I haven’t tried anything new for dinner since the snow started, so I thought I’d take a break from the culinary arena and focus, for an entry, on parenting. Feel free to leave immediately if this is of no interest, as it’s barely interesting to me. Now that my ventures into the public sphere involve managing the life systems and temperaments of three individuals aside from myself, I find that a surprising number of people not only notice my juggling skills, but take the time to point out that (most commonly) I sure do have my hands full, (frequently) they have no idea how I do it, and (occasionally) that I must have the patience of a saint. I do, nor do I, and no, no I don’t.
A background in Meetings & Events — respect the caps — has enabled me to take a possibly unique view of parenting. The world is a trade show, and your kids are your salesteam. The product: your appearance as a fantastic mother. In this regard, the office (home) is full of Debbie Downers who want to complain all day and do as little actual work as possible. My job is to make sure what happens behind the scenes stays behind the scenes, and that my salesteam hits the booth (grocery store, playgroup) during those twenty minutes they’re at their shiniest and brightest. A non-negotiable system of bonuses (gumballs, lollypops) and disciplinary actions (I will carry you to the car like a baby in two seconds) is imperative, and your unwavering, iron-fisted follow-through must be at the constant forefront of your team’s minds during all “on” time. My kids can run around naked and screaming when we’re at home for all I care, but when we’re out, the direction is to bottle it and button it.
The office-based part of my work day includes plenty of time for my team members to work through their differences and generally air their petty wrath in a room free of anything that could be fashioned into a weapon. All of that bottled rage built up during “booth duty” can be released far from judging eyes, and the team reappears well-mannered and reasonable for their next shift. I once had a boss who called his weekly staff gatherings “rocks meetings,” the idea being that we’d cover the biggest items first, then down the priority list as time allowed. I think, at least, that was the metaphor; when he explained it he talked a lot about pebbles and boulders. Needless to say, his name was quickly removed from my cookie distribution list. Anyway, I have reappropriated the term for the substantial chunks of time my underlings spend whacking their rock-like heads into things and each other in the throws of their collective dissatisfaction. The containment of their fury to the main boardroom (living room) frees up the rest of the house for cleaning. This is imperative in appearing to be a fantastic mother, as no one witnesses the freedom (neglect) bestowed upon the subordinates, which enables her to maintain shiny floors and dust-free surfaces.
Organization is an apparently fantastic mother’s number one necessary neurosis. There is nothing that cannot be improved through the implementation of a carefully constructed system. Things get boxes, actions get policies. Each thing in my house that measures under six square inches is currently in a bin, box, basket or drawer. Baths, feedings, meals, diaper changes, travel preparation, naps, bedtimes, and so on are carried out in the exact same manner for each instance. Never waiver, and never let a “must-happen” become a topic of discussion. The brilliance of policies is that they allow no room for guilt. If a baby cries when it should be sleeping, the checklist includes: diaper, hunger, trapped burp, wet clothing, chin-fold squatter, hair around digit, snuggle want. If crying persists after the checklist has been completed and the baby is obviously not sick, let it sing its joyful song for the duration of two cigarettes and a Diet Coke, and it’ll most likely be out cold upon your return check.
Speaking of the kind of noise level that literally drives some mothers insane, Pena Co. is currently under threat of a takeover by Teething Corp, and there are about two hours total per day of relative quiet. But that just means that I’m taking advantage of my prescription for something that knocks the racket down from mind-numbing to mildly annoying. That’s another odd effect of appearing to be a fantastic mother of three small children – therapists will prescribe us anything. I don’t pretend that mine is the hardest job in the world because 1) it isn’t, and 2) I don’t make it as hard as it possibly could be. Yet a baffling number of people consider staying at home with over two under-fours unfathomable. However, the difference between supporting self-important marketing executives and salespeople who drink whatever’s within reach and submit for reimbursement on their daily McDonald’s breakfast, and keeping three small children alive, healthy and not miserable is a slight one, indeed.