Notes from the Underground

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again many, many times, but we don’t spend nearly enough time telling people about the responsibility of raising humans. You get married, you’re happy (maybe), have more time and disposable income than you even realize (maybe), and then you get the baby itch (or society makes you feel like a wretched, selfish asshole and you cave) and a few months later, you are knocked up and wandering around Buy Buy Baby with a registry gun, arguing with your spouse about what kind of nipples you should register for.

Someone probably throws you an adorable party with cookie shaped like onsies or rattles, someone (likely the gay uncle) gives you a $500 cashmere blanket your kid will NEVER be allowed to touch, and you spend your evenings folding and refolding tiny clothes and sitting in an empty nursery thinking about your forthcoming bundle of joy. At this point we are at least 8 months into this whole thing and still NO ONE has so much as mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. You’re inundated with questions about natural childbirth vs. an evil and completely unnatural (eyeroll) medicated birthing experience, what kind of nipples you registered for (BECAUSE THIS MATTERS A LOT), and whether you’re going to be gender specific with your new born (eyes rolling so far back in my head they may be stuck).

Then, it’s about your boobs. Strangers asking about your plans for feeding your child. Suddenly you feel like a capitalistic satan for registering for nipples in the first place when you’re obviously going to breast feed your child until he is using a sippy cup (or at least pretend you are so some wealthy organic wheatgrass farmer with nine children who have never had the flu doesn’t shame you in line at the Whole Foods).

Then it’s happening. YOUR BABY IS BEING BORN. You have a beautiful hospital bag with silk pajamas and snacks in it waiting next to the door. Your husband is whispering encouraging words to your unborn child before the three of you drift off to sleep. And in the middle of the night you soak your brand new mattress with enough amniotic fluid to sink the Titanic and the moment has arrived.

Still. No one has mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. No one says, “hey, you. Babies are fleeting. Humans are forever.” In fact, the ASPCA likely spends more time reminding folks that puppies become dogs than the universe does reminding us that babies become people.

And become people they do. Infancy is hard. It’s physically straining, emotionally demanding, and it makes you question all the things you thought you were good at. But babies live in tiny warm bubbles. You can control every single thing about an infant except the infant itself. There’s almost no limit to what you can protect an infant from. (Save dying from something horrible because the anti-vaxxers are a bunch of Satanists. Oh, hey, Measles in Europe.)

But humans are harder. At some point you realize that your child doesn’t need you to get from breath to breath. They need you to help them navigate the universe and understand humanity. They start to need answers from you that you don’t have. And you can’t just stick a boob in their mouth and make everything okay. (Until they are about 17. Then a boob [NOT YOURS] may do the trick again.)

Little humans are a special kind of mind fuck. We have one at home currently. He’s not an infant. He’s not a toddler. He believes he has some kind of master insight and reason about the world and he is totally wrong. But it doesn’t change how he feels. He feels massive injustices are being done to him on a daily basis. (Nope, you can’t watch TV. Nope, we aren’t going to wear the same shirt for 16 days. It’s growing mold. Nope, you’re not allowed to take that in the car.)

But he’s also beginning to experience real emotions that we can’t control. Exclusion. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Jealously. Emotions that even now, as adults, we don’t fully understand. He wants to know why someone said something hurtful or why someone wouldn’t play with him. As a parent, your first reaction is to light the school on fire or hunt down the 3-year-old that hurt their feelings. But you have to take a step back. You have to understand that human emotions are complicated and necessary. And if you don’t allow them to feel these things, to try to work through them, they will become emotionally stunted fuck heads when they are older.

The world is moving a lot faster than it did when I was a kid. We could blame it on technology, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. It’s just a different world. It’s more connected, while simultaneously being completely disconnected. We have more access than ever, but things also seem strangely inaccessible. Kids are shepherded out of childhood more quickly to give them more time to be adults. More time to excel and be accomplished grown ups. As a parent, I can’t help but feel like that’s misguided. If there is anything about my life I wish I could have extended, it would be my childhood. It would be those years before boys and college– and certainly my twenties– when long, hot days were spent cellphone-free at the pool, ordering chicken fingers and playing Marco Polo. It’s easy to idealize our memories, but I don’t think I’m crazy to believe that the less I knew, the easier it was to be happy.

