One square away from despair.

There’s little tricks you pick up along the journey of parenthood. Some more obvious than others. Always bring spare shoes for everyone if you’re going on a road trip. Always have emergency supplies packed in your car. Keep a spare piece of candy in your purse for the eventual meltdown and then two pieces of the identical contraband for when you decide to have the second kid.

Never leave home without baby wipes. Never.

Then there’s the secret, covert, deep dark hacks that all parents have and seldom share. I’m going to share some of mine so you can benefit, gasp in shock, or laugh at my insanity. All are welcome to my Mad-Hatter-Motherhood ride.

Always keep a spare set of clothes in your car. No, not just for your kid. That’s right, for YOU.

I’ll never forget the time I was ducking between raindrops, bouncing a baby Leonora in a carrier, waiting for the library to open for story time and silently cursing the @$$holes that wouldn’t make room for me under the cover of the eaves when a rogue seagull flew over head and $#!t on me. Did any of those same pretentious @$$holes help me or point out if I had gotten it off of me? Of course not! It wasn’t until I went inside and stared into a mirror that I realized the full damage of aviary anointment that had christened us from above. I refused to turn tail and go home. I cleaned up the baby by wiping down the carrier, thanked all that was holy that the faeces hadn’t landed on the bare skin of my kid, and did my best to wash it out of my hair which now looked like a teenager’s bad attempt at looking old for a high school play. Always have baby wipes with you. ALWAYS.

Then there was the time Leonora started potty training and refused to use most public toilets. I don’t blame her. Is it required that people pee on every seat? Do these people just back up, let loose like a farm animal spraying the wall, never wipe and saunter out without washing? I sometimes wonder how all of us are not dropping dead of cholera. I digress, so Miss was scandalized by the state of the restrooms. She was afraid of the flushing (still is) or the people that insist on carrying on phone conversations in the stalls (me too).

(Side note, really people?! I’m sorry you got dumped but none of us want to hear it echoed on the hard, filthy tiles that Pete “wouldn’t go down on you” and started “&%$#ing” your roommate while I try and hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” loud enough so my kid doesn’t have to hear you cry to your friend about it in a public toilet.)

So one day while we were at the park I noticed a friend of mine do something miraculous. Her child approached her and said they needed to go potty. She opened the back of her Subaru, he hopped in and used a potty chair that was lined with a plastic bag, and she unceremoniously dumped it into the garbage can when he was finished. She turned and laughed at my expression and said,

“What? People throw bags of dog $#!t in there all day long, why not my kid’s crap?” Touche. And, genius. Keep a potty chair in your car for emergencies.

Then there was the time I was breastfeeding Leonora and a woman walked into the lounge area of the restroom and began changing her son’s diaper on the floor atop a zip up wet/dry laundry bag. I watched in astonishment and admiration. She undid his diaper, changed him and cleaned him, and fastened the diaper that had been underneath the dirty one back up because he was wearing two of them! (No need for wrestling the kid onto a changing pad or trying to secure the wriggling kid to a table or shelf because who wants to deal with touching everything that frankly never gets cleaned or dealing with the terror of them falling off?) Then she secured a clean, new second layer once again and she was done. She noticed me staring and I began clapping much to her surprise and we both laughed. She explained that her son always tried to roll off the changing tables and the wet/dry bag worked as a changing pad and was there for “just in case” he needed an outfit change. Presto-change-o! When heading out, put them in two diapers.

Then there was the birthday party hack that I stole many years ago. The birthday-set-of-sheets. Whatever theme or character that your child is currently in love with seems to become the focus of birthday party requests. Instead of buying expensive tablecloths that get used once I buy a set of sheets that match the theme, use the flat twin as a tablecloth, the bottom sheet to drape over a table or dresser to serve from, gather them both up and dump them out in the sink after the party, and throw the sheets in the wash. They have a reminder of their party on their bed afterwards and you don’t waste money on party supplies that fill a landfill. I also got wise to using plasticware from Ikea instead of party cups and plates.

That brings me to my next one, any meal can be fancy. Any. My kids love having tea parties and when they’re sick, sad, or just restless I turn their meal into a tea party by pulling out my mismatched pretty mug finds from yard sales and thrift stores and adorn a cake stand with small silicone and glass bowls of their food. It sounds like a lot of work but it really isn’t and it’s turned a bad day around many times. Sometimes you just need something to feel fancy. A spot of tea can fix anything, just ask Mary Poppins.

Let them feed themselves. How many times as parents do we want to monitor or ensure that our kitchens are not trashed or our kids don’t pour themselves a bowl of cookies for breakfast? I bought two lightweight crates, labeled them with the kids’ names, and placed them low enough for them to reach on an open shelf. Each crate has their preferred healthy snacks that are shelf stable and I get a piece of my sanity back when I have one less thing to do.

Speaking of sanity, I’ve started doing a trick for myself. I keep earbuds in my car and an emergency phone charger. Whenever I have a chance, I take a little longer during an errand or heading home and stop to watch a show on my phone. Those 20-30 minutes are priceless and frankly the only way I’m able to watch anything non-kid related at times. Because the real trick, beyond finding enough sleep or figuring out how to keep your car from smelling (don’t try, just accept it), is just that, maintaining your sanity.

So here’s to finding the humor, even if it’s in twenty-twenty hindsight, and for always using a square of toilet paper to lift the lid and check the seat on any toilet you share with your children; because, trust me, you’ll thank me once they start potty-training. You’re always one square away from the despair of sitting in someone’s fluids.

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