September rituals

When Peanut was born, I vowed to create rituals to mark the passage of the seasons. Hanging peanut butter pine cones for the critters on Winter Solstice. Springtime Egg Hunt on birthdays (because egg hunts only once a year is some bullshit). Heavy drinking and sobbing the penultimate day of school. Stuff like that.

I’m not on top of my game yet, but I’ve been consistently playing around with traditions for summer, winter, spring, and birthdays. I’ve been thinking this week about our Fall events and noticed we need something for September. Peanut, the eldest just started school last year, so I’m new to the signpost of how a new class and teacher colors the rest of the year.

I think we’re going to send letters (actual paper with actual stamps…ask your parents, they’ll know) for the boys as school starts.

When Spouse and I married, we kept the lovely notebook in which our vows were handwritten. We take it out each anniversary and write each other a letter to be read the following year. [Well, we did, anyway. We haven’t since Peanut turned Two several years ago. That’s another problem for another day. See also in the forgotten category: personal grooming, libido, sanity, and ability to think at advanced level. We’ll start writing notes to each other again when the kids are in college, right?]

But I thought that starting a journal of letters we write the boys should be family-heirloom-caliber important. So for birthday, first day of school, and last day of school, we’re going to write a letter to each boy and mail it. We’ll keep a scan of each as a .pdf and make them a book of the images for when they go to college. Or the Peace Corps. Or prison. (Laugh all you want, but if you prepare for everything, steady stress comes from the daily nonsense yet the catastrophic stuff seems manageable. Example? College funds easily transition as use for bail.)

Peanut starts first-grade this week. I’m nervous for him…will The World adore him or abuse and misunderstand him…but not as terrified as I was last year. He can now read a bit, but I’m not expecting him to read these letters from me and Spouse. I’m just hoping to add gravity to the year—to create milestones that don’t exist anymore in our electrically homogenized year. If I can’t get them to bed at 4pm in the winter like agrifamilies did in the 1800s, at least I can write a missive that makes them feel guilty for not appreciating me, right?

Butter starts day care next week. Three times a week for a few hours each morning. I’m devastated. And desperate to blink again. And wrecked. And clawing toward the air. And heartbroken. When words fail me, I steal: “It will work out.” “How will it?” “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” He’s perfect in every way and will do fine. I’m abhorrently flawed and will not. But that is the way of the world, no?

What do you do for the first day of school (or the transition from Summer to Fall if you homeschool)? If you don’t have children, does your year stretch from New Year’s Day to the next New Year’s Day without markers or do you do repeat something special each year to note the passage of time? Which of your rituals may I steal and fold into our family calendar?

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Aaaah, bliss.

You know, sometimes it’s just good to be exhausted.

Now that Peanut has adjusted to Daylight Savings Time, a little government intervention I like to call The Fcuk with Parents Solstice, which was clearly invented and perpetuated by old men with no sense of empathy for the month that it takes to re-regulate a child’s sleep patterns after the shift, I’ve decided to join a gym that opens at 5am so I can workout before Peanut and Spouse wake.

This seemed more self-cudgelingly painful and ludicrous than volunteering for a lifetime of respecting my child’s needs, but the first morning I slipped out of the house before dawn, every moment was glorious. I woke groggy, but that was no different than the days Peanut wakes me in the wee hours. (Background: I have a kid who doesn’t sleep well. Never has. He wakes every 3 hours or so. He sleeps no more than 9.5 hours total, even with the waking. Totally normal, well precedented in my family, yet totally eroding the little patience with which I came to this parenting game. [NB: Do not email me with Babywise bullshit. Letting your baby cry is not parenting. Throughout the world children do not sleep until 3 or 4. It’s just biology. Stop telling me to force my kid to be different. He goes to sleep fine. He has nightmares. He wakes and needs us. Just because it’s killing me doesn’t mean I need your child abuse handbook.] And because of his sleep pattern, if I spend a little time in the evening with Spouse, and either clean or write, I’m looking at 6 or 7 hours of sleep, which is almost hourly interrupted by either a screaming child or a yowling cat. Daily considering asking the SPCA to take both.)

Being alone in a quiet house was exhilarating. Driving alone in the dark, without having to explain why, yes, we need to share the road with other cars and trucks, and that, if you really don’t want to share you ought find yourself a job and some money so you can build your own infrastructure, because the logistics of buying out the freeway system so you can watch the world go by from your car seat with a view unobstructed with other humans is a little out of mommy’s purview this week, was almost orgasmic. And the foggy sunrise was delicious. But far away the best part of getting up after 5 hours of sleep to exercise my wayward body into some semblance of energy was that I got to start, finally, Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays.

This is my definition of heaven.

I would do the elliptical backwards for four hours straight to read that man’s writing. (I wish I could footnote in wordpress [not for some hackjob parody, but because I really need to add a few notes that are too long to put into the text], but I’m angry about the new design so I’ll do parenthetical asides, instead.) (To wit: ) (This month, I have to do the elliptical backwards because of the cast I’m in for the next month. And I get my actual fitness from the erg, but I can’t read while I row, and I can’t get my pedal stroke to functional at all well the cast. So elliptical backwards until I lose feeling in my foot, then switch to the erg, silently debating Wallace’s arguments in my head until I can feel my toes again.)

And Consider the Lobster,  and thoughtful and moralistic and borderline self-righteous (in all the right ways) collection of essays (predominantly articles he’s written for some of this country’s finest magazines) has eye-rollingly pleasurable topics nestled within. I’ve often recommended that my fair readers read or re-read Infinite Jest. But honestly, I may have found my favorite DFW piece, blissfully ensconced as I now am, seven pages into Wallace’s review of a grammar usage text. This chapter/article/review has me deliriously happy.

Without fail, Wallace’s writing brings me to two, independent, and wonderful conclusions. One, I am not crazy, but if I am, I am not alone in my particular breed of insanity. If no one else does, David Foster Wallace understands me. [NB: Yes, I know I should use the past tense. But because I am still coming to grips with his death, and because I prefer the critical approach of reading the text as always present tense, as always available to us regardless of the author’s state of being, I will say that he understands me, by which I mean that I feel understood when I read his work. I attribute no intention to this sensation, for I do not believe he wrote for me, personally. Issues with the whole “not knowing me,” bit, and all.]  Two: I need to get one hundred times smarter and better each day, and read more and write more because I am compelled to express myself as beautifully, compellingly, intelligently, and hilariously as this man did. I won’t get there, but I’ll live trying.

Now, of course, wiping away tears in the gym, thrice, I have a new conclusion, one I’ve been working on since September 15 when I found out: This world, each day, is poorer for having lost him. I, again, offer condolences to his family. And I, again, roll myself into an intellectual black hole wanting more of his mind spread—-like a freshly blended hummus made from a secret family recipe that will be lost after its last knowledgeable chef burns it in a passion-fueled fire and vows, because of the pain cooking causes him in the wake of a divorce from a woman who was his gustatory muse, never to blend that garbanzo-tahini-garlic extravaganza again—-across the pages of book and magazine. May Hollywood never, never violate his words with a film version. (Just saw Into the Wild last night, finally, and found, yet again, that the book was far better. Sorry, Mr. Penn. Love your work. But the film didn’t do justice to the epistelary memoir.)

