Do you know what I’ve discovered? Most of the current groups of parents who are rearing children from the age of zero to eighteen are missing the boat and the point, and they don’t even know it. That’s because, in our country, it takes more effort and education to get a driver’s license, buy a house, or become an American citizen than it does to get pregnant and have a child. A child “gettin’ over” on his or her parents today could be the leader of a great country in the future or the head of a terrorist organization tomorrow and how a parent handles the situation might affect the outcome. When I see a defiant, two-year-old stubbornly stomping her foot while screaming loudly enough to bring the dead back to life, and the mother tearfully negotiating with her potential
terrorist with “listen, Honey, if you’ll just stop screaming, Mommy will buy you a present when we’re finished,” I’m
torn between slapping the parent upside her head for being such a spineless idiot, or letting her in on a little secret about childrearing.
The Secret: These delightful little bundles of joy that we can’t help but fall in love with when they are born have a hidden agenda and an insatiable thirst to take over the world. You, Mommy, are their first conquest!
I’ve discovered that all children enter stage right or left in Earth’s comedy/drama with two weapons in their arsenal for taking their parents hostage:
- an irrevocable certificate guaranteeing children “free will” from their creator
- an underground handbook entitled: “Yo’ Momma Don’t Have to Know” (YMDHTK) by The Devil, otherwise known as the knowledge of good and evil
The day I learned about the YMDHTK Handbook, I was almost ten years into the process of rearing children and had managed to appear omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent to both my children. In other words, I scared the shit out of them. I was ghetto mom dressed up in Christian suburban clothing married to their white father, but they knew not to mess with me. (Let’s just say, no kid ever threw a hissy fit on me in the mall on my
watch.) I was also naïve as hell because I thought children were vacant little sponges just waiting to absorb all of my wonderful wisdom and knowledge while I formed them into mini-mes.
After school one day a little roly-poly boy around the age of ten, who I suspect had been studying the YMKDTK Handbook since he was born, introduced my older daughter (Boo) to the concept that perhaps her parents weren’t as smart as we had led her to believe. When he invited her to play hooky from school and she responded that she could never do that because her mother would kill her, roly-poly boy promptly informed Boo: “Yo Momma don’t have to know!” As it is with every child when they discover that information can be withheld from their godlike parents, this was a revelation to Boo. My daughter came home and shared her newfound knowledge with her little sister, Baby-girl, and before I knew it, I was queen of a kingdom that was under siege.
A mother’s curse: I should have seen the revelation of the YMDHTK Handbook coming when I caught the urchins in their first bald-faced lie. Do you know that child psychologists say that children tell their first lie between the ages of three and five? God help us! Did you also know that Wikipedia has twenty-one categories for lying, including such obscurities as the Butler Lie (Question from the police: “Who killed the maid?” Answer from the murderer: “The butler did it!”), and the Jocuse Lie (“I caught a fish that was forty-feet long with just my homemade fishing rod and dental floss!”). Ask a two year old holding a red crayon who it was that wrote on your freshly painted White Linen #42 walls with red crayon, and they will triumphantly announce: “Me
did!” Ask a three to five year old who did the dastardly deed and they will say (without blinking an eye): “The
butler did it!”
Although I haven’t been able to get ahold of that YMDHTK Handbook to corroborate my suspicions, I think there must be several chapters devoted to lying and how to “get over” on one’s parents at the earliest age possible. The first time I caught one of my kids in a hands down, blatant, bare-faced lie (Wikipedia lie # 3) was the day I took them on an errand with me to someone’s office and there was a bowl of grape Jolly Ranchers sitting on the secretary’s desk. Baby-girl, whose “raison d’etre” was candy at that age, had been grounded from eating any candy for a couple of weeks because of some infraction she had committed (probably eating too much
candy). She was about five years old at the time and she still thought I walked on water. As we drove home from our errand, both Boo and Baby-girl were in the backseat, and as I began to ask them about their day
at school, I noticed only Boo was answering.
“Hey, Baby-girl, what’s going on back there? Did the cat get your tongue?”
“Nuffling,” said my younger daughter, who sounded like someone had stuffed her mouth with
“Baby, what do you have in your mouth?” I asked, trying not to take my eyes off the road.
“Nuffling (slurp); absonutely nuffling, Momma (sluuuuurp),” said my younger daughter.
“Mooooom, how come the car smells like a grape soda bath?” asked Boo, the enforcer (according to that great sage, Bill Cosby, the oldest child is always “the enforcer” and the youngest “the squealer” when it comes to helping parents unearth lies). “And how come Baby-girl has grape blood pouring out the corners of her mouth like a vampire, Mom?”
