One Step Ahead
When you are a parent you are expected to be one step ahead of the kids at all times. You must be able to anticipate the childrens' needs and wants before the need or want is expressed. Otherwise, it can cause big problems for the kids and you. For example:
Babies will be hungry. You must have food to feed them. This means formula and a bottle or an available breast. If it's a breast, you may have to plan your own meals ahead, knowing that what you eat impacts the digestion of your baby. Along the breast-theme, you have to plan ahead for where you are going to feed the baby, which may be the dressing room of a Wal-Mart if you are out shopping, or the back seat of your minivan. You also have to plan what you wear. It's not fun for anyone if you decided one morning to wear a dress and then later you try to nurse your baby. Don't forget to buy, and travel with, those uncomfortable nursing pads. (It's like wear a maxi pad on your nipple.) It can also be awkward if you forget these and then leak all over the front of your shirt.
Diapers. Little kids crap their pants. All of the time. You gotta have these stashed all over the place- in every room of your house, your cars, your jacket pocket, purse, etc. If you use cloth you have to plan ahead and make sure they are laundered and, if traveling, you bring a soil bag along with you. (That's fun, by the way, to carry around poopy/pissy pants in your diaper bag.) Same goes for wipes. Life is hard without wipes.
Clothes. If you didn't read the previous example, I'll say it again. Kids crap their pants. They also puke, spit up, and sneeze on themselves and fall on the ground in mud. Extra clothes, from head to toe, must be at the ready at all times. A towel and soil sack is good, too, unless you want to carry said crap pants in your purse. Tissues. Add that to the must-have list.
Kids get hungry, not just babies. They seem to need a snack every 15 minutes. Don't, and I mean it, don't think about going to the pool, the park, or honestly, anywhere, without several snacks. You should also know what snacks the other parents bring so that your kids don't stuff their grubby hands in your friends' snack coolers because they'd rather eat their blueberries instead of your pretzels.
Little kids need special tools to do anything. Need to eat? Oh! Can't just sit in the booth at Denny's! Gotta pack that little seat that attaches to the table. (Or a grill if you are picnicking and it doesn't attach to the table. The grill was not on!) Kid can't sleep in a bed or a drawer or a laundry basket! Gotta have a Pack'n' Play or Moses basket, or special tent. If you don't have any of these, expect to spend the night sleeping while standing up and rocking your baby. Don't forget sippy cups, those bowls that tip and nothing spills, swim diapers, toilet locks, rubber ducks that cover the faucet, that weird plastic seat for the tub that makes the kid sit up and not fall over, plug protectors, fireplace and stair gates, a swaddle blanket, a jumperoo. A swing.
Holy crap! A car seat! Do not forget the car seat. You are screwed if you don't have a car seat. This isn't 1978 and your mom can't hold you on her lap and it is not ok if you go over a railroad track and you roll off grandma's lap and onto the floor.
Favorite blankie or toy. Put a GPS on it. Shit goes down fast if you do not know where this is at any given moment, particularly before nap and bedtime. Forget sleeping if you can't find it.
These are just examples of being a step ahead with stuff. The hard part is being a step ahead with life. Let me give you a few more examples, in one particular setting, in case you have no idea what I am talking about.
You are at the grocery store. You are in an aisle in the middle of the store, with a nearly-full cart of groceries. Your kid said she has to pee NOW! What do you do? You must be prepared for this. You must know where the bathroom is. You must know where you can safely park your cart so it is there when you come out. You must be ready to super fast make a toilet paper seat protector because your kid won't sit on the potty (do you blame her?) and you must have hand sanitizer because this bathroom never has soap and you should have wipes or a little towel handy because you know your kid is afraid of the hand dryer.
You should have extra clothes and a plastic bag because you know your kid didn't get it all out and accidentally peed a bit on her leg.
You must avoid the donut aisle. You must avoid the giant car carts and the little kid carts. You must be on good terms with the high school kid who works there who has to clean up the box of almond milk that slips from your kid's chubby fingers onto the floor.
When you leave the grocery store, you must be prepared. You must have your keys in your hand already so that you can hit the unlock button without letting go of the cart and the hand of your child who may decide to bolt into the parking lot. You must know how to wrap your leg around the cart to hold onto it while you pull your kid from the cart. You must be ready to hold the cart with your leg, and kid in your arms, while you pick up her boot that got caught in the cart and is now on the ground, partially under the car.
You needed to put on deodorant that morning because you will be sweating by now.
You should have a snack in the kids' mouths by this point.
You should have already unwrapped the snack at this point.
You should have already unwrapped the straw. You should already be nodding when they say they can put the straw in themselves and already be putting it for them when they can't and they scream.
You should already be cleaning up the spill from the juice box falling on the floor. You should be cleaning the straw off with a wipe.
Your leg is still wrapped around the cart.
You should have a potty seat in the back because your kid has to pee. Not that kid. The other one, who insisted she didn't have to pee when you were in the bathroom 15 minutes ago.
You should have the car on already because it's cold.
You should have already adjusted the car seat strap that is SO ITCHY! IT'S SO ITCHY AND IT IS SCRATCHY AND I HATE THIS CAR SEAT AND I'M NOT GETTING IN IT AND WE ARE NOT DRIVING HOME.
Those groceries should be stowed away by now. You should be smiling at the old man who is giving you the evil eye.
You should have already answered that what is next is going to be going home and putting away the groceries and no that's not fun but that is life.
You should already have a towel in the mudroom to place your dirty boots on.
You should have have the house key in your hand, and as many bags as possible, and your kid on your hip, because she won't walk in the muddy driveway.
You should already have a plate of snacks, and a drink, and the best blankie/toy at the door.
You should have known exactly where the plastic pink purse, that hasn't been seen in six months is, the second you walk in the door with 6 bags of groceries and a kid on your hip, because that ourse is needed RIGHT NOW.
Are you that lame? The groceries should have been put away before the door was opened. You suck.
I have been doing this parenting thing for almost eight years and I feel like I am always two steps behind. It seems as though, each outing to the pool, I am caught off guard when the kids ask me where their snack is and I can't produce one little cheese stick. It seems that it's always that one time I forget a change of clothes when one of them takes a leak in the middle of the grocery store. Or, I am all out of tissues when one of them sneezes the green goblin out of her nostrils and onto her jacket. Or we get to Nana's and I forgot Blankie. Some days, I feel as though I am not a well oiled parenting machine at all. Instead, it is as though I have parenting amnesia and I wake up and have forgotten every little detail and seem incapable of planning anything beyond making a cup of coffee.
Why does this happen? Am I forgetful? Why do I drop the ball? Perhaps it is because I am tired and overwhelmed. Perhaps it is because, after almost 8 years, I know that it is NO BIG DEAL if I have to toss pissy pants into my purse and wrap a now naked kid in my coat to finish shopping at Target. Maybe it is because I know that no chld will starve if she has to wait 15 minutes for a snack. It could be because I have learned to prioritize what to plan for, like the keys in the hand in the parking lot so kid doesn't bolt is more important than Capri Sun in the cupholder. I can't do it all, perfectly. I can't even half ass half of it. Some days, I'm just happy we all (or almost all of us) have pants on.
On the days I am particuarly hard on myself about my lack of One Step Aheadedness, I just hang out with the kids and Andy and pretend to let him take the lead.
"Melissa, did you pack swimuits for the pool today?
What, me? Didn't you?
Melissa, the kids are hungry! What's for lunch?
Lunch? What's that?
Melissa, are these tights or pants? Do they go on this way?
Pants? Who needs 'em?