Wallace’s review, the fourth piece in Consider the Lobster (after a riveting and pathetic look at the porn industry’s Oscar night, a scathing review of Updike’s latest self-absorbed book, and a brilliant explanation of what I’ve always found interesting about Kafka’s work—that it’s funny in a way few people comprehend) offers frenetic  grammatical satisfaction to those among us who cringe at the general linguistic ignorance of those around us. If you get off on words, and are passionate about the language in which you read, write, and speak, turn to “Authority and American Usage.” It strokes the grammar wonk’s ego, it oxygenates the fires of grammatical anger, and it offers 62 juicy pages of critical argument about the political nature of language.

62 mathafuckin pages, y’all.

Laugh all you want. I gladly fly my geek flag, higher today now that I know Wallace’s flag is right there in my courtyard, too.  To read that DFW, a man whose work I admire more than any other author I’ve read, in whose words I’ve found a friend and a home, and for whose memory I plan a long critical academic career (which might well having him doing subterranean 360s), gets just as frothy as I do when college students submit their first papers riddled with such eggregious errors that we feel the need to conduct an emergency English grammar seminar in our classrooms, pushing literature and critical thinking off the gurney and diemboguing our linguistic scalpels with the sole intent of making the world a better place to read.

I’m actually ready to get out of bed every morning, with maybe five hours of sleep behind me, to read David Foster Wallace’s essays again and again. I only wish I hadn’t quit reading his work during my grad school and baby years, because I feel like I’m playing catch-up, devouring his writing like a person who finds herself, after a full day of unblinking focus on a newborn, starving and ready to eat anything in the house; and just as she scours the cupboards for something edible, she turns around to find a gorgeous, tasty, well balanced, hot meal from a caring and likeminded friend just sitting there, as though it’s been waiting for her.

Goddamn he’s good.

Well, now, that explains a lot.

Existential crises call for desperate measures. So do two major moves in two months. At naptime today, therefore, I pulled out the Feng Shui book (yay for reclaiming my books and yay for Ohmega Salvage’s awesome collection of recycled craftsman built-in bookcases and yay for sixteen boxes of books unpacked and out of my freaking way) to see if it could fix my life.

Now, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Feng Shui. Can’t even pronounce it, though I try hard. And I don’t know if it works. But I know it feels, in a desperate “clinging to guns and religion” way, like I have control of the uncontrollable if I have tall rectangles in the east and round metal accents in the west. It’s one of those “can’t hurt, might help, just don’t tell anyone you know or they’ll laugh at you then have you taken off their ‘call when in need of rational and logical help with personal dilemmas’ list” kind of things.

So today’s discoveries put into perspective a few, um, issues in my life. First, we keep finding houses where our money and romance are figuratively in the toilet. This is the third residence in which our bathroom sits squarely in the west, the tiny corner of our universe in which our income and lovin’ ought flow. Instead, there’s a steady stream of waste, dirt, crayons, and nonsense flowing down the drain. Explains mucho about the continued ease with which we lose what little money we have.  [Thanks financial sector a–holes. Like being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t detrimental enough to my future retirement. In 2054 I’m finally gonna have to break our Wal-Mart boycott so I can get a job as a greeter and support myself in the squalor to which I’ve become accustomed.

So my money and my marriage are in the crapper. (Sorry, Spouse. But you saw it coming in the wedding ring fungus, didn’t you? It was nice while it lasted. But the feng shui book says our love’s being flushed down the drain, dude. And you know that if I read it in a book, it’s the law. So plan on having dwindling affection and interest soon…oh, the ring around my finger under the ring around my finger already did that? You’re creeped out by a little rash on my third finger? Well, It’s you’re fault it’s there. Yes it is. Yes, it is. Yes. It is. Are you hearing me? Yes it is. Don’t pull out your logic with me, Mister. Fine, it’s your fault our money and marriage sector is in the bathroom. No I didn’t. No, I didn’t. No. I didn’t. True, but that’s because…I’m done with this. No, the garage isn’t in our marriage sector. Oh, ha ha. Yeah, maybe if you’re in there things WILL get better. Bah.)

Just after that eight direction, nine ki number pronouncement that we’re poor and nasty to each other because of the sewer placement, I found this lovely tidbit:

“Maybe, for example, you find that you are edgy, irritable, and tense quite a lot of the time….It would be wise to avoid spending a great deal of time in [the north-east and south] of your home. If possible, position your bedroom in the west where chi energy is more settled and contented.”

Hmmm. So I should stay out of the living room, dining room, and bedroom, and sleep in the shower? Makes perfect sense. My irritability doesn’t stem from 32 months of interrupted sleep and full daylight hours focus on a wild, strange, and often irrational creature. I’m not cranky because I’m having trouble adjusting to a reality where my life is not my own, my time is not my own, and six of my greatest hopes and dreams are on hold for the honor of raising a loving and caring human being. Nope. It’s ‘cuz I live in a house where the dining room makes me “feel on edge”  and “impatient,” the entryway makes me “tired from lack of rest,” and the bedroom leads to “slow progress in career.”  So I need a house without a north-east, east, south-east, south-west, and west. I’ll bet I can get a good rate on renting a piece of paper, because it’s the only two-dimensional structure I know that will eliminate those issues.

The bigger problem? The placement of my son’s room apparently makes me “overly controlling of others.” Oh, yeah, that‘s the problem. ‘Cuz I’ve existed on that plane since, well, since…oh, yeah. 1972. I don’t think there’s a crystal or mirror remedy for that one, feng shui friends. It would seem that I exist in a vortex where there is only northwest. Mmm. Maybe it’s good we didn’t pick Portland. I might have exploded from the vortex created between my need to control and my relative powerlessness. Or I would have had 17 cats. ‘Cuz they listen, right?

Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna embrace my inner incomplete task, my perpetual on edge, my tiredness from lack of rest (I’m sorry, how is that not a cause and effect clause all unto itself? Do you really need a room in the wrong quadrant of the compass to be tired from lack of rest? Is there anyone who is revived from lack of rest? If so, will they take over nights at our house, with nightmare-y kid and attachment parenting central, and cats who yowl for people to come to them instead of seeking heat and food themselves? And, while you’re at it and up at 3am anyway, for all the other perfectly normal children in the world who don’t sleep well until they are three or four? ‘Cuz there are a bunch of them, and that one bastard who’s thriving on lack of rest really owes the rest of us.)

So call me, rested person. We need to put you in my bedroom while I sleep off my marital fungus and controlling irritability in the bathroom.

