We have all heard someone say it. The sarcastic, “mother of the year,” tossed in after an account of some mishap that led to a kid-tastrophe.  Or maybe after making a less than perfect choice, like letting junior eat chicken nuggets dipped in chocolate sauce for dinner.  

Here’s the dirty truth: We all fuck up. A lot. We pretty much suck about fifty percent of the time. In the spirit of being the first to admit I likely have my kids on the straight and narrow trajectory to a lifetime of therapy and botched relationships, here are my top five summer parenting decisions that surely take me out of the running for Mother of the Year.

1. Verbalizing my true (end-of-my-rope) feelings.

Here are some examples: “You are exhausting me.” “I am not just your mom, you know, I am a person.” “Mom is off duty. OFF DUTY!” “No, I don’t want to see what you made in Minecraft.” And the one I have used rarely but probably regret the most, “What is wrong with you?” This is usually expressed with exasperation when one of them has done something utterly mind-boggling, like poop in a flowerpot. In my defense, I have apologized each time I have said this (because I really don’t want them to think something is wrong with them), but at times I find it impossible to repress my wonder at what is going on in their little lizard brains. I never call them names or tell them I don’t love them, but sometimes the disbelief is real, and deep, and explodes out of my tense lips unrestrained.

2. Calling in sick to an extra-curricular activity.

It’s the end of a long day and we have music lessons. Me: “I don’t want to go to music lessons,” (said in a whiny voice while rubbing my face repeatedly). I have the power to cancel music lessons today, with one quick phone call and a little white lie. “So-and-so is not feeling well and my husband is tied up at work…” I know this might be teaching the boys that it is ok to call in sick when you’re not sick, but, well, it IS ok to call in sick when you’re not sick, on occasion.  We all need some down time. Honouring our commitments be damned, sometimes mama needs to take off her bra and put on her pajamas earlier than usual.

3. Leaving them home alone just to get away.

I called my friend from Target once when I left the kids home alone, so I could chat with her uninterrupted. She basically told me Child Protective Services was coming for me. Controversial or not, I have no problem leaving my boys home alone for an hour while I run an errand. It is easier than dragging their complaining, miserable little asses into stores with me and saying “NO” a bazillion times when they beg for stuff. Sure, the grocery store could probably wait, but I can’t. I need to get out. Alone. They know how to call me, dial 911, and they know the rules (stay inside, don’t answer the door for anyone, don’t screw around with knives and matches and shit, leave the tarantula in the cage). I’m good with it.

4. Letting them explore outdoors unsupervised. In the desert. During snake season.

It is good for my boys to run around outdoors, alone. They have to learn to watch where they step, avoid cacti (which they sometimes don’t), and get help if someone gets hurt (which they are getting really good at). We have a cabin in the woods where we regularly encourage them to get the hell outside and leave us alone. Sometimes we aren’t sure where exactly they are. This summer we let them take a hike without us, on a trail they knew well, to a destination not far from our cabin. We went over the rules and set them free. They were fine. (If my mom is reading this she is probably having a stroke).

5. Cocoa Puffs, Otter Pops, Icees, Chicken Nuggets, and other nutritional atrocities.

It’s been a long summer. Camp is only five hours a day. There have been a lot of movie theater and arcade visits. Kids like cereal. My seven-year-old is a very picky bottomless pit. Need I say more?

Honorable mention – Letting them have way too much screen time so I can binge watch Netflix. This one is self-explanatory, and saved my sanity on more than one occasion this summer.

Bottom line – my boys are happy, healthy, and loved. Mother of the year or not, I can live with that.

Jess Kapp is a writer and geologist, living in Tucson, Arizona with her mountain man husband and two precocious sons. She is the associate department head of the department of geosciences at the University of Arizona, where she is also a senior lecturer, teaching introductory geology to hundreds of less than impressed non-science majors. She writes a blog about everything from women in science to motherhood to the manifestation of her midlife crisis on her website jesskapp.com. She has written a soon-to-be published memoir about her transformation from sheltered suburban girl to bona fide adventurer while roughing it in the middle of nowhere, Tibet. She also writes short stories. You can find her on the Huffington Post, Facebook, and Twitter.

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