Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom: Who was foolish enough to give me kids?

Marla Jo Fisher

Occasionally, people will pick up my column in the mistaken belief they are going to become informed about how to raise children.

But, really, no one would come to me for parenting advice unless they’d been drinking heavily. As writer Lori Borgman wrote in her book, “I was a better mother before I had kids.”

I will tell you a true story illustrating this point, but I come off badly in it, so please keep it to yourself.

When Cheetah Boy and Curly Girl came to live with me as foster children eight years ago, I knew nothing about raising kids except what I had learned from watching TV; i.e. that they were small, spilled things on your new Stainmaster carpet, loved sugary cereals with cartoon figures on the box and begged every day for Kraft Mac and Cheese.

The kids arrived in their social worker’s car early the morning of Aug. 2, 2002, a day that irrevocably changed my life, with two trash bags filled with their meager possessions. Curly Girl’s clothes were in good shape. In fact it looked like someone had been dressing this cute little 3-year-old like a Barbie doll. Cheetah Boy, who was 5 at the time, had only a few outfits that were ripped, stained and held together with safety pins.

The first thing I did was take them to a big department store and let them pick out their own new sheets and blankets. Cheetah Boy got Scooby Doo, Curly Girl picked Barbie. Then, I decided they really needed some new shoes.

Now, this seems like a very simple task, right? How could I botch that one up, unless I let them pick out stiletto heels? Well, read on.

I drove them to a Payless store near our house, which is on a very busy street. I parked on the street, opened the drivers’ side back door for the Curly Girl, and helped her down out of the car while Cheetah Boy got out on the other side, onto the sidewalk.

Ignorant of the ways of 3-year-olds, I turned my back to lock the car, in full expectation that Curly Girl would calmly walk to the sidewalk and wait there.

Instead, she ran straight into the street, into the path of an oncoming Ford pickup truck.

The driver blared his horn, I turned around, screamed, and ran to grab her.

Fortunately, the driver had managed to screech to a stop three inches from her, but he was yelling out the window at me. “Marla Jo Fisher, you are such a complete moron, no one should have trusted you with children.” At least, that’s what I think he said as he gunned the motor and sped away.

I walked her to the curb and just stood there for a moment while I regained the ability to walk, thinking, “I can’t do this. I can’t even keep these kids alive for one entire day. I’m going to get them killed, or do something so astoundingly unsafe that the social workers will come and take them away.”

For six months, as I waited for the chance to legally adopt them, I was convinced virtually every second that I would botch it up somehow, and the social workers would take them. It seemed like surely at some point they would figure out that I was pathetically incompetent to take care of these kids, whom I already loved ferociously.

Eventually, along the way, however, I figured out how to do it.

As Roseanne Barr used to say in her stand-up act about being a housewife, “If the kids are alive at 5 p.m., I’ve done my job.” That became my point of pride.

In 2003, they became my children forever, a source of great joy, though I do still have those moments when I wonder, “What have I done?”

Now, Cheetah Boy is 14 and Curly Girl is 12, and I realize that I have to learn how to be a mom all over again.

The problem with being the parent of teenagers is you have a whole new series of things to worry about.

Yes, they could still get run over in the street. But, now, there are entire categories of other things they could be doing in the streets that are also dangerous and over which I have little control. I’ve got a stack of books on my coffee table about how to parent teenagers, and even after I’ve read them all, I still feel like it would be easier to fly the space shuttle to the moon.

Wonder if I can fit into that astronaut suit and learn to live on freeze-dried food? At least I wouldn’t have to listen to teenybopper music every time I get in the car. Unless they have teenagers in space.