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?

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But what I really want to do is direct

Peanut: [handing over toothbrush] Mommy turn.

Mommy: [taking toothbrush] Okay. Open, please.

Peanut: [snatching brush back] Mommy don’t want it.

Mommy: [puzzled] Okay. I don’t want to?

Peanut: [yelling and shoving the toothbrush back into mommy’s hand] Peanut say DO it, Mommy DO IT!

I swear we’ve never said anything that sounds anything like that. But if I knew he was going to use that line, I might have tried it a few times. Wouldn’t have worked. But it would have felt good.

Fire fighters in bite-sized, 100-calorie packs

Have you seen the Chronicle Books imprint’s book Porn for New Moms? Hilarious. Pictures of men tending a baby while vacuuming, cooking dinner while cooing at an infant, and so on. Fully clothed (mostly, except the shot that offers to rub your feet while you talk about baby’s day), and only erotic in that “actually address a woman’s needs instead of your own” kind of way.

http://www.amazon.com/Porn-New-Moms-Pornography-Cooperative/dp/081186216X

Well, I thought of it today after my son completely squelched my mojo.

Peanut and I went to the library, heaven of all heavens for both of us, and walked downtown to lunch. On our way, we stopped to watch five fire trucks pull up, disgorge their tasty wares, and sit empty in the street, flashing their red lights. Peanut watched, with rapt attention, and refused to let me leave. He likes empty fire trucks. I prefer the juicy center.

And it’s lunchtime. I’m hungry. I want to leave. I tolerate. I educate. See the oxygen tanks? The fire fighters put that on because people breathe air, like all mammals breathe air. They always need air. But if there’s a lot of smoke, they can’t breathe air. So they carry their air on their backs and breathe it through masks. [P: No masks.] Not like Halloween, babe. Like scuba. [P: No masks.] Do you mean they’re not wearing masks, or you don’t like masks? [P: No wearing masks and Peanut no like masks.] Way to clarify. If I had said, firefighters don’t make masks? He would have said yes to that, too. All I know from this week are the following inviolable rules: No masks. No helmets. No Mommy do that. No. And my favorite, No share.

So his focus on the trucks pays off in spades. (In uniformed goodness, really, but the expression is “in spades.” I would vote for a change to “that decision paid off in mouthwatering firefighting flesh,” but I don’t know that it’s up for a vote.) Fire fighters exit building, several of them with axes, and I talk to Peanut about about axes. The glory that is a mid-day, wakeful fire fighting team begins disrobing, and I tell Peanut about the special jackets and pants fire fighters wear (the appeal of suspenders is totally lost on him, and I’m considering whether to let the benefit of my wisdom open up to him a whole ‘nother world of para-nudity, a place of easy groinal access in which he would personally love to dwell in perpetuity).

What is it with firefighting?–is there a sex appeal requirement? Just to apply or in the final cut? Male and female alike, these professionals rank high on HQ (hotness quotient). What is it about the T-shirt and uniform pants that makes me totally abandon my feminist principle that humans are not just bodies—they have thoughts and feelings and are worth more than the sum of their parts—and today’s nameless, faceless specimens are no exception, I’m sure. I believe they have lots of impressive humanity under those muscles. And insignia. And suspenders. ‘Scuse me for a minute.

Okay, I’m back. So they’re all in various stages of undress (not really, if you’ve read our fire fighting book even once [we’re at two thousand times, ordered to do read and reread by a rather controlling repetition freak] you know that fire fighters put their heavy jacket and pants over their uniforms so they can shed the gear easily. Mmmm. Shedding gear easily.)

In various stages of undress, the gentlemen swoop in and out of their trucks (can’t you at least clamber, so I can see you as awkward and not too horizontally promising?), and the HOTTEST of all the county (youngest, too…yummy) sees us talking and beckons me over. (Not us. Me. Forget, for a moment, the sling and the toddler strapped to me. Believe me, this guy asked for me personally. How do I know? Please. What firefighter is a sucker for kids? Just because they drive around waving to every kid in sight, and do charity work with kids, and have all manner of openhousedness at all times for any child in sight doesn’t mean this guy was offering to show my son the truck. He was b-e-c-k-o-n-i-n-g- me. ME. You don’t have to believe me. Whatever.)

