I cleaned out my minivan yesterday and among the items I removed were:
• an empty Baskin-Robbins cup
• a half-empty Capri Sun
• a decomposing apple core
• two partially used water bottles
• a missing pacifier
• several chewed-up wads of paper
• three soccer balls
• one comic book
• four discarded Band-Aid wrappers plus one used Band-Aid
• a half-full Happy Tot organic baby squeeze — the other half was squished into the carpet
• miscellaneous crayons, pens and pencils with the erasers bit off
• three pairs of socks
• two curtain panels
Depending on the ages and number of children you have, you may either be impressed by the items or disgusted by them.
As I shoveled trash into a plastic sack and made a pile of objects to return to the house, I alternated between euphoria (there’s that missing check!) and disgust (decomposing food …yuck). And I couldn’t help but reflect on some of my pre-child declarations. You know, those bold statements you made before you had kids — or when you just had one, or two, or three children — that karma now frequently recalls to your mind, usually when you or your child is doing the thing you said you’d never do.
Statements such as …
“My kids will never eat fast food.”
“ When I have kids, I’ll make sure I brush their hair before they go out in public.”
“ I would never let my kids run like wild animals through the grocery store.”
“Why do parents let their children throw tantrums like that in public?”
And, of course, my personal favorite — “When I have kids, I won’t have a messy minivan. In fact, I won’t even drive a minivan.”
Isn’t it funny how life comes full circle? Not only am I that mom with the messy minivan, depending on the day, I may also be the mom grabbing lunch at a drive-thru. Or the mom with bed-headed kids in tow. (Do I get bonus points if their teeth are also unbrushed?) Some days, I’m pretty much my own worst pre-kid nightmare: unkempt children running through Target, hollering at the top of their lungs, with a cluttered minivan in the parking lot.
Now, I’m not saying that when you have kids all semblance of order and cleanliness go out the window. But I’ve come to learn that part of parenting is picking your battles — and that means that sometimes my kids wear pajamas all day, sometimes sticky substances linger on my kitchen floor for days and sometimes I serve cereal for dinner. It is what it is.
For instance, my 4-year-old daughter despises getting her hair done. Most days, I make her deal with the detangler and hairdos, but sometimes neither she nor I can face the battle and her long locks are left to fly free. Her hair is a ratty mess in no time. You can bet that is the day I run into someone I know everywhere I go. I’ve started letting her pick her own outfits, too. It’s not my hill to die on.
I invest a good amount of time and energy planning and preparing healthy and delicious meals for my family. But despite my best efforts, there are times when we need to grab food on the fly and it’s either drive-thru or death-by-starvation — at least according to my kids. When I can’t handle the bellyaching, literally, the Subway drive-thru is like manna from heaven.
Although parenting involves plenty of compromise, it’s definitely important to take a stand on things that are important to you. Like every parent, there are rules, behaviors and habits where I stand firm. On everything else, I’ve learned to be flexible and do the best I can. I can’t control my kids or their behavior. The best I can do is teach them and try to model what I’d like them to do and ultimately become.
As for the van, I try to keep it clean. Really, I do. There are garage bags hung on seatbacks, I regularly toss items while filling up at the gas station and, despite my earlier confession, we rarely eat meals in the car. But it seems like my children bring in three new items for every piece of trash I toss. A blanket, a sippy cup, a piece of homework, a wad of gum. I’d say it’s never-ending, but if there is one thing I’ve learned thus far as a parent it is this: Never say never.