In the midst of flipping through the book to find cheap solutions to increase tree energy and decrease me energy throughout the house, I found a lovely little gem: the chart of prevailing influences for the year and position of my nine ki number. And with a little math I realized that this year’s existential crisis is not due to an inbalance in my needs, nor an extended, yet normal transition mothers experience in which they new and different priorities smash violently into old happiness and self-actualization. No, no. I’m having a tumultuous year because it’s part of a universal cycle. Like the Fourth Turning, only on a personal level. So this is like another Strauss and Howe Crisis season and ancient Chinese centre year. Yeah. See, for people born Feb 5ish through the following Feb 4ish of 1918, 1927, 1936, 1945, 1954, 1963, 1972, 1981, 1990, and 1999, this is a uncomfortablly flux-y year. Like your chi has gas. One of those “put off decisions ‘cuz you’re in for a whirlwind of changes and nothing will be the same next year” kind of years. Oooooh. Yes. I see.

Next year is a year to plan and organize. No point in that now. 2010 is for romance (fungus gone, maybe?). 2011 is for ambition. 2012 is for passion. 2013 is for studying. 2014 is for progress. 2015 is for starting something new. 2016 is for more progress. See? in eight years I’ll be making some progress. Gee. That’s all I needed. To be reassured that it’ll only take a decade. Ah. All better.

Except that I’ll have a teenager in my house. Not sure that bodes well for progress, but we’ll see.

Thanks feng shui. For the new sleeping place and the new outlook. I’ll have several books published, a PhD, a new job, and some sex by 2016. All I needed was a plan mass-produced with absolutely no knowledge of my life other than my birthday. How wonderful to know that, like, 10% of us are having a crappy-ass year but have nine years to go before it happens again. Yay. Feng shui, you’re the best. Remind me to get a crystal to hang over my calendar. ‘Cuz we have another couple of months of Indecision 2008.

Does this thing take quarters?

On a long drive home today, I put in a CD and heard a lovely, nostalgic sound–a jukebox swallowing a quarter. My CD player, however, is not a jukebox, and just after the quarter dropped the right speaker went out. Then a high pitched squeal. Then the left speaker went out. I turned around to look at the sweet little creature who sat, totally clueless as to the wrath he would soon face, reading a Lowly Worm book.

“Did you put money in mommy’s radio?”

“No radio. CD player.”

“Did you put money in mommy’s CD player?”

“Yes.”

“Did Mommy tell you no money in the CD player?”

“hmmmmm. Yes.”

“When Mommy tells you no put money in CD, Mommy means no money in CD.”

“”Peanut put money in, money come back out.”

“No. Peanut put CD in, CD come back out. Peanut put money in, money break CD player.”

“Money no breaked it. Mommy breaked it.”

deep, deep breath.

“CD player is for CDs. No money in CD player. Do you understand?”

“Yes. No money in CD player. Money in radio.”

The words “boarding school” are taking on a whole new appeal to a now reformed AP mama…

I don’t know if we’ll make it through today.

Here are two tasty little morsels from today, which has been a never-ending stream of the same.

M: Do you want to pull the laundry basket?

P: No. [walks off and up the stairs.]

M: Are you sure you don’t want to help?

P: No! Peanut no want pull laundry!

M: [whatever, fine by me] Okay. [starts pulling basket and gets to bottom of stairs.]

P: [loses it, crying and stomping] Peanut want do it!

M: [not sure what just happened] Okay…

P: No Mommy do it! Peanut want do it!

M: I just said okay. Go ahead. You do it.

P: [Stomps down stairs, grabs basket, wheels it ten feet back toward the laundry room, turns, and wheels it back.]

M: Thank you.

P: Mommy no say thank you. [mounting stairs] Mommy no come up stairs. Laundry no come up stairs.

M: Mommy and laundry need to come upstairs.

P: NO!

……

P: [in stroller, on our morning run] Peanut want that playground.

M: [always fine with stopping the run midway] Okay. [stops the stroller]

P: [screaming] Peanut no want this playground!

M: [befuddled but also endorphined] Okay. We’ll run to a different playground.

P: Peanut no want different playground! Peanut want this playground!

M: [rethinking career choice] Okay. [goes to unbuckle seat belt]

P: [hitting M’s hand] No! Peanut no get out!

M: How will you play if you won’t get out?

P: Peanut no play! Peanut no get out. Peanut not ANY!

M: Should I keep running?

P: Mommy no run.

M: Your choices are playground or Mommy running.

P: Not any. Peanut want different playground.

Sweet Mary, mother of my cousins, I’m gonna chuck this kid out with the next bathwater we can successfully get him into.

See what I’ve become? that should have read “into which we can successfully get him.” Know what? Mommy no care. Mommy want to send Little Mister Struggle For Independence to live with the Doctors Sears. They won’t notice another kid, and they are less likely to try to safe surrender him to the fire department than I am.

Onebody, twobody, redbody, bluebody

Peanut, at the playground: Not anybody here….
Hey! Onebody here!…………….
Mama! Twobodies riding bicycles!…………………………..
Hey! Allbodies here is ladies!

The linguist in me loves this stuff.

Makes me want to dust off the letters of rec. and start working on a linguistics PhD this fall. Everybody else says have another kid. I say I have things to do and this one doesn’t sleep as it is. In fact, allbodies are up around 3 every, morning trying to convince onebody that human bodies need sleep.

Last night’s bedtime:
P: Peanut wake up at nighttime, say Mommy Mommy Daddy Daddy.
M: Mommy and Daddy need to sleep at nighttime. If you wake up you know you’re warm and safe and cozy, and you can see it’s nighttime, so you cuddle your doll and relax back to sleep.
P: If something hurt you, Peanut cuddle doll.
M: Yes, if something hurts you, your doll will cuddle you. What do you think imght hurt you?
P: Bees.

At 3am:
P: [screaming] Mommy! Mama! [crying] Something hurt you. Please, Mommy, cuddle.
M: Something hurt you?
P: Yes.
M: [suspicious that this is a ploy] What hurt you?
P: A lizard
M: [swallowing simultaneous urges to laugh and storm out] Well, tell the lizard to go home to sleep. Nighttime is for sleeping.
P: Go sleep, lizard.
M: Yeah. The lizard says it’s sorry for hurting you. It didn’t know you were sleeping. Sorry.
…..

P: [lying down and grabbing doll] Peanut sleep at nighttime, lizard.

You tell ’em.

Next time by yourself, though, please. What’s up with this early-childhood, needing-help crap? Don’t they make two year olds who can handle everything by themselves? Where do I get me one of them?

Tantrum of monumental proportions

Ah, I love a good tantrum. (Not seriously.) And we don’t get enough of ’em around here. (Seriously.) Toddler are supposed to frequently spiral out of control, overwhelmed because they feel helpless, glimpse the capricious nature of this world, and begin to realize someone else is in charge of them. Now that I recall the reasons for winding into a tantrum, I’m thinking of having a one or two myself.

