Parenting is a Poo Smear

I cannot be clearer than this: three year olds are the worst.

The. Worst.

On the one hand, they are so cute. At three, you have a tiny person, wearing tiny adult clothes. They have these insanely observant, candid things to say. They make you laugh. You starting thinking things like, “obviously my kid is a mother fucking genius. he just figured out how to drain the tub.”

Then there’s the other hand. The torturous, deformed, hateful hand. You have an irrational, unthinking, selfish asshole with a seniority complex and zero regard for your life or feelings. And frankly, that’s being kind. Three year olds play sick mind games. They have the guilt skills of seasoned Jewish mother, the yelling prowess of an Italian mother, and mood disorders too severe to make it into any of Ken Kesey novels.

My three year old seems to fall in the moderate three year old category, which is really hard to fathom. Because about two months ago I made a special appointment with my therapist to tell him– through barely manageable tears– that I needed to go on a mood stabilizer. I had an undiagnosed rage disorder. I didn’t know what to do.

Nope, he said. You have a three year old.

I tried to reason with him, convince him that his years of school were shit. A serious rage disorder was sitting in front of him and he couldn’t see it. GO BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL, IDIOT. Then he started listing the traits of three year olds.

I definitely do not have a rage disorder. I have a three year old. (Never mind! Your degree is fine. I’m an asshole. Sorry.)

Looking back on the magical journey of pregnancy and infancy, I realize that we (mothers, fathers, society) are focused on the totally wrong part of parenting. Infants are cake. I mean, not cake. They are terrible in their own special way. But the whole world loves babies. AND THEY DON’T TALK. Babies are irrational, but it’s okay because they are flesh blobs. Dolls. Plants with neurons and foul poops. It’s when our babies turn two until they turn about five, that we are left ALL ALONE. Unless you’re looking for some help with the functional parts of parenting (i.e. teach your kid to poop in a receptacle), 2-5 are the parenting dark ages. Your kid is really too young for actual labels (it’s too soon to say whether he’s really a psychopath) and too old to know whether he’s just experiencing something epic, like seeing color for the first time. Which makes him “fussy.” God I miss “fussy.” Fussy was so cute. Last night my kid cried so hard about a sticker that he gagged himself and we had to break our silence to make sure he wasn’t dead.

Logically, I know that my job is to survive. Realistically, there are days when survival seems impossible. I’m going to pack an old school suitcase and hop a bus to Nevada, where I’ll send faded postcards cross country at holidays. My days will be spent journaling and working odd jobs, my evenings drinking white wine out of a box and questioning whether I made the right choice. I’ll return for his high school graduation. The aged, but slightly beautiful, gray-haired woman in the back row. He’ll stare at me, unsure, but feeling a familiarity he can’t shake. I’ll see he’s grown into the man I imagined. And I’ll return to Nevada. To my journalling. To my Franzia. With hope. And closure.

Only I can’t do that. Because my husband would hunt me down in Nevada and kill me. Then marry a casino dancer and drag her to Salem to watch Author. Fuck.

So here we are. Surviving.

Strangely, as trying as these little people can be, you actually love them a whole lot. In the middle of psychological warfare about picking up a goddamned Rescue Bot, you’re still obsessing about their day, where you should send them to school, whether they’re making friends, if they ate their lunch. The real kick in the dick is that 99% of the time, if your kid would just stop screaming like a crazy person and ask politely for something absurd, he’d probably get it. Instead of throwing a spoon at my face and telling me how I’m torturing you with dinner, you could try saying, “mups, I love you so much. but the flavor profile of this meal just isn’t working. could I please have a bowl of sugared cereal and nine gummy vitamins.” I’d say yes. How could I not?

We’re American parents. We can’t help ourselves. We’re capitalists and consumers.

This morning, my child smeared actual poo on my bed. Fortunately it was on my husband’s side of the bed, but that’s not really the point. His tiny brain FORGOT that he walked up the stairs WITH A HANDFUL OF WIPES because he needed help wiping the epic amounts of shit off his ass… and sat down. Proceeded to have an entire conversation with me about how he wasn’t going to get dressed today. I even asked about the wipes. He couldn’t remember. He just “sort of picked them up.”

He forgot the ending, which was “… to have you wipe all this poop off of me before I smear it on the bed.”

