Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn't know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread; Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed."

When I was a young child, I had a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and the above rhyme was one that held a particular fascination for me. I can clearly recall the illustration that accompanied this rhyme: a very large old boot with a roof and chimney, under a tree, with children spilling out of every gap, running around on the grass and an old woman brandishing a large wooden spoon was chasing them all around.
I can remember slowly counting all the children in the picture over and over again, and always reaching the number "13". I can also easily remember saying to my mother, "Thirteen children isn't a lot!". I just could not understand why this old lady was so confused and cranky.

Fast forward 30+ years, and I am beginning to understand that old woman.

For argument's sake, let us say that The Old Woman (TOW) was once a young woman, recently married and holding her first baby. As she inhales that fresh newborn smell, she thinks, "I will bathe you only in all-natural, herbal soaps, diaper you in the best diapers money can buy, dress you in designer clothes, and make homemade baby food from organic foods. I cannot imagine that you will ever do anything that will upset me, mostly because I have read all the parenting books and I know how to stay in control.".
Yup. I am sure she also thought she would lose all the baby weight in one month, never dress in frumpy clothes, and never have a diaper bag full of old grocery receipts instead of clean diapers and wipes.

My dear TOW, we have all been there. More specifically, I have been there. And, how sweet, naive, and blind I was all those years ago. I almost want to reach out and pinch my young and dewy cheeks!

These days, I would never dream of under-nourishing my kids before spanking and sending them all to bed. But, that is about the bottom of the "parenting ladder", is it not? Now, I might be maybe one or two rungs up that ladder.

Hearty chicken soup (that I defrosted from a batch I made a while back), salad-from-a-bag, with french bread and butter is still nourishing, right? Sternly (and loudly) admonishing my kids for fighting with each other, then saying bedtime prayers before shooing them off to their rooms is not the same as whacking them with a spoon and sending them to bed, right?

While TOW is an extreme example of how parenting more than one child can test even the patience of a saint, it is not that far from the truth. I think most women who enter motherhood, arrive with the best of intentions. As time marches on and more children are born, you begin to reason with yourself: "what's the difference between homemade applesauce and the store-bought organic kind?" which somehow becomes "hey, it's really almost the same thing as applesauce, if I just peel this apple and let my baby gnaw on it...". Convenience wins out over sanity, in many cases.

But, what I recently realized is that most of the things I wanted to do as a new mother, were just that --- things. All of the ideas and principles that were truly important to me have not only survived the years, they have gotten better.

For example, I was firmly committed to breastfeeding my babies using the Three E's Rule: Exclusive, Extended, and Ecological. And, I can honestly say that as of today, with Baby #6 still nursing, I have never fed my babies formula or even expressed breast milk (we don't even own a baby bottle!), I have allowed them to lead the weaning process (we average 2- 2.5 years for age of weaning), my infants nurse on demand, and we co-sleep. Before I had my oldest child (almost 15 years ago!), I knew these things were important to me, but I wasn't sure "how it would go". Now, both my husband and I realize that this commitment to The Three E's has resulted in healthier babies, stronger bonds between parents and children, and the natural spacing between children has been a gift to our marriage. But, that's a whole separate post...

My early-on commitment to, not only attending Mass every Sunday, but bringing our children with us to Mass (no matter how unruly they were being) was a scary proposition at first. But, now I can easily see the fruits that promise to myself has yielded. In the last 15 years, there has only been a handful of Sundays where we haven't heard a compliment from fellow parishioners regarding our children's good behavior. Many times, other parents and grandparents have asked us what our secret is for instilling good behavior. I am saying this with a lot of humility, because most of the credit goes to my children's temperaments, my prayers to their guardian angels, and a approximately 4000 lollipops. Somewhere in there, though, was the fact that my kids always know that Mass with the family is non-negotiable and, if they have to go, they might as well make is as pleasant as possible. Some days they even pay attention to the homily and discuss it with us and/or each other! ***This same commitment also applies to taking kids to restaurants!***

So, what I realized was that I am not a "bad mom" because I buy the majority of my kids' clothes at Target, or because not every piece of fruit that they eat is organic. And, neither is any other mom who started out with some very unrealistic ideals, only to find herself caving into the siren call of convenience items in order to simplify her life. What makes me a "pretty darn good mom" is that I eschewed a lot of materialistic (or non-essential) ideas in order to be able to keep up with the ideals that truly matter. It's nothing ground-breaking or mind-blowing, but it something we all need to be reminded of, periodically.

Maybe that's how the whole TOW rhyme got started: a mother with a few kids lost her way remembering what was important in raising a family, and she never took the time to review the "whys" and "whats" of what was important to her. Or, maybe the nursery rhyme is supposed to serve as a reminder to all of us to take the time to do that kind of evaluation every so often.

Of course, it could just be that a long time ago, some old lady had had a really bad day with her kids and needed to vent. That reminds me..... Where is my wooden spoon????


  1. So does this mean that if you are giving up FB I will get to read more fabulous blog posts like this one? =)

    I agree...We start out with ideals and then the priorities really become evident. I don't care that my son wears a variety of Halloween costumes on errand days, but I do expect him to be well behaved and speak respectively to me.

    And sometimes we just have bad days and need a quick and easy dinner and some time away from all these lovely children! lol

  2. @Noelle: lol! It's going to be an interesting Lent, with more blogs and maybe even some housework getting done!!
    I agree with what you said about the actions being so much more important than the "package" in which they are presented. Of course, it would have made me a much less stressed-out mother-of-two if I had figured it out early on!

  3. I love this post! Before I got addicted to FB and was still blogging, my last couple of posts were about me as the young mother of a couple of kids vs me now as an old mother of a dozen. My main point was how I had to decide what was important and what was just trying to please others. I tried to express many of the things you touched on, but you are much more eloquent! BTW, I love it that your "Old Woman" had thirteen children! We're in the process of adopting #13 and my last name is Shoemaker.

  4. BTW, we haven't announced our plans to adopt to all our family yet, so please don't comment on my blog or FB!!

  5. STACEY!!!! Congratulations!!!!! How awesome are you??? I cannot wait to read a post all about your latest "adventure". I am so happy for you and your family! Also, don't worry about me blowing the secret on FB, as I gave up FB for Lent this year! Even so, if you haven't made your announcement by April, I promise to keep my big mouth closed! lol