Thing One, playing with my Barry Bonds nesting dolls:

“Mama, Barry has a baby in his tummy. It’s going to be born now.”

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Sorry posting has been so light. It’s spring break here, which means that I’m trying to fight the inertia that inevitably (and deliciously and deservedly) sets in when I don’t have an immediate laundry list of daily job-related tasks to do. Why fight it, you ask? Oh, because I have to design two new courses by, say, now in order to teach starting next week. Which means any computer time has been spent designing course shells rather than blogging. Plus, I heard Tracey Ullman on “Fresh Air” and (insert snarky, derogatory comment about Terry Gross’s breathless Cult of Personality-mongering here) and she was saying something like this:

“The bloggers! The #@&*^!@!! bloggers! I’ll tell you, Terry, one of these days I’m going to shoot the bloody bloggers. Sitting in their mother’s basements making snarky, derogatory comments about other people’s efforts as if they ever did anything themselves. The !(*@!!! bloggers, I swear!”

This inspired a few moments of soul-searching. I’m not really too thrilled with the blogosphere lately; it is snarky, and petty, and annoying, and I’ve quit spending time places like Bitch, Phd. because I’m tired of the whole “more thoughtful, considerate, and mature than thou” routine B. pulls, such as in this post where she chides people not to take it seriously when she characterizes all Clinton supporters as “old white women” and then tells everyone they lack a sense of humor if they try to discuss it further.

(Yes, the originator of the “silliness” was me. And yes, I think it’s ironic that Bitch is both considerably older and immeasurably whiter than I, so really, she’s slagging herself. But I’m gonna take the high road and not belabor that point.)

Anyhow, the snarkfest has been getting me down, and so, while I’ve gotten attached to blogging as a medium, I’ve been a bit too disenchanted to keep up my normal pace. But enough of that. It’s clear to me, from checking my blog stats, that you, fair reader, are here for one reason, and one reason only:

You love to read about pee.

And boy, am I not going to disappoint you.

Anyone who co-parents has probably had the experience of playing “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” But yesterday’s events brought that routine to new levels.

It was early evening, after an abortive attempt at dinner in which Thing One refused to eat anything but capers picked out the of the pasta/salmon/capers/fennel/avocado dish I’d made after having spent the afternoon — the first sunny, warm afternoon — in exile in a north-facing coffee shop, attempting to work while he and his aunt whooped it up at the local park. Kayo and I inhaled our portions, and then I announced that I had had it up to here with juvenile whining and belligerence, after which I performed the classy move of dumping K.’s wine into mine and taking the whole glass, plus my book, upstairs. I got to enjoy the setting sun and an escape into fiction for at least five minutes before I heard K.’s voice through the floor yelling at Thing One.

This in itself is not that shocking an occurrence; it happens at least once every time they’re alone together. K. is more of the “exhibit your displeasure” type of parent, I’m the “calculate and manipulate, at least until Vesuvius froths over” type. Anyway, even through several layers of plaster and fir I could hear that K. was shaking with rage, that he had never sounded that pissed off at our son, who was wailing hysterically in response.

So I sighed, put down the book, and came downstairs.

Where, gentle reader, what did I find but: 1)Thing One screaming “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY’ as he clung, limpet-like, to my leg; 2)Thing Two, who is six months old now, placidly getting her head wiped off by a red-faced and furious K.; and 3)A suspicious-looking pool of wetness in the middle of the dining room rug.

My husband explained to me the source of his ire: Thing Two had been peacefully enjoying some “tummy time,” and Thing One had been dancing to “Bodysnatchers” (again, !&@^%%^&!! Radiohead, I am so over In Rainbows), so K. had decided this was an opportune time to go to the bathroom. And because K. is a sensitive, New Age guy who sits down to go, and because our bathroom looks directly into the dining room, he had a front row seat for the ensuing transgression, in which Thing One stood directly over his baby sister…

…and urinated, quite deliberately, straight onto the crown of her head.

Oh, the frustration, the impotence, the paralyzed fury! To be imprisoned by your own stream of urine, as your son wreaks havoc with his!

What to do, what to do. Since K. had clearly taken on the “bad cop” role, I decided it was Natural Consequences time. I calmly asked Thing One to get a towel, which he did, and to wipe up the pee from the rug, which he did. Then I took it outside to hang in the sun (this neutralizes any odor — works for pets, too) on the front porch. Everyone was still sitting there in shell-shocked disbelief, so I asked Thing One to lie down on the floor. He complied. Then I took Thing Two from her father and calmly, methodically, stripped off her diaper and held her over my son.

“No! No! No!” he cried, thrashing.

“Thing Two is going to pee on your head now,” I said calmly.

“No Mama! No! No pee! Noooooooo!” he wailed.

“But I thought you liked it when people pee on your head,” I rejoined.