Poop.

On. My. Bed.

Then, when I realized the situation and reacted like super mom, he turned on me. Getting dressed was the worst idea he’d ever heard of in his whole life. He would not do it. Ever. He threw his body on the ground and writhed like a crazy person. I just stared down at him in disbelief. I just extracted fecal matter from you and MY BED and now you are YELLING AT ME. 

What the actual fuck? <Cue the rage disorder I thought I had. But don’t. I have a three year old.>

But there’s good news. We are 156 days away from his fourth birthday.

My kid was a nightmare. And other true stories.

Happy 4th. (Yesterday.) I was on social media channels a few times. I saw a bunch of adorable kids in gingham and stripes watching parades and looking American and perfect.

My kid was awful. Just terrible. He made a three-day-weekend seem like a prison sentence. By Saturday afternoon things were fragile. Sunday evening my marriage was starting to fray. And when we finally reached Monday night, everyone had to retreat to their respective corners so there was no bloodshed. It is a wonder to behold how a single 37 inch person can fuck things up so thoroughly.

The good news (if that’s how we want to categorize it) is that this appears to be age associated and completely predictable. Late two/early threes are notorious for their shittiness. Unfortunately, no amount of warning can adequately prepare you for the psychological and emotional damage that a toddler can exact over a three-day-weekend.

What I struggle with the most is actually how much I struggle. I’m 32 years old. I am a fully grown human being. I have pretty well developed coping skills. I’m good with conflict resolution. I have sound logic and reasoning skills. And my toddler gives ZERO fucks. If my husband and I had a dollar for every time the phrase “walk away. just walk away.” was uttered in our house, we could both retire. And yet for all our chanting walkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkawaywalkaway we can’t actually walk away. We’re locked in some intellectual death match with a tot. I’ve experience more logical and redemptive communication with cats.

And the stubbornness. Oh sweet lord the stubbornness. This is why people of the olden days resorted to physical acts of violence. Because it takes an incredibly well controlled and evolved human being to get to the brink of sanity and not be overcome with the urge to exert physical force over a lesser being. And I’m not even talking about beatings. Even just a well placed flick. Because when your child tells you for the 2736974120382039 time that they WILL NOT CLEAN UP their blocks and you’ve wasted 682 minutes of your day asking, and you’ve taken away everything you thought they held dear, and you’ve reasoned, begged, yelled, threatened and there are still mother fucking blocks all over the floor… your ability to keep your shit together is questionable. Worse than that, when you’ve sacrificed your plans, your desires, your activities in order to do the activity that should most appeal to your child and then they act like a domestic terrorist, you begin to question the very meaning of life.

We’re currently in the stage whereby all perceived offenses are of equal weight in his eyes. Not having the right color juice is as egregious an offense as refusing to allow him to play in the hose or trying to give him away. (Just listing the kinds of things that brought our weekend to its proverbial knees is giving me PTSD.) There’s usually a light whimper, followed by the introduction of a baby voice, which then becomes a fake machine gun cry, that then devolves into a full on melt down. (And then usually one of us walking swiftly out of a public place while our child confirms to single people within earshot that they are the superior species.) The single most terrifying thing about three year olds is that the truest and quickest way to incite a meltdown is to give them EXACTLY what they want. What? What is this you say? Yes. Exactly. Give them exactly what they want and they will most certainly meltdown. Because they hate you.

For example. Aut has been totally into bike riding recently. (We got one of those bike seats that you get when you have a child under 4 and you no longer care about how uncool your life is.) Generally speaking, he loves riding around on the back of the bike, going fun places, seeing new things. So we planned on an awesome bike ride on Monday. We were going to bike up to Marblehead and stare through the gates of yacht clubs at rich people. We told him… and he melted down. He didn’t want to bike ride. Turns out, he’d found a long-forgotten set of paints in his cubby and all he wanted to do in the whole world was paint. (Painting is a cruel invention by people who hate parents.) After much hmming and hawing, we consented. He could paint outside. In his underwear.

We went outside. It was beautiful out. We set up a drop cloth, staple gunned a canvas to the fence, got out the paints and brushes, slathered sunscreen on him. And feeling like THE BEST PARENTS IN THE WHOLE WORLD we set him loose on his artistic endeavors. Which lasted about 14 seconds.

