Confessions of an Imperfect Parent

(Family member’s names have been changed)

Parenting is not a universal phenomenon–imperfection is.

holding baby

how not to lift the baby

Since my kids were infants, I’ve kept a file folder for each of them filled with the stories, anecdotes and poems I have written about our lives together. “How sweet (or nauseating),” you may think. Before you go down idealized mountain (it’s a tough climb both ways, trust me on that one), several of these stories –okay, about half–are based on my less-then-victorious parenting moments. After almost OD-ing my daughter with the wrong dose of Ibuprofin this week, I’ve decided to publicly forgive myself and fess up to a few others…

  1. Let me clarify the overdose (never thought I’d utter those words); poor “Alexa” had a fever & aches that wouldn’t quit in addition to  a new aversion to liquid medicine (I still dreamily remember some blue/green concoction given to me in childhood of which I’d have done regular shots if allowed by my parents).  Back to Alexa; she can swallow a pill! Yay! I thought I was giving her a 100 mg tablet.  Oops, they’re 200 mg.  Seeing her peacefully snuggled on the sofa with her favorite book, I did not realize what I had done.  A few minutes later, I promptly left to go to work as planned leaving my doped up daughter with her father.  Therefore, it was my husband, “Andrew,” who got the honor of sitting with her in the bathroom for the full hour she was doubled over before vomiting. Ahhh…not my proudest moment. Thankfully, Alexa is completely fine and the doctor assures me I can keep my children, for now.

    bad parenting

    Bad Parenting

  2. Once, nearly ten years ago, as I reached over to unbuckle my son from his infant car seat I found that he was magically completely unharnessed.  Wait…someone placed him lovingly in his seat but didn’t actually buckle him?! Huh? That was me? Where was my head!? Well, that question is better posed to the boy who woke Andrew and I every two hours at night for 3 months straight.
  3. When my son, “Ethan” was two (and I, eight months pregnant), I strapped him diligently into his car seat (see #2), tossed the keys into the car just before hitting the ‘car lock’ button and throwing it closed.  Realizing what I had done, I immediately wobble-ran back into the dentist’s office (cell phone? who remembers to carry their cell phone)?  My husband’s office was too far from the dentists office for him to save us with his spare key so I called 911.  Howard County Fire Department does not mess around with toddlers locked in cars in the summer (Ummm…riiiiiight, so I left out that detail. It was summer.  S-U-M-M-E-R. In all fairness, the 90 degree heat wave had broken two days prior and it was a shady morning, 75 degrees). Three minutes later, those folks came speeding around the corner.  Picture it, men and women decked out in their gear, sauntering towards me in slow motion with pick axes and fire hoses in hand–it was breathtaking.  “Big Pete”  jimmied the lock just as I yelled, “Break a window, I don’t care!!” Meanwhile, Ethan sat safely harnessed and contently oblivious in his car seat the whole time, enjoying the game of “mommy hide and seek” I’d invented, popping up around the car at different windows while he waved and laughed.  When the door opened, I swept Ethan up into my arms, whirled him around and asked, “Want to go sit in a fire engine!?”

    drying baby

    drying the baby

  4. My daughter was not quite a year when I rushed her to the ER in the middle of the night with terrible stomach pain and inconsolable crying.  Earlier that evening, I had taken the kids to a local restaurant where Alexa had chowed down on vegetables and grilled chicken versus dinner at home which was often followed by a bowl of oatmeal (the kid could eat). Though pain was her only symptom, I agonized over the possiblity of food poisoning or worse.  The emergency pediatrician thoroughly examined her before stating simply, “Her bowel sounds are fine. She appears healthy and well-nourished.  But her stomach is growling an awful lot.”  My eyes met the doctors, “Did you just diagnose my daughter with ‘hunger pains’?” The doctor shrugged and discharged us. Apparently, a little oatmeal finisher at the end of a meal goes a long way. Having stayed back home with our sleeping son, Andrew met me at our front door when I arrived back home with Alexa (okay, so I had remembered the cell phone this time and gave him an update).  He offered his best smirk before saying, “Way to starve the baby, Val.”
  5. The summer Ethan turned eight, after attending a one-day orientation, he begged my husband and I to let him go to a week of overnight camp.  We know our child to be somewhat of a homebody and were surprised by his enthusiasm.  Blinded by my own affinity for the years I spent at overnight camp, I convinced Andrew that Ethan was ready.  Andrew reluctantly agreed and I disregarded his typically spot-on judgement.  Ethan was thrilled.  His experience at camp however, was painful and agonizing.  Despite all the loving support wrapped around him at camp, the staff failed to recognize that Ethan was in tremendous distress being away from home.  He cried every night while showering, withdrew from his friends, had a diminished appetite and had bad dreams almost nightly.  To our credit, we did not know the extent of his upset until he came home. Fortunately, Ethan is incredibly articulate and was able to be honest about his experience once he returned home.  This gave us a chance to adequately process what had happened, commend him for getting through it, and reassure him that, had we known at the time, we would have made different choices. But if I had been more objective in the first place, I would have acknowledged how my desires for Ethan to grow up loving overnight camp (the way I did) were influencing what I knew to be true about who Ethan really was.  Perhaps then I would have truly heard Andrew’s reservations and, together, we would have explained to Ethan, “We hear how much you want to go this summer.  As your parents, we have to decide what is best for you and we would like you to wait another year or so.  Instead, let’s plan another fun summer activity for you to look forward to.” Sigh.
  6. One evening, right around the time Ethan was learning to crawl, I got very excited for him to show our good friend, Bill, his new skill.  As Ethan rocked on his hands and knees I gave him too enthusiastic of a push and he face planted into the carpet. I was momentarily mortified and, while Ethan was not hurt, he was definitely offended and cried to let us (okay, me) know it.  To top it off, while cuddling and apologizing to him, the adults laughed hysterically…myself included.  C’mon, it was a little funny.
  7. When my kids were three and five, Andrew and I were determined that they learn water safety.  We cared little if they became strong swimmers but we did want them to be highly skilled at not drowning.  Traditional “Parent and Me” swim classes would have been fine, but I had gotten emotionally hooked into an infant survival program that had saved countless young lives.  Unfortunately, Alexa did not have the coordination to make reasonable underwater progression.  As part of the program’s technique, the teacher, against Alexa’s will, submerged her for no longer then 5 seconds while she encouraged Alexa to use the skills taught to her and ‘swim’ to the surface. The experience was horribly upsetting for all of us. Of course we thought we were doing what was best for her, helping her to be safe in the water.  If only I had listened to the voice inside me that was screaming, “This is insanity! Punch that lady in the face and get your daughter out of the pool!”  To this day, seven-year-old Alexa refuses to put her head under water.  After a lot of gentle conversation (and apologies for what she went through and how frightening it was for her) she is now considering a quick dunk, completely under her own control. While I have forgiven myself, even today I can’t laugh at what Alexa went through in the name of “good parenting.”  It still makes my stomach turn.  Traumatic experience achieved for both of us!

Wow, that was disturbing and surprisingly cathartic. So let’s go, your turn. Share one of your imperfect moments, parenting or otherwise.

I, for one, promise not to judge.

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