But Peanut has only had two or three absolute meltdowns in our short (to me; eternal, to him) history together. So we’ve been getting off lucky. (Not really. Every kid, and I believe this, brings his or her own challenges. The tantrum freaks sleep all night; the daytime teethers sleep all night; the nighttime teethers are cuddly all day; the total nightmare children potty train at 15 months. You name the tough issue, I’ll remind you of a reason your child is a dream. Bring on the sextuplets.)

Oh, this tantrum two nights ago one beat them all. Made up for lost time. Was like whiplash all over again. Fill in the aphorism that makes it seem good that we lost two hours of sanity and several years off our lives for finding a happy resolution to last night’s fi-freaking-asco.

Screaming and writhing that he doesn’t want to do something is normal. We talk him through it; we’re firm but fair. We don’t traumatize him, but we don’t let him walk all over us, blah blah blah. He goes willingly every time because we’re wicked wily with the various positive parenting techniques. I didn’t read three-hundred-and-forty-two parenting books for nothing. I have at least five good tactics to try before I lose my patience. He gets the small choices, we get the big choices. “You choose the shampoo, but yes, we’re washing your hair one night this week.” You know the drill. And it always works, if we summon up the hours’ worth of patience it takes to navigate from dinner to bedtime. That two hour stretch is honest to god the longest freaking stretch in my life, every day. Visions of Turkish prison…give me a stint in a Turkish prison any day. NOT Gitmo. I’ll take a toddler over human rights abuses. Let’s be clear about that.

So he’s screaming and writhing going into bath. Screaming and writhing coming out of bath. No amount of negotiation or compromise seem to work. He chooses the soap, then shrieks as though he’s being stabbed as I come near him with it. [We don’t scream inside. If you scream one more time you don’t get stories tonight.] He chooses the bath toy, then flings it at my head when I say we have three more minutes. [We don’t throw toys because they could hurt someone. If you throw any more toys they go away until tomorrow.] He chooses the towel then bangs on my head as I dry him off. [We don’t hit. If you hit me again you get a time out.] It’s a lovely night.

So we’ve gotten teeth brushed and we’re reading books. (Naked reading is now the compromise to get teeth brushed. I’d rather have him grow up with strong teeth than always be fully clothed. I went to college with The Naked Guy. I don’t care if Peanut defies society on its Puritanical norms. I care if his oral hygeine becomes a familial liability. Spouse’s abyssmal record on that front makes me try even harder on the next generation.)

“Okay. We’re reading three stories tonight. This is one…(as the next one approaches) this is the second story and we’re reading three tonight. So one more after this…(as the next one approaches) This is the last story tonight. After this story we’re all done. Look at Mommy’s eyes. Say that when this book is all done, we’re all done stories. (He looks at me and screams at the top of his lungs.)

C: Mommy told you no screaming inside. Quiet voice inside. If you scream again we’re all done stories.
P: [looks at me, decides, and yells as loud as he’s able.] AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
C: [surreal calm descends as I know if I get sucked in, the kid is getting the kind of beating that we don’t believe in but often fantasize about]: All done stories. We don’t yell inside. No more stories.
P: [crying] Please one more story.
C: No. Mommy said no more stories if you scream. Time for potty and bed.
P: [Sobbing] Please one more story.
C: No. Time to say goodnight.
P: [Stroking my face, kissing me] Please one more story. (Where did he learn that trick? It’s gonna help in college, methinks).
C: [Looking at Spouse over Peanut’s shoulder and mouthing “I really want to read the story.”] No. Stories all done.
P: [screaming and sobbing] Please one more.
C: No. We’re all done. You cannot scream and get stories. It’s time for pee and goodnight.

So he hits me. I tell him that’s not okay. He yells. I tell him that’s not okay, either. He cries, I pick him up, he slugs me. I put him down he is wracked with sobs and begging to be cuddled. I pick him up, he hits me. I put him down he screams. I go into the bathroom. He follows me, screaming and sobbing about the book, about sorry, about some other stuff I don’t understand. I help him on the toilet and he beats on me, repeatedly, while peeing. That’s some trick, I think. I tell him to stop it, he does. I tell him to wash his hands, he yells. I wash his hands, he screams. I put him down he shrieks to get up. I cuddle him he hits me. I put him down he screams. Spouse walks into the room, Peanut sobs “Daddy go ‘way.” Apparently, no pee, no wash, no window, no light, no door, no nothing but another book. If we turn off the light, he screams that he wants to turn it off. If we turn it back on, he screams that he doesn’t want it off ever.

The cat has been nervously trying to help since the whole fiasco started. He always comes running when someone cries, and since Peanut hasn’t been at cat level for much of this, the feline protector feels helpless. Finally, Peanut gets down to get his book and beg for one more story and the cat goes to comfort him. Peanut swings at the cat and hits him with the book. Spouse and I draw the line.

“You cannot hit cats. You can’t hit animals. That’s not okay. Timeout.”

We try for at least a minute to enforce the timeout and can’t, so we close Peanut in his room. He pounds on the door and sobs. We cast sad and supportive glances at each other. After ten seconds we go back in. “Cuddle.” As soon as I pick him up, Peanut hits me. (I’m getting really tired of this. I’m getting ready to hit back. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…you just better hope I don’t drop my guard, buddy, because having on my gentle-parenting game face is all that’s keeping you from a good, sound, slapping.)

We try cuddling, we try timeouts, we try talking, we try just turning off the lights and closing the door. Each time he begs for a cuddle (which is his code for “help, I’m overwhelmed by feelings.”) Then he sobs while he hits. Mmmmm. Not enough Calgon in the world.

Repeat ad nauseum for longer than any human being should cry or be cried at. Finally, I try to shake things up. Barring beating the living crap out of him, I can’t decide what will change this cycle. He needs help out of this tantrum because he’s totally out of control and hysterical, and I need to think of something. So the next time he hits me, I fake cry. Really disappointed cry. “Why would you hit me when I love you” kind of cry. Gorgeous acting.

He gasps in horror and cries in terror. And he tries to make it better. He strokes my face and kisses me, cries, and waits.

He doesn’t know what to do. He stops crying within 20 seconds. He cuddles, he breathes (finally). I let him choose songs and I sing to him. I rock him. I talk nicely to him. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to hit.

And at the end, as we’re putting him to bed, I tell him I love him. He says, “Mommy no like hitting. Mommy like Peanut.”

I tell him all the time that I love him, that I even love him when he hits, but that I don’t love hitting. I love him happy and sad, I love him angry. I love him reading, I love him running, I love him hitting. I don’t love hitting, but I love you.

Apparently, he listens.

