One mother I know so loathes the process of getting her kid to school that she decided to open the doors of her private practice at 6am. This way she was completely excused from the painful chore of dragging her daughter out of bed and pushing her disgruntled child to get dressed, eat breakfast, and the rest of it. There’s nothing so stressful as motivating a tired cranky kid to move along. Faster. My mom says growing up I was a monster in the morning, growly as a bear shaken out of hibernation.
In contrast, my 9-year-old is a breeze to get to class. Not only is he an early riser (sometimes poking me awake if I press the snooze button too often), we cheat at the school morning ritual: Max is dressed for the day and his bed is pretty much made before he even gets up. Max used to wear pajamas. I wondered when he would stop donning those polyester Autobot bottoms and move onto regular sweats and shorts. He stopped the other year when he outgrew the last set of pjs. And when he wore sweats to bed, I’d forget to tell him to change out of them in the morning. So began this habit of dressing in the next day’s wardrobe before going to sleep. He looks as crumpled as most other boys in his class. Maybe they sleep in their school clothes as well.
Months ago, I also started asking him to make his bed, except now he’s sleeping on top of the covers. In theory it’s because his body temperature runs so hot, he sweats too much under the blanket. But sometimes I think he just doesn’t want to make the bed. In the morning, all he does is give the quilt a tug to smooth it out and voila: bed made.
Parents cheat. Some parents feed their kids vitamin gummies and forego the force-feeding of vegetables. Or they order pizza, instead of cooking a well-balanced meal. Some bathe their kids only every other day. Saves about 2 hours of time a week. Some, rather than instill the intrinsic value of everyone in the household pitching in with chores, bribe their kids to do tasks with an allowance (although you could argue the practice preps them for a salaried job). And then there’s all kinds of cheats when it comes to sleep: Some families co-sleep. Some let their babies suck on the bottle. Others rock their infants until they fall asleep. Max used a pacifier til he was 3. A friend of mine used to get her two boys to bed, 3 and 6 years old, by waiting for them to pass out while watching TV in her bed before transferring them to their own bedrooms.
TV, and now a digital tablet or smart phone, is the greatest cheat. Some derisively call it The Babysitter. With the TV you buy yourself at least one extra hour of sleep on the weekend. Or another hour of worktime to get things done. Throw in a Disney movie and parents buy the opportunity to socialize uninterrupted at dinner parties. And don’t forget baby formula, flying in the face of government breast-milk campaigns—imagine your baby can’t figure how to latch, your boobs have coagulated into stones, or for whatever reason that picturesque mother-child romance is not happening around your chest area and now you cry tears of guilt as you feed your baby from the bottle because you see posters everywhere touting “Breast is best.”
Perhaps “cheat” is the wrong word. Perhaps “shortcut” might be more appropriate. Shortcuts help us survive parenthood. We probably pay for it somewhere else, but it seems like most of us grew into functioning adults despite all the TV and junk food we consumed, and all the improper habits our own parents overlooked. I once read an article documenting the writer’s first experience with a salad at age 25. Being the fourth kid in the family, his parents gave up on vegetables altogether and let him eat all the candy he wanted to growing up. He seems to have made out all right, writing for the New York Times and all. Cheats, shortcuts, sanity-savers, we use them so that our parental energy can be stretched out the entire length of the day. Perhaps this is a post of self-absolution. Any other “cheaters” out there? As John Lennon said, “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright, it’s alright.” Pick and choose your battles.