“Nooooooo! No peeing! Don’t pee on me!” he screamed, feebly pushing at his sister’s bare bottom.

“Oh, you don’t like that?” I inquired. He shook his head, chin trembling. “Oh, okay. Well, you’d better not do it to other people or they might think you like it.”

My infant daughter was very tolerant of this whole little charade. I handed her back to her father, helped up my son, and proceeded with bedtime. And I’m not entirely sure of whether I handled that right. I have fears that I’ve ruined water sports for my children forever — or that I’ve predisposed them to a lifetime of pee fetish. But really, we’ve established that screaming, however necessary in the moment, doesn’t really get your point across.

At least not as effectively as the threat of a faceful of pee.

So this morning I was accosted by a member of our preschool co-op, who asked “So, you had a rough day yesterday?”

“It was fine,” I replied. “What’s up?” Because, of course, her question was a preamble to a discussion of the fact that one of the other members of the co-op is upset. This person, whom we’ll call Frannie, is as far as I can tell a very nice woman who loves her child, an only son, very much, and this person’s son, whom we’ll call Charlie, is the one who had a rough day yesterday. I first began to suspect Charlie wasn’t a happy camper when I noticed him punching one of the baby dolls with both fists as he kneeled over it, but I figured hey, we all have to get our aggressions out some way; he then proceeded to throw the same baby doll like a missile at the heads of several unsuspecting children, bean a little girl with a large, hard plastic car, squeeze the breath out of Thing One after sneaking up on him from behind twice, and scream wordlessly in our faces when we suggested he apologize. Basically, Charlie was on a tear, and anyone who got in his way was getting the smackdown.

We all have days like that; it’s just that toddlers don’t have the filters in place to squelch their destructive impulses. A few months ago Thing One finally got comfortable at the co-op, which meant that instead of being the mildest-mannered boy there he became Aggro Gnome, and I was often greeted by a row of concerned shift-worker parents who would list off his many infractions. It sucked, but you know what? That’s what toddlers do. It’s not necessarily a reflection on you as a parent or on the essential character of your kid or on the care you give him. A year ago, I might have felt that way, but since Thing Two was born I have become eminently capable of seeing Thing One through the cold eye of a parent whose primary concern is protecting someone else from his rampages. Really. It changes you. With your first kid, you’re hyper-sensitive to his emotions and you worry about everything, and with your second kid you realize a)sometimes your Pride and Joy is behaving like a prize bull at a rodeo and b)it’s not possible to be as attuned and empathetic as you once were because doing it for two children with occasionally conflicting interests would DESTROY YOUR MENTAL STATE. So you loosen up a bit. You realize hey, these things happen, and I don’t always like the way this kid acts, and that’s okay. There are a few parents who have this ability naturally, but most of us take at least the arrival of #2 to turn down our hyper-attenuated Parental Concern/Protection and Defense Reflex button.

So basically, Frannie is “in tears” because of either the fact that multiple other parents mentioned to her that Charlie committed various acts of aggression yesterday or the way they did it, which was similar to what I found myself the beneficiary of when Thing One’s Reign of Terror began (he has since calmed down, though he still has moments of random violence and/or startling disregard for others’ feelings). And that’s fine. Frannie’s a sensitive gal, she obviously loves “her baby,” and it’s tough to find out the defenseless little being you’ve nurtured from the womb is beating up others (animate and inanimate) at preschool. I can relate.

But what I can’t understand is how that suddenly became My Fault. Because there was a definite tenor of What Did You Do, or at least How Could You Have Been So Mean, in this conversation, and because Frannie didn’t even look at me when I said hello to her this morning, despite the clear rule in our co-op handbook that if you have an issue with someone, you need to talk to them within 24 hours.

She has 2.5 more hours, and I’m not holding my breath. Really, I wish I could say this: I know it feels bad. It does. But don’t kill the messenger when you find out your child is not an angel. The messenger is just trying to help you do your job, which is to adapt to the fact that your former angel baby is now a toddler who has some moments of apparent sociopathy. Harvey Karp writes about this. It’s a normal stage of development. It is not cause for you to run to the den mother and whine SHE’S BEING MEAN TO ME!

Because it’s not about you. And as soon as we all realize that, we can start actually paying attention to what our children are doing rather than worrying about our own egos and our own need for them to be little darlings.

And because when we take the fact that we’re upset and hurt and scared by our child’s behavior, or our own inability to alter or cope with it, and turn that around into a chance to blame and aggress some unsuspecting person who is trying to help (especially when that unsuspecting person actually spent a half-hour outside getting your kid to play on the slide with her own, even though her own was understandably apprehensive about this, and it was the first time your kid cracked a smile all day), then you’re doing exactly the same thing as your child, which is making your issues everyone else’s problem. And while that’s a normal part of toddler behavior, I’d like to think that by our thirties, we learn a little bit of restraint.