New Sheriff in town

Okay, buddy. For the next few minutes, I’m going to channel the parent you’re bringing out in me. All my attachment, gentle, loving parenting is getting me nowhere fast, so here’s the mom I’d just LOVE to be this week, since you hit a major warp-speed, two-and-a-half jerk-fest. Here goes:

No more compromises. No more respecting your wishes or trying to find a way for you to control things. I’m sick and tired of this bullshit.  From here on, you will brush your teeth the first time I ask you. This is not a new concept, we’ve been doing it twice a day since you were four months old. Brush ’em! Now. Life is not full of sunshine, butterflies, and blueberries. We have some chores, too. Do it. You will put on your freaking clothes and get out the door without negotiations and meltdowns and threats and nonsense. They’re just clothes, dude, and everybody else wears them without much fuss. Choose you own, I don’t care. They don’t have to match or be seasonally appropriate. Just fucking put something on and let’s go. This simply can’t take an hour anymore. We’re two under-groomed people in temperate climes, my friend, and it should take more like 15 minutes to get you out the door.

You will wash your hands at whatever water source is closest after you pee or when you declare it’s time to eat. We will no longer try every sink in the house and then decide the cats’ water dish is the best place to clean our hands. It’s handwashing. It doesn’t have to be satisfying or fun or interesting. I’m not singing any more handwashing songs, I’m not thinking up clever questions about soap. Wash your goddamned hands and leave me alone.

Yes, we are going to share. Stop telling me we’re not going to share. I don’t care about age-appropriate, I don’t care about socialization. Give that kid your fucking shovel and shut up about it. You have two more right there. Yes, you will share your toys. Yes, you will share your food. Yes, you will share your house. No, you don’t have to share your mommy, though at this point you’re lucky to still have a mommy, so shut up about that, too.

You WILL get in the stroller, and you WILL enjoy it. I know you’re a sling baby. I know you didn’t get in a stroller more than a dozen times your first year. But I need to go for a run before my brain explodes, so get in the damned thing. You may have a snack, because you always get one, and, today, like every other freaking day, we will run to a playground so there’s something in it for you. Stop freaking telling me what to do and what not to do. I AM the boss of you and you WILL listen. I bend over backwards for you three hundred times a day. It’s your turn. Get in the goddamned stroller. Now.

I’m tired of wanting to yell at you after I repeat something gently and kindly eight times. So screw the first seven. I will say something, and if you don’t listen I’ll scream at you until you do. Got it? And I’m now going to be one of those parents who yells at you to stop crying. Because, seriously, this whole “not in control of my emotions,” “easily overwhelmed,” “new at the whole give and take of social obligations,” “trying to find my place and sense of personhood in the big world” thing is getting really old. You’re two, for heaven’s sake. Can’t you grow up?

Finally, there is no more “one more.” I’ll tell you how many stories, how many minutes, how many turns, and after that you’re done. Not one more. Not one more then one more, or as it’s been lately, one more, now one more, now one more, finally one more. Fuck this nonsense. What is wrong with you? I said ten minutes, I said five minutes, three minutes, two minutes, one minute. I got down on your level, I used nice words, and I made sure you heard me. All m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-i-n-g done. Got it?

This is some bullshit, little boy. And at your graduation, wedding, and investiture into the Supreme Court, THIS is the speech I’m giving. Not some cute story about how loving you can be, or how wonderfully you often listen, or what lovely stories you invent when we’re just hanging out talking with each other. I’m telling everyone, including your prom date, your first love, your boss, your bass player, your dissertation professors, and your kids what a complete a-hole you were this week.

Better yet, I’m telling Nana. That’ll get you.

Peanut’s rage

Our son has found a voice for his rage. Today he experimented with screaming as though he’d been stabbed each time we said something we didn’t like, and bellowing as loudly as an angry moose when we proposed an activity in which he wanted no part. It was quite lovely to watch, really, even if it drove Spouse to new heights of frustration. Okay, time for bath. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGG!” Is your boot stuck?  “Yes. YES. YYYYYEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYYY!”

The most interesting part of watching our child scream alternately shrilly and soulfully was his own reaction to his voice. A few times he felt quite satisfied for finding the power he always lost when he hit, bit, or went limp while kicking wildly. He even tried the yells again when they felt just right and sounded even better. Other times, though, his anger scared him, and somehow his primal screams scared him even more. And as soon as the yell was over he asked for a cuddle with tears in his eyes. I told him that, of course I would cuddle him. Being angry is okay, and mommy still loves you if you yell. Yelling doesn’t hurt people. It’s scary, but it doesn’t hurt. Did that yell scare you?  Yes.

It’s not uncommon for this two-and-a-half-year-old’s anger to overpower and terrify him. That’s the nature of toddlerhood. As is the inability to come out of that anger by themselves without help. Hence tantrums–things spiral out of control and they don’t know how to transition back into normalcy. And I have often tried to tell him that there are acceptable ways, including yelling, of being angry. Being furious is okay. Hitting is not okay. Biting is not okay. Throwing things is not okay. Stomping is okay, yelling is okay, cuddling is great, deep breaths are wonderful.

Is it too late to amend the approval of yelling? Was it just my way of justifying my own angry behavior to include yelling in the acceptable category? Did I completely f— that one up? Is it okay to be a family of yellers? I don’t like it when Spouse yells. I don’t like it when grandparents yell. I don’t like it when Sibling yells. Peanut doesn’t like it when I yell. So shouldn’t I be teaching a better coping mechanism for anger?

Yup. Working on it. But by the time I really get control and model “breathing away the anger” behavior, Peanut’s going to be yelling at his own kids, other drivers, his bandmates, and his staff.

Ugh, I need another parenting do-over.

Mothering and ambivalence; a book review, sort of

I wrote a post a few months ago about feeling torn between intense love of my child and hallucination-provoking frustration of full time motherhood. I felt emboldened that my feelings were neither unique nor damning after reading Susan Maushart’s The Mask of Motherhood. But tonight I was reading What Mothers Do by Naomi Standlen and felt temporarily shamed for those feelings. Give me a minute and I’ll explain what made me re-examine my feelings and conclusions about how experiencing both sides of the spectrum is normal and honest, then the reasons I reject Standlen’s conclusions about the inherent selfishness and destructiveness of ambivalence. (Don’t blink…that was the summary. Save yourself some time and re-read that sentence and go on with your life.)

In examining the writings of mothers (Adrienne Rich, Rachel Cusk, Kate Figes, Rozsika Parker, Jane Lazarre, and Susan Johnson) who address their maternal ambivalence by name, Standlen asks, “Are we talking about a group of women who have picked up a sophisticated psychoanalytic concept—ambivalence—to dress up the fact that they are all so self-centered? Are they too selfish to be loving mothers?”( 202-3) Rather harsh, I think, as a description of women who are giving everything they have to mother their children because that’s what they believe the children need.

In her wording, though,  and her background as a psychoanalyst, we can understand Standlen’s tone. Ambivalence for Freudians is very technically a love/hate polarity that revolves around the same source (here, the child). But for the writers she mentions, ambivalence is a much less rigid term, meaning only existing at two levels, two valences. It doesn’t necessarily mean polar opposites. Standlen explores, for several pages (196-98, et al.), statements from writers about how they get frustrated or angry or resentful about their babies. I’ve only read the full text of half the books she quotes, but none of them talk about hate when I read them. They talk about feeling conflicted because they are angry and frustrated and resentful while being in love. While caring so deeply they sacrifice sleep and health and sanity for a small creature. And that feels difficult and awkward and not at all something glorified. But certainly something real and therefore valid.

