When I was babysitting for some Parisian kids on the Île de Ré one summer, one thing made a huge impression on me. The little boy, Hugo, was about three, and whenever he pooped he would call for his daddy (his mother wasn’t there) to wipe him:

“Papa! Viens m’essuyer les fesses!” (trans.: Daddy, come wipe my bottom!”) he would howl.

And his father, Jean-Luc, would come trudging in and say in a resonant baritone, “Hugo, t’es pénible!” (“Hugo, you’re such a pain!” as he did the deed).

At the time, I never noticed how that was probably a cruel thing to say to a three-year-old, although I did surmise that perhaps Jean-Luc was having the same marital problems as Marc, his brother-in-law and my employer, was: Sylvie, the mère de famille, had not accompanied us to the island in order to have an affair with a friend of their family, Luc, back in Paris, and since Jean-Luc’s spouse was conspicuously absent, I suspected her of similar extracurriculars. This was particularly indicated by the odd camaraderie between Jean-Luc and Marc who, you’d have thought, might be experiencing some tensions stemming from the fact that the former’s sister was cheating on the latter; not so. They seemed the best of friends.

Anyway, it was the particular combination of frustration and tenderness (about a 70-30 split, I’d say) that impressed me about Jean-Luc’s predictable refrain, and I have thought of it since then every time someone I know acts like a whiny, whingeing little brat. Which is far too often, and it’s far too often an adult who makes me chant, internally, “_____, t’es PENIBLE!” — for the record, I have never said it to Things One or Two, despite the fact that Thing One does, indeed, make me wipe his bottom every time he poops.

So, in a life full of wanting to tell people how pénible they are, I’ve got to say that parenting has offered me the most numerous, and the richest, opportunities to be frustrated with my peers. Take our preschool co-op (yes, that again, but it’s a different person this time). I have been singing the praises (to myself) of the co-op, fully planning on rejoining with Thing Two six months from when Thing One leaves at the end of summer. It has, I’ve told myself, underscored the importance of community, given me a opportunity to learn to deal with other people, not to be hypersensitive, to model community values for the children, to not overreact (as is my wont) when people say or do things I disagree with, to allow our common belief in community and in basic values like sharing, kindness, exploration to bring us together and demonstrate to our children that we are happier, kinder, more reasonable people when we pool our efforts and resources. And I do believe that. I do.

Except that every time I manage to lull myself into complacency, somebody comes along and acts like a whining, whingeing brat, making me want to scream, “____, t’es PENIBLE!” right before bitch-slapping them into next Tuesday.

The current case isn’t even to do with me, except insofar as easily offended, passive aggressive folks attribute the actions of one spouse to another. K. was working his parent teaching shift at the co-op last Wednesday, and the child of one of the other workers (we’ll call her “Lark”) was having a rough day: as I heard it, hitting and pushing and generally acting out. Apparently he’s had some problems with that kind of thing, which is not uncommon, especially in the preverbal set, and Lark was plenty stressed by the time I got there with a change of clothes for Thing One and Thing Two in a carrier. The crowning moment was when Lark’s kid, “Pancho,” punched Thing Two in the face as she cheerfully exercised her new crawling/climbing skills; hardly desirable, but par for the course all in all. K. called this out (I was in the bathroom with Thing One, performing my stated duties) in a loud, angry voice that I thought could’ve been moderated, but then his voice often sounds crabbier and more unequivocal than he means it to, at least to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t party to the altercation, but apparently K. then said to Lark, “You know, I didn’t think of it at the time, but we should have let you guys go home and called for back-up, since if it was a child whose parent wasn’t here they would have been called.” And apparently that was The Last Straw for Lark, who left on the verge of tears. The third worker that day, “Nellie,” then informed K., “You were really rude to Lark. You hurt her feelings.”

I got this all secondhand in the car, so I can’t pass judgment on who said exactly what or in what tone of voice and whose feelings were justifiably bruised. But K. was sort of righteously indignant about the whole thing (his suggestion being protocol from the Parent Handbook), so I, in the interest of peace, strongly recommended that he call Lark and try to patch things up. He opted to send her a nice email saying he was sorry if he hurt her feelings, that he was only thinking of ways to handle the situation.

