Jenna Wolfe: My 'practice parenting' lunch with a 3-year-old didn't exactly go as planned
Editor's note: Jenna is blogging about her adventures through pregnancy. Here's this week's installment of Jenna's (Baby) Food for Thought.
When it comes to raising a child, I’m well aware that the expression, “practice makes perfect” does not always apply. You can probably practice until the day your time is up, and you may still never achieve parenting perfection. I don’t even think such a thing exists!
That being said, I decided I needed at least some practice before this little one comes along, so I enlisted the help of my 3-year-old nephew, Max. My brother and sister-in-law have two little boys, Max and Alec, who’s 1 1/2. Alec doesn’t really talk yet, so I decided to take Max out for lunch. A little food, a little conversation, a little unsupervised alone time with a small person -- all to get me in the parenting mood.
Or so I thought.
I went to pick Max up at my brother’s apartment and to my absolute joy, he was waiting at the door for me to get there. The first few minutes are always the same with that little nugget.
MAX: Hi Gigi! (He calls me Gigi because he can’t pronounce Jenna.)
ME: Hi Maxie! You ready to go get lunch?
MAX: I have a watch. This is my watch.
ME: What a great watch, Max! What time is it?
MAX: (Looking at his blue and yellow SpongeBob watch.) It’s 36.
ME: Well it’s getting late, we should get going.
And with that, we were lunch bound. Max threw on his oversized backpack, which had in it an extra outfit, big boy pull ups (he's recently toilet trained), snacks, a water bottle, crayons, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. Mind you, we were just going to lunch … down the street … at the diner. I, on the other hand, had nothing more than my child-like anticipation, a whole lot of zeal, my iPhone to document the afternoon in pictures and my wallet.
ME: Maxie, how’s camp going? Is it fun?
MAX: It’s fun.
ME: Do you sing songs?
MAX: Yeah, we sing songs. I like singing songs.
MAX: Owen has a dog.
ME: Interesting stream of thought, buddy.
So we showed up at the diner and we were seated fairly quickly. I looked around. A lot of mothers. A lot of kids. Seemed like a smooth enough operation. Order. Make sure they eat. Make sure they drink. Pay. Leave. How hard could that be??
ME: Max, do you want mac and cheese or a hot dog?
MAX: I like pizza.
ME: So do I. But they don’t have pizza. How about mac and cheese?
ME: (Starting to panic.) Do you want a milkshake? Let’s get a milkshake … and mac and cheese.
MAX: I like milkshakes.
Lunch was a trip. We colored the placemats until the food arrived, all the while discussing the wheels on the bus, the itsy bitsy spider, and Dora.
Milkshakes came first. I didn't care what came first to be honest, I was just happy food arrived, period. Max was getting restless: by the time the shakes came, his placemat was on the floor, one of his shoes was tossed off, his water had spilled twice and his paper napkin was in a thousand pieces.
After the shakes came the mac and cheese, so scorching hot I almost hyperventilated blowing on each bite for so long! So there I was -- navigating between handing him the milkshake (I didn't trust him holding a glass), feeding him the mac and cheese (because it was so hot), keeping him entertained, and explaining what my big belly meant. I looked around for a brief moment and saw that every other mother had lunch down to a well-oiled machine. Why was table 9 such a disaster?? I figured I'd focus on the new baby coming.
ME: Hey Max, you’re going to have a cousin soon. Your first girl cousin.
MAX: Alec is a boy.
ME: Yes, your brother is a boy, but Gigi is having a girl. See how big my belly is?
MAX: Your belly is big?
ME: Yes, it’s huge.
MAX: But why?
ME: Because there’s a baby inside. Your cousin is there.
MAX: But why?
ME: Well, because that’s where babies grow before they come out.
MAX: But why?
ME: Check please!
Shortly after paying, Max casually mentions that he has to make a pee-pee. I took a deep breath, found my Zen and proceeded forward. I trained for this: the bathroom, the pull ups, the aiming. I got this. What I didn’t train for was the automatic toilet flusher. He didn’t like it. Too loud. So we had to leave -- before he went. So now I'm on borrowed time. No diaper, no pee-pee, nowhere to go should he suddenly find himself unable to hold it til we got home.
Half a block down the street, he had to go. Since desperate times call for desperate measures, I snuck into the manicure/pedicure salon on the corner, held my stomach as if I was 35 months pregnant, begged to use their bathroom, and, dismissing their very apprehensive agreement to let me, dragged Max in with me, knowing full well I had just shamelessly used my pregnancy. Max went, was thrilled with himself, and proceeded to tell people who were drying their nails all about it on the way out.
MAX: I made a pee-pee.
EVERYONE IN THE STORE: (smiling)
MAX: I washed my hands
ME: OK, let's get out of here.
The walk home was long. He was tired. I was tired. We started singing "You Are My Sunshine" ... but after half a block, we petered out. I think we were both ready to call it a day. When we got back to his apartment, Max was suddenly infused with all his energy again, wrangling away from me to go play with his little brother. I said goodbye to him and got some semblance of a reply. I then decided to go for the impossible -- asking for a kiss, knowing full well he was knee-deep in toys. So I thanked my sister in law for letting me spend the time with him, and started to walk out. All I could think was, "How in the world will I ever make it through a lifetime of parenting when one afternoon nearly slayed me?" I was exhausted. Drained. My faith in motherhood was dwindling. And then, like a burst of caffeine, Max called my name. I turned around and there he was. I bent down and he gave me a hug. I nearly melted.
It was right there and then I realized that all this work we do -- all the patience we carry, all the time and effort we put into raising kids -- we do all of this for love. And we happily do it again and again -- not to achieve perfection, but to appreciate the journey. Before you know it, they’ll be all grown up and that hectic lunch at the diner will seem like a distant memory.