Thursday, 18 July 2019

Parenting Doesn’t Spell Truth by Naomi Elana Zener

My phone vibrated angrily.


My fucking mother and her fucking morning texts! I though. I ground my teeth. 

“Stop yelling at me!” I texted back.


My mother always claimed she wasn’t yelling. She liked to claim she simply didn’t understand how to unlock the caps lock feature on her keyboard. She loved to say it was her Luddite brain causing the confusion. The truth was that being tech unsavvy was simply a front. She was always yelling at everyone. For my mother, yelling was her way of emphasizing her point.

My mother had two volumes: silent and screaming. The louder she was, regardless of whether she was right or wrong, the less likely anyone would disagree. My dear, sweet, five foot tall mother, Boston daughter Judy Steinwitz, was capable of raising the decibel level to such a degree that Putin’s dog would hear her from his house in Russia.

I clenched my inner lady parts as instructed—heaven forbid my mother let me forget that I had a baby six months ago and that my vagina was wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it—as I drove to my mother’s house for our thrice weekly personal training sessions at her in-home gym, Judy’s version of a push present for having had a child. Every week, I left my sweet six-month old baby boy at home with a sitter—he who gifted me with an extra fifty pounds of cellulite from housing him in my body for forty weeks—so I could sweat it out with my oldie, Judy.

When I arrived, I saw our trainer, Boomer’s, signature neon orange and lime green advertisement on wheels sitting in her driveway. Boomer was a former NFL farm team five hundredth draft pick who, when his professional football dreams failed to materialize, decided to take his steroid-assisted physique and reinvent himself as a personal trainer. I entered the basement, which had been renovated into a state of the art gym, and gave Judy and Boomer a nod hello.  Judy continued to run on her treadmill, careful not to screw up her pacing. She was preoccupied with looking at her reflection in the mirrored walls to ensure the incline setting was sufficiently helping her ass to defy gravity.

“Hi Boomer. I’m on the elliptical today?”

“Yes ma’am. You’re running late, so you’re going to owe me an extra ten minutes of running.”

I nodded sheepishly. Boomer was a stickler for punctuality. Show up late, and your date with whichever form of cardio punishment that awaited you was extended so that you couldn’t sit down the next day. Asshole!

“SO, WHY ARE YOU SO LATE?” Judy shouted overtop the blaring AC/DC. Boomer liked to make us work out to classic seventies rock. He’d head bang along with the booming bass while spotting us during our workouts. Perfect music to accompany his ‘roid rage, I thought to myself.

“Delia.” Delia was my newly minted toddler, a two-year-old hellion in baby Uggs. “She flushed my sports bra down the toilet. It took me twenty minutes to unclog the toilet and find another one to wear.”

“I’m glad you did…” my mother offered breathlessly.

“I know, plumbers cost a fortune,” I interrupted.

“No, I meant the bra. After two kids, your breasts hang down so low you don’t need to be working out in the wrong brassiere. I’ve spent enough on these personal training lessons to fix your belly and ass. I’m not buying you a boob job,” she heaved, turning purple.  The casual observer may be frightened by Judy’s complexion, fearing she was mere moments away from falling victim to a massive coronary episode. But, to those in the know, her eggplant hue simply meant she was hitting her target heart rate. She was still capable of berating me.

“I explained to Delia that toilets are for poop and pee only. I did my best not to raise my voice, but she laughed at me. Then, she defied me. After I fished out the fucking bra, she stuck her My Little Pony into the toilet. She said he wanted to go swimming. I deal with crap like this fifteen times a day. I don’t have a two year old. I have a tyrant. Maybe I’m not cut out for parenting.”

My mother stopped running.

“No one is cut out for parenting. We just do it and fuck up our kids along the way.”

“You seemed to get me to do what you wanted. For instance, you got me to brush my teeth. How’d you do it?”

“What do you say to Delia to get her to brush her teeth?”

“Judy, did I give you permission to stop? Push that tush!” Boomer shouted. He was her vocal match made in heaven. My mother complied. He was the only person she listened to.

“I tell her that she will get cavities if she doesn’t brush them. I explained that meant that…”

“You tell her this: Delia, honey, if you don’t brush your teeth, they’ll turn brown. And, do you know what is brown? Shit. And, if your teeth look like shit, your mouth will smell like shit, too. And, no one will want to play with you. You do that and she’ll brush her teeth. Kids want playmates. Mark my words, she’ll listen.”

“That’s horrifying. I’m not speaking to her like that. It’s bordering on abuse. And, it’s a lie!”

“Honey, parenting doesn’t spell truth. You want your kids to do what you want, sometimes you’ve got to lie so well that you’d pass a lie detector test. You need to believe the lies you tell them so that they will. Kids are built to be both bullshit artists and detectors.”

“What if Delia doesn’t care if her mouth smells like shit?”

“You tell her she’ll never get another cupcake again. Only her brother will.”

“You’re telling me to add another level of complexity to the already burdened sibling rivalry that exists between them?”

“What do you think I did with you and your sister? I’m telling you, you can’t spell parenting without lies,” my mother laughed.

“Ladies, time for crunches.”  We moved to the floor and lay down. Boomer put on some techno beats to help us keep pace with the two thousand crunches he expected us to complete in a continuous five-minute stretch sans respite.

“If all else fails, and she still refuses to brush her teeth, then you tell her she’ll end up going to the dentist every day to get a needle to put her to sleep so she can have her teeth brushed.”

“Holy shit, ma, you’re evil. I can’t do that.”

“Do you brush your teeth? Every day twice a day?”


“Do you think you do that because you believed in the importance of oral hygiene from a nubile age? Or, do you think you do it because I told you that if you didn’t, I’d have your dentist remove your teeth, which meant you’d never eat another cookie again, until you learned to brush your teeth yourself?”

My mouth fell agape. I had no memory of this. I probably blocked it out in order to survive. No wonder I hate going to the dentist.

“And, it doesn’t stop with teeth. Your kid refuses to sleep? You tell her that if she doesn’t nap or go to bed at night, she won’t grow and will always be wearing baby clothes. Fails to listen when you tell her to clean up? You say the toy fairies will come when she’s asleep and make them pinch her in her sleep for failing to put them away. Get my point?”

I mulled over her words. “You’re advocating bullying my own child like you bullied me.”

My mother’s self-satisfied, smug grin spoke volumes. “I got you to brush your teeth, though, didn’t I?”

“Is that the point? Get your kid to do what you want no matter how much damage it causes?”

“Oh, screw you and your sanctimonious high horse. Fear is a great motivator for kids.”

The music suddenly stopped. Judy continued to furiously crunch away without a lapse in her momentum.

“Excuse me, ladies. Normally, I don’t say much of anything during our sessions in regards to your mother-daughter chats. But, if you follow Judy’s advice, I’ll tell you what parenting does spell: guilt, with a capital G,” Boomer advised. “I don’t think you’re giving your daughter good advice.”

Judy sat up and looked at us blankly.

“Parenting has a letter ‘g’ at the end, but it’s not for ‘guilt.’ It’s for ‘get it done.’ That’s how you spell parenting,” my mother retorted. “And, that’s how you get abs like mine. So, put the music back on and start crunching. Fifty pounds don’t lose themselves, do they honey?”

“Well, there’s also a ‘t’ in ‘parenting.’ And, do you know what it stands for? Therapy.”

© 2019. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.