THE BLOG

A Little Neglect Goes a Long Way

02/06/2012 03:19 pm ET

I have a lot of kids. That is, a lot by most people's standards -- not by long skirt wearing, science averse, Duggar types -- but still more than most people can fathom, or should ever have to, really. I have squeezed four children from my own body, and have been lucky enough to get three more bonus kids as part of my sign-on marriage package. I love all these kids fiercely and there is nothing I will not do for them. Except write book reports for them; I won't do that. Or get one of those grocery cart covers for the babies so they never have to touch the cart -- that seems a bit ridiculous. Oh, and their laundry after the age of seven -- what am I, a hand maiden?

Truth is, there are a lot of things that I know are expected of me as a Mom, things I simply refuse to do. One might speculate that when you have seven children, those little motherly loving touches may fall by the wayside. This speculation would be absolutely correct, but it is more than that. I happen to think there is value in encouraging kids to just suck it up a bit. Just a bit, mind you.

I am not talking about making them travel to rural India for a summer to try to survive solely to build perspective, though I often fantasize about it. But I am talking about backing off a bit and seeing how they make a tough situation work. Taking some time for myself and for my husband without feeling like the kids will turn into tiny pillars of salt if they don't have constant supervision. I am talking about letting them experience a natural consequence once in a while. If you don't do your book report yourself, you are going to get an F. If you refuse to put your boots on, you will have to walk to the car in the snow with bare feet. And, I flat out refuse to pay for cavities to be filled for a child who has failed to brush their teeth. Believe me, it only takes one experience with super cold feet after walking through the snow to see considerably more cooperation when it comes to putting on boots. In fact, my son kept his boots on for three years straight after that particular incident. A little neglect goes a long way.

I think this philosophy may be hereditary. I have a sister who actually becomes enraged at the mere thought of wipe warmers for babies. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD" She will scream while tearing out small clumps of her own hair "SOMETIMES WIPES ARE COLD -- PONY UP AND GET YOUR ASS WIPED!" She will even use this phenomenon as an adjective "She was a real wipe warmer mother, so I knew she would be horrified that I gave my toddler a king sized bag of M&Ms just so I could finish my phone call." And although I recognize my sister's intense and unfulfilled need for Zoloft, I am with her. Really, wipe warmers? Seriously, the $25 dollars you spend on a wipe warmer could have been a micro-loan for a small Peruvian farm which could turn around the economic structure of an entire village. And you want to use the money to keep constant heat on a stack of pre-moistened butt wipes -- which are already a convenience product? Wow. If you are that concerned that your baby will develop coldassicus syndrome or whatever, hold the wipe in your hand a moment to bring it to your body temperature, come on, it is really not that hard.

When I went to my Mom with a problem she would listen intently with her cigarette and coffee in hand and say "Huh. That sucks. What are you going to do about that?" Thanks Mom. Mom was not a woman overflowing with obvious compassion, but in the end I usually just asked myself "What am I going to do about that?" and then I would figure out what to do. On my own. There is genuine worth in that and I am thankful every day for a Mom who gave me space to fall hard -- and then pick myself up.

I am the mother who is often the subject of scorn. (Don't argue with me. Seriously. Is anyone out there arguing with me? Well please stop it if you are.) Moms are always coming up and saying "Is that your son 60 feet up in the tree? You know he could fall." Yes, I realize he could fall; I am lenient -- not delusional. Or "You know your toddler is lying of the floor where people have walked." Again, very well aware that people walk on floors. Thank you. Also aware that people have existed for thousands of years in less-than-sterile conditions and yet the human race manages to survive and even thrive. I can't tell you how many times strangers have freaked out seeing a small child, apparently "lost" (uh, yes, I'm speaking of one of mine) and picked them up, frantically looking for proper authorities. Meanwhile I'm running to stop them before Social Services gets all over my case, as I realize it is only a matter of time. Inevitable. See photo above. In situations like these I am always watching the small child, just not standing so close that it actually appears as if I am the child's puppeteer. I am letting the kid discover their own little piece of the world. There is value in this.

Sometimes my daughter wears a Snow White dress every day for three months and sometimes dinner is popcorn and peanut butter on apples, but there is more than one right way to raise a child. In our house we often make up sophomoric lyric parodies, and I am comfortable with my children declaring their atheism and expressing controversial opinions in colorful language. This is not to say we live without boundaries. Not at all. In our house you need to be respectful of other people, pick up what you drop, contribute to the home and family, and take care of yourself. And may God (or lack thereof) help you if you bring food anywhere outside of the kitchen.

The "R" Us franchise will probably never become a sponsor of my blog. I don't actually buy most things you allegedly "need" to raise healthy babies and children. It goes with out saying that I don't buy wipe warmers, as I am sure my sister would literally rip out my ovaries if she ever found one in my home -- but I also would never buy things like a sleep positioner. This is a wedge you use to have your baby sleep ever so slightly on its side -- it is a real thing and you can buy one. If you find yourself in need of something to prop your sleeping baby up, use one of the boatload of stuffed animals you acquire the moment sperm hits the egg. And you know those baby food processors, mills, and grinders you use to make baby food? I call mine a fork.

All these kids and I have no idea what a layette is.

I also don't buy toys for my kids. They have some, from birthdays, Christmases, and and the occasional friend who takes pity and drops by with hand me downs -- but I just know that secret Geoffry the giraffe guards with his life -- kids don't really play with toys. I mean, they like the IDEA of toys, and they play with them for a while, but they are just as happy playing with real things like utensils from the kitchen and building with books and cups. If you visit our house you are very likely to find the baby happily sitting on the floor playing with a Tylenol rattle and a roll of duct tape. Besides, living without toys makes it all that much more fun to visit an office waiting room or the children's area at the library. It also makes it unnecessary for me to hold yard sales every few years.

Years ago, when I had only two children, I visited my Zoloft-deficient sister at her beach house with my three-week-old baby and my four-year-old, "Boots" who actually wore his winter boots to the beach that day. I let him play in the sand while I took the newborn in her basket car seat and set her down with a blanket to protect her from the sun. I then turned my stroller/beach chair to watch the most entertaining thing on the beach. My sister's in laws had joined us with their two-year-old. They brought a tent, a video camera, a regular camera, a large bag of clothes and towels, another large bag of sand toys and sun screen. We're talking about enough beach ground coverings to erect a tent/towel city on the beach with at least one red wagon full of provisions. The tent itself was a marvel of engineering that took two parents, fifteen poles and forty-five minutes.

I watched all this unfold from my reclined stroller and thought "Impressive." At one point, the two year old's Mom said to me "Your daughter has been under that blanket a while, is she OK?" I scootched down in the stroller so my foot could reach over to her car seat basket and gave it a kick. My baby startled and I turned and said "Yup, she is fine." And she was.
It turns out that duct tape has other uses later on in life. Here's the newborn, eight years later:

She's still fine.