At this time seven years ago, I was excitedly pregnant with my first child. Little did I know the tremendous changes that this new vocation would affect. Although not raised with high society standards of conduct, I did manage to function well in polite company. Motherhood, however, has led me to certain behavior which can only be described as, well, barbaric.
A few days ago, my three-year-old daughter shoved an entire bowl of rotini in her mouth. It was so full that she couldn’t even close it. As she attempted to chew the pasta, half-mangled pieces started to fall from her gaping jaw. Of course, since she’s only three, this bothered her none at all, and she didn’t even attempt to catch them. Appalled, I made her spit out the contents of her mouth and then kicked her out of the kitchen declaring that no barbarians were allowed there.
However, this is not exactly true. Although I have not sunk so low as to allow food to fall from my mouth, my table manners are not as refined as they were seven years ago. For example, I used to be able to enjoy a leisurely meal. No longer. A mother of young children learns early that if she wants her food hot or even warm, she must eat it as quickly as possible. Interruptions will come, and a screaming baby doesn’t care if you’re hungry or not. Yes, older children can and must be taught to wait for their pressing needs while mom has lunch, but in the last six and half years since my son was born, I have had at least one child (usually two) under the age of two, excepting one month before my fourth child was born.
So, I know where my daughter learned to shove an entire bowl of pasta in her mouth. I, barbarian mom, do it all the time.
And let’s take the generally accepted rule that one does not talk with one’s mouth full. As I just explained, mealtime is a time when I am consuming my food as rapidly as possible. There is never a moment when it is empty. Not talking with my mouth full would mean going ninety seconds or so without correcting my children. And when your oldest of four is under seven, that is just not an option. Throughout dinner, I am barking orders: “Sit down!”, “Finish your green beans!”, “Leave your sister alone!”, and, of course, “Don’t talk with your mouth full!”.
Now, the command to sit down at meals is frequently heard. My children are popping up and down so often that I feel like I’m living the carnival game where you try to hit the rodent on the head with a mallet. Of course, am I able to sit down throughout a meal? Of course not. The older children can fetch missing items from the fridge or cupboards, but babies inevitable want something that requires mom to get up to get. The green bean lover will suddenly decide that they are no longer acceptable, and mom begins a quest for a vegetable that will please the fickle palate. I become one of those rodents in that game.
Now another fine example of barbarism is climbing on the furniture and general jumping and running in the house. I often tell my boys that they are acting barbaric when they get a bit wild and wound up. But again, are my actions any better? With a baby around, the furniture becomes a convenient barrier to prevent her from wandering in forbidden territory. Of course, this only serves as an obstacle to the rest of us as well. The phone is on the third or fourth ring as I come running up from doing laundry, and I find the ottoman in my way. So, I leap over it to make it to the phone before the machine picks it up. Or, I am unable to find the ringing phone and begin to leap and dash around the house in an effort to find it. Or, I give up on finding the cordless phone and make a mad dash to the stairs and over the baby gate to the stationary phone on my desk.
Barbarians use fear and intimidation to dominate others. Just this morning, as my boys were climbing down the basement stairs in a particularly dangerous manner, I found myself saying, “If you hurt yourself while doing something stupid, I will beat you and make you hurt more.” Trumping that logic was that of my four-year-old who said, “But, Mom, we’re being secret agents.” Of course, secret agents are expected, nay, compelled, to engage in risky behavior. And which was the greater risk: falling down the stairs or suffering Mom’s wrath? Undecided.
And then there is that mother’s wrath. This is the final proof that motherhood is a barbaric vocation. I used to have a pretty even temper. Yes, there were moments of righteous indignation, but for the most part I did not often rant and rave. But those pregnancy books just did not prepare me for the behavior of real children. And I don’t mean the babies, who are angels despite the sleepless nights and the sleepless days. No, what puts me on the warpath is when I mistakenly think I’ve been blessed with fifteen minutes of peace only to discover that the damage done behind closed doors will take me an hour to clean up. Just hand me my spear and helmet.
Recently I walked into the living room and spotted the cap to a bottle of glue. Just the cap. A bad omen. I discovered the empty bottle lying on the floor near a white puddle and near a bed with two mysterious and giggling lumps and near the baby who was playing in the goo. And only a few days before the glue incident, for the second time in as many days, my children, with the six year old as ringleader, covered the floor and furniture with baby powder. The only thing that spared their lives that second time was that Dad, not Mom, discovered the disaster.
I do hope that in time, as the children age, my own manners will improve. I fear, though, that my behavior is predicated on their behavior, and unfortunately, I think things will get worse before they get better. In a few years and with a bit more education, my oldest child will, I’m sure, feel inspired to refer to me as Attila. The results are predictable.