The sun is too sunny and it’s on my head. We got him a baseball cap.

I need something different for my eyes. (Because THE BRIM OF THE HAT WAS NOT SUFFICIENT.) We got him his sunglasses.

I’m thirsty. We made him hold out but eventually realized this was not the one to nail him on when it was 90 degrees outside. Got him water.

I need different paints. Go fuck yourself.

I want to paint on the fence. Not on your life.

I need to wipe my hands. Shouldn’t have stuck both hands in the paint.

I want to do yoga with Mups. No, you’re painting.

I want to cut all my fingers off in the air conditioner compressor. Nope. [wailing]

I don’t like painting. Well, too bad. We got this all set up. You’re gonna paint. [more wailing]

I need a snack. We just had breakfast. You’re fine. [repeated slower and screaming I. NEED. A. SNACK.]

The sun is too hot. Sorry, we’ll talk to the solar system about that.

I need Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is napping upstairs. [whimpering, but surprisingly no wailing]

I really want to stick my entire hand into the A/C compressor. Ask me again and I’ll probably let you.

I need to go into the basement to get something. No you don’t. [full-on, mind blowing meltdown]

I want to go for a bike ride. You’re dead to me.

I don’t want to exaggerate, so I’ll say this was all within the span of about 11 minutes. Conservatively I’d say six tantrums and one meltdown in 11 minutes. Because we were doing exactly what he begged us to let him do.

And like I said, the very worst part is how ill prepared we are to cope. It’s impossible to ignore, but equally as impossible to correct. Stupidly I allow myself to imagine these scenarios whereby we’re doing these things happily and peacefully as a family. The hubs is drinking coffee on the porch, I’m doing yoga on the driveway, Aut is painting like the gifted painter we will joyfully discover he is. But it’s never anything like that. It’s screaming and whining and trying not to lose our shit at how unbelievably insufferable he can make 15 minutes in the sunshine. And then the guilt when he says something like “why do you always yell?” And I feel so terrible but I also want to be like “why do you always try to make me insane?” But I know he’s 3 and he doesn’t know why he does it. He just does. And my job as his mother is to cope. And get through it.

And I don’t want to wish his life away. I don’t want him to grow up too fast. And inevitably there’s some gray haired woman (as there was this weekend) who says “enjoy every moment” at exactly the wrong time. And I get it. I know she’s wistful and hindsight is rosey. But these moments are not enjoyable. They’re trying and terrible. They make you question yourself. They push you to dark places where you have to look hard at yourself. And that’s an unexpectedly difficult part of parenting– seeing yourself through your child’s eyes. Because every now and then, you won’t like the person you see. But this too shall pass. And tantrums about paints and Buzz Lightyear will be replaced by heartbreak and humiliation and things that will make us long for the days that the absence of Buzz was the most meltdown-worth part of the day.

But for now, we cope. We parent. We continue onward. Knowing they won’t be 3 forever… for better or worse.

Author Paints
A brief moment of happiness and reprieve. 

 

 

Potting training is a literal pile of shit.

Well, this weekend is going to be excluded from my memoirs.

Aut woke up on Saturday morning with a trucker-sized dump in his pants and the husband drew the short straw. It’s nearly impossible to sleep an extra two hours while your child watches inappropriate television shows in your bed if the child smells like poop. Eventually one of the parents has to sack up and change the diaper, and whomever gets stuck doing it ends feeling exempt from doing anything else childcare related for the rest of the day.

Usually we grumble about how terrible and inhumane it is that our child unleashes that kind of fury upon us first thing in the morning, but eventually we get over it and go have coffee and bagel sandwiches to make everything okay again. Not this Saturday. This Saturday, the husband marches up the stairs and declares, with the confidence of a Custer before his last stand, that he has changed his final diaper. THIS IS BULLSHIT. I am done! 

To be clear (and because he reads these posts and immediately sends me all caps text messages when he thinks I’ve painted him unfairly), I was not against the potty training. But I was committed in the same way you commit to a going on a diet with a friend when you can tell her entire commitment depends on you. You say yes, you have some fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and by dinner you know that her self esteem will have risen just enough that you can both face plant into some tacos and Corona…light. I made some off-handed comment about how we would have to go to Target and then we’d have to pay attention to our kid all.day.long, and none of those things deterred him. Never again was he going to wipe shit from another human ass. So off we went to Target.

