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Motherhood as Desperate Innovation

May 5, 2017

Another Way for week of May 5, 2017

Motherhood as Desperate Innovation

Any memories of spit baths, anyone? Either giving them to your own kids, or being on the receiving end of the quick attempt by (usually) a mother to remove some stubborn dirt or remains of breakfast from your face? Or perhaps your kids hate or run from any face scrubbing, including with a nice washcloth?

A mother named Alex shared on Facebook how she dealt with her small boy’s dislike of such episodes: “Because he hates his face being washed I would pretend to be the mommy doggy or kitty and ‘lick’ him clean with a cloth. He thought it was hilarious with the sound effects.” My daughter’s friend, Kelly Gilbert, after reading this illustration from Alex, named this the “desperate innovation” of motherhood. Kelly gave me permission to use her line and this story. (Thanks!)

My oldest daughter illustrates diapering a doll while at a baby shower. She has plenty of experience now, of course.

My elementary school friend, Ruby who I love getting to know again on Facebook, added some examples of innovation involving getting a child to finish his food. “Open up the garage door for the truck to come in!” was a ploy which worked with her children many times. Another hurdle was teaching little boys to aim (in potty training) by having them try to hit a Cheerio in the toilet! She adds she never tried that with her boys, but she knows some who have. These qualify for “desperate innovations”!

Our oldest daughter’s son was diagnosed with Celiac disease last fall and his parents are trying to be very faithful in following a gluten free diet. So the day before Easter we were at a park for an egg hunt. The sponsors generously also provide a very simple grilled hot dog lunch immediately after. The hot dogs even turned out to be gluten free, according to the package label one of the men inspected for my daughter when she inquired. So she asked for a hot dog before it was put into a bun.

The problem turned out to be there were no forks or plastic utensils available to cut the hotdog in small, bite-sized slices. My daughter innovated very quickly: found an unused little tool in the infant manicure set she kept in her diaper bag, washed it off at a park fountain, and cut the hot dog into slices. Her son was then able to use the tiny tool to pick up each piece of hot dog and dip it into ketchup. Such a small thing, but sometimes as parents you are just desperate for any innovation that keeps a pleasant outing from dissolving into unhappy tears.

Photo from Donna Coffman, of her granddaughter “innovating” motherhood.

The frantic need for innovation often starts when the second child comes along. It comes with such basic necessities as needing to visit the throne room. I wrote about that in one of my early books, You Know You’re a Mother When… (Zondervan,1984), after we had our second child. The baby was fussy and our oldest daughter was only two and demanding a lot of attention. Rather than let the baby scream in a crib or infant seat, I took both of them into the bathroom with me, holding the baby on my lap while Michelle showed me her latest art drawing. I doubt I’m the only mother who has held her baby on her lap while taking care of bathroom business.

As I looked through that book I found another time when I was urgently innovating while visiting a large church to speak briefly at the Sunday morning worship about the dilemmas of parenting. We had traveled to Florida so the children were off schedule and tired—and there I was in the back row trying heroically to keep the two-year-old quiet using my usual diversionary tacks: books, toys, raisins, even chewing gum. When I went up to speak, leaving my husband alone with the kids, he soon tried a different tactic as he tried to help them behave: he marched them out of the service and told them in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to go back in and see Mommy they would need to be quiet and stop whining. The toddler was quiet and mannerly the rest of the service, and the preschooler nodded off to sleep with her head on one of our laps.

This story reminds us that different parents employ different tactics. Today, both these daughters have their own little ones who (yes), manage to disturb the worship services at their own churches from time to time.

This reminds me of one of the best stories in the Bible about Jesus and the children. The disciples are the ones concerned about the disturbances of children as Jesus talks to the crowds in Luke 18: “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”


I’d love to hear more examples from your own life or a friend, of something fun, crazy, or wacko you did in a moment of desperate innovation?? Such as did you ever have to come up with a substitute diaper?

At any rate, let’s hear it for mothers who are able to pull bunny rabbits out of their hats on command!


Send stories or comments to or contact me at Another Way Media, Box 363 , Singers Glen,  Va. 22850.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.

  1. Your post evoked memories of Mother using the spit method with a white cloth hanky, usually on the way to church. I guess I was wearing breakfast cereal around my mouth as a toddler. Even now, I remember feeling the hard face rub.

  2. Did your memories include the “smell” of a spit bath?? Not so pleasant either. Yes, regarding the white hanky–in Mom’s case, embroidered. Funny the details these things conjure for us. The worst was when she didn’t spy the dried milk or cereal until we were in the pew and embarrassed us all. 🙂 We did survive.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    I’ve thought and though and can’t think of an example. I do remember something that always embarrassed me growing up though. We all went to public high school and my mother was a teacher in one of the grade schools. It’s a small town so teachers all know each other. Inevitably there would be a teacher beginning of the year who would notice my name and announce to the whole class “oh, you’re Mrs. ——-‘s daughter, aren’t you?” I didn’t mind the fact she was a teacher, as was my father but in private school, I just didn’t like all 35 or so kids turning and staring at me.

    • I can imagine that would have been quite embarrassing. Wow, 35 kids in a classroom–that’s alot. Teachers always used to comment on kids being little brother or sister of older ones too. Do teachers still do that? I didn’t mind, but some kids did, depending on the reputation! Thanks for adding your example even though not quite on the same track. 🙂

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