My arms are covered in bruises from blown IVs. My back hurts from too much time in bed. My brain is slight mush from hours of dehydration and television.
One by one, our family was taken down by Norovirus. It wasn’t pretty. My hands and forearms are red and swollen from bleach burns. Don’t get Norovirus, kids.
I have been a mom for five and a half years now and I’m still surprised when I discover that we don’t get sick days. There should really be a stunt mom we can call in.
But that’s the job. No amount of “I’m sicker than all of you!” gets us out of it.
As the bleach-filled days swirled around me, I spent a lot of time thinking about this parenting gig. Right up until I was carted off to the hospital, I was amazed at my ability to hang onto just enough consciousness to take care of our two boys and baby girl.
You just find the strength. Regardless of circumstances, you do the job. You train your focus on your children. You don’t drop the ball.
MTV reminded me of that during this fiasco.
I ingested hours of MTV reality programming while I recovered. Curiously, as VH1 seems to be moving into more dumbed-down territory, MTV is growing up. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
Shows like Teen Mom and The Buried Life draw me in. Whereas I used to watch The Real World as a 16 year old in order to, on some level, figure out how I stacked up with other kids of my generation, I watch MTV today for a different reason: I watch MTV as a parent, trying to pin down how these kids turned out the way they have.
Teen Mom is a reality show on MTV that follows the lives of several teen mothers whom the audience first met on the show 16 and Pregnant.
The Buried Life documents the efforts of a group of four boys as they methodically tick off their list of answers to the question:
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Nature vs. nurture comes into play here, but at the end of the day, I aim my glad hand and stink eye at the parents. What makes the boys on The Buried Life turn their ambition into philanthropic reality yet a girl like Farrah on Teen Mom think that having a baby in high school should not hinder her freedom to go out until 3 a.m.?
While we don’t see the parents of The Buried Life’s boys, we do see Farrah’s mom quite a bit. She lost me when she dissuaded Farrah from breastfeeding because, according to her, it gives you floppy boobs.
My heart sinks.
Is it ignorance?
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I sure as hell try as I go. As parents, how much of what we do counts? Where is the line between the helicopter and the high speed train? My own parenting style lands along the middle as more Hang Glider Parenting; while I don’t hover, I glide through at a slow enough pace that I can recognize when I’m needed, but otherwise try to let my kids find their own bootstraps.
I’m willing to let my children fail.
The pervasive sense of entitlement is the bane of my existence. Teach a man to fish. Not everyone gets a trophy. Red ink is not the equivalent of calling a kid “stupid.”
So I watch MTV and try to figure these kids out. I’m not interested in judging young girls for becoming pregnant. I’m not focused on what makes the kids on Jersey Shore think that “gorilla” physiques that imply steroid use are attractive. No, I’m enthralled by how their thought processes developed.
Culture. Economics. Education. Environment. Heredity. Self.
So I keep watching.
Does Farrah really think that her teenage desire to stay out late with friends sets her apart from the other teen moms? Farrah, becoming a mom hasn’t made the other teen moms stop wanting to go out. What sets you apart is the fact that you continue to feel that your teen age entitles you to continue to go out.
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Of all the teen parents, Catelynn and Tyler would have probably made the best parents, yet they were the couple that made the painful decision to give their baby up for adoption. “Painful” is a sad little word to describe it, as I cried deep-body tears when Tyler covered Catelynn’s face with his own as their daughter was born, to shield them both from seeing her. From where does that strength originate? Their parents surely don’t seem to be the source.
I keep watching.
My arms fill with goosebumps at the end of every episode of The Buried Life. Not due to whether or not the boys managed to cross off an item from their list, but because they invariably help a stranger realize an item on their own list. It’s the end segment where the audience watches a montage of strangers identifying things they would like to do before they die that steals my breath.
The Buried Life boys are living a self-awareness that I honestly want to smack into the heads of their generation. They take “living in the moment” to a place their peers can’t seem to grasp. Their “now” is informed by their future. Foresight is invaluable and seems to me, as a parent, a foreboding mountain to teach.
The broad view can be dizzying. Our children’s futures stretch out before us and make me feel faint.