When Aut was about 18 months old we were those asshole parents who bought like 14 training potties because our gifted child was going to potty train himself before he could speak and we wanted to make sure he had the most appropriate, butt contouring surface on which to do that. So we didn’t have to get a potty at Target. Whew. What we did have to get were two packages of training pants– one with Mickey Mouse Club ALL OVER THEM, and another with all the different super hero logos.

Rather than read anything or ask any experts, we pieced together a “plan” based on hearsay and random bits of information we were pretty sure we got from other people with potty trained kids. Then we gave the kid the rundown.

These are big boy pants. Do not shit in these pants. Do not pee in these pants. Doing that is tantamount to shitting on Mickey Mouse’s head. Do you understand? If you shit on Mickey’s head, he’ll tell Santa and then your whole year will be ruined. 

Then we created an entirely too complicated rewards program that was supposed to span the entire weekend. For two days our two year old would stare at the most coveted toy in all of Target and somehow that would motivate him to not shit on Mickey.

Putting aside how fucking miserable it was to explain to a 2-year-old FOR TWO DAYS why he couldn’t have the toy on the counter, everything about our “plan” was flawed. For starters, we went through six pair of big boy underwear in under an hour. Three times we sat him on the potty, read, sang, did humiliating potty dances, only to put his undies back on him and have him immediately pee down his own leg. And insist that that was not what was happening. (Or insist that while his pants were wet, his big boy undies were, in fact, still dry.)

On Saturday night, we were frayed and bitter. I drank an entire bottle of Rose, got into an argument with my husband about something that probably didn’t exist, and then stormed up the stairs to go to bed. Sunday would be a new day.

That night I did have the good sense to consult with my friend Lauren, who did her best not be painfully smug about her gracefully potty trained daughter who basically shares a birthday with Aut. She also had the good sense not tell me all at once what douche canoes we were being by assuming our kid would be successful in a day. (She let those texts come to me over an entire weekend, culminating with a Sunday evening text that began “at the risk of sounding like a dick…”) She suggested instant gratification, which made sense. Come morning, I was giving my kid M&Ms for breakfast if that’s what it was going to take.

And come Sunday did. Kid slept til nine, woke up dry (in an overnight diaper, I don’t have a hole in my head), and we immediately did that dumb parent thing where you get SUPER EXCITED about something that makes young, single people think you should be shot.

YAY FOR BIG BOY PANTS! YAY FOR ANOTHER LIFE-RUINING DAY OF WATCHING YOU PISS ON YOURSELF WHILE WE CHEER FOR YOU AND GIVE YOU CANDY! THIS IS SO FUN! CLAPS ALL AROUND! YOU’RE GOING TO HARVARD! 

He was stoked. He peed on command and I told him to go tell Pups and then he could have one whole M&M. He went to the kitchen and in the time it took to walk the six feet from the bathroom to the kitchen he actually couldn’t remember why he was getting an M&M. We almost had a meltdown because he thought the husband was denying him his M&M, when all he was trying to do was get him to say “I peed, therefore I get M&M.” You know CONNECTING THE FUCKING DOTS. Fail.

Thirty minutes later, I asked him if he needed to potty and then watched him make The Face and turn red while telling me no. He told me “no” while simultaneously shitting his pants. In front of me.

The husband and I kept having to talk over Aut’s head, reminding each other to keep it positive.

Don’t yell! Encourage his progress! Clap! I know you’re holding a cloth Superman baggy of human feces, but don’t let him know you hate him! SMILE! Ask him if he needs to read the potty book for inspiration.

The real clencher was when we took him out in public. (I want for you to know that writing this all down makes our choices seem even worse, which I didn’t even know was possible.) We took him to a lovely baptism/birthday garden party at a friend’s house. He waited about 12 minutes before peeing down the front of his pants. The good news is that it didn’t get on their floor because it all pooled in his shoes. So, silver lining.

I immediately grabbed a pull up, went to the back door, and yelled across two quiches, a nice quinoa salad, about about 30 people at my husband that our child wet his pants and whizzed in his shoes and I was calling uncle. The kid was putting on a pull up and we could talk about this later. Like in a year.

