Question 1Congratulations! If even one of your answers put you in line with the Mean Mommies, then yuppers! YOU are a Mean Mommy. Your children may still grow-up to be self-centered, lazy, inconsiderate boobs who don’t exercise good discretion when making choices (and it can happen to the best of them during the hormonal onslaughts of pre-teen and teen years), but at least you can say you've tried your darndest. Chalk-up any personality glitches to recessive genes, and just shrug your shoulders and grab a beer when any Nature-Nurture debates come up.
Your eldest child has begged and pleaded for four weeks straight to take trumpet lessons. You ask around but can’t find a loaner trumpet. Your eldest child tells you that the school music teacher has given him the phone numbers of local music stores that will lease trumpets. You hesitate. Eldest child swears that the only thing he can think of day and night, night and day, with every waking breath and even in his dreams is learning to play the trumpet. You finally agree on the condition that if you’re going to dedicate an hour of your valuable time driving to the music store and signing paperwork to lease a trumpet for which you have to pay forward the $75.00 three months fee (after which time you can cancel the lease), that said child will exercise dedication and persistence and continue trumpet lessons for at least three months. And, so that the paid lessons aren’t an absolute waste of time, child will also agree to practice every day for a measly 15 minutes. Child agrees.
After two weeks of trumpet lessons, eldest child announces that he’s frustrated and wants to quit playing the trumpet, that practice time is cutting into his farting-around time, and that - furthermore! - he never ever wants to hear another Miles Davis recording again. Ever.
A. Allow him to quit. What’s $75.00? You can earn that in an afternoon digging ditches and picking corn. So he doesn’t like playing the trumpet? So what?
B. Explain that sometimes the beginning stages of learning any new skill can be challenging, and that he should try a bit longer, give it a fair chance, and he’s even likely to see improvement.
C. Empathize with his feelings while at the same time being very clear that a deal is a deal, and that in the future he should be very clear on the terms before entering into a contract.
D. Tell him to get upstairs and play the god-damned trumpet or else go out and dig ditches and pick corn until he can pay you back the $75.00.
Answer: If you chose anything other than A, you are a Mean Mommy. It doesn’t matter that you’re reflecting and validating his feelings, nor that you are rationally and reasonably teaching a valuable life lesson. You might as well tell him off the bat that his choices are to dig ditches or play the trumpet. Because that’s how it will all translate.
Some of the girls in 4th grade are reading the latest quasi-sexual teen novel in which an intelligent and strongly independent high school girl meets a really hot but coolly cruel teenage vampire, and then over the next 400 pages the intelligent and strongly independent girl decides that the vampire dude is so awesomely cute and mysterious that she'd be willing to die for him - literally - to be with the cute guy forever and ever and ever.
Your precocious 10-year-old daughter is begging to read the book. Do you...
A. Let her read the book. What’s one more story about an intelligent and strongly independent teen girl willing to make the choice to kill herself for a guy who is, like, really really cute? You played with Barbie and Vampire Ken when you were her age and you turned out okay.
B. Explain that you’re okay with her reading this book but won’t allow her to read further into the series until you are convinced that she’s emotionally ready to handle the scene in book three where the teen girl and the vampire engage in violent, black-and-blue sex using live bats as bedroom toys.
C. Reflect and validate her feelings, and then offer to read the book at the same time so that you both can analyze and discuss the characters and their choices.
D. Reflect and validate her feelings, and then hand her a copy of Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons because no way in hell is she reading a teen-death-drama-of-cute-boys book yet.
Answer: Any attempt to stand between, moderate, mitigate, or critique the awesome cuteness of a seriously awesome and cute guy will most likely earn you at the very least a “You’re a Mean Mommy” sigh of disdain...even if your 10 year old is secretly happy that you won’t allow her to read the book because, really, she didn’t want to read the book and now she has a handy get-off-the-hook answer in response to any peer pressure from other girls (i.e., “My Mean Mommy won’t let me read the book.”)
All the kids in the neighborhood go to Jimmy John’s house after school to jump on his trampoline. All the kids jump on the trampoline at the same time. All the kids jump on the trampoline, and Jimmy John’s parents aren’t home. Everyone has been jumping all year while Jimmy John’s parents weren't home, and no one has gotten hurt, and everyone has turned out “okay”.
Your kids ask if they can go to Jimmy John’s house after school to jump on his trampoline while his parents aren't home. Your answer is...
C. Hell no
D. No way in hell no
Answer: I think you’re getting the gist of this by now.
Your almost-3 year old toddler, Little Clive, is playing with the trains at the Thomas The Tank Engine table at a local bookstore. Because customers often walk off with the trains like they think they are free party favors or something, there are only five trains left for kids to play with. And your toddler, Little Clive, has all five of them. Another young child walks up to the table and stands patiently waiting to play with a train. Then his mommy shows up and helps the young child to “ask politely” to play with one of the trains.
Your almost-3 year old, Little Clive, is not good at sharing and all past attempts to cajole him into sharing have resulted in an hour-long, 156 decibel, tooth and nails tantrum.
What do you do?