When my grandparents-in-law came to visit a week ago, they brought two enormous boxes full of toys, toys they’d been keeping since my husband was a small boy and his impoverished parents came to live in the garret of their house. Included among these toys were several luxurious Fisher Price play sets — “Main Street” and the doll house — that I remember from my own childhood; the plastic dollhouse hinges open so that you can access all the rooms and comes with little people that resemble plastic clothes pegs (cylindrical body, spherical head) and fit into the depressions in the armchairs, etc. We’ve been having fun playing with them, and I’ve made sure to name all the girly-looking ones male names so that Thing One will grow up open-minded about gender identity (or metrosexual, or gay, depending on whom you ask). But the pièce de résistance, the biggest hit with Thing One and his father before him, is the Fisher Price plastic tugboat. It has a captain, complete with sailor hat, shaved head, and blue jersey, who resembles the thumb-sized dollhouse people but on a much larger scale, about the circumference of a Red Bull can, and she (yes, she!) fits into a specially made extra-deep (in case of capsizing) cylindrical hole in the cheery red-and-white boat. It provides endless hours of bathtime entertainment; you can hook up the chain to the tug, pull them both around, anchor, disembark, etc.

But of course the best use is one not sanctioned by Fisher Price. Yesterday, when Thing One got in the bath, he immediately grabbed the boat in one hand, dumped the hapless captain into the engulfing sea, took his penis in the other hand, and began to pee in the captain’s seat. “Look, Mama!” he crowed. “This is yellow water! I’m gonna dump it in the bath!”

“What color is the bath water?” I queried.

“White!” he replied.

“And what color is the pee?” I asked.

“Yellow!” he replied.

Right!” I said, “And that’s why we’re going to dump it in the toilet.”

It’s the aesthetics of the thing, really; I have no particular objection to his seasoning the bath water a bit, and anyway urine is the cleanest body fluid there is. But I figure I have to maintain some standards so that when he hits the public swimming pool he doesn’t immediately flip open his Sippy cup, pee in it, and empty the contents onto an unsuspecting bather. Otherwise, I’m happy for him to pee in the tub, and in fact, I’m thrilled that he’s taught himself to pee in a cup so efficiently, because that is a skill that could come in handy. Back when I was regularly making multi-hour trips up I-5, I got to the point where I would pee in an empty gas station drink cup (from Big Gulp thou hast come, and to Big Gulp thou shalt return). While driving. A stick shift. In traffic. In Fife. Because Fife is really close to Seattle, and Fife also happens to consist almost entirely of car dealerships, and the idea of stopping to find a bathroom when you’ve got your eyes on the prize is pretty unappealing.

So really, Thing One is carrying on a proud family tradition. I just have to make sure that the first time we try it in the car, he dumps it out the window and not on the floor.

When I wrote this post about how Thing One had become an Avenger of the Meek at his preschool, I was pretty pleased, because he was on the side of justice, even though his actions (tipping over a play kitchen on the class bully) spoke of an incipient might-makes-right attitude and, frankly, I’ve always been more of a Jeremy Irons than a Robert DeNiro type of girl (see The Mission, in which Irons’s character utters the immortal “If might makes right, then love has no place in this world,” to Deniro’s before promptly getting shot). So I was okay with Thing One slapping down the brutalizers of smaller, less aggressive children, but now he seems to have transcended that realm, gotten a taste of what it’s like to subject others to the reign of terror, and gone from vigilante for justice to just plain gangster.

The change was abrupt. Even at the last community meeting (we are a co-op preschool, which means that we have monthly meetings in which people talk about their kids’ issues, or filter their issues through their kids), we were able to sit smug in the knowledge that our child was the only one there who never hit anyone. But the honeymoon is over: K. came home from the school yesterday to report that Thing One not only hit, he had kicked and shoved. A sampling of incidents:

1)”Chad,” a frequent pusher, was playing in the vicinity of Thing One when Thing One hit him. It’s unknown if there was provocation. Chad burst out crying; an adult nearby rushed to Chad’s comfort and aid, whereupon Thing One hit Chad again.

2)A melée of violence occurred in which “Cornichon,” a frequent biter, and his cohort “Buzz” pinned down Chad by sitting on his body while Thing One sat on his head. Chad’s muffled cries were eventually heard by a horrified adult.

3)”Neville” was lying on the ground crying, reason unknown. Thing One proceeded to kick him while commanding, “Stop crying!”

Disturbing incidents all, particularly the first and last, which speak of a Marine Corps-esque shut-up-and-take-it (and indulge in some homophobia and jingoism while you’re at it) attitude. Not the kind of thing we want to hear about our children. So disturbing were these incidents (and these are only the ones involving MY kid; apparently the day was a free-for-all of unrestricted violence, an orgy of assault) that one parent — Cornichon’s mother — wrote the rest of us to suggest that we AVOID AT ALL COSTS having that many children in the same room at once. I wouldn’t go to that extreme, but I confess that I was completely unfazed, in a you-got-yours kind of way, to see that Thing One had sustained injuries resulting in fingernail-shaped purple marks on his face.

