Parent Moments: Dumpster Diving
It took me several years as a mom to realize that there was a whole realm of parenting responsibilities no one tells you about when you say you want to have kids--perhaps because they know you will have second thoughts if you find out about them. The list is long and scary, but it includes killing spiders, nit-picking, dealing with dead pets, cleaning up after sick children, and digging through trash for accidentally discarded items. The kicker is that you have to perform these tasks with the strength of Wonder Woman and the voice inflection of Mary Poppins--when you really want to run the other way screaming.
I have a particular aversion to kitchen garbage -- it makes me retch. Yet because I am Mother (hear me roar!), I am regularly seen sifting through bags of trash looking for lost permission slips or critical toy parts that have gone missing. I am concerned about my frequent dumpster diving and often wonder where it puts me in the mommy continuum. Do my weekly--um, sometimes daily--trash quests make me a Good Mommy or a Bad Mommy? One could argue that digging through the garbage is good -- since it's considered brave to dig through the trash (especially ours). Or, am I simply bad because I absentmindedly threw away some necessary object?
"What's your homework tonight, big guy?" Dave jovially asks our son, Henry, at the end of his second day of school. Henry has homework for the first time this year, and we're nervous about the adjustment. "Oh, Dad, it's easy. I just have to empty this special little white bag Mrs. Yee gave us and fill it with some things I can talk about." The words "special little white bag" ring through my head as if Henry is speaking through one of those voice disguisers kidnappers use in movies. An audible gasp escapes from my mouth as I flash back to a day earlier, when I tossed that very same bag into the trash. Dave shoots me a look and responds appropriately, "That does sound easy!"
Head lowered, I spend the rest of dinner silently dwelling over how to approach the bag-in-the-trash conundrum. I'm guilt-ridden for causing Henry more angst than necessary over his first official night of homework. What if he remembers this for the rest of his life? "The first night of homework my mom messed me up" -- it seems like the perfect excuse for future academic failure. I also know that the white bag is sharing space on the curb with an unsavory mélange of rotten food and papers, growing more putrid and foul by the moment as it awaits tomorrow's garbage pick-up. What if I just pretended I had no idea where it went?
It takes me until dessert to realize that this isn't a tragedy, it's a comedy. Putting on my best silly-mommy face, I announce that Henry's homework bag is in the garbage and that, in order to retrieve it, I must dig through the "awful, smelly trash" like Oscar the Grouch. Delighted, the kids giggle, even Henry. Encouraged by their response, I pretend to hobble out to the curb as I grab a bag of trash out of the cans, holding my nose. The kids are holding their sides laughing as they watch my performance from our porch. I play it up with a lot of goofy faces and by yelling "Gross!" and "Eeew!" a lot (which isn't hard, since the trash makes me gag).
As I listen to their peals of laughter, I begin to giggle instead of gag, and it hits me--I decide that today's measure of mommy success isn't whether or not I went dumpster diving, it's how many times I made my family laugh. After 20 minutes of breathing through my mouth, I wave the special little white bag in the air as if it were a surrender flag.