"Chapter 32: cleanliness," my 15-year-old self bellowed from the back seat of our family's VW van. "Letting youngest children whine their way out of not regularly washing their hair is nothing if not a personal affront to my social status and a walking advertisement of your inability to control your dirty children," I helpfully added, elaborating on why this chapter needed to be written, by moi, for my parents.
Chapters one through 31 also existed as a careful documentation of the failures on the part of my parents, in raising my two youngest sisters. I dutifully documented their flawed judgment calls, blew the fog horn on their many inconsistencies with discipline, ridiculed their moments of weakness when caving in on requests that they would have definitely squashed when I was younger, usually all from the back seat of our old Volkswagen van as we headed off on long drives.
"Chapter 14: Compromising values tells the kids they are the boss," I confidently noted, certain of the clarity with which they should be parenting. "The cruel injustice on display when my sisters were allowed endless hours of Full House and Dawson's Creek, while Jen and I were never allowed to watch Three's Company because two unmarried women lived with a man."
I couldn't just stop there. I would have to explain the hypocrisy in their parenting. In my view, the injustice warranted public outcry. What purpose did I serve if not to hold a magnifying glass over my parents' egregious offenses and lackadaisical efforts at raising my bratty sisters? Why couldn't they rule with the iron fist that clearly I suffered under and that had made me so completely awesome, I reasoned and argued.
At the wise age of 16, how was it that I was the only one who could see how easy it was to make better parenting decisions? What was wrong with them? It was all so obvious. And quite frankly, where was 1980s Supernanny? Must I suffer this burden alone?
My teen self graduated into what I now think of as Past Moi. Past Moi no longer wasted her time assessing what my parents did wrong with my little sisters. Clearly my work fell on deaf ears. Instead, Past Moi focused her energies on the new wave of parents she would see out in restaurants, on airplanes, at the mall. She would squint her eyes in abject horror at these useless mothers ushering their young brats through the mall, squealing loudly with dry crusty white stuff around their mouths. Harkening back to Chapter 32, apparently I consistently took issue with personal hygiene because I was the arbiter of all that is clean and put together.
Why can't that woman bother to take a second and wipe off her kid's face, I judged. What is wrong with mothers today, I'd sneer and move on, blissfully unaware of the gift that is free time alone at the mall. Or really anywhere.
Despite becoming a mother in 2005 and quickly learning, through the shell shocked fog that is the first few months of life with a new baby, that parenting is nothing if not orbiting gray and abandoning the black and white simplicity of life, Past Moi is still with me. I still can't seem to abandon her even though I know better. She creeps up on me. Past Moi's certainty and confidence surfaces in unexpected moments and brings a sense of humor when things blow up in my face. If I can't laugh at her arrogance and distorted confidence, then I might have a nervous breakdown. The good news is, I know I am not alone. Everyone of us wages a war against Past Moi and Current Moi and only a sense of humor can draw the lines of that battle field.
Truth be told, I've come to realize that our Past selves probably don't really like our Current selves very much. I'm fine with it.
The question we all quickly face when babies arrive is this: Can we easily make our peace with a dramatic identity shift? Sometimes, I even take myself by surprise when I feel Past Moi dominating my naive confidence in my own parenting choices. Echoes of my teen self's chapter book on superior parenting crowd my brain when my kids are well behaved and things run smoothly and according to plan.
But then, just like that, I am jarred awake by reality and ironically, recently by Supernanny herself, the very woman I so desperately craved to set my parents on the straight and narrow back in the 80s.
I used to watch the show because it confirmed my own parenting superiority. Past Moi crept into my brain. Mid-way through just about any episode, I was ready to apply for Mother-of-the-Year. The kids on the show are such monsters, the wimpy parents too afraid to find their own voices to discipline or the overly aggressive father always out of control and yelling. Just the entertaining train wreck I craved to feed the beast of Past Moi. How obvious the problems were facing each of those parents, I'd smugly think, nestled warmly into my couch. Not unlike the obvious solutions clearly only I could see from the backseat of that old VW van. If only I had written down those chapters, I thought on a rare occasion, I could be a wild success.
Then one day, my oldest decided it would be fun to watch the show with me. Enamored with her willingness to watch something other than a cartoon, I allowed her to join me. Perhaps I will even find some teachable moments to discuss with her, on how not to act as a kid, I thought, as I let her snuggle in close.
Then suddenly, right there on that episode of Supernanny, I was watching a scene that played out nightly in my house: the toddler on my hip as I'm trying to cook dinner otherwise she screams and cries.
I was aghast, as I shifted uncomfortably in the couch, hoping my oldest wouldn't notice my fidgeting. How could I be watching a reflection of my own life on the very show I watch to confirm I'm an amazing parent?
Meanwhile Supernanny was busy lecturing the mom about boundaries and how the young toddler needed to learn there's a time and place for her. Apparently, for the sane and rational thinkers out there, it seems obvious that being on Mommy's hip while four burners are going on the stove, is not the place for an erratic toddler.
Over on the other side of the couch, back in my own private hell, my five-year-old was still eagerly watching the show, peppering me with questions, otherwise enjoying our Friday-night TV time. Little did I know what she was really doing was picking up tips on how I'm supposed to be disciplining her little sister.
She didn't let on right away, but a few days later, I'm battling a screaming toddler on a Monday morning and just when I think I've hit parenting rock bottom, my five-year-old busily lectures "Now, Mommy, Supernanny would put her in a time out for that - -why aren't you doing that? She's being so bad."
Thanks, discipline police: #HowOldAreYouAgain
When suddenly, it hits me. I am standing in front of the second-coming of Past Moi.
Is this her first chapter?
Did Karma just saunter into a bar and belly up right next to Current Moi, leaving only my parents and all other grandparents nationwide in hysterics, relishing in the irony of it all?
Is it true: could I learn a few things from Supernanny? Or worse, my five-year-old?
You mean my kids will leave the house with crusty noses and a science fair experiment growing in the cavernous rolls of their baby necks and I won't notice or care?
While Past Moi is busy reconciling herself with Current Moi's failings, my parents do get the last laugh as my oldest embarks upon her career of confidence and certainty in just how easy parenthood really is.
Until she becomes a parent, of course.