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The Mother You Get (and also, a little background)

When I think about it, all of my kids have had a totally different mother. They all had certain traits in common–overwhelmed, low on patience, mildly irritable–but in terms of permissiveness, we–the four mothers I have been–have run the gamut. When I was Sam’s mother, and only Sam’s mother, I made all of his baby food. I can tell you precisely when he had his first lollipop (Easter 2002–thanks mom!). Salty snacks were limited, and fell into the faux-good-for-you category. On the other hand–would I play trains with him? Sure? Would I build him a little airplane he could sit in and steer out of cardboard boxes and let him paint it? Yes, and I have the puctures to prove it. Throw a messy party (and write about it for Mothering magazine, my one and only piece for that rather difficult market) Of course!

Then there was Sam and Lily’s mother. She did a lot of hissing at Sam to just be quiet for one more minute while she got the baby to sleep, I remember. She didn’t even pretend she was going to have Lily sleep in her own room, there for a while–Lily was a much-wanted baby; there had been issues. Then…Lily had all the candy she could grab (and wouldn’t choke on) as long as she would sit in her high chair while Mommy and Sam made a gingerbread house. She was eating french fries as soon as she could gum them. She rode in a stroller occasionally, while Sam spent most of his babyhood in a sling. That mom still gave some wicked parties, including one where each child left with a crafty decorated pair of sneakers, but the days of the hand-made tea sandwiches for three-year-olds were over.

Sam, Lily and Wyatt’s mother thought maybe Wyatt could be left in a bassinet at naptime, even if he did cry a little. She figured that if the car was where he napped best, she’d just buy a monitor and stick it in the garage. She let him eat nothing but goldfish crackers for months, having figured out with Lily that this was indeed a stage he would outgrow. She gave him birthday parties he would appreciate, which meant he had the same single friend and family over for the first three years of his life–one who was willing to bring the pizza. But she did bake him his cake.

Sam, Lily, Wyatt and Rory’s mother knows how to say no. Sometimes it feels like that’s all she knows how to say. No, she won’t read the book with the flaps, because everyone will fight over who opens them. Nope, no candy today. Nope, not now either. No, you can’t have bread and butter until dinner is served. Don’t climb on the garbage can. No, you can’t roast your own marshmellow. One, because you’re three. Two, because you don’t like roasted marshmellows. Just eat this plain one and let me drink my wine. But on the other hand–Doritos at the pool? Sure. Doritos again tomorrow at the pool? Sure. More Doritos at the pool? Bring ’em on, sister. Because the other thing I know now is that saying yes to Doritos today doesn’t actually mean I have to say yes to Doritos tomorrow, and that a few bags of Doritos during a difficult summer isn’t going to kill anybody. Saying yes when you want to say yes–or better yet, when saying yes will just make life easier and more pleasant for everyone–is one of the joys of parenting.

Oh–the background–someone asked if Rory’s foster mom was Amercian. Yes–she was raised in a foster home run by an extraordinary American family. Click to check it out.


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