“Another show?” My two year old, Leo, looks up at me through his floppy post nap bed head. His chubby fist reaches for another handful of goldfish crackers and raisins from the blue plastic snack bowl in his lap. I used to have such resolve to this look. I stood firm in my convictions, guarded those screen time rules like a bouncer in a club. Nope, nice try cute kid, sell your dimples elsewhere. We’ve reached mass capacity.
Unfortunately, that mom quit her job as head of screen time security back in late March 2020.
That was when she realized the care and keeping of three children and a career and personal well being just was not sustainable on the recommended screen time standards of the American Pediatric Association. If they want me to stick to healthy limits they are gonna need to show up at my door, or at least send a member of the Baby Sitters Club with a Kid Kit in hand.
“Sure, babe. You can watch another show.” I try to phrase my response as if it was all part of my developmentally appropriate strategy that authorized this rule change, and not the never-ending, soul-crushing, brain-numbing, groundhog-day reality that is parenting in the middle of a pandemic.
His eyes twinkle and the dimples on either side of his smile deepen at this invitation. “Oh thank you mommy!” I smile right back like the sucker that I am. I’d say yes to just about anything at this point. He could ask for a trip to Disney World and I’d hand him my credit card, tell him to book the flights while he was at it.
Unfortunately the warmth of his joy isn’t enough to keep the foggy cloud of lackluster parenting guilt from settling back over my heart. I flop down on the couch next to him and pick up my phone. If I’m going to be a terrible mom I might as well lean all the way in and continue to be lazy. Is that what Sheryl Sandberg was talking about in her book Lean In about women and leadership in the workforce? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it. I’ve been too busy with all this unpaid labor and self loathing party.
Anxious for someone to assuage my guilt, or at the very least empathize, I send a quick text to my group of mom friends.
Another day of me winning at mom life. How many minutes of screen time again does it take to ruin the brain of a two year old? Asking for a friend. Insert tired mom GIF.
As expected, the texts roll in quickly.
Way to show him the joy of saying yes! Think of all the great things he is learning from that show! A bad mom wouldn’t even know there should be rules for screen time. Go you!
Fist bump emojis decorate the screen.
A smile crosses my face and I exhale some of the guilt. I don’t know how they do it, but my friends always improve my mood. These days when socializing is practically non-existent, this little device and their words of affirmation are my best co-pilot through this bumpy ride called pandemic parenting. It’s enough to make me want to kiss the person who invented the internet (unless it really was Al Gore and then maybe I’ll just offer him a high five).
Feeling better about my decision, I take advantage of a snuggly two-year-old and cuddle up to watch with him. The new favorite show in our house is Trash Truck on Netflix. I feel like the whole show was based on my Leo. A wall of windows overlooks our backyard and the alley behind it. Perhaps to some this would not qualify as a room with a view, but on trash day, this is Leo’s favorite place to be. He hears the familiar hiss of the trucks and he comes running. With his face pressed up to the glass he watches the trash, recycling, and organics truck parade down the alley like it’s Cirque du Soleil, that same dimpled grin and bright eyes filling his whole face. I know I’m his mom and, as previously mentioned, easily succumbed to his sweet face, but there is no arguing here–this is an adorable phase.
The show Trash Truck is all of this same cuteness. It stars a kid named Hank, coincidentally with the same mop of hair as Leo, his favorite Trash Truck, and other animal friends voiced by people like Brian Baumgartner of The Office fame. Essentially, it’s one of the few children’s programs that sucks you in and makes you want to sit down on the couch with your kid and chill with a bowl of goldfish crackers and raisins.
I am intrigued by today’s episode. Trash Truck wants to fly, which to even my limited knowledge of physics seems like an impossible task. Then again, this same truck is able to drive into the front door of Hank’s house so I remind myself this is still a fictional story and I tune into the action. Trash Truck’s friends offer suggestions to help him fly, add wings, give him a big push, but it’s not working. He realizes he is just too heavy (I try not to say “I told you so” to the television.) Trash Truck rolls away to park in the garage, wheezing in defeat and my heart drops for him. I want to give that big garbage truck a hug, which might be the first time I’ve ever said that sentence.
Hank agrees. He is sad, too, seeing is friend so disappointed, but he doesn’t give up. “He just needs to believe he can fly,” Hank says to his animal friends, and they begin to put a plan in motion. I sit up and lean forward in anticipation to watch them set up an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys and scenes painted on rolling paper, curious how they plan on helping a 32 ton trash truck to take off in the air. Sure enough, just as they get him in place, Trash Truck opens his eyes and believes he really is flying. Their plan worked. He is grinning and his friends are grinning and I have to hold myself back so as to not cheer right along at the television screen. Then, with the confident belief that he really is flying, trash truck takes off into the sky.
Well, now I’m a mess. Sloppy tears roll down my face and I choke back sniffles watching him soar up and over his friends, their cheers below echoing behind him. I don’t think I’ve ugly cried this hard since that commercial from the Super Bowl with the gold medal Paralympic swimmer made me drown my hot wings. (Okay, that was only a few weeks ago. So maybe I’m a little sensitive these days.) But really, what could be more dear than friends cheering on friends? Hank and the other animals went through great effort to change Trash Truck’s perspective. They helped him believe in who he was and what he could do. And because of this, he flew.
I see now why I became so invested in this story. Trash Truck’s friends are just like mine. Like me, he needed a reframe, and his friends delivered. We all want this for our friends. We want to help them see their world the way we see it, not with guilt fogged views but through a clear windshield of optimism. Sometimes from our exhausted perspective we can only see our lives as useless trash. Our friends don’t see it like that, though. They change our narrative and help us tell a different story.
When we complain about our housekeeping skills, the endless tantrums, the lackluster meals, our friends are quick to remind us how hard we are working, how challenging parenting can be, and the little things we miss in the overwhelming day to day. Our team of women surround each other with ropes and pulleys and detailed drawings to help us see our world in ways we can’t on our own. We lift each other up and help us believe that we can do this impossible thing called parenting. With a simple reframe, we show each other how to fly.
I wipe away my tears and send a quick text to my friends.
Thanks for that reframe. Y’all are the best.
Maybe it doesn’t look like I’m flying as I sit on this couch mindlessly snacking on tasteless carbs crying over a show trending in toddler chat rooms. But snuggled up next to my growing up too fast kid with those charming dimples that melt my heart, I am proud of the mom my friends see in me.
That looks a lot like flying.