That day altered the course of my entire life. I was just a twenty-year-old girl on my way to a rock concert, wearing linen drawstring pants and a shirt that my mom sewed for me that tied in the back and told the world that I was young and carefree, bras be damned. Moments later I was standing stupidly in the hot, sharp grass by the side of the highway, trying to make sense of the scene that spread itself out before me. (I remember it, but I won’t describe it. What would be the point of that?)

I do know that throughout the ordeal I repeatedly felt as if I were out of my own body, viewing the tragedy from afar, and the strangest thought kept entering my mind: Poor kids.  I stood apart from my traumatized self and watched as two young women, one of them me, embraced in the midst of burnt rubber and broken CDs and waited for a ride to the hospital. The helicopter carrying Sean had already taken off. The EMTs had stopped CPR. We were pretty sure we knew what we would hear upon arrival, but “dead” still felt impossible to process. And the whole time, that thought: Poor kids. We were nearly a thousand miles from home, about seventy miles from our destination. So close. And now we needed to function, to speak to doctors, find a hotel, get on a plane and face the rest of our lives. It wouldn’t be easy. For the next year or so I would experience vivid flashbacks. I would break down at the slightest reference to anything remotely connected to Sean’s death. I would return to college for my senior year and blame everyone in my path for not understanding, but how could they possibly? Slowly, and with the help of individuals that I truly believe God put in my path for just this purpose, I began to piece myself back together.

Grief and trauma lessen, but they don’t go away. I felt it on Sunday night, ten years after the fact, watching this film about two teens who were, for reasons unknown, just dealt a bad hand. But I realized, as I crumpled up yet another tissue, that these tears were coming from a different place. I wasn’t thinking about the loss of my friend, I was trying not to imagine the agony of losing one of my own children.

At one point in The Fault in Our Stars the narrator writes, “There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.” Since becoming a mother, ten-year-old memories have taken on a new pain. My grief will become fear if I let it. I could walk around, constantly afraid that one day I will be the one receiving the most terrible phone call imaginable. I could think, every time I look at my children, “This could be our last day together,” which I guess would help me appreciate the little moments, but in all honesty, I don’t want to have that in my head every day; it’s too terrifying to even entertain. Terrible, tragic, unjust things happen all the time, but if I allow myself to think that they might happen to my child, I will be paralyzed by even the thought of that loss.

My heart has always been with Sean’s mother. Now, as a mother’s heart, it grieves with her even more. I hope it gives her even the smallest amount of solace to know that after ten years he is still remembered, he is missed, he is loved.


Just Say No

I fell in love with my husband for a host of reasons: his thoughtfulness, sense of humor, boyish good looks, spontaneity, ability to pair a button-down dress shirt with a tie-dye t-shirt. It was pretty clear from early on that we were compatible. However, I have found since having children that even if we shared every interest in the world, the most crucial measure of compatibility – and the one that will make or break a marriage – is our parenting philosophy. 

Thankfully (miraculously, even), Matt and I have very similar morals and values, and this has made our journey into parenthood a little less rocky. When my older child is working her hardest to push my buttons, he backs me up. (And just an FYI for the men out there, giving your wife a breather and taking over during a tantrum is worth SO much more than any romantic gesture.) If I had to give it a name, I would say our philosophy, when it comes to our kids, is “Just Say No.” 
Children are going to want certain things. In the past couple of days I’ve heard, “Mommy, can I watch a show? Can I play on your phone? Can I have some candy? Can we stop at Dunkin’ Donuts? Can I jump in Ceci’s crib? Can I bring (insert random toy or object) to school? Can you buy me a princess doll? Mommy, why can’t I watch a show? Can I not have a bath? Can we not wash hair? Can I have books in bed? Can you sing me another song? Can you read me another story?” And this is just one child talking. 
When Maggie was littler than she is now, my family thought that we were a little too strict with her. We used the southern reprimand “No ma’am!” whenever she did something naughty, which they thought was crazy- who calls a two-year-old “ma’am”? We offered her foods that were healthy and unseasoned while limiting those that were sweetened and processed. TV was a treat: one show a day. For Christmas and birthdays, we asked grandparents to give her ONE gift, not ten- and boy, do they still try to get out of that one!
To some, our parenting style became a running joke. One of my elderly relatives told my mom, “I’m going to say a prayer that Jenny lets Maggie eat a French fry.” When we stated in our adult Sunday School class that we’d like to remain a one TV family, we were met with outright laughter. To me, though, it’s really not funny. At some point, our society decided that childhood should be a time of gratification – what could be more endearing than the smile of a child who just drank his first Coke or opened his first iPad? 
Every time my child asks me a “Can I?” question, there are two possible answers. “Yes” is nice, and “yes” has its place, but will it make her happy? Healthy? Will it improve my relationship with her? Will it teach her to handle boredom and disappointment? Will it help her to be independent and think for herself?
So I stand my ground. I will continue to say no to my child. No, you cannot watch a show- go look at your books. No, you cannot play on my phone on the ride home from daycare – let’s play “I Spy” instead. No, you cannot have some candy- eat a good dinner and we’ll see. No, we cannot stop at Dunkin’ Donuts- and I am trying desperately to break my own habit. No, no more songs or stories- it’s time for bed, and don’t you even think of getting out after that light goes out.
I’m human, and I have my moments of weakness, but when it comes down to it, I am a person of strong principles. I could spoil my children with junk food and gifts. I could teach them that they are the most important people in the entire world, and that they deserve everything in it. I could give them their way, give into their whims, let them get away with disrespect or disobedience. I choose not to do these things. I do not want my girls to take and take from the world, always expecting more, always expecting to feel good. I want them to expect less and be pleased with what they get, to live simply, to value relationships over material satisfaction. 
I know they’re only little kids. I know I’m idealistic. But what can it hurt? Say no. Enjoy it, knowing that, in the long run, you are doing your child the best possible service. Then take a picture of your child crying about it, post it on Instagram, and have a good chuckle. Responsible parenting feels amazing, doesn’t it?