There’s not a Buy Buy Baby for these years. There’s no registry list for those years when the things you tell your children impact the way they see the world, or the kinds of humans they start to become. These days, I laugh at the tough choices we made between the UppaBaby and whatever the other option was. Because how I pushed my child around the city seems a much easier choice than how I teach my child not to push others. Curating a nursery, though necessary and fun, seems to have overshadowed the time when my husband and I should have talked through the kind of human we wanted to raise and our plan and path to get there.

How do you raise a good human? Or can you? I don’t know. When you drop them off, move them in, or give them away, how will you ever know that you’ve made the right choices or shown them the right things? How can you be sure that they will go forth with confidence, humility, and a sense of what is right and wrong?

Maybe you can’t. But it’s worth trying.

 

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.

Please don’t kill my kid

Have we discussed my crippling anxiety before? We have? Weird. Don’t know why it would have come up. Oh, yes I do. BECAUSE I’M BARELY ABLE TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY WITHOUT IMAGINING 100000000 HORRIFYING SCENARIOS UNFOLDING AND RUINING ALL THE THINGS.

But seriously. As I’ve gotten older, and become a parent, my anxiety has reached a fever pitch. Since the husband has assumed the role of helicopter parent (a badge he wears with honor), it’s my duty to assume to role of chill parent who is totally not freaking out on the inside every fucking second. On the outside, I’m nailing it. On the inside, I’m a hot mess.

Remember Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The theory that every person in the world can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six degrees? My anxiety is like that, only it’s Two Degrees of People Not Paying Attention. Every sweat-inducing scenario that I create in my mind can be connected back to someone not paying attention within two degrees. And the real nail in my proverbial coffin is that we as a society are moving further and further away from mindfulness and community. Further away from the idea that it takes a village. That we’re all responsible for one another. That all kids are our kids. And while mostly this is just kind of depressing and socially annoying, sometimes it’s devastating. It’s so fucking scary to think of sending your child out into a world where most people aren’t really paying attention, or frankly just don’t care.

And I’m not suggesting that it isn’t also the responsibility of our children to learn not to do really stupid shit. Hey, kid. Don’t run into the street. Don’t climb on top of the play structure like an asshole and then encourage all the other kids to do it too. Don’t go with that guy with the candy. Definitely don’t go with that guy with the candy and the van. Also, no one has a puppy in their car. Puppies would shit in a car if left alone and that knowledge alone is enough to call someone on their puppy lie. Don’t play with a switchblade. Don’t put a plastic bag over your head. Nope, not even if it makes you look super funny and your friends laugh. Don’t turn off your phone before sneaking out so I can’t track your location when you turn up missing. Don’t climb over fences or sneak in places with signage SPECIFICALLY TELLING YOU NOT TO. Do not ever pick up your phone in a moving car. Ever. Ever.

But raising kids is equal parts preparation and practice. Kids, like adults, have to fuck things up in order to actually believe they can be fucked up. As grown people, we like to pretend that this isn’t the case. We like to pretend that our wise words will be enough to guide our children away from all danger and poor decision making. But sometimes preparing your child isn’t the side of the equation that matters.  As a parent, you spend the majority of your collagen and natural hair color trying to ensure kids do it the right way, while steeling yourself against the knowledge that it may not be them who screws up. It may be something, or someone, completely out of your control. And what energy is left is focused on hoping that when they do fuck up, when they do run into the street chasing a ball that isn’t worth their life, someone is paying attention. That the person driving down the street isn’t texting or changing the radio station. You pray to the fabric of the universe that when your child goofs, it’s not the end.

Which brings us to my biggest anxiety du jour: texting while driving. I’ve looked over countless times to see a driver typing a novella on their phone, not once looking up. I’ve seen it near the park, on my street, on the drive to work. I watch young people, old people– all people– blow through stop signs and cross walks. I read articles about kids hit by cars while legally crossing the street. WHILE DOING EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO. EXACTLY WHAT THEIR PARENTS TOLD THEM WOULD KEEP THEM SAFE.  I don’t know what’s so important. I don’t know what I sometimes think is so important. What I think absolutely cannot wait for a red light or a driveway. But I know that every time I watch a car swerve across a double yellow, or someone take a selfie while traveling at 65mph, I hear myself say, please don’t kill my kid. It’s symbolic more than anything. People like you. Actions like yours. Please don’t let them kill my child. 