When I pulled over to the side of the road to investigate, Baby-girl was still denying she had anything in her mouth as I pried it open and made her spit out what looked like twenty grape Jolly Ranchers (some still in their plastic wrappings). How she managed to grab so many Jolly Ranchers from the office candy dish and when she managed to unwrap and stuff them into her mouth I will never know. All I know is that it took me several days to get the stain off her little vanilla cheeks and it never came out of her white blouse – evidence of a bare-faced lie of a five-year-old gone awry.
“Have you any idea how many kids it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen?
It takes one to say, ‘What light?’ and two
more to say, “I didn’t turn it on.’”
A father’s blind side: Fathers are even more clueless to this grand conspiracy of free will/YMDHTK philosophy, especially when it comes to girls. I think there must be some type of magic spell in the book that girls can make and sprinkle into the eyes of their daddies from their first encounter in the delivery room, because little girls can pull the wool over their fathers’ eyes for a very, very long time.
I first noticed this phenomenon one day when our girls were five and four. I left the babies with my husband (WW) while I went down to a recording studio to do a couple of voice overs for some radio commercials. When I left, Boo had two braids and puffy, curly bangs; Baby-girl had two puff balls the size of Ping-Pong balls
(mini-pigtails) and a smaller set of puffy, curly bangs. When I returned approximately four hours later, all three of them were in the garage. WW was working on the lawn mower and the girls were riding their tricycles in and out of the double garage and cycling around their dad as if he were a traffic circle. The minute I laid eyes on them, I was completely horrified. WW glanced up at my apoplectic gesturing and gave me one of those
puzzled looks that only husbands can do when they can’t figure out what the hell you’re getting so upset about.
“THE GIRLS’ HAIR – WHAT HAPPENED TO THEIR HAIR?” I screamed.
“Nothing happened to their hair,” said WW. They were in the house playing dolls and dress up while I was paying bills, and then when I moved out into the garage to repair the lawn mower, they came outside with me to ride their bikes. They have been perfect little angels, haven’t you girls?”
“Yes, Daddy,” said the Barbers of Seville in perfect, innocent unison.
Part of playing with their dolls during dress-up must have been a trip to the barber shop when WW wasn’t looking, because one of Boo’s braids and half her bangs were gone. One of Baby-girl’s puff-ball pigtails was missing and she had a little close-cropped Afro where the ball of hair had been. Where her bangs used to be was a layer of peach fuzz. Once I pointed out the missing hair on the lopsided twins, WW saw it, but he swears to this day that he has no idea when the urchins set up their barber shop and when they performed the great scalping act on each other. Daddy pixie dust!
I am sure there must be endless instructions to kids on how to get over on their parents in the YMDHTK Handbook, if I could just find a copy to peruse. But until I do, I’ll just have to guess at what it must contain. I know there must be a section on learning how to argue like a first rate lawyer, because after years of me wishing they could form intelligent sentences and carry on a conversation when they were little, they soon got to a place where they could argue a bear out of his coat of fur in the middle of winter. There were times in their teens when all I wanted to do was fly away and return to a time when all they did was coo.
Taking on the world: It is a revelation when concepts or people start getting on your children’s nerves when you thought they lived in a sweet world of simplicity where they loved anyone who loved them. It makes me wonder if there is a chapter in the YMDHTK Handbook that gives lessons in childhood cynicism. I’ll never forget when Baby-girl watched Kermit the Frog on TV. She was only five when the 20th anniversary celebration of the song, “Bein’ Green” was being heralded as a great Sesame Street treatment about race. One day when Baby-girl and I were having a little “mommy and me” cuddling time after morning kindergarten, Kermit started singing, “It’s not easy being green…” about the ordinariness of being green and how all the other colors of the spectrum had a better go of it in the world. About halfway through the song, I heard my biracial baby utter a huge sigh and mumble a bitter lament as she absent-mindedly twirled her baby doll’s hair: “Seriously, Frog? You must
be kidding me…it isn’t easy being light brown, either!”
When all is said and done: I am discovering that a person can have all kinds of ideas about how they think children should be raised, but until you are actually a parent, none of it is worth the paper it is written on. A person can have ten kids and each kid will be different from the other requiring a more nuanced skill set from the parents for each one. And then there’s that teeny-weeny empowerment thing called “free will.” When it comes to raising kids, free will is a bitch! Because of it, the worst of parents can sometimes produce a president, and the best of parents can sometimes produce a felon. It’s really quite a mystery, but it would help all parents if we could just locate that goddamn “Yo’ Momma Don’t Have to Know” Handbook. To the grandmothers across the world, if you’ve found this handbook, let me know!
“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.” John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)||Poet
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk copyrighted © 2011 except where otherwise noted.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.