Happiness is Screws and KY Jelly
Evan and Lulu, I told this story live in front of hundreds of people at Story Story Night (a storytelling program) 1.5 years ago. The them of the program was “Happiness”. I realized tonight that I hadn’t documented it for you to someday read when you get old enough to fully recognize how mortifying this all was.
There is no greater happiness than being a parent. At least that is what every diaper commercial would have you believe. Especially that one with the angelic looking sleeping babies being serenaded with Silent Night in the back ground. It even ends with a flash of the words “Peace on Earth”. See? Parenting doesn’t just bring individual happiness; it’s the universal cure for war, poverty, despair, and all things unhappy. It turns out, however, there are a lot of things that diaper commercials and the rest of these incredibly blissful parents seem to leave out.
In September of 2009 I was a single mother of two girls, ages 3 and my baby was just about to turn one. Although I was currently working three jobs to make ends meet, as well as volunteering my time for any organization who had the foresight to know my mouth hates forming the letters N-O, I decided I wanted to throw a big birthday party for the baby. Because every one year old NEEDS a gigantic party that they will never even know happened, right?
My children are not like any other children. And I am not saying this in the way most parents would say that phrase. Usually you hear parents say “my kids aren’t like other kids” followed by “they are really bright for their age” or “they are mature beyond their year.” That is not what I’m saying. At all. My children are CRAZY. Everything about them screams chaos. From their cow licked hair all the way down to their mismatched socks. They are these little balls of fury, fire, and sometimes hilarity. They NEVER look like those babies sleeping in that Pampers commercial. Even when they’re sleeping they curse. I know that you are probably thinking it’s unlikely that I actually have two children that intense, but I assure you I do. When I was pregnant with my second everyone used to say to me “well, at least you know that she’ll be the calm one.” Because apparently there is some unwritten rule that you are supposed to have one rambunctious kid and one Buddha child. I have smashed this theory out of the ballpark. Whether I am an anomaly or not, I don’t know, but the rule does not apply to my family. They are feisty, and extremely fun.
On the day of Lulu’s birthday I had taken the day off from all jobs to prepare for this one year old’s soiree that was to take place around 5:00 that night. I was planning to feed most of the people in Boise and some of the animals with the amount of food I was preparing. In addition, I had to make homemade cupcakes because one year olds are incredibly picky about the quality of the cake they consume. Sometimes I wonder if these things we do in pursuit of our children’s happiness are really just in fact pursing our own happiness of feeling like a good parent? Regardless of the reason, I had bitten off more than I could chew!
So there I was. Baking. Cooking. Prepping. Wrapping. Decorating. All while dealing with the birthday baby, Lulu, and her three year old sister who was in the worst form I’ve ever seen her in… and that’s saying a lot. Evan is my oldest, and she was born on a stage. She has to be the center of attention, and this day was slowly sucking away at her soul as she became more and more cognizant of the fact these preparations were not being made for her. When I put her in time out for about the 5th time by 10:00 AM I started considering ways to slide food to her under her bedroom door and leave her in there until the party.
In my household there are few things that will make me panic. I have heard every type of blood curdling scream you can imagine. I’ve heard fists pounding, doors slamming, puking, gagging, fighting, falling, and much, much more. But the one sound I’ve learned to fear is silence. And on this day when I suddenly realized while I was beating eggs with one hand and spoon feeding Lulu with the other, it had been quiet in the time out chamber of doom for about 5 minute. I practically sprinted up the stairs. Before I even got to the top I heard a sound that will haunt me to this day. I could hear Evan choking. When I reached her doorway she was sitting on the floor, fist clenched next to her face, visibly choking on some unidentifiable object. My mind seemed paralyzed, but luckily my body took over. I grabbed her clenched fist to see what was in it, and un-balled it to find… a long metal screw. I instantly knew that’s what must be lodged in her throat as well. I assure you, I read a lot of parenting books before I had my children. I went to classes. I talked to friends. There was never any mention that one day your child could swallow a screw. Luckily, about 10 seconds after I screeched into the room, Evan managed to swallow the screw completely. Wait… did I just say luckily? This now meant that there was a screw working its way down her esophagus and into her stomach.
Three hours, one trip to the ER, several x-rays, several meltdowns by myself, Evan and Lulu, and thousands of dollars later, we had confirmation that the screw had worked its way down to her stomach without causing any serious damage, and it was pointing in a direction that should mean she would be able to pass it without needing surgery. Would you judge me too much if I told you that at least a few times while sitting in the waiting room my mind wandered to the cupcakes that were both not in cups yet, and definitely not cake? It was my daughter’s first birthday, and no crisis was going to stop us from celebrating.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we returned home from what will now be called the greatest challenge to my ability to convince a child to hold still. I realized almost instantly that there was no way I was getting those cupcakes made. No problem. This party was sill happening. My daughter might be undignified enough to have to eat store bought cake, but she was still having her party. I flipped into turbo mode. I gathered, prepped, and whirled like a mad woman until the only thing left to do was run to the store and get the cupcakes. I was cutting it close on time, but hey, I spent a portion of my day pleading with a 3 year old to lie still so the nice hospital people could take a picture of a screw inside her belly. People would just have to understand. I flew around Fred Meyer with fury that could only be matched by my two children, both of whom were screaming after an exhausting day.
