Column: The limp noodle shuffle

Marny Stebbins
Marny Stebbins

I think I heard the abandoned child development books on my bookshelf laugh at me this week as I completed the third “limp-noodle-shuffle” up the staircase. “Perhaps you should crack one of us open and save your lower back,” they giggled in chorus. Books can be so self-righteous.

It’s not uncommon for my youngest to enlist the help of gravity and fall to the kitchen floor like a limp noodle when she realizes she is out of reasonable arguments. It’s a last ditch resort, preying on my weak bicep strength to allow her the final, albeit silent, word. Little does she know she has become my personal trainer, the Jillian Michaels of my kitchen, slowly sculpting my arms with each over-tired meltdown.

Parenting is a workout and I should look like Giselle by now.

Blame it on insecurity or just plain laziness, but I have not spent many hours reading books about how my children are supposed to behave. There have been a few times, in desperation, I have opened these books with tears in my eyes, hoping to read the words, “It is normal for your child to eat paper, bury shoes, shower in a wet suit, collect hair, snort at waitresses, fear cows, glue toes together …” but I have felt just shy of reassured. In fact, these books typically leave me fighting the urge to drop the whole crew off at Pizza Ranch with a farewell note and a copy of their medical records. At least I know they would eat happily until social services arrived.

Instead, when I’m crawling through the trenches of 4 p.m. parenting; surrounded by a herd of ravenous hyenas in the kitchen and weeping mermaids at my feet, I could use some friendly words of advice that don’t make me want to drink an entire bottle of cough syrup before resorting to drastic measures.

I don’t know about other parents, but I need to know I’m not alone in the madness (and that other children have been known to smuggle Skittles to school in their belly button). While it may not seem as substantial as teething and talking milestones, the first time a child swears in school or streaks through a museum exhibit seem worthy of a chapter, too.

The best parenting advice typically comes from other moms. Not the moms hovering at the bottom of the curly slide who have ironed chinos and thousand-dollar handbags, but the weathered moms sitting on the park bench with an old coffee cup, a backwards baseball cap, happily disconnected from their children.

These moms can tell you how to handle the sticky situations not addressed in parenting books. For example: how to handle an overbearing PTA mom, how to apologize to the neighbor about the recently mowed peonies, how to crack the whip on sleepovers, why you show up early to claim the aisle seats, how to discipline a friend’s kid at your own house, when to go to the ER (and when to use glue), when to buy the season pass, how to grieve for a half-eaten pet duck, how to apologize to your in-laws for the Thanksgiving vomit on the white carpet, how to survive all of the little moments you can’t possible prepare for after you bring home baby. These moms, inconspicuously sipping their black coffee, are priceless, their wisdom built upon a million little moments of trial and grace.

No longer worried about what looks good to other parents, or what measures up to growth charts and developmental milestones, these moms know when to worry and when to forget, when to be strength and when to surrender.

I’m sure the books would not condone some of my techniques over the years, and I don’t pretend to be one of the cool moms on the park bench, yet. But I’ve learned to listen to my instinct, and I expect in 10 to 20 years I won’t bat an eye at the limp-noodle-shuffle.

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.