Shhh! Don’t Tell Daddy…

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A mom confess to tales of fast food drive-thrus and plunking her kids in front of the TV—guilty child-rearing secrets she’s kept (until now!) from her husband.

It was 12:30 p.m. If I pressed on and did that last errand without feeding my toddlers, I was just asking for trouble. But I really needed to get it done and didn’t have a lot of time. The kids’ naptime is around 1:30. Whatever decision I made, it had to be quick.

Desperate, I went for the drive-thru.

It’s one of those things that when I was pregnant and naive, I swore I’d never do, like when my husband Scott and I vowed we’d only feed the kids healthy food, no hot dogs, chicken nuggets, cookies, or candy. We had decided that we wouldn’t go to the golden arches—at least until the kids were older—and that we’d make sure their meals were always well rounded. We weren’t going to be slaves to fast food.

Then I broke the vow. I ordered them each a chicken nugget Happy Meal that they happily gorged on while still sitting in their car seats. (Another plus of drive-thrus: You don’t have to go through the hassle of getting the kids out of their seats, dragging them into the restaurant, having them stand there and whine while waiting for the food and then fighting to try to get them to sit in their seats while eating.) It was quick. They were happy. And I got all my errands done.

Later that day, I carefully inspected their seats to make sure no stray fries were lying around. I even opened the windows to air the car out so the incriminating food odors wouldn’t linger. I smiled, thinking myself so clever, that I’d gotten away with it, until a few days later. All four of us got up early to drive to my parents’ house for the day. On the way, we stopped at a doughnut shop drive-thru for coffee. As we neared the pick-up window, my son Jonah shouted, “Hey, chicken nuggets! I want my chicken nuggets.” The jig was up.

I frequently shatter agreements Scott and I made. It’s one thing to sit around a kitchen table and talk in platitudes about the best way to raise kids, the best things to have them eat, how we’ll spend X amount of time reading to them, this amount of time coloring, and virtually no time in front of the TV. Then there’s reality. Then there’s the morning when you realize that you haven’t showered in three days and deodorant will no longer camouflage the smell any more. You decide that you will go mad if you don’t plop kids in front of the tube while you finally shower. If you don’t put them in front of the TV, you rationalize, they’ll wreck the house and hurt themselves. And if you don’t shower, you fear you will soon turn into a shrieking, smelly barnyard animal.

That’s one of the biggest agreements I’ve busted wide open: TV time. It’s easy for Scott—who gets to leave the house and go out to fancy business luncheons where people don’t spit or hurl food—to tell me that the kids shouldn’t watch “a lot” of TV. He doesn’t have to try to go to the bathroom or shower in nanoseconds, all the while keeping an ear out to hear if the twins knock over something heavy or bash each other unconscious. While I don’t sit them in front of the TV for hours at a time, there are moments when I absolutely need to get something done and they’re being impossible. But with the magic words, “Who wants to watch Blue’s Clues?” I suddenly get a half-hour to finish what I’m doing.

Then there’s the ketchup thing. Scott maintains this bizarre belief that if I let the kids eat food with ketchup on it, that they’ll never eat anything but ketchup. He likens it to a juvenile narcotic and insists I’m enabling an inevitable addition. (He has nightmares of us having to bring ketchup with us wherever we go and having to give Abbey a bowl of it for lunch, to the shock and dismay of the onlookers.) Whenever I take the ketchup bottle out of the refrigerator at dinnertime, he demands that I put it back. “They don’t need that,” he says, desperately trying to keep the drug away from his children. But when he’s not around and the kids aren’t eating, that ketchup bottle, boy does it do the trick.

Now I’m not alone in conducting this secret life with my kids. I know plenty of other stay-at-home moms who let their kids do things that the fathers would go nuts over if they knew. There’s one mother who would give her kid Oreo cookies on the sly. But the kid ratted her out one day when he told his father that he wanted “the blue cookies in there” pointing to the telltale blue bag in the cupboard. Another mom—who hasn’t been found out yet—lets her kid have chocolate chips when chocolate is expressly verboten in the father’s point of view. Yet another mother lets her kid run around her husband’s office and bang on the computer keyboard. An explicit no-no in that house. But, as she argues, sometimes you just get sick of saying no all day.

What I need is for the kids to understand what I mean when I say, “Shhh! Don’t tell Daddy,” and then learn not to rat me out.

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