To seal our defeat and humiliation, upon arriving home we had to give our kid the toy. Totally undeserved, but he had no idea. He probably thinks peeing in his shoes was bonus points that fast-tracked him to winning the game.

Then we revised our strategy.

This morning we dropped him off at daycare with a pack up pull ups and nicely asked the daycare to potty train him.

 

 

 

 

Tiny Velociraptors

Aut bit the shit out of the husband yesterday. Not like a precious 2-year-old love bite, but a full on, Hannibal Lector bite. On the tit. Through two layers of clothing. Flesh was affected. It was an ugly scene.

Biting does crazy things to people. It’s not like tickling or foot touching. No one likes to be bitten (sexual exploits aside; no judgments). If you want to watch a nice person turn like a junkyard dog, bite them. I once bit this guy at a gay bar. One minute we were drinking cheap Pinot Grigio and dancing to Cher videos and the next I was being escorted to the exit while a Nathan Lane-esque fat man was held back by two waif-like Twinks wearing eye shadow. It seemed fun and playful at the time. He disagreed.

Biting hurts. Even fleshy gay men. Lesson learned.

Biting is also a game ender– and that’s why it’s so tough to get biters to stop biting. Whomever finally caves and bites the shit out of the other person wins. Kid at daycare steal your truck? Bite him. It’s swift corporal punishment and it achieves everything that could otherwise take years of trust and relationship building. Want to be feared? Bite. (Full grown men are afraid of being bitten by three-year-old girls. They’re like lock-jawed, unpredictable piranhas.)  Some bitchy six-year-old block the slide? Bite her. She loses control of her faculties, slides down the slide, and TADA! it’s your turn.

But here’s what tiny biters don’t fully understand. When you’re on the receiving end of a bite, there is ZERO reaction predictability. Which means that if you bite a 34-year-old man on the tit, there is no guarantee that he will not “accidentally” throw your tiny body across the room with the strength of ten men. He doesn’t want to paralyze you for life in his fit of rage, but he’s in the middle of a post-bite seizure. He’s unpredictable, essentially blacked out. The most primal human instincts kick in when your brain realizes you’re being bitten. I’m no scientist, but I’m certain there is science to support my theory that the fight or flight instinct that governs biting actually can’t–in the moment– decipher whether it’s shark, bear, or tiny human. Jaw clamps, adrenaline kicks in, and bitee immediately starts poking at eyeballs and using stupid strength to survive. It’s only in the aftermath, when you’re toddler is laying slack jawed on the carpet, that you realize your mistake.

Oh fuck. You’re not a bear. 

And then there’s the parenting part. The part of you that knows you need to breathe, walk away, and then calmly reapproach the bear to teach a lesson about pain and biting. But what you want to do is rip your shirt open to reveal your tender and bleeding tit and make him understand on a deep and mature level what a irreversible human wrong he has committed. Your parenting brain is like heistwoheistwoheistwo and your human brain is like I don’t fucking care if he’s six months old. MY TIT IS BLEEDING. OFF WITH HIS HEAD. 

But what really kicks you in the dick is when your reaction to being bitten is so severe, like in the case of the husband and the bleeding tit, that your child falls into an uncontrollable and hysterical fit.  As if, for the first time, he realizes his father is not a human at all, but a North Korean dictator. And then, whilst clutching your tender, eviscerated breast you have to console the child.

And at some level, that’s kind of what parenting is. Having your tits ruined and then apologizing.

 

The ones you know.

I’ve had a tough time blogging recently for a few reasons. “Lack of inspiration” is the blanket term, but it’s actually more complicated than that. When social tensions spike, I find myself with so many thoughts– many of which haven’t been vetted by my brain. It may surprise you to know what a complicated filter I actually do have, it’s just not the traditional filter. The point is that I want to speak, but I often find it’s just to say “HUSH UP! QUIT BEING SO STUPID!” But that’s neither helpful nor entertaining.

Moreover, while I actually love to write serious things, they seriously dent my readership. Like a lot. Folks get a little, “what the fuck? Where’s my laugh?” and then I’m all, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll be funny next time, I swear!” But they don’t come back. And then I feel like I’ve lost someone because I really just wanted to rant on about racism and republicans and the chronic bullshit that’s inundating me every second. And what’s the fun in that? Nothing, apparently.