I can’t change the world. I’m not even sure I can convince my son not to be the one taking the selfies, typing the novellas. Hell, I can’t even get people to stop smoking near the playground. But as long as there is breath in my lungs and typing in my fingers, I can ask this. Please, please don’t kill my kid. Look up. Pay attention. Drive undistracted. I’m not asking you to babysit or empty man-sized poops out of a kid potty. I’m not asking you to contribute to college tuition or attend a toddler birthday party. I’m asking you to remember that your actions– your carelessness– have consequences. I’m doing the very best that I possibly can, but there is a place where my parenting ends and faith and trust in the world begins. It’s the scariest place in the world. It’s the place I can’t control. The source of all my nightmares. And if you do that, I’ll make you this deal. I’ll do the same. I’ll see you. I’ll watch out for you. I’ll keep my eyes on the road. I’ll remember that you may be crossing the street. Your child may be crossing the street. 

Please don’t kill my kid. And I’ll try damn sure not to kill yours. 

 

We got this.

Ten years ago today, we got married. I was twenty-two.

Here’s the thing about being twenty-two: you don’t know anything. For all the pain you may have suffered (real and imagined), life experiences you’ve had, foods you’ve eaten, problems you’ve solved, fundamentally you don’t know anything. You may have theories, but you don’t have knowledge. Because you simply haven’t been here long enough. (And before we gather our pitch forks and start being mean to me, let’s take a step back. I value twenty-two year olds and think they offer a lot of enthusiasm and perspective. After all, I was one once.)

Truth be told, I don’t know what I thought about marriage back then. I know I wasn’t afraid of it. I didn’t feel anxiety about my choice. And that could have been because I was absolutely making the right choice, but it also could have been because I didn’t really understand the choice at all. I thought this guy was great. Sure, the rest of our lives sounded amazing. Kind of the same way eating ice cream for the rest of your life sounds amazing when you’ve had 3-4 bites. You’re completely incapable of really thinking about what it might mean to eat that for the rest of your life. It just sounds like a really great idea at the time.

Fortunately for me, it was the former. But there are many, many times it could have been the latter. Because marriage is the most natural unnatural thing in the world. Marriage is your greatest ally and your most cunning enemy. It lifts you up, carries you forward, but it also challenges you to grow and change and adapt. It challenges you to own up to your choices and your behavior. Marriage is a mirror reflecting back the image of what two people have done to one another, for better or worse.

If and when you become a parent, its so easy to see how your actions shape another. You see how your anger makes a child cower or become angry himself. You see how your joy and lightheartedness opens them up, makes them feel safe and happy. But as grown ups, I think we forget that the same is true of our spouses. Who we are affects them. Our belief in them becomes their belief in themselves. Our words have weight and meaning.

For my part, I know I’m a challenge to be married to. I’m fiercely independent. I struggle with compromise and collaboration. I can be selfish. A lot of my life is in words that live in very public places (welcome). I process quickly and act even quicker. I favor efficiency over thoroughness. I don’t like to be touched. (IT’S SO CONFINING!)

And then there’s the husband. He’s got his own list of weaknesses, but he is also the naturally more pensive of the two of us. He is metered and thoughtful. He takes time to consider options, outcomes, and possibilities. He wants there to be an “us” rather than two “mes” living in our house. He pushes me to slow down, quiet down, sit down, and be present.

And sometimes I want to kill him for it.

In theory, a marriage is a celebration of differences and how they can compliment two people. But differences are often misunderstood, vilified, and blamed for our inabilities to communicate. Ten years ago, I didn’t know what marriage was. I only knew what getting married was. I knew the logistics– one house, one life, do stuff together, maybe have kids, get old, the end. At twenty-two I was incapable of unpacking what that meant. I didn’t understand the responsibility of promising to stay with someone always. I didn’t realize I would change, or he would change, or our relationship would change. We couldn’t see the future. That’s the gamble of marriage. You bet on who you are at that moment with a necessary blindness for who you will become. That’s some risky shit.

Ten years from now I expect to laugh at my naivety today, but for now, there are some things I think I finally know. Maybe.

