I want to thank Jennifer Blanke for her submission ‘Peanut Butter and Parenting’, a true story about parenting and being parented.
Jennifer Blanke has a BS in Elementary Education and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree from Lindenwood University where she was an editorial assistant for two issues of The Lindenwood Review. She is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer in St. Louis, Missouri and has writing published in Mum Life Stories and Her View From Home.
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Peanut Butter and Parenting
My fondness for peanut butter began at Rowan Elementary School in Mars, PA when I was somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. My exact age is a bit fuzzy because let’s be honest, elementary is an age. I was teeter-tottering, rocking my Jordache jeans, and could barely close my mouth around a wad of the newest trend, Hubba Bubba gum, which for some unknown reason was allowed in school. The monstrous pink glob flew out of my mouth as if it were escaping into freedom and unfortunately for both of us got captured in my stick-straight, long blond hair. I tried to remove the gummy mess, but there was nothing I could do except make it worse. My mother was called. I braced myself for a lengthy lecture on the short drive home.
I am the oldest of four children; I was five when the baby was born. My mother loved and cared for us, but she did not have time to coddle us. Growing up in the 70s and 80s was perfect for her authoritarian/authoritative combo parenting style which was a healthy combination of enforcing rules, focusing on obedience, (mostly) fair punishments, and positive relationships. My childhood is filled with happy memories and I attribute that to clear parameters that helped me feel safe and secure to roam the neighborhood with the littles tagging along behind me from morning until the dinner bell (which was basically the yelling of our names for all to hear). Of course, we’d head home mid-day and find a PB&J waiting for us on the back deck so we didn’t drag in dirt or extra mouths to feed. I grew up on peanut butter by choice because the alternative was hot dogs cut up in scrambled eggs or baloney and cheese on white.
As I was sitting in a chair right outside of the school office, I saw my mother approaching with a scowl on her face and a jar of peanut butter in her hand. Wait? What is she doing with that? I honestly thought she would take me home and work her magic until every last piece of sticky goo was out of my hair, but nope, as she got closer I could tell that Mom, me, and The Peanut Man, cane and all, were about to put on a show.
I’ve never had a gum and peanut butter moment with one of my children, but there have been a few shows. I parent just like my mother. I’m tough and I’m driven by an unwillingness to allow my children to become less than their destiny demands. Words like you’re so mean and I bet other parents wouldn’t… and I’m over eighteen have bounced across the wood flooring of our tiny ranch on many occasions. These words echo back: I’m not your friend, I don’t care what other parents do, and as long as you live in this house. It’s called tough love and thankfully their father is a stable presence in all of our lives because he brings calmness and balance to my crazy.
My two kids never slept in bed with us, they toddler marched to timers and routines, and they know the embarrassment of not having their homework or PE uniform because their mom refused to bail them out. They both have jobs because one wants to replace the 1997 Chevy that his grandpa gave him and the other wants a new phone. I’ve gotten plenty of sideways glances from the helicopter moms as they’re flying their darlings from one sporting event to another with a stop over to pick up the homework paper forgotten at school or from the lawnmower moms plowing a path and eviscerating anyone who stands in their child’s way of success. My children are fiercely independent and fiercely loved. I firmly believe that my responsibility isn’t to rescue them every time they falter and fall into the deep end, but rather to teach them to swim so they can at least tread water long enough to drift to the shallow end of the pool while I cheer for them from the deck. There have been a few near-drowning experiences, but they know how to do their own laundry and pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.
Many battles have ensued with my oldest because stubbornness is a family trait and giving up a good argument is just not in our DNA. He’s been arguing since he could talk which was early compared to some and not surprising if you’ve encountered him when he’s pursuing one of his innovative ideas. The arguments now are about politics, religion, and why he shouldn’t have to follow our unnecessary rules instead of naptime, snacks, and why he should be able to wear his PJ top and inside-out socks to school. The sock thing really bothered me and it’s laughable now, because that was so insignificant compared to the struggles that followed. I’ll never forget the image of a kicking-screaming-thrashing little boy who didn’t get his way in the dollar store causing me to abandon my cart full of his birthday decorations. The scene that followed of me force-strapping him into his car seat as I uncontrollably sobbed, unfortunately, happened more than once. He is strong-willed, but I learned to be stronger. There is a fine line between parenting and hostage negotiating. My years of the former could probably land me a career in the latter.
My daughter is shy, but when she’s comfortable in her environment, her sassiness appears. She’s also brutally honest, if you can get her to talk. When she was in Kindergarten she told a classmate that her shoes were ugly and asked if she got them at the Goodwill. After a call from her teacher, a conversation about being kind to others took place with my five-year-old questioning me about whether or not she should lie next time. So, I should have lied and said that I liked her shoes? Well, maybe you could find something to like about them and only say that. Isn’t that still lying? In third grade at a sleepover, one of her friends called her fat. So, we had an honest conversation about beauty and body image and I gently reminded her that this is exactly why it’s important to think before you allow every thought to escape from your mouth. I hope she never forgets that God masterfully created her to be beautiful on the inside and when she lets the inside shine bright, it makes her radiant on the outside. A propensity for music has grown in the past few years and I find myself needing to push her toward growth. I’m always in a tug-o-war with these two kids; the oldest needing to be tugged back in and the youngest needing to fly.
I will advocate for them, love them even when they make poor choices, and they will always have a safe haven when life gets tough; I will give them exactly what my mother gave me.
I can still feel my mother’s vigorous hands working the peanut butter through my locks every time I open a jar. She pulled that peanut butter through my hair so rough that day and removed every last stringy piece of bubble gum. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I can still eat the stuff. Her hands said more than her words ever could. I don’t remember much else other than hoping Ronnie, my first crush, was not walking down the hallway; I would have died if he’d seen my mother at school! I did get quite a few glances from my classmates when I returned to the classroom. Apparently eau de peanut parfum was not a fragrance trend at Rowan. You probably figured it out, but I was not taken home to shower and remove the greasy film that coated my hair; I was sent back to class, probably to make sure I’d learned my lesson. Tough love. It worked because I’m now a responsible mom showing up when my kids need it the most.
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