I also hate that all I have to talk about is mom stuff. Lame.

But recently I’ve seen so many “mom blog” pieces being passed around. Touching letters about a son with autism or a daughter with a skin condition. A kid who can’t eat anything but cotton candy and dryer sheets, or a little guy who’s different and both parent and child feel alone, sad, and overwhelmed. Like any human, I am touched by the stories of these people with serious hardship, but I also can’t help but feel like the desire to explain our own unique situations only deepens the gap between us. ADD, ADHD, Autism– these are very real and very tough things for parents, but at the end of the day it amounts to unceasing reminders that “my kid is different.” I fight the urge to remind many of my friends that if they didn’t keep reminding me, I’d likely forget and move on. In a good way.

Sometimes I lie on the bed naked and lament about all the parts of me that are depressing. I wiggle and jiggle and point at pockets of horrifying and shameless dimples. It enrages my husband. He recently told me that anything negative that’s ever occurred to him has been because I’ve insisted on pointing it out. To him, I’m a big delicious bowl of naked. It’s not exactly severe spectrum disorder, but there are some parallels. Sometimes we have to go out into the world as we are and just see what happens. Maybe we’ll be surprised.

I have a younger brother with one of the most obvious, obnoxious, and socially crippling syndromes around. You think your kid brother drove you nuts? I can hear a pen clicking six offices over and drive myself to insanity over it, and I was given a little brother who chirped, barked obscenities, and threw up the Nazi salute every second of every day. He blinks, he stutters, he trips, hops, yells, barks, and makes the stranges facial tics– and I stopped noticing about 20 years ago.

When I was in middle school, Oprah or Maury or someone else with a couple of couches and a microphone did a show on “freaks.” Four kids with Tourette’s were paraded on stage with their parents. Their parents then proceeded to speak for the kids, explaining to the audience (and the world) how their children would never be able to do the things every other kid could do: no movie nights, no school dances, no organized sports. They couldn’t take them to the grocery store or the mall. They worried their children would never find love or happiness.

My brother and I were both watching. The creeping sense of dread that came over me was too late. I realized that until that moment, we’d never really treated Charlie like a kid with a disability. (I don’t actually know if he knew it was….) As a family (and not because we had our shit together, or even a long-term plan), we simply held him to the same standard as we held ourselves. (Albeit low.) Tourette’s was never a reason for anything to be a non-starter.

He didn’t quit baseball because of Tourette’s. He quit because he’s a pansy and it was too hot outside.

He didn’t quit playing the bass because of Tourette’s. He still plays. We just told him he had to get a real job.

He didn’t quit archery because of Tourette’s. We just asked he not do it around… anyone.

He didn’t stop going to movies because of Tourette’s. He told people to shut the fuck up.

He didn’t shy away from social interaction because of Tourette’s. He made friends on the basis of his humor and alcoholism.

He didn’t avoid romance because of Tourette’s. He’s just not very good looking. (I kid. I kid.)

He didn’t quit law school because of Tourette’s. He bitched about it, took a few victory laps, and then passed the bar. To the surprise of even himself.

And while my parents did fight a lot of battles on his behalf, ultimately we all knew it was up to Charlie to fight the war. The greatest misfortune of being a kid with a disability is often not the disability; it’s cultivating the emotional and intellectual strength to be yourself and recognize that people are staring, people are judging, people are wondering, and simply not care.

I have stood at the ready many times over the years, waiting for someone to cast a stare I didn’t like or say something to him I could beat them for. But in all my years, I’ve never once had to pick a fight. There either wasn’t a fight to pick or Charlie was quicker to say, “get over it. I have Tourette’s.”

I realize that his battle is not my own. I realize (believe me) that the desire to clear a wide and painless path for your child is fierce, but I also know from my own experiences that we have to encourage them to accept themselves, not qualify themselves. Our children believe they are who we say they are and if we tell them they are disabled and different, they will believe it.

