Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom: Ten things to know before you become Mom

Marla Jo Fisher

Life would have been easier if I had known these things before I had children:

1. It’s pointless to buy nice furniture

It’s so much easier to just get cheap stuff than to spend your life hollering and frantically running around trying to clean up messes. My children are active _ OK rambunctious _ and the list of damage over the years has been extensive. One couch even suffered a broken back from a boy who kept leaping over it like Superman. My living room couch and chair right now are quite nice looking, even though I bought them both on sale at the Salvation Army for $214. Despite the price tag, I keep covers on them and only whip them off when company comes over.

2. Never allow a Sharpie into your house for any reason

I know, you think you can hide that permanent marker so your kids won’t find it. Wrong! You’ll come out of the bathroom and discover your living room has been redecorated. If you’ve got a gun safe, maybe that would be a place you could keep these. Otherwise just don’t go there. True story: My friend was storing a white-on-white classic convertible Beetle in mint condition for her friend while she was traveling in Mexico. She had 5-year-old twin boys and a bunch of Sharpies in the drawer. She took a shower. Can you finish this story?

3. The sole purpose of a baseball is to fly through your closed bedroom window

Really, I can tell you from experience that there’s not much point in hollering after the fact. Just make the perpetrator pay for some of the damage and clean it all up. And next time, keep a lookout for where the pickup games are being played.

4. Kids will eat anything if they get hungry enough

It’s easy for kids to be finicky when there’s a fridge full of food and a mom willing to be their personal chef. But take them on safari in Africa or into the rainforest in Thailand, and you quickly discover children will eat when their stomachs are grumbling. I still remember one mom being frantic over her son’s first Boy Scout campout. She was panicked that her kid would starve to death because he won’t eat anything at home but rice. I kept assuring her that, after a day’s hiking, the boy would eat. Sure enough, he came back alive and no paramedics had to be called.

5. Some people are just crazy

You’d think I would already know this, being a newspaper reporter and all, but it came as a great shock to me when I got into a furious argument once with another mom over how my son was treating her kid. The mom shouted at me on the phone, hung up in my ear and then filed a ridiculous unfounded complaint at the school that I then had to defend by proving her kid had also been hassling my son. I had just told him to handle it on his own. Hmm, maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. I guess I should have made the overworked school staff deal with it because, after all, that’s their job, right? Dealing with disputes among students?

6. My kids don’t have to like it

I didn’t adopt my kids until I was 46 years old, which means I was already too old to become the most popular girl in school. That’s why I signed them up for soccer, despite their vehement protests. Guess what? They loved it from the first moment. I am willing to take my kids’ wishes into account, and then I require them to do what I say. And if they don’t, they pay the consequences.

7. Do not let your kids say rotten things to you

Depending on my mood, I will let my kids argue furiously with me over issues like chores or privileges. Cheetah Boy even shouts “No” in my face occasionally when I tell him to do something (before he then goes and does what I ask). But that is not the same as letting my children disrespect me. I hear other people’s children tell them they are fat, they are stupid, curse in front of them, cuss them out. Whew, it shocks me. The one and only time my kid cussed at me, he lost his Nintendo for two weeks. It was packed up into its original box and put in the closet. I didn’t even tell him what was happening, I just put it away, and explained why when he asked. Amazingly, he hasn’t felt the desire to cuss at me since.

8. Perfect moms really aren’t

Everyone feels insecure when they get around someone who seems a much better parent. But, seriously, it’s all a front. In my vast experience with being inadequate, the more perfect people seem on the outside, the more messed up they are inside. They just use a lot more energy to hide it from us. Recently, a friend of Curly Girl who has doting, helicopter parents confided that they drive her crazy and her father shouts at her abusively all the time. I know a woman whose house is spotlessly clean but she has OCD. Do your best and then accept that no one’s perfect.

9. When times get tough, go on strike

When my kids become disobedient, I go on strike. They get nothing they want: No dinner, no TV, no rides to the park, nothing at all. In fact, I frequently just go back to bed and have a nice nap. No arguing, no screaming, no yelling, no whacking. Just the simple fact that if they don’t do what I want, I don’t do what they want. It’s amazing how quickly kids can change their attitudes when there’s no chauffeur available to take them to the mall.

10. Kids can do more chores than you think

My children make a lot of messes around this house, and they also do a lot of chores. I’m a working single mom. I need a lot of help. They clean up the kitchen every night, make my coffee, wash and dry their own clothes, walk, feed and bathe the dog, mow the lawn, unload the dishwasher, empty the trash, put out the trash cans and more. On Saturdays, they pick more chores from a grab bag and do those, too. I like to think of it as preparation for life. They also get paid $1 for every chore. So it’s a win-win situation.

So that’s my list.

What’s on your list? If you send me some good ones, I’ll publish them in a future column.