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Breaking the Rules: Confessions of an Ex-Hall Monitor

I like rules. I like following them. J, my husband, calls me "the hall monitor." I like to think it's an affectionate pet name, but deep down I know he's probably not kidding. Never mind that I never attended a school that had such a thing.

I cross in crosswalks. I park between the lines. My breakfast cereal gets poured into a measuring cup before it hits the bowl. I was well into my twenties when I realized handicapped bathrooms weren't only for handicapped people. Some of the biggest fights in our house are over items labeled "Hand Wash Only, Not Dishwasher Safe." J believes this is just to "scare people." But why would a manufacturer bother to print such an inconvenient warning if there weren't a valid reason? I read labels and instruction manuals. If I was alone at an empty intersection in the middle of the night, I'd wait for the traffic light no matter how long it took to change.

As you can imagine, being a first-time mom with this mindset was challenging. I read too many books and listened to too much advice. I boiled, sterilized, sanitized, and had the tightest, most perfect swaddle you've ever seen. We introduced solids exactly the way the books said to, which lead to a complicated spreadsheet of dates, times, ounces and types of pureed vegetable being taped to my refrigerator for a good six months.

But two years into motherhood, I'm getting a little more relaxed. A lot more relaxed, actually. Pacifiers live in the car for weeks; they don't get washed unless there's visible dirt, or if E spits them out because they taste bad. We are firm believers in the three-second rule. E munches unwashed apples in the grocery store—it's the only way I can convince her to stay in the cart.

I didn't expect my pregnancy rules to crumble in quite the same way. I was a model pregnant person the first time around. Despite a raging caffeine addiction, I stayed away from coffee until I was 25 weeks along. I didn't eat sushi, limited fish to once a week, didn't drink alcohol. I skipped deli meats and medium-rare steaks and any cheese that could be spread onto a cracker. I exercised and drank plenty of water.

My pregnancy resulted in a beautiful, healthy child. This should have made me feel proud of my vigilance: all that effort paid off. Instead it made me feel foolish. Would E have come out just as nicely if I'd let myself have a bite of Brie on toast every once in a while?

In general, I maintain a healthy lifestyle, so I'm ahead of the game in that respect. Maintaining a reasonably healthy pregnancy doesn't take too much effort. But my hall monitor self seems to have closed her eyes, stuck her fingers in her ears, and looked the other way as I've broken all kinds of pregnancy rules.

Yes, I've had the occasional glass of wine. This one I don't feel too bad about—my OB in New York used to say, "Women in Paris have healthy babies all the time and they don't stop drinking." I've had sushi a couple of times; once, very early on, because I forgot I was pregnant and then it was too late, and then again later when I decided not to care. I'm using my regular face wash, even though it contains all sorts of chemicals, and not the ‘pure and free' stuff I used last time. Ditto for my body lotion, my perfume, and my shampoo. I'm eating turkey sandwiches and not microwaving them first. And I'm drinking coffee. Not enough to make my doctor upset, but way more than last time. Most of this can be attributed to either laziness or forgetfulness. I'm not deliberately trying to be a rebel—that's way too out of character. I'm just taking shortcuts. Aren't laid-back people supposed to live longer than uptight ones?

On top of all that, I'm not feeling guilty. Maybe this makes me a bad mom. Or maybe it makes me practical. I don't mean to be complacent just because I got lucky the first time around. I know all kinds of things can go wrong. And I'm not doing shots of tequila, consuming large amounts of shark, or taking drugs of any kind. But the hall monitor is gone forever. (Sorry, J, but you'll have to figure out a new nickname.) Life is too short, and I've got too much to do.

Are there rules that you followed during your pregnancy that you wouldn't the second time around? Are there rules you ignored that now you wish you hadn't? I welcome your comments on both sides of the issue. I'm always looking for good bad-mom company—but some healthy doses of common sense couldn't hurt, either.

Visit Jenny's personal blog Karma, Continued.

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