Aut could have Tourette’s. It’s too early to know, but we do watch him for signs. Do I think about how his life would be different? Of course. But I think more about how to cultivate in him a sense of pride and acceptance in himself no matter what he does or doesn’t have. After all, even if he doesn’t have Tourette’s, he’s got the Beaulieu legs and the Minton hairline. And those will take confidence to overcome.

And there are exceptions. But I encourage all parents to think long and hard about what you (we) do because we are scared of what other parents or kids will think and what we do because it’s actually best for the child. Bring your autistic kid to the birthday party. Bring your son with cerebral palsy to the pool. Kids will never stop staring, but your kid deserves a swim on a hot day. And they damn sure deserve cake and ice cream.

Are you a hoe?

We are homeowners. If you aren’t a homeowner, I will let your mind at ease. You don’t need to be a homeowner. If you are currently living in a swanky rental where someone else takes out your trash, replaces broken things, and worries about insurance and other random things, you are doing a-okay. I never really understood the economic incentive of homeownership– and truthfully I’m not sure I do now– but sometimes you crunch some numbers and you’re feeling all American-dreamy and POOF! you end up with a home that’s all your own.

Don’t mistake my honesty for dissatisfaction; I’m having a gangbusters time owning a home. (It’s a condo. I don’t want to lie to you.) But I know that there is not always a reason to own. In all fairness, we bought a new conversion condo that was almost as turnkey as they come. There are some #firstworldproblems, like I don’t like the blond wood of the bannister and the cherrywood of the cabinets aren’t what I would have picked out myself, but whatever. Cry a fucking river, Caroline.

But when you’ve lived in apartment rentals– especially in the city– for almost 15 years, there are things about homeownership that can be a real beast. Never mind taking out the trash myself and sorting my own recycling, I’m getting pretty good at that, and I’m even ramping up to changing my own lightbulbs and remembering to lock my own front door, but as the summer approaches, things begin to emerge. Homeowner things. Like tiny toothed monsters hiding in the shadows.

We did not want a yard. In some ways, it made us the perfect buyers. Yard? No thank you. I hear yard and I am tormented by the years I spent slaving as my mother’s stand in Indonesian factory worker, her personal weeder and earth whisperer. Saturday mornings spent hunched uncomfortably in a dirt bed riddled with dog shit, praying to every known deity that I wouldn’t find an earthworm or beetle of some kind. Because then I would die. And while I understand the desire for a green space to… do whatever you do on it… I’d rather a nice slab with a patio table and some twinkle lights. As for the child, he’s fine. He has a park, a room of toys, colors, tables, and whole city. He’ll live without a yard.

But we didn’t get away totally scot free. There’s a patch of earth. It’s about 3×2 feet on the side of the driveway. My initial thought was that we should buy some nice shiny rocks and fill it up. I was ignored. There was real enthusiasm for planting, which I was not UNenthusiastic about, but I was a little indifferent. When the snow melted, it revealed what I thought was a bunch of dead shit. Turns out, they were something called “annuals” and they weren’t actually dead, just holding out. If I ever look like that while I’m “holding out,” just take me out.

We had a Very Official meeting of our condo association. (Me, Corey, the downstairs neighbor, some cheese, two bottles of rose, and Author running up and down the hall.) We decided to get ready for summer by hiring some students to clean and paint the patio furniture and “prep the bed” for some planting. We made a list of items we’d need to pick up:

• Rustoleum Primer

• Rustoleum Black Enamel Paint

• Phosphoric Acid Prep and Etch

• Rake

• Hoe

• Shovel

• Wire Brushes

• Hose

• Hose mount

• Broom

• Hose Nozzle

• Compost Soil

• Mulch

I think that was everything, all of which would be available at Home Depot. I volunteered to go get the stuff during the week so that the students could hit the ground running on Saturday.