  1. You match each other annoying habit for annoying habit. If you want to start throwing stones at that glass house, be prepared the open the 7th seal and have ALL your annoying habits listed for you during a drunk argument. You’re both annoying.
  2. If you don’t get a cleaning lady, you’ll likely get a divorce. They are exceptions, but not many.
  3. There are things that you can’t take back. And while they may be forgiven, even forgotten, you will remember you said them. In some ways that’s worse.
  4. There are days that the logistics of divorce are the only thing keeping you together. And that’s okay. Sometimes we need the reality of real estate prices to buy us the time we need to calm the fuck down.
  5. People change from the day they are born until the day they die. Everyone. Your choice is to fall in love with the heart, adapt to the mind, and accept the body. Otherwise, your marriage will fail.
  6. Marriage is hard. So, so hard.
  7. Never let a week go by without looking your spouse in the eye and asking them honestly how they are doing. Like legitimately. Like, how is your journey on this earth?
  8. If you stop making out, it will eventually get weird and then when your spouse does eventually stick their tongue in your mouth again you will have a reaction that scars them for life.
  9. Acknowledge the difficult stuff. Say it out loud. Many marriages end because of the assumption that people can read minds.
  10. Stop comparing. Everything. Anything. Yes, someone does have a better marriage than you. And your kid is cuter. SO THE FUCK WHAT.
  11. Try to have sex. More of it than you want to or feel is necessary.
  12. Find a good babysitter <if applicable>. You stay a parent even if your child hates you for leaving them on a Friday night. You don’t stay a spouse if you lose your connection by remaining consumed by the duties of life.
  13. Don’t drink too much on weeknights. It starts a chain reaction of tiredness, misery, and agitation that leads to fights where people say things like, “WHY THE FUCK DO WE HAVE THESE GODDAMNED THROW PILLOWS?” and other meaningless, but vaguely hurtful, things.
  14. Be a good team. At home, in life, and at parties.
  15. Make sure you’re your spouses biggest fan. Because if you’re not, something has gone wrong. (And that foxy 21-year-old at his/her office is gonna be and then you’re gonna get dumped.)
  16. Laugh.
  17. Don’t start a blog. Definitely don’t start a blog where you talk about your life.
  18. Work really fucking hard to stay in love.
  19. Say I love you, but only if you actually mean it and not because you’re being a dick. Because I’ve done that and it’s received very poorly.

I’m a better person because I’m married. Personal growth is hard. Being reminded (lovingly) about your shortcomings is hard. But better to have it coming from someone you love than some anonymous asshole on the internet.

Corey Beaulieu, I love you. It has been a pleasure to spend these last ten years as your wife. You are half of all the good things about me and I hope you know that without you, I’d be a hot mess in a one bedroom with a lot of cats, eating Prego out of a jar with a spoon. That kid of ours is something else. We did so good. I hardly recognize the faces of those kids ten years ago, but I think I like our old mugs better anyway. You’re my favorite asset. 

 

I ruined you before 3.

Hey, kid. One day you’re going to learn stuff about your childhood that I’m sure you’re going to insist I explain to you. Things you’re certain ruined you, and you’ll probably be right, and I’ll have lost the sharp clarity of my reasoning over the years. So I figure I should write it all down now. Save us both the heartache.

Ruining you didn’t take long. By all accounts, I’d completely fucked you up by three. I didn’t wait until you were a vulnerable teen. I did it young, when you were still too young to ever have a chance.

This morning I read an article about how screen time is going to turn you into a homicidal junkie. Those hours I let you watch Finding Nemo and play that bug game that keeps you happy and quiet while I have a glass of wine and try to connect with my husband, it’s ruined you. You’re going to turn into an antisocial dick with no interaction skills. You’ll never date. You most certainly won’t ever have sex. Your father and I will house you and your collection of black socks and vintage Nintendo sets in our basement until you are imprisoned for life for a crime that could have been avoided if I just didn’t give you that screen. So I’m sorry about that.

Also, you have a TV in your room. You probably don’t want to hear the speech about how our house isn’t huge and there is only so much kid space and we wanted your room to be a place that kids could hang out, play, watch movies, AND STAY OUT OF THE ADULTS WAY WHILE WE TRIED TO TALK, but I can see how that doesn’t matter. We never should have put that TV in your room. If I’d have known it would keep you from getting your first job out of college, I’d obviously have made a different decision.

I stopped breastfeeding at nine months. You wont get into medical school because of it. I tried to make it okay by buying your formula direct from Germany, but I can understand how that seems like a cop out. What I should have done was continue to pump. Which I did. After that first 4-day-stay in the hospital with 5 clogged ducts, I kept after it. I hooked myself up to that machine for another six months, but in the end I couldn’t take it much longer. I was working these insane 12 hour days and commuting and you were spending so much time with the nanny. When I got home, I had to go straight to pumping instead of hanging out with you, so I stopped. Obviously I’ll write whatever letters to admissions offices on your behalf, but in the end, the damage is done. You’ll likely amount to nothing because of my selfish decision.

