We just got back from vacation to the East Coast with our five boys, ages 9,7,5, 2 1/2, and 5 months old….driving 17 hours straight through on the way there…uh, yeah. The idea was that it would be way cheaper than flying since that would be 6 airfares plus whatever highway robbery for luggage; we were gone 10 days so that’s a lot of clothes. Plus once there, we would have had to rent a large SUV and hassle with car seats, which the rental places never have enough or the right ones, so drive it was! Now my favorite thing is not driving through the mountains of West Virginia at 4 o-clock in the morning negotiating one narrow lane due to construction, but since everyone was asleep, it was manageable. On the way home, we started from Pittsburgh which shortened the trip down to 12 hours, but all during daylight. Highlights included a baby who screamed anytime he was strapped into his carseat, various fights over DVD choice, PSPs and DSi’s, Snapple bottles doubling as pee containers, a child with a completely filthy shirt from sleeping on the floor, and yes, the inevitable, “are we there yet?” All things considered, it wasn’t terrible although my husband did swear not to do it again until the baby was forward-facing…and talking.
During this time, I had time to catch up on some reading. A good friend had sent me a book for the birth of the baby entitled “Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother’s Guide to Sanity in Stilettos” by Laura Bennett. My limited TV watching usually involves Discovery Health or the Food Network (I know, boring, right) and I have never watched Project Runway, but Ms. Bennett was brought to fame by being a contestant on the show, while pregnant with her 5th boy. She actually has 6 children, the oldest a daughter away at college, and she lives with these 5 boys and her husband, get this, in Manhatten. Part of our vacation was visiting Manhatten with our 5 boys and I have to say that anyone who could raise 5 boys in that city deserves to win a reality show, at the least (she didn’t actually win, but she should have just on principle). Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love New York, but believe me when I say that the next time I go, it will be sans children. Whereas my children’s idea of a good time was to go to the multistory M&M store in Times Square and try to find the nearest Dave and Buster’s, mine would involve a nice little bistro with the hubby or a Broadway show. My darling sister-in-law volunteered my brother to babysit the boys one night so we could sneak off. Only problem was one of the children decided to hide in the shower, setting off a small panic for my as-yet childless SIL. We were trying to stay relatively close since I didn’t have any pumped milk should the sleeping baby wake up so when we returned at 2 am, the two oldest children said, “We watched you go into Birdland (a jazz club across the street)” so I know they didn’t fall asleep like normal kids. I’m sure my brother and SIL were like, “note to selves: no more volunteering to babysit.”
Anyway, back to the book. Now naturally you’re thinking, 5 kids in Manhatten, this woman must be filthy rich, which she appears to be as her husband is a world-renowned architect and she has an expensively-garaged Porsche 911. And her staff of four: two nannies, a mannie and a full-time housekeeper. But wait…SHE’S also an architect, and now a fashion-designer since the show. As much as you might love to hate her with all these benefits, you have to love a woman who you would for all intents and purposes presume to be an uppity socialite, has actually given birth to six kids, and breastfed them, and oh, one of them is special needs. I am officially in love with her. And since, as my friend who gave me the book indicated, we are in a special sorority of mothers-of-five-boys, her rollicking, witty, tongue-in-cheek-while-brutally-honest unbelievable story is one I can really relate to (minus the high society). Those of us who would actually pursue this life, well, we have to be kind of crazy and Ms. Bennett describes her particular brand of crazy with highlights of her beautiful furniture being systematically dismantled, coordinating all the different activites and doctor’s appointments with the skill of an air-traffic controller, writing, sewing, and partying, all the while looking fabulous in her Manolo Blahniks. Although this is where she and I part ways (sorry, will never own a pair of $800 shoes), I appreciate her ability to give attention to detail in her appearance and dress DESPITE having a brood. Certainly, I don’t relate to everything she does, e.g. chewing nicotine gum for energy and to stay slim, but most of all that is simply style differences. But let’s just say, the very idea of a woman doing what she’s doing, is just wonderful…exhausting, but wonderful.
My favorite part of the book is her disdain for this current generation of over-protective, controlling, helicopter parents who don’t hesitate to criticize YOUR parenting choices, all the while turning parenthood into some sort of sentence in an un-funny, neurotic prison. In one chapter, she describes hearing a recently divorced woman complaining about how awful her ex-husband was being:
“‘What did he do?’ I had to ask…It’s all in good fun, but I imagined that this mom’s problems must have something to do with Ecstasy pills rolling out of the girlfriend’s slack mouth, or her pole-dancing friends coming over for a weekend performance. Something juicy, or half naked at the very least. ‘Well’-she sniffed, half angry, half distraught-‘he packed their lunches with Cheetos, Go-Gurts, and bologna sandwiches on white bread.’ She sat back, satisfied. My mouth fell open, so she continued. “Do you have any idea how dangerous high-fructose corn syrup is? It is in every single one of those products! And the cheese single must have been made out of milk from cows who have been given hormones and antibiotics. When the children are in my care, I poach Amish-raised, grass-fed, free-range chicken breasts and stuff them into whole-grain pitas with hydroponic tomatoes and micro-greens that we grow in our own kitchen. How could he possibly endanger them in this way?’…But as I sat there…I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it was this woman’s husband who should be pursuing custody change. Her reaction was maniacally disproportionate….soon (her children) would be boosting Twinkies from the corner bodega, a behavior that can only lead to smoking pot and much higher crimes.”
While laughing at this story, I have to confess that I too have found myself in the gripes of self-righteous indigination at how poorly members of my family sometimes operate. I did at one time put a moratorium on sugar in the house…after putting up with never-ending forlorn looks, stashes of hidden candy and outright rebellion, I had to concede that the only sure-fire way to get my kids to eat right was to do my best, and that to completely restrict anything would immediately make it desirable and tantilizing to them, leading to all sorts of nefarious, secretive attempts to consume the forbidden fruit. Looking back at how I was when I only had one child, I thank God that he managed to turn out pretty well despite my anal first-time parenting rigidity. I still remember a car trip with our first child where I was balancing precariously in the backseat giving passing cars a peep show, while I breastfed my baby in his carseat, because I simply couldn’t bear to take him out while the car was moving. This trip, not so much…I had no problem taking him out and nursing him…I AM NOT RECOMMENDING THIS…but as a mom of 5 boys, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Lest you think her’s is not a “real” household, Ms. Bennett tells how in addition to all the “man smell,” she also houses a hamster, a rabbit, a tortoise, and multiple finches. As she recounts the story of her son mistaking rabbit droppings for Cocoa Puffs, I am reminded of how much the animal life at our house has only added to the “testosterone drama.” We have two cats, but we didn’t name one of them because all the other ones were eaten. In addition to fish in a pond and a tank, we have four huge dogs: a German Shepherd, a Neopolitan mastiff, a Bull Mastiff/Pit Bull mix (my husband’s “hood” dog), and an American bulldog. They have essentially destroyed the front of my house so that it looks like Beirut, and they frequently get into bloody fights such that now several of them limp…this is not my idea of fun. But once again, I have to remind myself that the enjoyment of the children’s (and animals’) escapades is what life is all about. If I have learned anything being a mom of five boys, it is not to take myself too seriously, not to yell ALL the time, and appreciate all the funny moments before they are gone. Although we are unlike the author in that we try to teach our kids NOT to cuss, my husband and I were rolling with laughter when my 5 year old came into our adjoining hotel room in NYC and sleepily said, “I had to come in here because the volume on that cartoon was just too damn loud.”
To find out more about Laura Bennett, visit her website www.didntifeedyouyesterday.com.