A. Apologize profusely, but then explain to the other child that Little Clive is not quite three years old and doesn’t know how to share yet, but that you’re certain he’ll be ready to learn to share within the next three to six months and at that time he’ll be happy to let him play with the trains.
B. Apologize profusely, but then explain to the other mother that from what you've read in the newly published book on toddler development, some almost-3-year-olds aren’t developmentally ready to share, and that really, Little Clive psychologically equates removing a toy with removing an arm or a lung - his identity is that connected to the objects he possesses - and that the resulting separation anxiety from forced toy-removal could have long-lasting effects even into next month, and that you’re certain he’s showing signs that he’ll be ready to learn to share within the next three to six months and at that time he’ll be happy to give her son a train to play with.
C. Pretend that you’re deaf and blind and from a non-English speaking country and can’t understand sign-language and that you're in a Teflon bubble.
D. With a happy face and a kind tone and sincere joy in your heart, announce to Little Clive that another child is here to play. You can say things that will help Little Clive problem solve, like, “You have five trains, and he has no trains to play with; what can you do to help him have fun and play with the trains, too?” Or you can say things to help Little Clive begin to learn to be aware of other people’s expression of emotion, like “Uh-oh! The other little boy looks sad. He is not smiling. He is looking down. He is sad because he has no train to play with. I bet you could help make him happy by letting him play with a train.” You can add a twist of controlled autonomy: “Little Clive, which train would like to share with the little boy - the blue train or the red train?” God help me, you can even sweeten the trade with a bribe just to get Little Clive past the point of thinking that his toys are valuable organs or appendages: “Little Clive, if you give that little boy a train, I’ll go to the café and get four packets of sugar for you to eat.” But at the end of the day, Little Clive will give up one of the trains, even if it means carrying a scratching-biting-screaming almost-3 year old through the store, to the exit, your five-dollar venti latte left behind at the train table.
Answer: If you chose D, your child will think you’re a Mean Mommy. If you chose A, B, or C, most other parents will think you’re a Mean Mommy. There is also the possibility that some customers will think that you’re a Mean Mommy for even bringing kids into the store, but in that case I say screw’em.
It’s summer! Hurrah Hooray ! Calloo Callay! After eight months of needing to kick kids out of bed with air horns and sirens, you wake to find all three of your lovelies up at dawn, already having fed themselves (from the look of the dishes all over the table and the open milk carton on the floor), already dressed (from the tell-tale sign of the pajamas scattered all over the floor and the over-turned basket of clean laundry) and already planted in front of the television watching Nick Jr. for some time (from their slack-jawed appearance and first digs into mid-morning snacks.)
What do you do?
A. Nothing! Ah summer! Ah youth! Ah blissful days of innocence and free-wheeling freeness! There will be time enough for “have-to” and “must” and “do this, or else”. There will be time for studying and then jobs and then being beholden to mortgages and other debts. There will be time for days spent in worry and pain and the hard emotional labor of caring for every other person's needs before your own. There will be time for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate. And indeed there will be time to wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, with a bald spot in the middle of their hair…. (Thanks to T.S.Eliot for this parenting tip.)
B. Immediately call a family meeting. Discuss expectations, put forth that television time will be reserved for rainy days, ask them to outline their plans for getting their butts out-of-doors each day, draft a chore chart which includes laundry and dishes, and be explicit that unpleasant consequence will follow swiftly and consistently anytime you find an open carton of milk on the floor. Etc.
C. Let them have a day of debauchery. The next day, call a family meeting, discuss expectations, put forth that television time will be reserved for rainy days, ask them to outline their plans for getting their butts out-of-doors each day, draft a chore chart which includes laundry and dishes, and be explicit that unpleasant consequence will follow swiftly and consistently anytime you find an open carton of milk on the floor. Etc.
D. Let them have a week of debauchery, after which you’ll call a family meeting… (see answers B and C). Etc.
Answer: A - You may very well raise a household of slacker poets who will never leave your house and who will consign you to a life of paying for and then picking up open milk cartons from your floor when you should be spending your retirement time and money in Aruba. However, they will write glowing odes singing your praise which will, unfortunately, probably never be published.
B, C, D - You will spend the summer in a clean-ish house with grumbling but physically fit children. At some point, you will most likely happen upon some “intentionally” stray papers scrawled with lines of angry, self-indulgent free verse describing the unfairness and stupidness of life. Make sure to buy a good thesaurus and leave it somewhere the kids will stumble upon it - maybe next to the milk carton on the floor. (You might even want to be helpful and highlight the pages that include “servitude” and “insipid”.) Prepare yourself for the day when your hard-working and disciplined children announce that selections from their collection of sonnets entitled Mean Mommy will be published in next month’s Poetry magazine.
In fact, grab one for me, too.
And look! There's even a blog entitled Mean Mommy! And blogger sans pareil, Slouching Mom, recently revealed that she, too, is a Mean Mommy. And another from Heidi Hess Saxton via Extraordinary Moms Network, RIP, Mean Mommy. So worry not, Mean Mommies. Stand tall and proud! You are in good company! Give your kids ice cream for dinner once in a while, just to keep them guessing.