She hasn’t replied. And it’s been FIVE DAYS.

And not ONLY has she not replied, but she is refusing to make eye contact with me, has had her shift mysteriously switched to Tuesday, so that she’s no longer working with K. (coincidentally, Nellie is the person who manages the schedule), and is generally Refusing to Deal. Meanwhile, Nellie made a note in the Daily Journal (which is supposed to be about what went on with the kids) that there was a “conflict between shift workers,” which caused the president, Annalise, to query K., who told her the whole story. So now Annalise is trying to get in touch with Lark to find out if what Nellie says about K. is true.

Does this sound like middle school to you? BECAUSE IT DOES TO ME.

Now, again, I’m not going to advocate for K. being blameless, because I don’t know. I do feel fairly confident that he didn’t say anything overtly offensive and that he spoke with the best intentions. But the main issue is this: there are RULES, people. And the rules exist to force you to act like an adult even when you don’t want to, which is — in my opinion, anyway — a whole lot of what parenting is about.

In this case, the rules are simple: if someone has upset you or you have a problem with them, you have to discuss it within twenty-four hours. If you are not comfortable discussing it with the person involved (the handbook strongly implies that that kind of discomfort should be reserved for instances when the person has said they HATE you and are working on a VOODOO DOLL to silence you forever), you are allowed to speak to the president of the co-op and have him or her mediate.

You are not allowed to a)sulk, b)have your friends make accusations, recriminations, or aspersions, or c)evade responsibility for what is entirely your problem. You are especially not allowed to gossip about What a Hateful Person So-and-so is with another co-op member while refusing to acknowledge the problem to them. Why? Because it teaches your children a very harmful lesson. It teaches them to be whiny, whingeing, irresponsible, passive-aggressive LITTLE BITCHES (and I use that term in the unisex).

Apparently, Lark didn’t get the memo.

I guess she doesn’t realize how much she’s fucking with my world view. After all, because of this little incident, an incident that was probably the result of one person being insensitive and the other being oversensitive in an otherwise innocuous conversation, I am reconsidering the value of community. I don’t want to raise my kids with the deep criticism, distrust, and suspicion of strangers I secretly, in my uglier moments, harbor. But it’s hard to continually face situations like this without wanting to live in a fortress of your own making and avoid dealing with other people’s b.s. entirely.

I’m still sticking it out, for now. But if you hear I’ve moved to a walled compound in McMansionland and never talk to my neighbors, you’ll know the camel’s back finally broke.

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We are at the mercy of ClearChannel.

The fault is a subject of some debate; I’m the one who left the lights on the VW and needed a jump from the Honda (where the CD player is located), but K. is the one who roared up in the Honda and left the stereo blasting while he gave it to me. This apparently caused a fatal shock to the wiring of our trunk-installed changer, which now does not work at all, and so we are dependent on radio.

This doesn’t bother me as much as K. because I often prefer to talk to my children in the car. But every once in a while you need a little rhythm and melody in your morning, which is where I was today as I drove Thing One to playschool. Of course, only one station was playing music, and it was U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”

I don’t have much truck with late U2 — In my opinion, The Joshua Tree was both an apex and the beginning of the end — but, like anyone who has lived in the developed world for the last ten years, I know the words to “Mysterious Ways.” And as I sang along, it occurred to me that I had no idea what the song was about. I preemptively imagined (as I often do), what I would say if Thing One asked, and all I could come up with was this:

“It’s about God. Because God works in mysterious ways.”

A triumph of reason over conditioning, is what I call that. Too bad he didn’t ask.

It’s been kind of a lovefest for my dad around here lately (luckily he doesn’t read this blog, lest his head swell to the size of the Goodyear blimp), and, as I may have previously mentioned, I don’t have a lot of love lost for this kind of guilt-trip-and-runny-Hollandaise holiday, but happy Father’s Day, anyway.

