By Katie T
Well, we all know raising children is hard work. Even in the most ideal circumstances – happy family, supportive community, peace and prosperity, etc. – it is still hard work. We can’t really complain about that because the idea is that we should not have kids until we really know what we’re getting into. But there are parts about being a mother that are not just hard work but unnecessary hardship. Those, I absolutely hate and cannot get used to.
One completely unnecessary torment I feel subjected to daily is this constant battle I have to wage against junk: junk food, junk stuff, junk ideas – stuff that are nothing but garbage and, at best, end up in garbage dumps (I say “at best” because I wish there was a garbage dump for junk ideas too).
Now, I am no purist. I let my kids have junk food – candy, fast food, soda, sugary cereals, etc. – once in a while. I do my best to feed my kids good food and never stock junk items at home but I have a hard time spending my days around planning and preparing food (may the Lord have mercy on me for neglecting to feed my kids organic vegetables and brown rive every day). I am especially not good at banning things – I really do have an issue with issuing bans.
Also, my kids have their share of stacks and stacks of stuff: toys, knick knacks, whatever it all is that is piled up in every corner of the house. Again, I try to exercise some restraint in adding to these piles of stuff. But you have birthdays and Christmas and grandma coming back from a trip – not to mention “It’s my allowance, I can do what I want with it” – and pretty soon you have heaps of useless and half-broken stuff that nobody knows what to do with. The trouble is that this stuff is attached to the fresh and sharp memory of a kid who knows the history and function of each item in minute detail: “But this piece goes with that and Freddy gave it to me when…” So don’t you dare touch that junk.
Sometimes I just want to scream, buried underneath heaps of crap: candy wrappers, broken plastic, disposable entertainment, and duplicates and triplicates of them. But that’s nothing compared to how I feel assaulted and barraged by advertising. “Buy this, eat this, play with this… and torment your parents until you do.” I feel I have been turned into some kind of drill sergeant who has to constantly be laying down the law for my kids. “No,” I say, “No. No. No.” No to this and No to that. No, I won’t buy this. No, you won’t eat that. No, that’s enough. No, put that back. No, we’re leaving.
And please don’t start moralizing for me about how I should “explain” things to my kids. My kids at the age of five had all the explanation they needed for the rest of their lives. Lecture on the environment? Check. Effect on cute little animals in nature? Check. Effect on their own bodies and “growing up healthy”? Check. Trip to the garbage dump? Check. Recycling and composting? Check. My husband even once put a match to a $20 bill to demonstrate what buying junk does to money. What else are we supposed to do? And are our “explanations” adequate defense against Mac’s gadgets and what Lulu was wearing the other night? Is there any kind of defense against billboards and sides of buses and grocery store check-out stand displays?
I won’t even mention television. We don’t watch television. When I say we don’t I mean we don’t even have television reception in our house. But again, I am not a purist. I don’t try to ban television exposure. There are always grandparents’ and friends’ houses. There is TV-watching on the computer everywhere. My kids know as much about what’s on TV as anybody and they know all the commercials, complete with jingles, as well as anybody. They repeat crap to me like “But it’s made with whole grains” or “If we order now we will save ten bucks.” No, I have to say. No, that’s junk food full of chemicals. No, buying junk is not saving money. No, that’s just advertising. And then I yell: Advertising is bullshit, don’t repeat that bullshit to me (may the Lord have mercy on me for resorting to profanity with my kids; we are all sinners).
And let me tell you, all this is that much harder when you are dealing with “bad boys.” I know it first hand and I’ve observed a lot of mothers in action. These guys are programmed to push buttons (so to speak). I mean, they keep pushing and pushing till they get a reaction. And even after you have completely lost your parental equanimity and made a total fool of yourself – and pulled a muscle – turning half-way around and yelling at them in the back seat of the car, they are not finished with you: “Why?” they say, “I just want to know why.”
Of course they damn well know why. They know it backwards and forwards and can even quote from the most recent PBS show on the topic. But they are way smarter than that. They know that PBS documentaries don’t stand a chance against the onslaught of advertising that comes at you no matter where you turn your head. They catch that twitch in the corner of your mouth when you see the new “health food” offered by Burger King. They register your scowl and grumble at the new and improved iPod. And they just can’t resist giving you that little flick that makes your composure crumble. “I’m just asking, mom,” they say. “You never explain your reasons.”
I am so sick of this. I feel I have been turned into a policeman who is always on the job to enforce the law. Wield power and authority. Threaten punishment. Drag off to jail.
And to add insult to injury, I don’t feel like one of these modern policemen with shaved heads and menacing dark glasses who have unknowable objects in black leather casing attached at their waists. I feel like one of those feeble policemen in old French or Italian movies who are more the objects of ridicule than fear, the ones who bands of little boys play pranks on and laugh at.
Raising kids is already hard work – sometimes extreme manual labor and sometimes pure psychological torture. But I am sure I never signed up with the police academy.