I focus down to their “now.” I err on the side of caution and parent as though it all counts. Who knows what sticks. Who knows what Catelynn and Tyler picked up on along the way that made them selfless and strong and simultaneously stunningly irresponsible in the short term and beautifully responsible in the long?
Who knows what sticks. So I focus down. Our children are under six years old. We keep it simple. We play games together. We eat dinner together.
In fact, it's the experts in adolescent development who wax most emphatic about the value of family meals, for it's in the teenage years that this daily investment pays some of its biggest dividends. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.
"If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube," says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, about the mysterious way that family dinner engraves our souls. "A meal is about civilizing children. It's about teaching them to be a member of their culture."
Read more: The Magic of the Family Meal
We get on their level and look them in the eye. One of the games we play is from one of the sponsors of Velveteen Mind, a board game called Blurt! It’s not necessarily for kids under 7, but we effortlessly make it work for us by making up questions that fit our age range and learn so much about our boys every time. One of those great rapid word games where you offer prompts like “Dirt that is wet and sticky” and they yell “Mud!” The belly laughs come when we prompt “What you eat after dinner” and one of the boys yells “Chicken!” with such conviction that it takes even him off guard with the absurdity.
We don’t care who wins. The boys ask to play it before bed at night and we rarely make it a quarter of the way around the board. It just feels good to sit “criss cross applesauce” on the floor together and laugh. Hint: The best laughs and reveals come when you take it a step further and ask, “Why do you think…?” or “Oh my gosh, can you imagine if…?!”
Blog Nosh Magazine will be giving away a copy this week, but I’m going to cheat and say that everyone that comments on this post is entered to win, too. I meant to mention this game months ago but never found a relevant place to fit it in. There’s a reason I’m not a review blogger. Just now, I started telling you about it without even thinking about a “review.” It’s simply become something we do. When I think of the game, I think of my boys’ eyes.
Look them in the eye. Listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying. That’s all I can figure out to do right now. The most I can offer them is to be present and really try.
Parenting can be inconvenient. Dinner at the table together doesn’t always fit our schedules. Half the time, our table is covered in clean clothes waiting to be folded. The last thing I want to do is move that stuff onto yet another surface to be ignored. “Let’s play Blurt!” is not always my favorite thing to hear when I’m tired and just want to toss everyone in bed. Ten minutes can seem like a lifetime when you are exhausted and no amount of smiling eyes can change that.
But we have to try.
MTV has become my homework. I watch Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, My Life as Liz, and The Buried Life every time I catch it on. If I had a DVR, I would record them all.
I received an email a while back asking if I would like to interview one of the moms from Teen Mom. I never responded because my first reaction was, “Oh my God, this is a horrible idea!” Unleashing bloggers on these teenagers seemed not only irresponsible but slightly reckless.
My instinct was to talk to Catelynn, but my competing instinct is that she would be much further along in her post-adoption recovery if it weren’t being actively analyzed even more than she would naturally be doing herself. When she wrote her worst regret as “Maybe I could of done it.” my heart broke. A single sentence so loaded.
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I’ll have to email the rep that contacted me and show her this post. I want people to watch these shows, but there’s a chance I want people to watch them for different reasons than the company had in mind. They are a valuable research resource for parents if you focus down and lift the numbing veil of reality programming.
But letting me talk to Farrah didn’t seem like a good idea, either.
I know there’s a small Google-able chance that Farrah might see this post. Which sucks because I’d like to make my point to you without hurting her feelings. So what would I say to Farrah? Good God, girl, keep trying. Don’t give up. Just keep trying.
That’s the point of this, isn’t it?
Nature vs. nurture. Maybe there’s no rhyme or reason to how our kids end up the way they do. But what if there is? What if we are their key? We owe it to them to never quit on them. Never give up on ourselves as their parents. Never give up on them.
That’s my reality as a parent. What’s yours?
Check out MTV.com for informative links, including resources about pregnancy prevention and birthparent support. Catch the season finales of My Life As Liz and The Buried Life Monday night at 9ct on MTV. And no, I wasn’t paid to tell you that.
The Buried Life non-MTV site (for you Damn the Man! types)
* portions of this post cross-published at BlogHer.com where a new redesign has me diving back into the conversation