My present to K. this year was that he got to stay in bed until 1 p.m. while I bundled Thing One and Thing Two into the car, staked out a spot downtown on a forgotten block by the bank tower, and watched the Pride parade. Thing One was outfitted (at my suggestion, though he was all for it) in full gay regalia: gay rainbow socks, gay rainbow pants, gay pink Crocs, gay rainbow sweater (hand-knitted by the inimitable Jerusha Grosh) and, to top everything off, an exceedingly gay rainbow-striped umbrella, which he whirled jazzily as he capered gaily about. We got to hang around next to the horse-drawn carriage of the gay mayor elect (who is famously single, and who was fending off hottie schmoozers right and left) while watching some lesbian cops chat gaily with some gay roller derby competitors and admiring the gay balloon rainbow waving gaily over Davis St. Soon after the parade began, Thing One decided he wanted to march IN it, mostly because he admired the gaily flag-bedecked Radio Flyer of two children who already, at age three, had the traditional Portland lesbian haircut (the West Coast fade, which in San Francisco is the traditional Asian haircut, so I felt right at home), and so we took off in the midst of some group we don’t belong to, Thing One skipping about in the center of Broadway to wild cheers and looking entirely in his element. And, since my spermy life partner was busy snoozing away at our house, we were almost absorbed by a delightfully gay group called PLOP (!!), which stands for parenting/pregnant lesbians, and I’m grateful to them for being willing to welcome my skinny hetero ass into their midst, even if it does make me feel like a poser.

Thing Two, potential future lesbian, ravenous eater, and cutter of new front teeth that she is, was not very gay; instead, she slept the whole time in an Ergo carrier. Even when the gay Buddhists (my people!) went by gaily banging on taiko drums which, if you haven’t had the privilege to hear them at your local Obon festival, are hella loud.

Anyway, a gay time was had by all, although I was a little creeped out by the crucifix lollipops that gay Christians kept flinging at Thing One, and he did not appreciate the gay leis that various benevolent souls kept attempting to adorn him with, preferring to fling them to the floor. And we were a little bummed that Thing One’s gay aunt, who is our most immediate (biological, at least) connection to the local gayness, wasn’t more present (she showed up late, missing both gay armed forces and gay marching band, and then took off to meet friends, in one of those moves that you philosophically think is good because it shows your child that he’s not the center of the world even as it also makes you a little sad inside; also, I have a hard time with this because, though plans were a bit fuzzy, I think it’s important for adults to treat children with courtesy, i.e. by apologizing if they’re late, and I hate feeling like I created expectations in my kid that were then let down — all that is a lesson to me about Communication and Not Shielding Your Children Too Much from the Disappointments of the World, natch). But we Represented. We were there, and we were, if not fully queer, at least open to the possibility, and we were out, loud, and proud. I do not have any rainbow clothing, but I wore an extremely gay red sweater with a rather gay turquoise skirt and some insouciant knee socks; Thing Two was attired in a muted version of Thing One’s rainbow stripes. I teared up more than once (hand-lettered sign with a big slash through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Let Us Serve with Pride and Honor”: check. Gay youth group with teenagers cheerily waving, looking really young and untried: check. Dyke with “Got Diversity?” sign: check. My kid’s stoic vigil, at the start of the parade, waiting for things to start and our people to get there, refusing offers of a lift and trying very hard to find his place in all the wild action, to relate to the goings-on and not be totally cowed by them (if you’re three feet tall, big fat gongs, big fat trucks, big fat bears, and big fat transvestites streaming by, all at volume 11, can be kind of intimidating):check). Since I’m not a joiner, a natural exhibitionist, or an easygoing parent, it took some guts to hang around in the middle of teeming masses of humanity and to let go of the fear that my kid would be lost/flattened/subjected to hate speech by ill-meaning passersby. And what that demonstrated to me is that it’s the gay parents in that gay parade who took the greatest risks; the parade is an affirmative culture if you’re the girly boy in the nylon hotpants running about giggling and getting spanked, but much less so if you’re a cautious two-year-old or a parent who loves one. Put another way: for the bears and the fairies, the parade is a fun celebration of what they are (and a chance to underline it in a positive way, to counter the discrimination, trials, and tribulations that go with that). For parents, it’s the occasion for courageous inclusion of children in a culture that is not always kind, intelligible, or inclusive of children, and perhaps — particularly for the constantly, rather than the merely occasionally, gay — a reminder of the difficult merging of childhood and a parental identity that is too often marginalized and may occasion discrimination, social difficulties, or confusion for the child.

