by Kally Kislowicz
4 misheard me at bedtime the other night. When I told him to go brush his teeth, he thought I said ‘please lie on your stomach on the bathroom floor and trace the path of a tiny bug as it weaves its way between the tiles’. It was my bad, really. I should enunciate better.
To avoid further distraction and miscommunication I began to micromanage: ‘Please pick up your toothbrush and put it in your mouth’ (FYI – a clenched jaw and hissing voice do not facilitate elocution). 4 looked at me wearily and said ‘oh mommy, I never remember which toothbrush is mine, I just grab whichever one I feel like’.
The poor kid has a lot on his mind. Every day he must wake up, decide what to eat for breakfast, perfect his couch-pillow fort building methods, and enjoy some sort of prolonged entertainment at the zoo/pool/children’s museum, etc. My boy has a full plate and simply cannot be expected to remember if his is the Transformers or the Sponge Bob toothbrush.
This would be funnier if he was not, before my very eyes, grabbing MY toothbrush at random and shoving it in his mouth.
And so today I bring you a working list of the indignities of parenthood – numero uno: Unknowingly sharing my toothbrush.
A close runner up to toothbrush sharing on the parenthood indignity scale is cleaning poop out of the bathtub. Your baby is chillin’ in the bath, got some bath toys, got some bubbles, all is peachy keen, and then this unspeakably disgusting thing happens. You look around to see who is going to handle this mess, and your horrified reflection in the bathroom mirror alerts you to the fact that it’s you! You have to clean this up because maintenance people do not live here. Or they do live here, but they are you. So you clean it up, all the time wondering if this whole unfortunate episode has left the baby clean or dirty. Who can tell? It is all so very gross and unclear.
Let’s move further down the indignity scale. Clandestinely shoving cookies into your mouth when the kids are in the other room and then getting caught – that can be embarrassing. They sneak up on you and ask you what you’re eating and you smoothly fib and tell them you’re eating an apple. Then 8 looks closely at the crumbs on your face and says ‘looks like it was a chocolate chip apple.’ Kid thinks he’s better than me just because he eats his cookies in broad daylight. Humiliating.
Just this morning 2 handed me something small and sticky. ‘What’s this?’ I asked, unsuspectingly. She smiled proudly, ‘From me nose’. I am running out of synonyms for degrading.
Recently when arguing with my kids about one thing or another I have found myself saying things like ‘I am in charge!’ The shame in this is that people whose power is undisputed seldom have to remind their subordinates that they are in control. The med student does not question the surgeon’s decision to go with the scalpel as opposed to the spoon. Mickey Mouse never has to remind Donald whose clubhouse it really is. But sometimes my children seem to forget that I am both queen and commander-in-chief of their existence. I gave birth to them (which was a super dignified experience), and keep them clothed, fed, and clean(ish), yet they question my rule. A power struggle with people who find it challenging to pour their own milk does not add to my self-importance.
The purpose of the indignity scale is that it allows us to qualify the mortifications that befall us as parents and put them in perspective. A public tantrum is embarrassing, but not nearly as upsetting as having your pediatrician say ‘and where exactly were you when 5 was climbing up this tall tree and then falling off of it?’ Showing up at a work meeting with peanut butter in your hair is unnerving, but it does not come close to the horror of trying to converse with the rabbi at synagogue while 2 is hell bent on pulling up your skirt.
The indignity scale helps us cling to whatever semblance of pride we have left. And when we have no more pride, it reminds us to put our toothbrushes on a very high shelf.