Rhapsody’s Guide to Childrearing: Everything you wanted to know about parenting but had the good sense not to ask

 

Welcome back, kittens! The first weeks of school are over and in the ten minutes remaining before the school nurse calls to inform me that Brioche and Tannery are contagious or infested, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on parenting.

Ready?

I promise you that Rhapsody will not morph into a parenting blog. I don’t have the patience, or even that much to say, so I’ll just mash all my thoughts on this topic into one piping hot post and serve it casserole style, with a topping of crushed crackers.

You see, it has come to our attention that the dyspepsia of mommy bloggers has started to be a major downer for the as-yet-childless columnists at Slate and Salon. Why, they scream from their loft-style apartments, must we spoil the experience of Parenting in the Abstract? Where are our catalogues of parenting joy?

Why are we making it sound hard when it’s obvious to those who’ve not yet tried it that parenting is easy and fun?

I see that you parents in the salon are beginning to gnaw lightly on the furniture as you take this in. Please stay calm, everyone. Rhapsody will handle this. As your trusted imaginary friend, I feel it is my duty—and privilege—to provide serious answers to these rhetorical questions.

And to our salon-goers without children: no need to roll up your yoga mats and leave so soon. There’s plenty of chardonnay and schadenfreude to go ‘round, so please, resume savasana pose and stay awhile!

Now a deeeeeeeep exhale through the nose, and…. we’re off.

 * * * *
So, then. Why do so many mommy-bloggers depict parenting as “a daily sequence of mind-wrecking chores” (thank you, Lorrie Moore) and not the most gosh-darn joy-inducing pursuit we’ve ever taken up? My guess is that it’s because the latter part isn’t really surprising, but the first bit is, even when you thought you were braced for impact.
The impulse to blog in a crabby, exaggerated way about one’s children can be summed up thusly: some kids are harder than others. Some parenting lives feel glorious 100% of the time; others don’t. Rhapsody’s doesn’t, but this does not cancel, reduce or even exist on the same plane with the fact that I love my children beyond language.

As for how I may be making you not-yet-parents feel about the whole enterprise? I hope you will not think it monstrously egotistical of me to say that I am my own ideal reader, not you.

Wait, wait… just hear me out. A blogger blogs not merely to hear herself talk (although it’s a captivating sound) but to be and to attract the kind of company she herself is seeking.

Think of it this way: at the end of a crappy day, who do you want to tell your troubles to? A gum-snapping cheerleader who speaks in bumper stickers, or a smoky, sexy, dark-humored cabaret singer?

Hush. It was a rhetorical question.

* * * *

Your Six-Week-Old Can Sleep Through the Night! (And Other Books to Throw Away Immediately)

Now that Brioche and Tannery are in school, I’m finally getting around to a task I should have undertaken while I was pregnant: to gather up all the baby-wisdom books and chuck them out the window.

I’ll explain.

Publishers, like all people in business, want to sell us things, and they can only sell us things we want. That’s why bookstore shelves sag under the weight of all the Happy Sleep and Peaceful Rest and Eight Solid Hours: It could happen! being peddled out there.

They promise sleep, and soothing routines, not because they are statistically likely to happen for any slap-happy parent of a newborn, but because the desire for those things is like pheromone to publishers. Honestly, would you buy a book called “Sleep Deprivation: A Nearly-Guaranteed Condition of Life with an Infant”?

Neither would I. And since I’m dispensing warnings, it’s not just printed materials you need to watch out for. There’s also the Mommy Group Expert.

In every gathering of equally clueless new parents, there’s always one estrogen-enhanced Gaia who has already intuited everything about her baby (and yours) in the first month, and she’s ready to share. Admit that you’re tired and she’ll swear that her baby-sleep method is foolproof, and shake her head in disbelief that you’ve never tried it—whatever it is. Slings that carry the baby upside down. A routine of swinging and shushing or vacuuming on the rooftop at dawn.

Best to just smile and ignore her. Soon, she will busy herself starting a new organic preschool cooperative and never both you again.

Do I seem like the Bad Fairy who’s just pissed off that wasn’t invited to the christening? Perhaps, yes, but heed me anyway, friends.

The only baby gift you’ll receive from me is a canister of Morton salt because you’ll need a grain for every book, website and self-appointed expert. You need one for this paragraph.

What I’m saying is, keep your skepticism drawn and ready. There is no Method. Take a close look at anyone or anything saying otherwise and, I promise you, you’ll find a price tag or a mental illness.

That’ll be $39.99.

* * * *

Some Notes on Children’s Music (Or: Pete Seeger, Get Out of My Car!)

Singing to fretful babies is a very helpful way to distract yourself from the fact that you have absolutely no other strategies and eight more hours to go until dawn.