I said I was a glass-half-empty type of person, didn’t I? It doesn’t come naturally for me, being gay. But we were there, and we remained reasonably gay, even though we wished we could have had a little more of a supportive social group (perhaps this is why I was so touched by the PLOPs, and they so forthcoming with me), and I’m glad we went, not least because, in my deliberate Antidiscrimination Programming of My Children, Pride was a milestone. Not for sexual orientation per se — they are two and eight months, and have no more complex ideas about sexuality than “it’s fun to play with my penis” — but a little bit for gender roles and dress (nothing like a bunch of hairy fags in red dresses to counteract ideas about what boys wear) and most of all for body diversity: your local Pride parade is when you’ll see the biggest, the biggest variety, and the most ostentatiously displayed bodies around. It’s hard to grow up prudish and obsessed with thinness when you’ve had dozens of hairy fat bellies and big-bottomed lesbians marching through your visual world concept in obvious glee your whole life.

Of course, this being the Whitest City in America, the gayness was a little pasty for my taste. Thank god for the ethnic pride groups (scanty and small though they were). But all in all, it was a pretty good Parenting Moment. Even though I felt a moral dilemma about claiming to Thing One that the aforementioned crucifix lollipops he’d collected were primarily toys (he’s never had a lollipop because I am That Kind of Parent. Yes, I make my own organic purees. Suck it). I did qualify that they were made of sugar, which he knows you can eat, but that the dyes made them not very good to eat and better for toys. Is that bad?

So as I reach the end of this post, I’m feeling like maybe it wasn’t such a great Father’s Day present to let K. sleep through all that. Probably the better present would have been to insist that he come along — except that he worked until five a.m. again, and he probably wouldn’t have appreciated being rousted from his bed that early for any reason.

And then, if we’d been in full nuclear family mode, I might not have gotten the love of the PLOP. So all’s well that ends well. Maybe next Father’s Day I’ll let K. take the kids to Pride by himself. He has an extremely gay multicolored tank top. And I know he enjoys a few appreciative leers.

When I was a (precocious, bratty, alarmingly widely-read) child, I used to call my mother “Mommie Dearest” to irk her. I didn’t actually understand what the big deal was, probably because my notions of the obligations of motherhood were yet unformed and because I lacked the experience of widespread judgment, censure, and equally inappropriate approbation and opprobrium with which perfect strangers feel entitled to shower us on the basis of our motherhood. So that little barb, coming from me, wasn’t an indictment of my mother’s parenting skills, kindness, or commitment to her family; it was just a way to make my mom grit her teeth and cast her eyes heavenward.

Now I am an adult, and my husband is an avid reader of Vanity Fair, so I understand a little more about the alleged sins of Joan Crawford. And I have to regret my callow callousness a little bit. But I’m growing up, you know? I’m realizing the depth of my insensitivity, my total failure to appreciate the pressures and circumscription that even my mother, a relatively liberated mid ’70s West Coast mom, experienced. Unfortunately, I have also realized that there’s probably no way to make up for the grief I gave her.

In Salon today, Phyllis Chesler writes about motherhood, parenting, second- vs. third-wave feminism, and Rebecca Walker’s public recriminations of her mother, Alice. It’s a piece worth reading. But what stands out in it is this rebuttal to Rebecca Walker’s public decrying of her mother’s failure to fill the stay-at-home mom role amply occupied by her stepmother, Judy:

Yes, and Alice did all the things that women like Judy don’t want to do and can’t do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to world work, crusade for human and women’s rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one.