So we saunter over, my son and I, one of us carefully sucking in the sling belly that, without fail, pooches out below the sling’s bottom rail. On normal days, my borderline posture means I stick my hip and belly out to keep a two-dozen-pounder from knocking me over. But this is no normal day. Five trucks. At least four fire-extinguishing engineers per truck. You do the math for me—I’m still a bit flustered. So I suck it in. How repulsively self-eroding. And yet effective.

As we approach Officer Perfect, Peanut buries his face in my shoulder. The well-compensated and tremendously fit public servant backs off a bit. “If he’s shy, I don’t want to get too close.”

I’m sorry, sir, but did you just offer, without asking, to interact with a fire-truck loving toddler AND notice his hesitancy AND respect his age-appropriate fears? How quickly can you get that gear off? Never mind. I’ll do it. I’ve been practicing my buttons and snaps.

So Peanut begs me, more shy than I’ve ever seen him (which is saying something), to leave. [He’s hit a major shyness phase that goes beyond his standoffish wait-and-see-before-going-full-bore-goofy personality. It’s puzzling but fine with me. Afraid of strangers? Cultivate that.]

But really, are you kidding me? I want to eat, you want to stay. Then I want to stay—in the name of all that is holy, I want to stay—and you want to go.

I mentioned earlier my pre-child fears of having to sublimate my needs for my child’s welfare. And I’ve mentioned a firm decision to sacrifice sleep, career, sanity, and personal needs at many levels for his well being. But would it be wrong to let my toddler run, crying and hungry, to the store himself while I indulge in a moment of purely self-serving flirting? What if I promise it’ll boost my self esteem? What if I PROMISE it’ll make me nicer to Spouse? What if I say three Hail Marys and one Our Father? Bahaha ha ha ha. Let’s be serious. Okay, just the first two promises?

So as we walked, him thrilled to have escaped gentlemen of his favorite profession of the week, and me, dejected, feeling a bit wilted and chilly under the collar, I thought of the Porn for New Moms.

No fire fighters in that book.

Sigh.

Can’t we just live at The CheeseBoard?

The center of my sense of home and community is The CheeseBoard Collective on Shattuck. Living near there formed some of the most important pieces of who I am, and visiting now brings back a flood of revelations, realizations, and nine-plus-senses pleasures that make me happy to my core.

So I took Peanut there.

He’s been before, but this time we went to the store/bakery and to the pizza joint. The latter is not at all the CheeseBoard where I lunched countless afternoons in the ’90s and ’00s. It’s bigger, since they took over the shop next door and expanded with more tables (shock), a bathroom (gasp), and a full area for the musicians.

The pizza of the day was roasted cauliflower, caramelized onion, mozzarella, cheddar, chive, and garlic olive oil on the trademark sourdough crust. It was gorgeous and drippy and wonderfully flavorful. But I’ve rarely had a bad slice there.

The band was the California Honeydrops. They sunk their teeth into a soulful performance and totally captivated my son.

So we ate, me a slice of heaven and him a cheese roll from the Collective. We listened to the blues. We watched the locals and newbies, alike. We basked in the glow of the new paint, the cheerful tile, and the clean bathrooms.

And he said to me, of my favorite place in the world, (except my aunt and uncle’s house at Thanksgiving), “this place make Peanut happy!”

I cried. “Me, too, bug. This place make mommy happy, too.”

I love you, CheeseBoard family.

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 wants to go home.

The move went off reasonably well, and we’re hanging out in temporary digs until we either find a house we love, find a financial crisis that scares us out of the real estate market, or get tired of the utter bullsh*te of the Berkeley housing market, whichever comes first.

And we’ve been preparing Peanut for months: Daddy’s going to live with grandma in San Francisco while we find someone to pay for our house. Then we’ll live with Daddy, all the family together, in a temporary house, just for a while, until we find a new house. Then we’ll move to the new house all together and live there, all together. Yay, new house. Usual response: “Peanut SITED ’bout new house.”  I’m excited, too, buddy.