Further distancing their mothering multivalences from Standlen’s Freudian definition of ambivalence, the authors in question seem to hint that the contradictory feelings arise from difference sources. Maushart explains pretty clearly that love for the child and hate for the job of full time mothering are daily and hourly occurrences, but that distaste for the job doesn’t mean lack of love for the child (nor that true, deep, unflinching love for the child means lack of frustration with the unceasing work of parenting).

Standlen argues that a baby raised by an ambivalent parent with have an adult-sized case of PTSD. (210-12). A mother who loves you and hates you, she asserts, is like a capricious god who terrifies then patronizes then rewards then punishes. Mothers who get angry and yell at their children apologize, she says. Ambivalent mothers, she argues, yell or withdraw because they think it’s an okay way to parent. And happy chldren are obviously loved, while shy children who don’t warm quickly to strangers are clearly experiencing some ambivalence damage at home.

What twisted, monster version of moms do you see in your practice, Ms. Standlen? Sure, unconditional, patient, flawless love (which she calls wholehearted love) is “more straightforward.” My love is wholehearted, madam, and I hate not having one minute of peace to myself.  My love is wholehearted, and I hate the way I feel each day because I choose to sacrifice my sleep to give my child what he needs. And after comforting him gently 12 and 15 times a night when he’s teething or sick or scared, I want to throw him against the wall. I don’t do it and never will, but I’m putting that I writing for the whole world to see because it doesn’t make me any less wholehearted in my love. It means I am human and I get angry and I love a person but loathe a circumstance. (As I write this, Peanut is waking from his fourth nightmare of the evening. He has been writhing and talking in his sleep for several minutes, and just screamed. He might be asleep, he might be waking. I’ll know in a minute. If it is the former, my heart will go out to him as long as he is tormented. If it the latter, my body will go to him, as long as he is tormented. By about 2 am, this will get really, freaking old, and I may get angry—not at him, but at the constant interruptions. I’m not angry with him. I’m angry at whatever keeps his sleep cycles from maturing, angry with whatever demons dare disturb his growth and sweetness. And now I’m even more angry with Naomi Standlen for suggesting that I don’t love the little cacahuete.)

I resent Standlen’s assertion that the women who feel conflicted are bad mothers who are harming their children. She spends a lot of time dancing around her belief that working outside the home when you have small children is not ideal, but won’t really hurt children; and that breastfeeding is ideal, but formula really won’t hurt them. So why can’t she not say that being perfect is ideal, but occasional bouts of self-doubt and frustration and anger and longing for something different really won’t hurt children. As long as we learn to take our ambivalence (not love/hate the child but love the child and hate the intense labor pains of making room for them in your life, when the space they need takes up 99.999999999999% of your existence) and channel it in productive ways, why is she spending a whole chapter calling those of us who haven’t found unfettered bliss, selfish and unloving and confusing and frightening?

Standlen notes that most of these authors who express ambivalence are in a similar position: “These mothers don’t sound easy with their moments of hate. All of them are intellectual women, with careers ahead of them….[Julia Darling] found it difficult to be a mother, but she doesn’t mention hatred or the feeling that her babies were making limitless demands on her.” Did she work outside the home? Did she have a caregiver, either professional or familial to help? Because maybe she didn’t feel limitless demands because she got out of the freaking house and had what Virginia Woolf termed a room of her own. Maybe the women to whom you attribute “chilling” ambivalence are surrounded by yellow wallpaper, the likes of which Charlotte Perkins Gilman knew all too well.

Standlen is horrified by several lines from Maushart, but finds this couplet particularly abhorrent: “We harbour no doubts that mothering our children is infinitely worth doing. It’s only that we’d really rather be doing something else.” I don’t need to defend Maushart’s writing. But it is clear from the rest of the text that she means this about moments of the days and weeks. Not about the entirety of mothering. And certainly not about her children. We’d really rather be enjoying 100% of this job, but that’s simply not possible. (If it was, no mother or father would ever plunk their child down in front of the t.v. to get a moment’s peace.)

When Jon, the father on Jon & Kate Plus Eight expressed frustration at all the damned work of parenting (times eight), he said something along the lines of, “I just want to play with my kids. I don’t like doing all the other crap that goes along with this job.” And full-time parents around the country looked around to see if anyone else heard that. What do you think we do all day, my friend? Sunshine and lollipops and imaginary friends and dancing and games and kisses and stories? Yes, plus tantrums and snot and outbursts and teaching and discipline and meals and cleaning up and redirecting and stalemates and poop and cat vomit and negotiating and avoiding tantrums and planning the next three steps so there aren’t more tantrums and yet more tantrums. There is no “playing with your kids,” unless you’re only home for an hour a day. And even then you’re bound to get in 30 minutes of play and a few minutes of less appetizing stuff. (I’m not knocking Jon. He gets 8 kids dressed each morning before work. I’m just saying there is no time with children that is just fun and games.)

In the end, my anger at Standlen’s book comes from a perceived hurt—this woman who has never met me and has spent eight chapters cheering my every parenting choice now tells me I’m an unfit mother. She says that feeling anything but incessant, unconditional love is just wrong. That there is no room for both frustration and exhaustion and anger and love. You must simply love.

But she isn’t insulting me directly. And her assumptions are flawed. Ambivalence is not simply Freudian love/hate. Women who experience ambivalence are not selfish, and are often staying at home specifically to give their children everything they can afford. The well-balanced mothers she cites are probably working outside the home or addressing their own needs with a care giver or other help, and are therefore a little more, well, balanced. And in the end, these women Standlen criticizes are writers. They intellectualize their every moment of their day, every emotion, high and low. And they need to express what they find. Maybe they don’t need psychoanalysis so much as a community of other mothers to empathize with them. Being the scourge of society and of Naomi Standlen is really quite terrifying.

(We’re on nightmare number five and he’s officially awake. I need to go. But let me say this–my blog will always be a place you can come to feel ambivalent, appreciated, and understood.)

(And no, I didn’t type that while he cried. I typed it after I got back. I’m not a selfish monster. I’m an ambivalent, attachment co-parent. )

Oy, you’re gonna be a great teenager

So Peanut bangs his head on the toilet paper holder and begins to cry. I make a sad face, kiss the red spot,  and cuddle him. He flips his face up to look at me and says, giggling, “Peanut laughing at Mommy sadness.”

You still call a truck a “doot” but you can say that you’re laughing at Mommy’s sadness?

So glad I taught you about emotions, so you could learn to express your feelings and empathize with others. Lot of good that did.

Geez we’re gonna have a good time when you’re 14.

No, no, no, no.

