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I'm Down With OPK (Other People's Kids)

May 31, 2004


from a collection of essays titled:
"AWOL From The Mommy Wars: Rantings of a Reluctant Stay-At-Home Mother"

How I wound up as the stay-at-home mom of three kids is still a wonder to me. That's what I get for having too much Merlot, an active imagination and Last of the Mohicans on video. It's a slippery slope from "Oh what the hell, Hawkeye, let's go for it" to "Goddammit how many times do I have to ask you to put your shoes on? We're late for school again!"

However we stumble upon parenthood, we're all a little shell-shocked by the sheer magnitude of the task we've taken on. Parenthood is a minefield we are all trying to negotiate without a map, and it's full of surprises. Among the many surprises for me is how much I have to deal with Other People's Kids (from here on referred to as OPK). Somehow when you're carrying home that bundle wrapped in a white flannel with the blue and pink stripes you pinched from the hospital, you don't see yourself six years down the road yelling at someone else's kid to stop at the corner and don't run into the street, for crissake.

No one tells you that you will be wiping OPKs' heinies, blowing OPKs' snotty noses, and holding OPKs' chewed wad of bubble gum in your hand.

Let's face it. Every mother likes her own kids so much better than all the lesser brats out there. And when it comes to dealing with my own kids around 6:00 pm, I understand why guppies eat their young. There I said it. The truth will set you free. Stop pretending that your neighbor's toddler's tantrum is cute and amusing. The kid's a pain in the ass!

I'm always in awe when I hear people talk about how much they love OPK. "Oh, I just had to be a teacher because I just LOVE working with kids." I admire these people like I admire people who have completed an Iron Man Triathalon or who don't curse. I'm glad these people exist as an inspiration to us, but I sure as hell ain't one of them. A woman's got to know her limitations.

For me, working with OPK all day would be akin to getting paid minimum wage to smack myself in the temple with a truncheon repeatedly for eight hours. Or, perhaps it's more like a tedious eight-hour motivational training session, interrupted randomly by co-workers shrieking and grabbing things from each other. And you are expected to feed them chicken nuggets and help them go potty.

The older your kids get the more you have to deal with OPK. The preschool playdates will evolve into an awkward interruption of a fumbling pre-teen make-out session with some pimply-faced skank on the moldy basement couch.

Like all parents, I have my share of OPK war stories. I remember the time my four-year-old had a friend from preschool over for a playdate. This kid is already on my nerves on the car ride home because he doesn't just talk, HE TALKS LIKE OWEN MEANY ALL THE TIME. He's holding his nose the whole way because he says my car stinks. Three hours later, after refusing what I made for lunch and spilling it, pissing himself twice and crying because my son wouldn't play with him (good for you, my boy) I was never so happy to see a kid go home as I was that day.

I'm sure I looked like I belonged on a park bench next to the winos holding a tattered cardboard sign that reads CAN YOU PLEASE SPARE SOME CHANGE FOR A BABYSITTER? I handed over the plastic bag with the pee-soaked clothes to his mother who of course asked, "How did it go?" "Oh great! Just great!" I said. "They really play well together." I must say that I believe Sir Olivier himself would be astounded by the acting skill I displayed that day. Just to get those words out and freeze a smile on my face is worth an academy award. And it was only 2 o'clock pm. Six and a half hours to bedtime. Good God, no wonder mothers develop drinking problems.

Then there comes the time when your kid is getting terrorized at the playground (which has always been a field-study in natural selection on the best days) by a kid who's obviously been raised by wolves and most likely does not have opposable thumbs. You look around for the parent/caregiver/nanny/alpha dog to notice the situation and correct it. And there's no one. So what do you do? How far can you go? Are you limited to dirty looks or can you whip out the wooden spoon?

This is a situation where I defer to Darwin. My eyes narrow, the fur on the back of my neck stands up and it's survival of the fittest all the way. And guess what, kid. I'm still bigger than you. I'm higher up on the food chain. So stay away from my cub or you're going down faster than a sick wildebeest on Wild Kingdom.

Don't be shocked. You've been there. It's instinctive. Wait until the next time some little mongoose won't give your kid a turn on the swings. You take him aside and whisper in his ear: "Give up the swing or I'll hang you by your ankles on the safely-padded, brightly-colored plastic monkey bars".

But having said all this about OPK, I know I'm setting myself up for a fall. Any mother knows the second you say to yourself "my kid may be rotten, but at least he doesn't pick his nose and eat it" you have instantly awakened the Parenting Gods. Visualize Mt. Vesuvius rumbling to life, or perhaps Zeus chucking a bolt of lightning straight at your ass. Soon, probably this very afternoon, your darling child will exhibit the exact behavior you found deplorable in OPK. The Parenting Gods don't like moms who gloat or compare. You will pay. It's just a matter of time. So I beg forgiveness by stating that I know my kids are OPK to everyone else. I think the key here is awareness of that fact. We all have to accept that our own kids can seem at times, well, downright annoying to everyone else. I've accepted this about my darlings and it is a freeing feeling. Hey, I've done my best, but my shoddy parenting skills are as obvious as everyone else's. So please feel free to tell my kid to stop pestering your toddler and to share the toys. Some mothers get upset if anyone else dares mention to their child that perhaps, just maybe, swinging a baseball bat at the other kids could be dangerous. "I'll discipline my own child, thank you very much". OK, T. Berry Brazelton, why don't you try it sometime? Now might be good, because as we debate this issue the fruit of your loins is kicking my child in the head. I mean, does it or does it not take a village? Pick one and let's go with it. I just wish I didn't live in the same village as that kid who thinks my car stinks.

(Kelley Cunningham Cousineau is proud to be a Heartless Bitch Mom, but nevertheless loves her three sons insanely)

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Copyright© Kelley Cunningham Cousineau 2004, All Rights Reserved

Copying or reproduction (in whole or in part) on any medium (such as in print or on the web) is expressly forbidden without written permission from HBI

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