Anyone can do it! I have no musical training whatsoever and can sing, from memory, about four songs but I’ve been able to stretch what I have. For example, if you take “I’ve been working on the railroad,” and slow it to a crawling lullaby speed, it has an almost haunting, Ken-Burns-documentary kind of sound.

See?

For Rhapsody, motherhood and the advent of iTunes happened more or less around the same time, each having the effect of a solvent on any musical tastes or attention span we may have had in the past. But, no matter. With small children around, most of the music you’ll have to hear will feature banjos and talking animals, and it helps to just flick through these numbers giving exactly three seconds of play time to each.

* * * *
Side Bar for the Expectant Rhapsody Salon-Goer
 Are you pregnant, dear? Congratulations! I couldn’t help but notice you here in the salon today, so radiant and trusting. Nor did I miss that flicker of defensiveness and worry when I suggested that dealing with babies can be, along with the arias of joy, well… a bit of a chore.
 I know how you feel.
 Like you, I decided well before I had children that I was not going to be taken in by those carping nags who insist that parenting is hard! Like you, I knew—before I was closely acquainted with any—that children are born with a natural appreciation for naps, schedules and fresh, locally sourced organic foods. All this chatter to the contrary was just a conspiracy of mommy bloggers who had fallen for their own bitter rhetoric!
 The thing is, dear… they were mostly right.
 Now, don’t hold your breath that way; it’s not good for the baby. Children grow up, after all, and then you can enter the kitchen again and actually prepare something that is not a hot dog.
 [Someone make her a cup of tea, won’t you? She’s looking a little green around the gills.]
 I know, I know: you bought a lot of books on making your own baby food. Well, good. Read them. But remember that, much like the books on infant sleep, they are mostly helpful before the baby is born.
 Please don’t upset yourself. Look, here’s a doll you can use to practice. It’s 100%Ferberized and nurses on any schedule you choose. Just set the little dial on the back of its head.
 [Will you hurry up with that tea, for God’s sake?]
 Here, just bite on this spoon. It dulls the pain.
 
* * * *
And moving swiftly right along: let’s cover Potty Training!
 Now this part is really easy, friends. This is so blissfully easy I hardly even need to write it down. You’ve all seen the book “Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day,” right?
 
Oh, stop lying! You already bought it.
Well, I’m going to save you even more time and paste my Amazon review of this invaluable resource right here:
“Five whopping stars, because OMG this book has Such. Good. Advice. And universally applicable. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ehm, sorry. This method will definitely work for you and it might not even take a whole day. I mean, let’s be optimistic! Ha! Ha! Ha! He’ll be potty trained by dinner and teaching the cat how to use the toilet as well, ha! Hahaha! Oh God what’s happening? I can’t seem to control my breathing, it’s as if HA! Hahahahahahahah! Help me. Help. My lungs are spasming. Ha! Ha! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…….”
 
* * * *Oh, now, let’s see… what was I talking about?Mr. Roboto and I are just now emerging from the tunnel of the infant/toddler years and I think the ringing in our ears is probably permanent. At the end of the day, when Brioche and Tannery are asleep and we find a place to bed down amidst the laundry, we try to have conversations, but it’s hard to remember what a complete thought tastes like. But we muddle on.Parenting is the unexamined life, folks, and for a while, it’s the only one you’ll be living.The audience of people who need—really need—to hear how much I love parenting is quite small. It is, in fact, just my children. They can benefit from hearing about my love for them and for being their mother for as long as I’m around to repeat myself. It builds strong synapses in their little brains; it’s never boring; it’s never overdone.Everybody else? Get your own blog, your own kids, and figure it out for yourselves. It’s much more interesting that way, I assure you.Brioche and Tannery are certainly not what I expected, and thank goodness for that! What a cheat—what a true disappointment if would be if my children were limited by my own, small imagination, or Mr. Roboto’s, or anyone’s preconceived ideas as to what they will be like.A parting thought for our friends who think mommy bloggers are not doing enough to support their untried notions of what parenting is like? Dr. Benjamin Spock—Godfather of all Parenting Advice—said that you know more than you think you do about how to be a parent.What he didn’t tell you is that you also know a lot less. Every day will be a fresh opportunity to find out just how little you know, and what a disastrously imperfect parent you really are, but also—mercifully—how little this matters.

(That was the real advice my dears. I hope at least one of you had her highlighter out.)

Until next time, when we unveil what people of good taste can only hope will be the last installment of the Rhapsody Failure Memoirs, Part III, Failing Turns Forty.

XO,

Rhapsody

 

P.S. A commenter, who has not been granted the dignity of actually appearing below, suggested that Rhapsody is “evil-hearted.” We invite rebuttals below, even though we are not actually going to post any but the most flattering remarks.

 

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