My Facebook feed tells me it’s the 20-year anniversary of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, so I thought it would be appropriate to write something about the family. I’ve been thinking a lot about the family lately. My family, I mean. (What family were you thinking of?) It’s been eighteen years and four months since Brother J and I started the family, and I guess this is as good a time as any to let you all know how it’s going.
Everyone is finally toilet trained. Which is pretty impressive, considering our youngest is only nine. (She was actually the prodigy of the family, fully trained both day and night at four and a half. We thought of having her tested for giftedness, but we were too busy enjoying our diaper-free lifestyle to get around to it.)
No one is pregnant. Especially not me.
Everyone is capable of sitting quietly in sacrament meeting. They don’t even need snacks. (Unless Tic Tacs count as snacks, in which case, screw you, at least it’s not an iPad.) In the event that one of them is incapable of sitting quietly in sacrament meeting, she is capable of removing herself to the foyer. Okay, sometimes I have to give her a little nudge. Or shove, if you will. But I don’t have to pick her up and carry her out anymore, which is awesome because although she’s short for her 17 years, she’s still way too big for me to lift.
Everyone remembers to do their household chores when threatened.
We have developed many fun family traditions. Waffles and ice cream on Christmas. Going out for hamburgers after the Saturday morning session of General Conference. The annual visit to the Enchanted Forest—a poor man’s Disneyland that makes up in low-brow charm what it lacks in actual attractions. Rooting for the Ducks and against BYU. Answering every earnest inquiry with “Your face.” Mocking Grandma behind her back (and occasionally to her face—or YOUR FACE). Making funeral potatoes for Easter dinner and afterward watching Easter Dream.
We manage to have Family Home Evening almost every Monday. Sometimes it gets pre-empted if a child has a school activity or Brother J and I have an important metal concert to attend, but otherwise–like clockwork, baby! We don’t do an opening song anymore because everyone seems to have outgrown a tolerance for their parents’ singing, and sometimes the “lesson” is perfunctory—we also have a rather loose definition of “home”—but there are always refreshments. And you know what they say: as long as there’s an opening prayer and refreshments, it’s kosher. Or whatever the Mormon word for kosher is. (What is the Mormon word for kosher? “Appropriate”?)
We read scriptures as a family every evening. If everyone’s there and it’s earlier than 10:30 p.m., we will actually study the scriptures—as in read a passage and discuss it. (I’m delighted to say that Brother J fulfills his patriarchal role by taking the lead with this crap. If it were up to me, we’d just be reading from romance novels and serial killer books. He’s truly a spiritual giant, and if I manage to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, it will be because of him and despite myself.) If not everyone’s there, or it’s like, midnight, one of us will just pick an inspirational verse at random (some of us have a looser definition of “inspirational” and more faithfully adhere to the “random” part), say a prayer, and call it good. (And you know what they say: as long as you say a prayer, it’s all good. Also, appropriate.)
The bad—or should I say, the challenges:
Everyone leaves their dirty socks wadded up in little balls in random places around the house. Seriously, what the hell? Also, they routinely put trash in the kitchen sink. WHY, PEOPLE? WHY?
They are such prima donnas about food. First of all, they expect to be fed dinner every single night. While it’s true that none of them is a picky eater, there are very few meals that no one hates. One person’s favorite is another person’s vomit-inducing tragedy. If I told them I didn’t feel like cooking and they could just eat cold cereal, they would probably call an abuse hotline. Also, every single night, without fail, while I am preparing dinner, each one will come up to me in turn and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Even if it’s perfectly obvious—or should be—what’s for dinner. There’s a huge pot of boiling water on the stove and a saucepan full of marinara sauce. It’s not some esoteric new recipe. I can’t explain why this bothers me so much, unless it’s just that I’ve developed some Pavlovian response after years of informing people what was for dinner and invariably being met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm from one or more directions. Why do you even need to know what’s for dinner? Are you expecting another offer? Why can’t you just let it be a surprise? (Or take a wild stab—YES, IT’S SPAGHETTI! AGAIN!!)
My husband thinks that just because I’m home all day, I don’t have an excuse for not checking the mail. Dude, I’m home. The mailbox is across the street. Yeah, I’ll just check it on my way to picking up your dirty, wadded-up socks and Otter Pop wrappers you left in front of the couch. That will be totally convenient for me!
But the hardest thing is that after seventeen and almost-one-half years, I’m still not a very good parent. I’m not a bad parent. For instance, I’m not as bad at parenting as I am at housekeeping. Well, I dunno, some days it’s probably a toss-up, but in general, I feel pretty unequal to the task. I think I’m doing an okay job with the kids who’d probably be fine regardless of what I did, but with the kids who really need an adult who knows what she’s doing, I’m screwing up on an almost-daily basis.
I understand children don’t come with instruction manuals and no one is perfect. I vividly recall the nervous breakdown I had in the hospital after #3 was born (a combination of many factors, not the least of which was that my oldest had just been diagnosed with autism, but I was also mentally ill and had been living with a perpetual head cold for approximately seven months—among other things). The poor nurse who was trying to talk me down told me with compassion, “You don’t have to be the perfect housekeeper. You don’t have to be the perfect mother.” And I was like, “Who’s talking about perfect, lady? I’m talking about the absolute bare minimum. I’m not making it. I’m drowning.” Of course I didn’t say those words. She was just trying to help. Also, I was having a nervous breakdown, not so much articulating my thoughts. But I remember thinking then that nobody else got it: doing my best actually wasn’t good enough.
Once I was sitting among a group of other mothers, and one woman, talking about her strong-willed, spirited daughter, said, “Sometimes I have to just go into my room and shut the door and say, ‘Heavenly Father, you’re going to have to tell me what to do with this child because I just don’t know. She was yours first, so you must know.’” I wanted to ask, “And does he actually answer you?” I may have, but it probably got lost among everyone else’s comments. I remember thinking, sure, who hasn’t prayed for guidance with their children? There are no atheists in foxholes, as it were. But at some point these prayers, for me, became more rhetorical than petitionary. I also frequently open the refrigerator door and wonder aloud why I just did that.
It’s not that I don’t believe God answers prayers. I think he does. I also think he’s trying to teach me a lesson of some kind. I assume. I mean, I hope so. I’d hate to think he was just ignoring me. If God can truly be likened to a parent, I think it’s fair to say that just as human parents adjust their nurturing and discipline to suit different children’s personalities, God has decided that the most effective strategy to use with me is to let me figure crap out on my own. Sort of like I think my kids should do with dinner. Unfortunately, I’m not living up to my potential. Sort of like my oldest. When I see her struggling and suffering and reaping the consequences of her choices, when she insists that I just don’t understand, or worse, that I don’t care, and I insist back that I do understand, I do care, but I can’t help her, that I would if I could but I literally can not— I picture God up there going, “Yeah, that’s right. See how it feels?” And I’m like, “Touche, God. Touche.”
Believe me, my child, I know exactly how you feel.