Parenting, Oprah and the Never-Ending Poker Game

It was worth having a kid just to know that Oprah didn’t lie to me. I thought she was pandering when she’d stare into the camera at her audience of stay-at-home moms and declare, “You have the hardest job on earth.”

C’mon, you’re better than that, Oprah, I’d think to myself. Eye rolling became one of my Favorite Things.

Here’s what I didn’t know: Whether or not you like gambling — and I never have __ when you’re a mom, every hand is all in. The stakes are painfully high, and there’s no leaving the table.

If I tune out at my radio job, maybe I mispronounce Fallujah or Jermajesty. Make a mistake on baby duty? My kid drowns in a bucket of water and I end up on “Dateline.”

At work, maybe I say something spectacularly mundane. At worst, I slip up and curse repeatedly and get canned. That’s bad — but not as bad as turning my back for a second at the park, just long enough for my son to choke on a leaf.

Every moment, I’m one choking hazard away from a cautionary tale.

One sloppy baby-proofing job and my boy is guzzling bleach and chomping fistfuls of Ambien thinking, “These Skittles are kind of lame. I’m tired. Nighty-night forever.”

Aside from the unimaginable pain of losing one’s child, I’d be that lady — the lady whose baby drowned in two inches of water. For life, I’d be the mom who let her kid asphyxiate on a leaf because she was checking e-mail on her iPhone. There’s nothing worse you can be in this life than a bad mom. So if you let your kid overdose on Ambien, you have a serious PR problem to go with a lifetime of guilt and loss. And it’s going to be hard to get another prescription.

As the working mom of an 18-month-old baby, I can honestly say that going to “work” is like a vacation because the worst that can happen there really isn’t that bad. Working is quarter slots sipping a watered-down drink. Being responsible for a human life, the one nature has designed you to love and protect, is being pot committed every second. You may have a pair of threes, but you keep sliding chips into the pot until you’ve mortgaged everything you have and pawned your gold teeth to stay in the game. You can sweat and fidget all you want, but you can’t leave. It’s like an awful Eagles song.

Sorry I ever thought you were kissing up, Oprah.

I assumed you were just making moms feel meaningful as they defrosted chickens. I figured we both knew you were lying, that the hardest jobs were, I don’t know, running a Fortune 500 company, sitting on the Supreme Court, dismantling bombs, air traffic controlling, or being a chess master or a cellist or something.

Now I get it. The stakes. That’s what I couldn’t have understood before. Cellist.

There’s something about the combination of sometimes aching boredom punctuated by random moments of transcendent parental joy, all coated with a thick layer of exhausting hyper-vigilance that is unmatched by any other “job.”

And this is why I shouldn’t write Mother’s Day cards.

That is so much darker than I mean it to sound. Being a mother is everything great I thought it would be. My priorities are reshuffled in a good way. I don’t waste as much time worrying about who likes me or whether or not I’m good at things.

It still feels foreign, but “mom” really is the title I’m proudest to have. When the kid clings to me because he’s scared and I’m comforting, I feel a rush of achievement. I just have to get used to the idea that while I was once a nickel poker kind of girl, I’m a high roller now.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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