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Kid Herding

Never mind the baby books. Forget the motherhood magazines. Everything I needed to know about parenting I learned from other parents. Wiser parents. Parents who went before me, hacking through the murky jungles of momhood with the Machete of Courageous Experimentation and calling back to me each time they lurched into the Quicksand of Poor Parenting: “Okay. So you’re gonna need a rope …”

When I was pregnant, a friend advised me to get a pedicure because I’d be spending countless hours of labor staring at my feet in stirrups and would be disheartened if — on top of soul-splitting, sanity-rattling, life-begetting contractions — I had icky toes. I got the pedicure, and the merciful, thank-ya-Jesus foot massage that went with it. It was the best advice I ever got.

The best advice my husband ever got also came while I was pregnant. An experienced dad told him, “Listen, there will be a moment when you have a strong urge to hurl your crying baby at the wall. Sounds crazy, I know. Just trust me, it’ll come. And here’s all you need to remember: Don’t do that.” We figured the guy for a nut-job until … it came. And my husband heeded the advice — relieved to know he wasn’t the only frustrated father to have ever needed it.

Even now, with my oldest entering high school, I’ve benefited from the been-there-learned-that counsel of my friends with older kids: Take Spanish in the summer, bring blankets to the football games, and choose water polo for PE; it’s the only sport where your kids come home nearly clean.

Some parenting lessons, though, I’ve had to learn the hard way: through trial and messy, expensive, humiliating error. Because I’m grateful to the know-it-all gasbags — ooh! sorry! did I type that out loud? — the charitable sages who advised me when they could, I’d like to pay it forward and share some parenting tips that I learned too late, in hopes that you might be spared my shame. You’re welcome.

First, if you have boy children, you will at some point encourage them to urinate in a bush. You’re at a park, on a hike, on the shoulder of a highway, and, heck, they’ve got that snazzy point-and-shoot equipment. But do clarify exactly when it is okay to relieve oneself in nature — and exactly what counts as “nature.” It turns out that boys relish this privilege and are wont to whip it out at Aunt Peg’s pool party.

When you let your kids play in your car while you are gardening in the front yard, be sure that they are unable to release the emergency brake, sending the car rolling backward down the driveway with them in it. Also, be sure to scream loud enough to rouse the dog that’s napping on the sidewalk when the vehicle begins its terrifying dive toward the street. Oh, and don’t attempt to stop the careening car with your body. Actually, you know what? Just don’t let your kids play in your car.

Finally, keep this set of rules handy for when your oldest child babysits his younger brother: (1) No answering the door for strangers. (2) That includes pizza delivery men whom you have summoned by ordering a pizza that you’ve convinced your brother to pay for, even though he hates pizza. (3) No inviting delivery guys into our home to set your unapproved, ill-considered dinner on the table, where he can clearly surmise — if not by the Nerf darts littering the floor then by the two-cent tip you left him — that your parents are gone. And woefully incompetent.

Look, raising kids is arduous. But heed the advice of more experienced parents — grab onto that rope they’ve left in place — and one day you’ll emerge a know-it-all gasbag yourself. Sounds crazy, I know. Just trust me. It’ll come.

Published inColumnsParenting

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