A ‘mediocre mom’ – and proud of it

If there’s a Mom Code of Honor, it definitely prohibits telling another woman’s child about a new way to ingest a dessert food that’s A) messy B) rude and C) really, really fun. But when 6-year-old Zoey Alpert, who has big green eyes and a missing bottom tooth, tells me that whipped cream is her favorite food, I slip up and somehow manage to mention that we have a special way of eating whipped cream in my house.

Zoey’s mom, Karen, looks at me quizzically, so I guiltily raise an imaginary can of whipped cream to my mouth.

“What?” says Zoey. “What?”

“Spraying the whipped cream bottle straight into your mouth,” Alpert says.

“Yuck!” says Zoey. And then, saucer-eyed: “Can I do that?”

Alpert smiles angelically: “Mommy does it with the whipped cream bottle and the Hershey’s syrup bottle — at the same time!”

Karen Alpert, author of the blog Baby Sideburns and the 2014 best-seller “I Heart My Little A-Holes: A Bunch of Holy-Crap Moments No One Ever Told You About Parenting,” is the kind of mom who makes it all OK: the way you eat Cheerios off the floor, what you did when your kid had a blowout diaper at the library, that time you got drunk and agreed to be a Girl Scout troop leader.

In her new book, “I Want My Epidural Back: Adventures in Mediocre Parenting,” Alpert elaborates on the fine art of giving yourself a big pat on the back for getting through the times when, say, you’re lunging across the airplane aisle to catch one child’s stream of projectile vomit and the other child loses her mind because … wait for it … you’re blocking her view of her iPad. You get extra “mediocre mom” credit for serving frozen pizza, allowing screen time, dragging yourself to Girls Night Out and using grown-up language to describe your misadventures (when the kiddos are out of earshot).

“Facebook lies,” Alpert says, referring to the images of smiling children and blissed-out parents that prevail on social media.

“I felt like somebody needed to tell the truth. I’ve also tried to bring humor. Parents every day are struggling. It’s not bad — it’s normal. And it’s nice to laugh a little.”

“I Want My Epidural Back” has more than 90 five-star customer reviews on Amazon. Kirkus Reviews sniffs that it’s “crass” and “rarely entertaining,” while Publishers Weekly calls it “hilarious.”

The first thing you notice about Karen Alpert is that, in marked contrast to her larger-than-life literary persona, she is a physically small person: petite and polished with shiny black hair and a disarmingly direct gaze.

Barefoot — with shiny burgundy toenails — she takes a seat in her Chicago-area living room, as does her husband, Greg, 39, Zoey, and Zoey’s brother, Holden, 4.

Alpert, 43, says she grew up in Dallas, the older daughter of a lawyer and a teacher turned homemaker, and worked as an advertising copywriter before she had kids. When Zoey was a baby, Alpert started the blog that became Baby Sideburns — a reference to her fear that her son would take after her in the hairiness department.

“Everybody had a mommy blog, and I said, ‘I’m a writer and I have a kid. I think it’s time for me to have one too,’” she says.

Her breakthrough came in November 2012, when she wrote a post titled “What NOT to F’ing buy my kids this holiday.” (No. 5: “Any toy that requires me to play it with them. Toys are how I keep my kids busy while I’m trying to get important things done around the house. Like the laundry, and the dishes, and waxing my mustache, and pooping. If the box says ages 4+, my four-year-old better be able to do it without my help. Because if I have to do every F’ing little thing with her, the box needs to say ages 40+.”)

She was at her daughter’s gymnastics class, monitoring the number of views for the post on her laptop, when the total reached 60,000.

“That’s a whole stadium full of people,” she said to herself, astonished.

The blog post topped out at more than 1 million views, and Alpert capitalized on the momentum with a stream of new posts.

“It was so much fun to finally have an audience to write for,” she says.

And now for the tough questions.

“How would you describe your mom?” I ask Zoey and Holden.

“Strict,” says Zoey. “Mom is so strict about dessert. You can have two cookies for dessert or 3 scoops of ice cream. It’s just a little bit of dessert.”

“I want to marry mom,” Holden chimes in.

“Oh,” I say “Is she the best mom ever?”

Holden’s eyes widen, and he nods.

“But she’s already taken,” Zoey says.

“Fortunately for you!” Alpert says, laughing.

Alpert concedes that she is a bit strict. She’s big on not judging other parents, but her kids definitely do listen when she turns on the mom voice, and she looks as if she’s biting her tongue when we discuss parents who let their kids run wild in Starbucks. “I do have an opinion on that,” she says, meaningfully, without offering what that opinion might be.

She and her husband see their parenting style as “a nice balance between strict and a lot of fun.”

For April Fools’ Day, they sat the kids down for a serious family meeting. There was something the kids needed to know, they said: “We are not a human family. We are a robot family.” Holden was delighted and immediately began making jerky robot movements. Soon he was marching around the house, arms and legs swinging mechanically. Zoey, on the other hand, got upset.

“April Fools! April Fools! We were just kidding. It was a joke!” Alpert said.

“I hate robots!” Zoey wailed.

Alpert considered that. “Would it have been better if we had said vampires?” she asked.

“Yes! Vampires would have been funny.”