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You’ve Gotta Pick Your Battles

My next-door neighbor just had a baby. It’s been such a pleasure being reminded of what it’s like having a newborn. Seeing her lovingly load the baby into the stroller every morning for their daily walk, only to get dragged down the sidewalk by their forty-pound mutt. Watching her lumber in the door from a shopping trip, carrier in one hand, diaper bag slung over her shoulder, packages under the other arm, while she searches desperately for her house key.

Hearing her lament about Delaney having been up five times the previous night and how it’s already 3 p.m. and she hasn’t even had the opportunity to shower yet. Don’t get me wrong; my joy doesn’t lie in her struggles. As a mother of two boys, seventeen months apart, I’ve felt her pain and maybe more. The pleasure in being reminded of those days comes from the knowledge that I have made it through those early years and have landed in a place where I’m capable of choosing my battles.

The same day Shawnda stood out in her front yard, stringy-haired and a little rank from the spit-up on her shirt and the fact that she had yet to shower, we chatted while my boys rode their bikes around the lawn. She mentioned off-handedly that my three-year-old was pulling at his crotch.

“Maybe he has to pee,” she inquired.

“No,” I responded, unaffected, “he's just uncomfortable because he doesn’t have any underwear on.”

Shawnda’s face registered mild shock, “Doesn’t that hurt? I mean, he’s got jeans on!”

 “I don’t know, but I figure if it does, he’ll start wearing them again.”

My boy had stopped wearing underwear the week prior to our conversation. I’m still not really sure why, but after about a day of trying to convince him that undergarments were a good idea, I decided that it just wasn’t a battle worth fighting. What bad can really come of him going au naturel? Two years prior, when he was a baby, I didn’t have that luxury. The battles we face as parents of infants aren’t optional. You can’t choose not to put a diaper on a three-month old (at least not for very long). And there is no deciding that it’s not worth the effort involved in staying up with a little one who’s got his days and nights confused. But once that toddler independence sets in, we mothers are granted divine permission to let a few things slide.

The great thing about picking your battles is that what seems monumentally important to one parent can be something that another parent would rather not tackle. While one parent might decide, like I did, that life without underwear isn’t such a big deal, someone else might take a “Thou Shall Always Wear Briefs” stand against it. It even works like that within families, I’ve learned. My husband has serious issues with stickiness (for which I think he should seek therapy). As a result, it apparently causes him physical pain when either of our boys has the least bit of adhesiveness on their bodies.

Thus, he has elected to take on a personal battle against lollipops. He weeds through Halloween buckets and Easter baskets with a vengeance, seeking and destroying anything vaguely resembling candy on a stick. I, on the other hand, couldn't care less about lint-covered, sugary hands and faces. That’s why water was invented, as far as I’m concerned. (Though I do have a “no gum” battle that dates back to a nightmarish, ninety-degree afternoon last summer involving Juicy Fruit, my kid’s neck and a fabric-covered car seat. But that’s another story.)

I saw a mother and her four-year-old son at the mall recently. The boy was slumped in his stroller, contentedly sucking on a pacifier. My first instinct was to cringe, I’m sorry to say. But instead I smiled at her knowingly. She had obviously chosen to take a pass on The Binky Battle—quite possibly one of the most controversial battles we face as mothers of toddlers. It ranks right up there with the Bottle Battle, and we all know the theories surrounding both of them. Your pediatrician tells you that it’s fine. Your mother-in-law tells you that you’re a bad parent if you take it away. Your friends and strangers in the mall look at you sideways if you don’t. I won’t tell you which way I swung on this one, but suffice it to say that my oldest was a picky-eater and a pacifier addict, and I’m of the mind that good nutrition out ranks parental embarrassment any day.

As I sit here typing this, I am embroiled in another common battle and one that I seem to be losing. The Nap Battle. The Nap Battle is one I will wage day in and day out until kindergarten, I’m sure, because the spoils of war in this case are my sanity and peace of mind. My friend thinks I’m insane for fighting this one.

“Let them stay up and put them to bed at 7:30. That way you’ll have all evening to yourself.”

But for me, there is nothing grander than a quiet solace in the afternoon, while my husband is at work and the boys are resting peacefully in their bedroom down the hall. Except it seems to be happening less and less the older they get. Could it be that I’m at a turning point; on the verge of moving from picking my battles to full-on bribery?

Could be. Because, “Honey, just take a nap, and when you wake up, you can have all the gum you want,” is sounding pretty good right about now.

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