He’s been fine all along. He knows the script, he recites it along with me. He waved goodbye to the old house and made sure all his friends (stuffed animals) and his sister (doll who used to be his baby, and whom he nursed for a long time, and who he has now decided needs a brother, heaven help me because he loves babies and says he wants one–a real one) and his toys and his books were all in the truck so we could take them to the temporary house and the new house.

He knows all this intellectually. But he’s two and a half. He likes concrete nouns, not intangibles. He likes today and tomorrow, not two months from now. He likes things the way he likes them (“no mommy hold Sweetpea, Peanut hold Sweetpea; no mommy walk first, Peanut walk first; no Mommy eat hummus, Peanut no share hummus; no Peanut go escalator, go elevator first, then escalator”) and he doesn’t like that everything is different.

Today he said, “Peanut want go home.” Sure, I told him. We just need to get cat food and we can go home. “No want temporary house. Want go home.” Oh, thank goodnes you’re a quick-to-rebound kind of guy, Peanut. ‘Cuz this is gonna be rough.

“Um, well, you remember when we packed your toys and we said goodbye to the old house?”

“Yem.”

“Well, someone who paid for the house lives in that house now, and we live with Daddy. And we’re going to find a new house and move to a new house. Maybe that house near the playground that has a yard.”

“Hmmmm. No. Peanut no want new house. Peanut want go home.”

Guilt. Sadness. Buck thyself up, adult. You are the adult, you are in charge, you get to decide. This is a good move for good reasons and you want the whole family happy here, else you’ll wind up in Portland to finally give Spouse a shot at being happy. “Well, bug, for a little while, the temporary house is our home because a home is where the people you love are. And after we find a new house, that house will be home. Because home is wherever Mommy and Daddy and Peanut and the cats are.”

“Hmmmm. Peanut no like cats. Peanut no share toys with cats.”

“Ah, I don’t know what to say to that.”

“If baby comes to Peanut house, Peanut no share toys baby.”

“Um, okay.”

“Name Peanut going?”

“Temporary house.”

“Peanut want go home.”

“I know. But we aren’t going to that home. We’re going to the temporary house.”

I’m sorry, buddy, that we took you away from the only home you’ve ever known. We, the alleged grownups, always knew it was a temporary place, but I guess we never told you. I know the yard and the hiking and the creek for rock-throwing and the awesome community of yoga ladies and the nearby parks and the R family and the D family were all home to you. But I swear, now that Mommy is home, things are gonna get even better. Mommy wasn’t happy there, bug. Mommy likes San Francisco. And Daddy needs Mommy happy, because Mommy is simply beastly when she’s unhappy. Remember our thrush? Mommy was out of her head bestly. Remember the teething nights when you woke Mommy 12 and 15 times a night? Mommy was call-an-exorcist beastly. Remember how much fun Mommy can be? Well, I know this is hard because it’s all new to you, but I swear, we’re going to have fun here.

I haven’t said anything for a while, so he chimes in. “Peanut no like Berkeley. Peanut angry Mommy want new house in Berkeley. Peanut like Aaaameeeeda. Peanut like Sasso-siso.”

You and me both, buddy.

It’s good to be home. I just wish you knew it as home.

War wounds

Concentrating hard on the plastic spoon she had been given, a ten-month old flailed wildly and poked KD right in the eye tonight after dinner. And I empathized aloud that one of my top ten least favorite bits of motherhood are the daily, painful injuries. Spoon to the eye, elbow to the nose, top of head to soft part under the chin, knee to the innards–these add injury to the insult of not owning any minute of your day. You can’t get mad when an infant wallops you as she flails about, but it still hurts. You can’t get mad when a toddler accidentally slams your solar plexus trying to get to a book. But it still hurts. You can’t get mad when a preschooler bashes your nose trying to climb into your lap. But it really hurts.

And I can’t help but point out to the small people whose elbows seem to have the north pole magnet to my breast’s south pole: I never got hit in any of my other jobs. (Nobody even pushed me, except out of a meeting. Metaphorically.)

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.

We made a weird kid.