I have found a new toddler technique that works very well in getting toddler to behave in ways I find desirable. I borrowed from RM, who tricked Peanut into going to the bathroom by insisting his stuffed cow couldn’t go pee because it didn’t have a penis. Well, he showed her.

Now, instead of having the insane morning battle wherein he refuses to pee and I refuse to do anything with or for him before he pees, I simply instruct him not to pee. I’m polite about it, but I’m quite clear (I don’t use my stern voice, I use my mock serious voice. He seems to know the difference, because this little bit of reverse psychology hasn’t made discipline any more difficult–when I mean it, he knows.)

Me: Please don’t pee when you get out of bed.

P (smiling): Yes.

Me: No, no. Please no pee.

P (laughing): Yes! (starts pulling off his jammies.)

Me: Oh, no. Please don’t.

P (laughing and scrambling atop the toilet): Yes! Yes pee!

Me: Aw, man. I said don’t pee.

P: Peanut peeing! Mommy angry! Mommy frustrated! (Laughs) Pee!

What has my life become when me only control lies in begging someone not to pee?

He’s turned it into a game, too. He says, “Mommy, say nononono no no.” I usually ask, “What am I saying no to?” He replies, “No get book. No read!” I love absolutely nothing better than having this sweet boy sit with me while we read. So I smile at the game. “Oh, Peanut. No reading. I don’t want to read.” I smile so he knows I’m playing, too. He laughs and runs to get a book. He finds one and heaves it at me. “Mommy say no no no.”

I go one better. I whine, in my best two-year-old voice, “I don’t want to read this book. Ugh! Do I have to?” He laughs as though the cats are rolling around disemboweling each other. “Yes, Mommy. Read!”

“Ugh,” I sigh. “I don’t want to read this book.” It’s enormously cathartic, refusing to do what your two-and-a-half-year old wants. He is so demanding and, though I never say this to anyone around him, bossy, that it feels good to refuse. Even if it’s pretend. Because the few times I really do refuse, for something that’s not safe or when we really have to leave, it feels crummy. I wish the world could revolve around him for a while longer, because he’s in for a rude, rude awakening soon. And eventually, the rudest, when everything he’s made out of his life has to balance, still and breathless, on a pinpoint while his infants and toddlers need more than he can give.

Rescue Remedy by the quart

I’m realizing just how many of my posts are angry, bitter rants. I’m trying not to feel guilty about that, because that’s the stuff I need to get out. I bottle it up all day because I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snippy in front of my son. And lucky for Spouse he’s 400 miles away or he’d take the brunt. So blogging has really helped get the vitriol flowing and out. I store up every ounce of courage I have and project peace and thoughtfulness and patience (mostly) during the day. But I’ve got to let the rants out. Leaving them inside blocks up all my mental pores and gives me angry, bitter, negative acne on my brain and in my heart.

So if you’re put off by my anger, please, scan down the archives. There are some lovely, life-affirming bits in here if you dig.

But I am trying to navigate the parenting roller coaster, and just haven’t find the right balance. When it’s good, it’s so eye-closingly, deep sigh infusingy, happy little sigh eruptingly, perma-smile grantingly good. When it’s hard, it’s so white-knuckle infuriatingly, self-esteem wrenchingly, bad-side revealingly, regret inspiringly, soul-leechingly hard that it takes my breath away. I really do, sometimes, wish I could find Rescue Remedy by the quart. The blister packs haven’t worked for me yet, and, in fact, make me a little less grounded because the solvent is alcohol and it just makes me want a pint of liquor.

Talking to working moms, stay-at-home-moms, stay-at-home-dads, and the childfree, I realize that the biggest issue for me about parenting is that the day’s rhythm is not my own. I don’t own one piece of the day, and I don’t control any of it rhythms. As an academic, I wrote when I percolated ideas, I read when I felt responsive to ideas, I rested when I needed rest, and I exercised when I needed a mental escape valve. As a professional, I went to meetings where everyone was ready to jump into one of a few appropriate energies to talk about a specific thing. When I worked independently I drifted into one of a few appropriate energies to think or write or create. When I needed to pee, I did. When I needed to eat, I usually did. Now the day’s schedules and energies and milestones and needs have nothing to do with what my mind or body needs, and it’s very destabilizing. Isolating. Frustrating. Sad.

Because with a child, my needs are subsumed by his. My rhythm is supplanted by his. When he needs to run around, we have to. Not because I feel children should be the center of the universe. I don’t. Because I live with this child and his needs are valid. I understand this child, and when he makes his physical or emotional needs known, I respect them (within reason). And if he is metaphorically swaddled when he needs to wiggle, or is forced to engage when he needs cuddling, all systems fail. He melts down (I still refuse to call this volitilty terrible twos. He’s not terrible. My life is not terrible. Our family is not terrible. He is struggling to control things and get some independence and he’s terrified and frustrated by his incompetence. But almost every vascillation is understandable, predictable, and reasonable. I wouldn’t do the things he does, but putting myself into his shoes and his experience, I know exactly why he does what he does. I sometimes marvel, sometimes balk, sometimes well up with anger, but I understand. And I can anticipate it when I’ve slept and eaten, both of which are rare, since, did I mention, my day is not my own, my timing is not the primary Blackberry by which we run our day, and my needs are secondary because I can meet them all by myself. He can’t, so his needs come first.)

I’m a tired, hungry, cranky parent. Hence, again, the need to spew nastiness into my blog. And I’m not sorry. I’m coping.

Toddler or Anarchist?

With whom would you rather share your home—-a toddler or an anarchist?

Hmmm. Tougher choice than it seems. Unless you have (or have had) a toddler. In that case, you know pretty much where this is going.

Two-year-olds can be loving, can be interesting, can be wonderful companions. They also, though, often strive for independence and control over their own ideas and bodies, usually in wildly disproportionate episodes of writhing, screaming, and sobbing. In short, they are trying on independence without any of the skills it takes to button the cuffs of social diplomacy.

Anarchists, on the other hand, just want coercive government to go away. They have social skills, and their tactics are often in direct response to the perceived threat to their independence. You don’t have to baby-proof a house for an anarchist. They have better things to do than chase your cats, break your favorite coffee mug, or pee on your phone.

Like toddlers, anarchists come with all manner of agendas and methodologies. Like toddlers, anarchists can be loving, interesting, and wonderful companions. Unlike toddlers, anarchists aren’t out of their illogical, irrational, freaking minds.

Two-year-old evidence from yesterday: Peanut kissed me at least 45 times each hour, for all 14 hours he was awake. Big, full, lip-on-lip, sweet Peanut kisses. Most of the kisses accompanied by my favorite sentence from 19 months on: “Peanut…Like…Mommy.” Score one for toddlers. It was a good, good day.