Let’s talk about your blanket. I read a study the other day about how kids with blankets after infancy are actually just emotionally crippled. They lack internal coping skills and can’t fully develop into productive adults. Women find these kind of men repulsive, which leads to feelings of sexual inadequacy. That wasn’t my intention. You love that damn blanket and its gotten you through some tough times. That blanket had you sleeping through the night at 3 weeks old. And when your dad and I had to leave you with strangers for 12-hours-a-day, your daycare report always said that you were happy and social as long as blanket was there. It may be hard to understand, but at the time we wanted you to feel safe and happy. We weren’t thinking about you as a sexually frustrated and socially ostracized adult. And that was short sighted. We should have taken away your blanket and left you there alone. What dumb, naive, first-time parents we were.

I don’t allow your toys out of your room. You’re not allowed to drag endless amounts of kid shit around the house, marking our whole house as yours. I’ve heard a lot of parents and therapists talk about how this will stifle your creativity. Your inability to adequately spread your thoughts around the house will lead you to be a CPA. God knows I didn’t want to raise a financial planner, but I needed to maintain something for myself. When you’re chained to your desk at tax season, cursing my name, I’ll understand. I should have known better. I should have given you more.

On your first birthday, I gave you real cake. It wasn’t made with applesauce or mashed potatoes. It was cake. Out of a box. I sprinkled it with cancer and type two diabetes and set it in front of you like the lousy parent that I am. I wanted to see you smash it and taste it and get super excited about the sugar rush. (Which you did.) But that was a silly memory. A moment in time that wasn’t worth poisoning you against beets and steamed broccoli. I never should have done it. But I did. And it’s done.

I let you drink a lot of juice. Not from concentrate or with sugar added, but juice nonetheless. In the morning I let you have green juice and after school I even let you drink chocolate milk. You eat about 16lbs of green vegetables a day, but those don’t matter. This isn’t about moderation, it’s about the shame and guilt I should feel for giving you juice. So let’s stay focused on that.

I bought you stuff and said yes when I was too tired to say no. So you won’t have a healthy relationship with material goods.

I was honest with you about money from the time you could talk. So you’ll obviously have a childhood riddled with anxiety and concern over the cost burden you add. Then be a hoarder.

I put you in timeout a lot. And let you cry. One time I even shut the bathroom door so I wouldn’t have to listen to your INSANE screaming. But I’ve since read that it causes you shame and you’ll never be able to express yourself emotionally. So, again, I’m sorry.

I referred to you by your gender. A boy. You had a penis so we went with it. You’re welcome to change your mind later, but frankly it was too confusing to try to wait it out and it seemed cruel to call you “it.” I can see now how narrow minded and confining that choice can seem, but yellow is my least favorite color and, at the time, you seemed just fine being a boy.

The list of things I did to ruin you is so long that I could go on forever. And anything I’ve forgotten will pop up in my inbox or newsfeed. Tomorrow I’ll get an article about what I did wrong or how I ruined you in a new way. I know we’re using the wrong sunscreen, bath products, toothpaste. We don’t eat enough organic and I think you had something with red dye in it last week. I’ve let your shoes get too tight, I once used real detergent instead of the eco-shit (that doesn’t work) because I’d just spent $36 on a shirt and you immediately got watermelon on it. I drank beer while I was pregnant. I ate sushi. I yelled loudly while I was pushing, so your entrance wasn’t the silent sanctuary that many psychologist believe is best.

But, kid, I swear to God we love you. I promise you that every day we wake up wanting to make you better, even if that means doing the hard work of making ourselves better. We are human, and we’ve fucked up many, many times, but the road is long. Someday you’ll love someone so much you’ll ruin them too. And I only hope I’m still around so we can have a beer and laugh about how hard it is to love someone so much.

 

Two beers and an untold number of cookies

When I met my husband 12 years ago, I was a wee thing. A child. I’d had a string of completely insignificant relationships with random boys, but I was always just “one of those girls.” I didn’t really date. Partially my mother scarred me for life, implying that I would become knocked up and poor if I ever let a boy see my boobs, and partially I just never really liked it. I felt painfully awkward going on first, second, third, fourth– all dates. (I once insisted in sleeping in all of my clothes at a guys house. Like in his bed, in jeans, with my socks on. I turn crimson every time I think about it. Girls, listen up, sex is not that big of a deal. Don’t be a whore, but for Christ’s sake, please don’t shack up in a guys bedroom in all of your clothes and disappear through the fire escape after he’s asleep. You can’t recover from that. He’ll never call.)