All kids are weird, I know. And I don’t mean all the pejorative baggage that comes with the word especially vis-a-vis a certain person involved in my upbringing. But our kid is just weird. He’s in a licking phase, where he laps your face or arm if you get too close, but I remember my brother doing that at age 3ish. He’s in a plopping phase (peanut, not brother, though you can never be sure) where he thinks plopping on people is hilarious. Peanut’s also in a run-top-speed or creep-slower-than-a-snail phase, but that’s normal, too. His answer is always “no.” Normal. He doesn’t want to share. Normal.

But he announced this morning, appropos of nothing, that if a “baby with drippy nose come to Peanut house,” he won’t share tissues or the bulb syringe.

Um, okay.  ?

Weirdo.

He’s in the living room, wearing gardening gloves and a bright green shirt. (He dresses himself each day, and always chooses the loudest color combinations. Usually orange and green or blue and red. The latter makes me realize that, though I love the ideas this country stands for, I am not at all opposed to revisiting our colors. We just plain ol’ chose poorly in borrowing from the Motherland. Anyway, regardless of clothes choices, by afternoon the pants are ALWAYS gone, and there is often an extraneous accessory added. Yesterday it was T-shirt and witch’s hat, with lizard undies. Most days, as is true today, the undies are apparently optional. And, in 84 degree heat, he needs gloves. Que sera, sera; you know?) He is sitting next to the vacuum, which he insisted, shrieking and crying, I not put away after we used it this morning. Whatever, dude. I’m picking my battles since you were born, and putting away the vacuum has always been optional. He is now pointing the Hoover’s hose at anything that moves and pretend squirting, insisting alternately that the cats like wet, cold; and that someone should call a police officer because Peanut is hurt.

Weirdo.

If I try to go into the room, he pretend squirts me. I get pretend wet, pretend offended, and actually leave. It’s nice to be chased away from a toddler at play. Trust me.

Earlier, I had the audacity to go to the bathroom and pause to brush my hair. (Yes, I actually brush my hair now. Upside to being so lazy that you don’t cut is that you don’t have to do monthly cuts. Downside is that your mother, with a regularity straight out of the hair chapter of Deborah Tannen’s You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Conversation between Mothers and Daughters, has mentioned several times that, not only does she like it shorter, but it’s just terrible not brushed. And though I agree, I generally don’t care. But I was in the bathroom, nobody was bleeding, screeching, or sobbing, so I paused for some grooming.)

In the two minutes I was gone, Peanut dragged his bench to the kitchen sink, took all the dishes off the counter and placed them in the sink, filled them to the top, and was dropping walnut halves in each dish, one by one.

When I asked what he was doing, he cheerfully and condescendingly noted that he was “washin’ dishes….And floatin’ wahnits-. See?” As though we do that all the time.

Oh. Yes, I see.

Again, I say, our kid is weird.

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.

Groceries and building blocks

While we were at Trader Joe’s, Peanut dictated his grocery list. He usually draws it at home before we go, but we forgot. So he proclaimed, loudly, while ticking off on his fingers, and with a great sing-song rhythm:

“Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, soy, water, blender juice, bread, little bread, pizza.”

When we were building with blocks, he told me he was making a new house. I asked what he wanted his house to have.

P: “Garden. Flowers. Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blueberries, pick, eat eat eat. ‘Matoes. No like ‘matoes. Pick throw.”

M: “Sounds like a nice garden, with flowers and lots of berries. Do you want to have a kitchen inside for cooking?”

P: “No. No kitchen no bathroom no dining room. Pick eat pee poop garden.”

Well. sounds like we’ll be a big hit once we move.

On another note about building blocks and toddlers, I’m kind of sick of the build-it-just-to-knock-it-down thing. I’ve tried casually suggesting he build his own stuff. That works until he sees what I’m compiling, and he knocks it down. I’ve tried getting him to collaborate with me. He just knocks down what little I’ve built. Seriously, dude, it would be nice to maybe get this thing more than two blocks high, or maybe get some structure to it. No offense or anything, but you’re not much fun when it comes to playing blocks. Sure, watching you have fun is pleasurable for a while and all that, but this gig is getting boring. Mommy used to have a job where people liked what she did and didn’t instantly knock it down. In fact, when mommy did work at a place like that, she quit. She prefers work environments where lots of people collaborate to build things, or work independently then show everyone the fruits of our labors. Mommy kind of wants a job like that again. Whadya say?

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.”