When I got out to the parking lot I noticed I had about 10 minutes to get to the party. I unloaded the cake, unloaded the screw swallower, and went to grab Lulu out of the front of the cart. As I yanked up on her she gave a one year old bellow and to my surprise didn’t budge. I glanced down and saw the second site of the day that I will never forget. Somehow during the frantic trip around Fred Meyer, Lulu had slipped her foot inside NOT the holes intended for fat baby feet to go through, but instead one of the actual slits on the side of the cart. Not just her foot either, but her entire leg was sticking through there. Ummm… ok. I had already handled ingested metal pointy objects. I could handle a stuck leg, right? Except I couldn’t. Because not only did her leg somehow get through this tiny slit, but it was now SWOLLEN. There was no way that leg was fitting back through that slit. I suddenly felt a day’s worth of anxiety clawing its way up inside my chest. Evan had already tried to sabotage Lulu’s birthday party, and now with the party literally starting, I couldn’t get my freaking baby out of the shopping cart. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I cried. In the middle of the Fred Meyer parking lot. I cried and I cursed all the methods of birth control that had failed me. I cursed diaper commercials that made parenting look like true happiness. I cursed women who have nannies who are in charge of getting kids stuck in shopping carts. I probably even cursed my children.
Eventually I had to stop cursing and crying, and go for help. I loaded Evan back into the cart and went inside to show off what a teary, frenzied mess I was. I went to the first employee I could find and explained my dilemma. I think the only thing that could have been worse than the look on my face at that point was the look on his face. “How in the world did she get it through there?!” he exclaimed. To which of course I cried some more. So he did the logical thing in situations like this and went and got two more men who had no idea what they were supposed to do. Finally someone came to their senses and got a woman. She still had no idea what should be done, but she did say the phrase that I assume got one heroic guy a nickname this day. She said “I think she needs some lubrication on her leg or it’s never going to budge.” Now, I instantly started thinking of Crisco. Vegetable oil. Suntan oil. Baby oil for goodness sake! Maybe this is what the actual intended purpose of baby oil is! This certain employee had a different idea. He came bounding back through the aisles in a triumphant gallop with his fist clenched nobly above his head holding our solution. Our answer. Our…KY Jelly? This day had already had so many twists and turns that this shouldn’t even surprise me, but it did. If parenting books glossed over the chapter on swallowing screws, then they definitely skipped KY Jellying your baby in the grocery store. However, this employee nailed it. We lubed her right out of that cart. And Fred Meyer, bless their hearts, even gave me the bottle complimentary. Apparently at this point I looked like someone who needed some free KY Jelly in my life.
Eventually we made it to the party. I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing that happened there. I’m sure there were presents given, food consumed, non-food metal items NOT consumed, and store bought cupcakes devoured. What I can tell you is this. I wasn’t planning this party in any pursuit of happiness. Not for myself, and not for Lulu. She was one. She didn’t care! I was doing it out of some misguided sense of expectations and some sick idea that the type of party I planned reflected on my parenting. And parenting is supposed to be bliss! So what would it say about me if I didn’t love planning things like this? That I’m an unhappy mother? I can tell you how I would have been a lot happier. I could have taken the day off of work to actually enjoy my kids. To lie in the park, just the three of us, eating an entire box of store bought cupcakes. They would have probably been an atrocious color, and dyed our mouths blue from the neon frosting. We could have had the swings all to ourselves, which every parent knows is a park commodity. We could have laughed on this day, instead of cried. That’s the party I think Lulu would have chosen, given the chance. (And the cognitive ability).
I think that is the true happiness associated with being a parent. Not the pressures we put on ourselves to do ridiculous, non-human feats, but the simplicity of what our children enjoy the most. Just think if we could bottle that up and keep it throughout life. What if on your 21st birthday all you wanted was a blue cupcake and an empty swing? You would have been in a lot less trouble, right? Parenting happiness isn’t like the diaper commercials make it look like at all. Children remind us not only of what happiness is, but also what we need to do to pursue it. To focus on those things that matter. Those moments that matter. They also have ways of informing us if we aren’t doing those things. Maybe not everyone’s children will do it by swallowing screws and lodging themselves in shopping carts, but that’s how mine chose to remind me. And I’m thankful for it. As much unhappiness as this day brought me, ultimately it reminded me to lose the concern over perceptions, and really focus on those things that make me happy. The two of you. Fits of laughter. Mile high swings.