Further two-year-old evidence from yesterday: Peanut walked into sporting good store, after agreeing that, yes, this store has some no-touches, so please ask mommy before you touch. He asked, then defied, on four items, each time looking right at me as he touched. I said, “no, thank you. No touch.” He said, “Please” as he touched again. I said, “No. No touch. Please listen to my words.” He touched again and repeated “please.” I shook my head and gently removed his hand. He cried “No Mommy move Peanut hand!” On the fourth item (sunglasses…why, oh why do they put those at waist-level instead of up by our eyes, where they should be?!) he threw a fit. Reaching for it…”I said no touch. If you touch that, we will leave the store.” Touch. Scoop up and take outside. Screaming, crying. Sobbing really, with tears streaming down his face. “One minnow!” (see the one minnow post. priceless. for all other toddler moments, there’s MasterCard.)

“Nope. We’re all done.” Cried on the sidewalk in my arms for, no joke, ten minutes. My biceps were on fire. I tried silence. I tried gentle talk, offering different options. I did not offer (or acquiesce to) a return trip into the store. Crying, crying, crying. Cried a few times as people walked by, I’m sure, just to inform them of my bad parenting. His words, not mine.

Anyway, toddler loses that one. (It was still a good day, btw.)

No specific anarchist data for same day, but passed several pedestrians in San Luis Obispo who were undoubtedly familiar with the tenets of at least one anarchist, and they seemed a welcome, quiet change from a two-and-a-half-year-old. Anarchists do not frequently scream or cry or try to grab things that society asked them not to touch. Anarchists break things and destroy property to reject the notion of property. They are rebelling. I can get on board with at least the idea, if not the reality, of this sort of rebellion. Two-year-old rebellion I do not support, as it makes absolutely no sense. (Yes, I know it does. Yes, I know why they try power battles over everything at bedtime and whenever you really, really need to get somewhere. Yes, I know why very gentle and well-behaved children turn into screaming banshees when you’re on the phone. Yes, they make sense. But not in a grown-up logical way. In a animal kingdom kind of way. But seriously. Let me have my little diatribe here. I need an outlet. Heaven knows I need an outlet.) Where anarchists may destroy property to protest capitalism, toddlers touch stuff that’s not even interesting. They don’t try to possess, or refuse to think in terms of possession. They just touch stuff to touch it. And especially if told no.

Give me an anarchist any day. I understand how infuriating and terrifying it must be to control so little of your world (unless you’re Peanut, of course, who controls more of his world than 99.8% of other two-and-a-half-year-olds do, and therefore should really cut me some freaking slack. We don’t use coercion in his world. He doesn’t even have a right to anarchy. Peanut protesting coercion is like white, middle class kids complaining about how hard their lives are, and turning to drugs because they’re bored. Get a job. Volunteer. Shut up. Go work for Amnesty International for a while.) I do not understand the battles pre-preschoolers choose. Don’t get it. Score one for anarchists.

Two-year-old evidence from today: walks through the kitchen and 1)opens the trash can for no other reason than to peer inside. Thrice. 2) Reaches on tiptoes into the sink to grab the sponge, wet, and throw it on the floor. 3) Grabs a fistful of straws from the choosing cup (I know, I know–my fault for leaving it on the table) and drags them along the wall. 4)Unwinds the whole paper towel roll. Again. 5) Screams bloody murder everytime one of Parker and Skylar’s horses fall over, even though they fall over because he accidentally knocks them down. His fault, but gravity’s response is physically painful to him. When I empathize and tell him that, yes, it’s frustrating when you work hard to stand up a horse just to have it fall down, and that maybe we should try again, he hits me.

Please send me an anarchist for Christmas. Or Channukah. Or Memorial Day. What a great co-brand that would be: Hallmark offering anarchists for Mother’s Day. “When you care enough to give mom a break, send an anarchist.”

Anyway, each of these incidents of strange but typical toddler behavior got a casual, measured, supportive, and corrective comment and a plea to “please don’t do that” because fill-in-the-simplest-reason. Except the hitting. That got a time out.

Here’s the problem. By incident number four I actually said, “Please don’t do that because…can’t you just be civilized? We have the same rules every day. They don’t change. It’s the same rule Sunday as it is Thursday.” [“Thursday,” he cries, “Movie!” He’s right. Thursday is movie day. One half hour of some video that is not geared toward kids. It’s the only way I get to see Planet Earth. But that’s not the point. The consistency of rules is. Or so I thought. Not in his world. Consistency, choices, whatever. He doesn’t really care that we have always been careful with our “no”s because we saved them for genuine danger. He thinks we’re restrictive no matter how many ways we use to suggest activities other than the disgusting, irritating, or destructive one he’s chosen. Please, please. An Anarchist for the weekend. Please. On a toddler for disestablishmentarian trade program?]

An anarchist might look in the trash to find food, subverting the establishment’s insistence on exchanging money for sustenance. Not just to look in there, and not just after I helped her wash her hands. An anarchist might throw the sponge at a representative of government, to suggest any number of metaphoric or literal needs to clean up. But probably not just to piss me off. An anarchist might…okay, seriously, what self-respecting anarchist would drag straws along the wall or unroll paper towels? And therein lies the reason I’d probably choose to live with an anarchist over a toddler–they know the rules and break some to make a point. Toddlers have heard the rules, figure they’re the center of the universe and not subject to the rules, and just do things to get a reaction out of those who watch them. Kisses make mommy sigh with happiness, and ridiculousness pisses off mommy. Gonna try each twenty times today to see what happens. And they quite enjoy that power.

Anarchists push society’s buttons to make us question assumptions. Toddlers push our buttons because it’s fun. I just want to scream at Peanut: “Have some principles, at least, like those comparatively upstanding and logical anarchists. The world is not your plaything, and my rules are really just society’s rules. So put on some pants so we can leave the house, pick up the sting ray so mommy doesn’t hurt her foot again, and please put your plate in the sink or I’m going to have to remember that all the things I’m teaching you will make you thoughtful and logical. Just like an anarchist!”

Who, looking at an infant, would think anarchy would be a positive trajectory?

Well, it’s a serious improvement over two-and-a-half.

Rewriting history and fairy tales

I feel dishonest, I feel manipulative. But we change just about every book in the house because the content just isn’t appropriate for a toddler.
The troll in the Billy Goats Gruff, at least here, is a “great, big, silly troll” who pretends he’s going to eat goats up, but really just wants to go swimming.
The wolf in Little Red Riding Hood is proud of his huge mouth, for it’s all the better to kiss you with.
The coyote in The Three Little Pigs just wants to eat all the pigs’ cookies, and when he can’t get into the brick house, the pigs eat the cookies themselves.
Even in Where The Wild Things are, the monsters gnash their teeth and roll their eyes and show their claws, none of which is horrible. And Max isn’t sent to bed without supper. He just goes to bed.
I don’t like that I have to warn other people to read our books “correctly.” But I also don’t like that Ming Lo’s wife never has a name, even though she has just as many lines and pages as Ming Lo, and even when she does ust as much to move the mountain. So in our house she’s Sing Lo. Because my son isn’t going to grow up thinking the world is scary (he’ll find that soon enough) or that woman are just “so-and-so’s wife.”