When I met the husband, it was instantly different. I didn’t want to date him, I wanted to be his other half. I wanted to skip over all the awkward dating (we did), the boobie gazing (we didn’t), and arrive at the comfortable, compatible, for always stuff. I’d found my person. BOOM. Let’s move on.

Part of our courtship was fueled by an newly awakened desire to take care of another person. I wanted to make him happy. It was like a tortured, romantic fulfilling of Maslow’s hierarchy. I wanted to feed him, shelter him, clothe him. I wanted him to be happy and carefree and I would do all sorts of very loving, very out of character things to ensure those things were true. The biggest thing I did was cook.

I cooked things out of cookbooks. There were courses and sauces. I made dinner almost every night. After I was 21, there was wine. We got into a rhythm. I was the dinner maker, the grocery shopper, the planner. And that was that.

But here’s the thing… As it turns out, I really don’t like dinner. I don’t like making dinner. I think, more accurately, I don’t like to have any responsibilities after 6pm. Having a child was a real kick in the dick in this area. They need all sorts of things at all hours of the day and night. So Aut kind of puts me at my quota. By the time I commute home after a full day of work, orient myself in my house, and put all my shit away, I basically want to do the ABSOLUTE minimum between that moment and when I get into bed. Even if that means eating questionable cottage cheese over the sink and calling it dinner. My priorities are different now than they were over a decade ago.

When the husband is gone or busy, I get almost giddy. I think about the complete zero dinner I’m going to have and I’m set free. Calorically, it’s also a boon. If I don’t have to waste calories on proteins and health carbs (eye roll), I can use them all on a bottle of wine or sixteen pieces of chocolate. I can also just eat three spoonfuls of almond butter and go read for the rest of the night. Fuck. Yeah.

The bigger challenge is that I’ve started to feel anger towards dinner. Dinner mocks me and steals my time. When the husband says something like, “so, what do you think we should eat this week,” I get a little rage-y.

NOTHING. I want to eat NOTHING. I want to open the fridge and fine random treasures and eat them indiscriminately over six hours. A piece of cheese. A few nuts. A bite of something that’s been in the fridge since… who knows. I don’t want to be tied to a single, well balanced plate, for GOD SAKE. As for that child of ours, he can take a page out of American Childhood and have a bowl of cereal and some disappointment.

But that’s not how grownups apparently act. We have to meal plan. We have to shop. We have to prep things. We have to eat dinner. We have to feed our children. Ugh.

This is actually the number one thing I fantasize about when I think about my impending mental breakdown and my move to a ramshackle cottage on the outskirts of Reno. Sure, I’ll be living in squalor and painted as one of those disgusting women who left her child out of selfishness, but I will eat the shit out of nothing every. single. night. I’ll probably never go to the grocery store again. It will be magical. In it’s own sad way.

But this is actually a story about marriage. About how the precedents we set (even subconsciously) at the beginning of our relationships start to define our roles and our interactions. And even though nothing is set in stone, it’s hard work to accept the ways you’ve changed, harder still to accept the ways in which your partner has changed, and even harder still to break these cycles and find new normals. My husband doesn’t (by any stretch of the imagination) expect me to cook dinner, but the scheduling, rituals, and ingrained habits that have to change if I decide to write dinner out of my life are bigger than not cooking any more. There would have to be a shift in responsibility, a reallocating of duties and expectations. And that is really difficult to do in a marriage.

And dinner is a small thing. When I think back at the girl I was then and the boy he was, our paradigms were defined by such narrow experience of the world. Our belief systems have changed, our goals have changed, and at every step we’ve had to reassess, acknowledge, and make decisions about our relationship and our dynamic. It’s hard work. Necessary, but hard.

Twelve years ago, dinner was my language. In all the years since, I’ve found new ways to show my husband that I want to take care of him. (Or maybe I haven’t. You’d have to ask him. I could have also just become one of those drag wives.) And his languages have changed too. Frankly, he used to agree with me a lot more. But we make a choice, like all married couples, to keep trying to translate these languages into insights about where we are in life, what we need, and where we are floundering. Sometimes we figure it out. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we eat dinner. And sometimes we don’t. And like all things, it’s a compromise.

Some nights it’s a big kid meal, and other nights it’s two beers and an untold number of cookies.

 

 

Note: our child gets fed. So calm down.

 

 

 

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.