[Editor's Note: Babble doesn't promote using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses of childcare, but we're committed to showing parenthood as it really is rather than as it should be - especially in our 'Bad Parent' series.]
I’ve been a weekend pot smoker since I was about eighteen. As a new mother, I continued the indulgence, but only when I was out and my son had a babysitter. I swore I’d never be stoned around my kid. And that plan worked for two and a half years, right up until one morning when my toddler waged a concerted campaign to fray each of my nerves.
Everything I asked of him resulted in an argument. He refused to take a bath. Once I finally convinced him to get in the tub, he refused to get out. When I finally coaxed him out of the water, he wouldn’t get dressed. When we finally agreed on a shirt, he promptly finger-painted jelly all over it. When I tried to get the shirt off of him, he evaded me and dove headfirst onto my freshly changed sheets. “Fine,” I said, “If you’re not going to cooperate with me, I’ll just sit on the sofa with a book.” After I’d spent about thirty seconds reading, the book was ripped from my hands, my son cackling, “MY BOOK! MINE!”
Still trying to keep it together, I said, “Okay, honey, you want me to read one of your books? Go bring one to Mommy.”
“No! This book!” he said, grabbing the book and ripping out one of its pages.
That did it. “That was a LIBRARY book!” I screamed.
I wondered if instead of fines, the library would take a kid in trade. At that moment, I would have been more than happy to exchange my only child for just a few minutes of peace. But even a ten-minute respite seemed hopelessly out of reach; relief, in the form of my husband, wouldn’t arrive for another six hours – a yawning chasm of time I couldn’t possibly traverse in the company of this unreasonable tyrant.
Desperate for a change of scenery, I shoved my son in his car seat and drove to the mall. But when we arrived, I realized that it was my internal scenery that really needed changing. I walked to the rear of my car and stuck my head in the trunk, pretending to fumble for my diaper bag while I took a quick and furtive toke off my one-hitter. As I unbuckled my son, I felt the furrows already vanishing from my brow.
We’ll see how this works, I thought to myself, feeling a bit guilty about breaking my rule against toasted childcare. But it turned out I could not only manage taking care of my son while I was high; I could excel. As I had nothing in particular I needed to accomplish at the shopping center (except saving my sanity), I decided to let my son lead the way. Rather than taking his hand and dragging him along behind me as I usually do on shopping trips, I let my son decide where we would go, what we would look at and how much time we would spend in each aisle. He delighted in calling my attention to each shiny object, and I delighted in listening to his descriptions. “Look, Mommy! This frog has spots!” “Mommy! Come here! It’s a spinny top!” And when he said look, I really, really looked. Earlier, I’d wanted to kill this kid, and now I was hanging on his every word and absorbing his every observation. A few minutes earlier, I saw him as an irritant. Now he was an inspiration.
With munchies setting in, I bought us both crystallized sugar lollipops on wooden sticks – his first time seeing one, and my first time eating one in about twenty years. I marveled at the texture of the treat as I rubbed it back and forth on my tongue (so many corners!) and my son rejoiced in the infusion of sugar. Later, we walked by a fountain and threw in pennies. My son’s wish was that we could take the fountain home with us. My wish was that I could always be this patient and kind and joyful.
I don’t smoke pot on a daily basis, just as I don’t make sugar crystal lollipops a staple of my son’s diet. But I’ve been able to apply the lessons I learned about parenting while stoned to parenting while sober (and impatient and grouchy). I now believe that – in addition to doing all I can to raise him to be a decent and responsible human being – I need to, from time to time, get down on his level and really see what he sees, to rediscover pleasures like crayons or the sandbox.
There are those who believe anyone who gets stoned while caring for a child should receive a visit from child protective services. But there are times when I find myself snapping at my now six-year-old son over normal foibles, or when I find myself too distracted by mundane household chores to sit down and focus on his needs, I’ve been able to apply the lessons I learned about parenting while stoned to parenting while sober (and impatient and grouchy). that I realize that my making a quick and discreet trip to the garage would do me – and him – a world of good. When I return to the house, my son is none the wiser. All he knows is that his formerly stressed out mother is suddenly willing to hunker down on the rug to play Legos for an hour.
In an ideal world, I’d be able to do all of these things without the help of an herb. But the world isn’t ideal. It’s full of overflowing laundry hampers, dirty dishes and unanswered email. Pot’s much-maligned amotivational properties I would term an enticement to “single-tasking.” Erecting a temporary smokescreen is a way to block out the demands that take my attention away from my child. Plus, it makes Teletubbies a whole lot more interesting.