Chesler makes some important points about the fact that third-wave feminism may not always appreciate the oppression of motherhood and how it was applied to past generations of women. She describes the danger women risk when they try to do anything else but mother well. And she makes the revolutionary and yet entirely relevant, necessary observation that women are still measured by their success as mothers (and demonized for their failures at mothering):

However, great men are allowed every excess and failure; great women are never forgiven for making a single mistake. Great men are allowed their female mistresses, male lovers, wife-secretaries, binges — and they rarely see their children. Or they exploit and abuse them.

Are we conscious of how ingrained this kind of bias, this negative judgment, is in all of us? Is a writer like Rebecca Walker (whom Chesler damns with the faint praise of being “beautiful and talented in her own right” as opposed to Alice Walker’s “world-class talent”, and, having caught more than one essay, radio piece, etc. by the younger Walker, I have to agree) aware of the unfairness of the lens through which she views her own childhood? Did anyone ask how much time Obama was spending with his kids during this primary — the one where Hillary Clinton was accused of every sin of character in the book, not to mention “pimping out” Chelsea?

I doubt it. And that brings me back to what Chesler says, and what I said a few days ago: you can’t have it all. And you are crazy to even try. Sorry, kids — I know you were hoping that you could raise a beautiful family and have an organic garden and write thoughtful, above-average literary novels and go to your kid’s baseball games, but you can’t, or rather, you could, but who wants to write above-average literary novels? Nobody’s going to remember them in fifty years; above-average means that your date was polite and wearing a pressed shirt and could converse intelligently about current trends in the habits of the bourgeoisie (slow food, tap water vs. bottled water, David Sedaris, and anything else recently featured on NPR). Rebecca Walker is above-average. Rebecca Walker is making a living and has a following (probably of mostly white, upper middle class women too timid to question her assertions and regaled by the exoticism of her mixed-race ancestry and the fact that she named her kid after a Tibetan lama, but that’s another post).

But in love, as in literature, we’re not looking for above-average. “Good enough” is a phrase often tossed around as definitive in mothering, but not so in art. The date that’s adequately groomed and reasonably articulate is OK; we can survive on that, biding our time and confirming our assumptions about life until something sublime comes along, something that will sweep us off our feet and have us waking up, bleary-eyed and breathless, in Tahiti with a new and charming tattoo on our left palm — a tattoo we would never have considered getting, one that challenges our assumptions, one that transforms us.

Alice Walker is not above-average. Alice Walker will take you to Tahiti and to an unbelievable (and sometimes scary) tattoo artist.

In my own life, I’m a lot of things, impatient and stressed-out and caustic and supercilious being chief among them. But I’m usually not a liar. And I hope I’m not a coward. And I think I’m clear-sighted enough to say, again: No. You can’t have it all. Transformative art does not have a lot of respect for families, for stability, for parenting skills, for environmental quality, for regular and thoughtfully-planned meals. So if these things are important to you, make your choice — and that goes for men as well as women, because even if we still tend to blame women when the parenting isn’t up to snuff, men are no longer expected to supply nothing more than a dinnertime appetite and a paycheck.

And if you are lucky enough to be the child of a parent who maybe didn’t make nutritionally balanced meals and wasn’t around as much as you’d have liked, but who transformed this world and the people in it, think about this before you complain: think about how much bigger and more interesting your world is because of it. Think of how not getting the attention you wanted enriched you, even as it stung. Think of how your mother’s “failings” cannot be laid entirely at her door, but must be shared with your father and with every person in your life and in this world who expected the lion’s share of parenting to go to her.

Because the truth is that all our parents fail us, and none of them manages to always give us exactly what we need. And many, many children do not have the benefit of a mother who transformed the world. Many children, in fact, having nothing but human frailty to blame their parents’ failing on.

Thing One, playing with my Barry Bonds nesting dolls:

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

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.