What should have been a quick trip to the hardware store quickly spiraled into a hot spot of self actualization and doubt. Do you have any idea how many different kinds of hoses there are? How many lengths, styles, colors, and types? Do you want a rubber hose or a vinyl hose? Do you want it to coil or spiral? Green or black? Expandable standard? Will you be using it to trickle beds or spray flowers? I DONT HAVE ANY IDEA. At this point I hadn’t even made it to the Home Depot. I was at the Target. I asked a couple who was passing by if they had any knowledge of hoses, to which the man, who had thick tattoos all around his neck and upper chest, responded, “They spray water. What’s there to know?” I explained that I was buying my first hose and he looked at me incredulously. I explained that he might be surprised how little use one has for a garden hose in downtown Boston and he looked at me like I’d no sense at all. He pointed at a plain green hose about 30 feet long. “Just get that one.” He started to walk off, but I knew I needed him to direct me to the correct nozzle. “Are the nozzles universal? Like can I use any one with any hose?” This time his wife/girlfriend responded. “What are you doing with the hose.” I wasn’t trying to be an asshole, but it just came out. “Getting water out of it.” She explained that there were different settings for different kinds of watering and I should be sure I was getting the right settings. After a somewhat exhausting back and forth, I realized that the most expensive nozzle in all the land was only $9. “Oh. Well this is dumb. I’ll just buy a few.”

What she heard was, “I’m an elitist hose whore who thinks money grows on trees and will simply surround myself with solid gold nozzles and scoff at other, nozzleless persons.”

I made it home with a hose and a nozzle. So about a 10th of my list. I wasn’t deterred. The problem was Target. Not me.

The rest of the items I knew wouldn’t give me a problem. Couple of cans of spray paint, bag of dirt, rake. I ran to the Home Depot to pick up the items after dinner.

Now look. I am not suggesting that the employees of the Home Depot are not helpful, as in, they desire to help you. But I can read labels just like the next guy. What I actually need is some expertise. Some knowledge that goes beyond what the hapless copywriter was able to get on the label. (Believe me, as a copywriter I know the drill.) When I suddenly realize that compost and soil are not interchangeable, and that there’s been a lot of fucking around with dirt since I last bought a bag of it, I need someone with some real information. There was no one. I wasn’t about to go home without dirt and try to explain that with all my brains I was actually dumber than dirt, so I stood in the nursery section for a solid 45 minutes reading bags. I learned nothing. I would have to just pick.

When I finally made my way to the gardening utensils section, most of my smugness had faded. I was glad to be able to grab the last few things and go on my way, but of course that didn’t happen. Because something happened to hoes since 1997 and it turns out I can’t pick one out of a line up. Hoes have changed. Hoes are in a whole new league.

The part that still makes me laugh is how I allowed myself to become convinced that I was being punked. Even though the display said “gardening hoe” and I was holding a thing with a “gardening hoe” label, I refused to believe that it was actually a hoe. Why did it look like that? And because I don’t actually know what a hoe is used for, I couldn’t accurately decide whether this nouveau hoe would work for my needs. My phone battery was getting too low for an extensive research effort so I did what I do best, gave up.

Hoeless and pushing around a bag of dirt, I finally found the spray paint. (The expert at Home Depot told me it was “halfway down aisle four.” What she meant to say was “it’s all the way down at the end of aisle four. Like the very end. Before you hit the bathtubs.”) I may have made an involuntary whimpering sound when I looked up to find 3790032 different kinds of RustOleum. I know that I said, “you’ve got to be shitting me” out loud. My hoe problems were the least of it. There was no way I was going to be able to figure out what kind of paint to get. And how much did I need? I deferred to the friendly Home Depot expert who read the label and then stated, “well, it says here you can get 50 sqft from one can so I guess you can get about 50 square feet.” I really didn’t feel like being bitchy because it occurred me that she really did think she’d just done an incredible job servicing me.

“Oh great. That’s awesome. I’ll get two.”

i.e. I don’t have the energy to point out to you how useless that information was to me. I’d try, but I’ve been beaten by hoe and a bag of dirt and have nothing left to give. I’m just going to get these two cans and if they aren’t enough, I’ll huff them in my car before coming back to talk to you about getting more.

Two wasn’t enough. I should have gotten four.

When I got home, full of tales of the hoe aisle and dirt differences, the hubs gave me one of his usual smug responses. Something along the lines of “you weren’t asked to pick out a cure for cancer.” His smugness was short-lived, though, as I had compensated for my inability to find anything for us to use by buying miniature versions of everything on the list for A. There’s nothing that makes the hubs’ crazier than my facilitating the boy being all up in his shit while he is trying to get something done.

“…. and this tiny shovel so he can help you clear the beds! Oh! And did you see this ridiculous mini push broom?! How cute is that?”

Next stop, the plant nursery!