It all started with a well-intentioned sliver of unsolicited advice, courtesy of my own mom, a woman who cut her first parenting tooth in the swinging mid-’70s. After giving birth to my older brother in ’74, she proceeded to breeze through the act of raising us both with the ease of Bianca Jagger hustling past Studio 54’s velvet rope, requiring no other armor than her silk jumpsuit (Lord knows Dr. Sears provided zero comfort in those days).
At least, that’s how it looks in hindsight to me, a 2016 parent to a 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy, both of whom by noontime on an average day manage to drain my energy supply like they’re taking turns sucking through a fun Krazy Straw.
“You work too hard,” my mother told me. “You run around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
But, I protested, my children — all children these days — are different. Kids nowadays, they need more. Better food, healthier food, food free of contaminants and untouched by Monsanto. Sports leagues, at least five of them. Affirmation and constant stimulation. Cellphones. School shooting drills. Helmets and knee pads and elbow pads, oh my.
Independence and time alone? My mother obviously has no idea that kids now sit together in groups at school and learn by stealing one another’s thoughts. Or something like that.
“They need alone time too,” she said. “They need balance.”
No, I protested, my 4-year-old simply can’t play on her own. At her age, I invented phantom characters, called myself their teacher and spent hours alone in my room, handing out index cards I stole from my mom’s office, breaking up fake fights, praying the footsteps I heard in the hallway weren’t about to invade my personal space and drag me kicking and screaming to the dinner table.
“That’s because I ignored you,” she joked. Joked?
My mother was right, though. I was parenting with the kind of feverish intensity tennis players reserve for Wimbledon. Where was the enjoyment? Where was the ease and roll-with-it calm that moms of yesteryear claim modern moms have lost along the way? And where was the “me time” parents in the Me Decade seemed to not only enjoy but expect?
This had to be resolved.
Solution: I would spend one week doing everything a ‘70s mom might have done, without most of the ’16 trappings. After surveying my own mother and her ‘70s friends, I decided the changes I would make would include the following:
- My kids would play independently.
- My kids would eat from boxes as often as possible. Sometimes while staring at a television screen with sugary cow’s milk dribbling down their chins.
- While we’re on the subject of TV — they’d have access to 12 channels, not 2,041. And I would feel zero guilt turning on the TV in the afternoon, putting my feet up and watching an adult program. One that even involved “lovemaking” and male chest hair.
- No hovering over them at the park allowed.
- When my daughter gets home from school, she’ll be guided in the direction of the backyard with only a bottle of bubbles and her imagination to keep her company.
- Hamburger Helper and Life cereal — obviously.
- No cellphone texting, and limited use of the Internet throughout the week.
Here’s a breakdown of the results of my little experiment.
I don’t waste any time that first day introducing my daughter to Life cereal, that classic sugary ‘70s wolf disguised in the cloak of a health-conscious grandmother thanks to clever marketing tactics (for a while the caption on its box read, “most useful protein”). There she is, just her, a bowl of Life, a few strawberries and bananas and a spoon — no hidden flaxseeds to soothe her bowels.
“Mommy, this is amazing! What is this? I want to eat this every day!” The same girl who hates dairy inhales the bowl in five minutes flat and laps up every drop of Life-stained milk.
Next: lunch. I heat up leftover chicken soup and sit down with a cup of tea. My daughter’s face reveals she is not pleased and will, any minute, demand something that requires I put in more work and show her how much I value her having a pleasurable lunchtime experience.
Daughter: “I’m not eating this! Why do I have to eat this?”
Me: “You don’t have to eat anything, but if you don’t eat it, you aren’t getting any other food until dinnertime.” (Lesson taken from ’70s moms: You serve one meal, and that’s the meal you serve.)
The problem is that 2016 children DGAF about all of that and will simply not eat your stupid food. As she promised, my daughter doesn’t eat the soup and proceeds to ask me for a snack every 15 minutes until dinnertime. I want to pull out my hair, but I hold firm while secretly frightened that she is starving to death.
She whines all afternoon, right up until the second I pull out a box of Hamburger Helper from the pantry, and stares at it like it’s a dust sample from Mars.
“Mommy, what is that?” All her attention is focused on that goofy oversize white glove with a clown’s face on the front of the box.
“I think it’s dinner.”
“Oooh, we’re having that?” A box with a cartoon white glove mascot has more parenting prowess than I do and has managed to make her forget about our lunchtime mishap. Now what in the hell do I do with this stuff? Can’t consult Pinterest. Call my sister-in-law. Final answer: cheeseburger mac bake.
Dinner is served. My husband nearly collapses off his chair from happiness. My daughter can’t speak because she is overcome with joy. This may be the most ecstatic dinner experience of their lives.
- My husband and I wound up eating the entire box of Life cereal over the course of three days, and I had to promise him I’ll never buy another box again. Modern adults can’t handle Life cereal.
- If you tell your kids they have to eat what you serve or else, they won’t eat. But they won’t starve either. Eventually they’ll give in, but you’ll have to deal with their whining, so pick your poison.
- Giving up Pinterest for a week and keeping recipes simple will save you a lot of money, because when in the hell were you going to use coconut aminos again?
- Hamburger Helper is pretty f***ing delicious.