When I tried to talk to him about it, here’s what happened:

Me: “So, did you hit anyone at playschool?”

T.O.: “I bonked Chad!”

Me: “Why did you bonk Chad?”

T.O.: “Because he was crying!”

Well. Okay then. That clears things right up.

Actually, I don’t think that Thing One’s actions are that surprising, mostly because he’s been dealing with a baby sister who cries a lot, and occasionally he finds this so trying that he yells from his car seat, “STOP CRYING! I’M GONNA HIT YOU!”, which is disturbing but not that shocking, as anyone who’s ever been driven to distraction by a howling baby can attest. Their cries are, after all, supposed to really jerk our chains, that being evolution’s way of making sure they get addressed, right? And I, for one, find a crying baby extremely enervating. I immediately become like a cross between Stalin and a Mexican jumping bean: steely-eyed, jittery, unable to sit still and willing to sacrifice the masses for my cause, which is getting that kid to SHUT UP already. So I can’t blame Thing One if it bugs him too, even though the prospect of his hitting his sister really fucks with my wiring, since I don’t know whom to protect (although she usually wins — evolution again, I’m sure). And him not wanting to listen to another two-year-old crying is par for the course, because a toddler’s sobbing is almost as enervating as a baby’s and, besides, doesn’t he go to school to get away from that crap?

Our conversation continued thusly:

Me: “Were you mad today at playschool?”

T.O.: “The gnome was mad. He was really GIANT. He bonked everyone down and kicked them again. He shouldn’t do that. That’s not nice. The gnome was screaming. He was screaming really loudly. He was hitting everybody. He smashed them down.”

Me (silent): Craptastic.

So the gnome is back again, the Crazy Wild Gnome, only instead of avenging the little people he has now grown to gargantuan size and is dominating the ring like Hulk Hogan in his heyday. On the one hand, I have to give the kid points for imagination (and did you notice he used TWO ADVERBS??? And he’s not even two and a half!), but on the other, this seems disturbingly like a “Mistakes were made (but I didn’t make them)” speech.

The other piece in this unpleasant little puzzle is that Thing One has been wearing underpants for a week now, and although he’s only had accidents on one day, I think he’s feeling just a teensy bit tense about it, even though it was his idea, and on the day he did have two accidents he woke up from nap swinging — screaming and hitting and howling, “I WANNA CRY!”

I could see how being fearful of disappointing every adult in your circle of acquaintance by peeing your pants could make a person a little aggro.

I don’t know how to explain the actions of the Cornichons and Buzzes in the mix. But it is the holidays — we’re gearing up for the big Dongzhi party, trying to make it hugely fun for Thing One while fielding the incredulity and skepticism of our secular Christian extended family and friends, and presumably their families are also dealing with, if not censure and a lack of respect for decisions of religious practice, huge amounts of stress in the way of finding enough presents and making enough turkey or ham and dealing with unpleasant, drunken, and/or dysfunctional in-laws and getting the children to behave themselves.

SO WE’RE ALL JUST A LITTLE BIT ON EDGE, OKAY?

Not that I’m condoning the return of the Aggro Gnome. But I can kind of understand where he’s coming from.

My two-year-old son, Thing One, loves the music of Abd Al-Malik; we listen to his album Gibraltar in the car so frequently that I have almost all the words memorized to the first two songs (the average length of our drives). Thing One has recently taking to requesting “Al-Malik!” at bedtime, so I am forced to try to imitate French hip-hop in lieu of lullabies. Here’s a sample from my personal favorite, “12 Septembre 2001“:
Je fus choqué dans mon intime et je vous jure,
que si j’n’avais pas eu la foi j’aurais eu honte d’être mouslim.
Après ça fallait qu’on montre aux yeux du monde,
que nous aussi nous n’étions que des hommes,
que s’il y avait des fous, la majorité d’entre nous ne mélangeait pas, la politique avec la foi.

I wonder if Thing One realizes he’s steeping himself in a Franco-muslim response to the “war” on “terror”? Regardless, he loves Abd Al-Malik, and he requests him at every opportunity. Which is why this morning, I shouldn’t have been surprised when K. put on “Cars,” and Thing One started gyrating like a dervish, and he yelled,

“I’m dancing REALLY FAST!! This is Al-Malik!!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. There was precedent for this, like the time we got up and listened to Cat Stevens and he insisted that it was Cat Power. So I shouldn’t have been caught unawares. But I was.

Two-year-old, at dinner table:

“I’m a Christian!” He pauses, then bellows, “Yuck!”