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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Mommy Problem ("I Hate Jake's Turn")

"I have no children." 

There was a decent chance that the subject would come up if I were in the company of new parents. The chances would double if there were earshot-adjacent young marrieds who very much wanted children, and if there were older women in the room, forget about it. Aunts and stuff, not even necessarily mine. For the better part of the last twenty years, "I have no children" has been the axis on which conversation turned.

They leave you alone for the first few years, especially when you're in your twenties. Because obviously you're not ready to be somebody's mother yet. You're not even married yet. Also you ate breakfast at two in the afternoon today, and it consisted of leftover fried wontons and three slices of something orange called "cheese food product." You're still accessorizing with safety pins and rubber O rings, your car's bumper is held on with duct tape, and you're going back to a shitbox apartment where your bed is an old futon mattress set on a sheet of plywood that's resting on cinder blocks. All other things being equal, no one wants to think of grandbabies conceived on plywood and cinder blocks.

When Hub's brother Norman had his first (of three) babies, the dude was totally casual about it, citing "Eh, you don't need a lot. Baby can sleep in a dresser drawer." That's great. If you have a dresser in the first place where you keep your clothes, you can empty a drawer and use that for a crib. How do you feel about stealthily purloined Cumberland Farms milk crates, can a baby sleep in one of those? I'll free one up, I just have to find another place to put my underwear. Milk crates, plywood and cinder blocks -- there's nothing quite like the style of the poor 20 year old's first apartment. We're talking a few grades below even the specious luxury of particle board, DIY flat box furniture. Trash chic. Dump Beautiful. Feng shit.

After awhile, like when I was knocking on 30's door, someone was always either telling me that I should be pregnant or asking me why I wasn't. Sufficiently satisfied that there was no grand manifesto detailing a compendium of reasons, no fiercely defiant soapbox in support of any pressing social, political or economic cause, no rigid self-imposed policy shaped by the bylaws of any external structured belief system, sacred or profane, and nothing physically misaligned that would prevent me from getting knocked up and squeezing out a shortie, it was then that I would often be pressed to provide a reason. Like...demanded. Depending upon how magnanimous I was feeling that day or how undecided on the whole baby thing anyway, these responses would range from willingly engaging in a hearty discourse on the subject of names, to smart-ass rebuffs.

"I was not aware that I would need to bring a note."

"I'm told that you can't just put down big bowls of food and water and go away for the weekend, is that right?"

"Was there a ruling on that?"

They want reasons. But there are no reasons. Or rather, there are, but they are the simplest things. Too simple. So much so that they're anti-reasons. Let's see...well, for one thing, I like quiet. I don't like messes. I like sleeping. Not a fan of germs. Or shrill voices. Or Disneyland. I like staying up late. Monster movies. Swearing. But you can't really state these things. It sounds like you just said you are failing as a woman because you want to do nothing on weekends. Or in the mornings. And don't want to buy a car. I want to be free to sleep for three days in case I get the flu. I want to remain blissfully ignorant of anything whatsoever that may happen inside of a mall. I want to fucking say "fuck" whenever the fuck I feel like it.

Peers with an infant are still in awe, utterly exhausted yet wholly and completely transported into parenthood and so fully in love with their baby they feel as though their entire life leading up to parenthood was just driving on the practice road, and now they have merged onto the freeway and hit the gas. I get it. To them it sounds impossible that I don't want to caravan down that same road. People I used to hang with at basement rock shows now go to bed at 9 o'clock and say words like "binky" and think nothing of calmly taking a deep whiff of a tiny bald person's backside on an olfactory fact-finding mission.

Mary's little girl pulled a nutter recently, one morning before school. They were all going downstairs, but the kid went ballistic because the cat went downstairs first. Lorraine's kids won't eat soup. Any kind of soup, doesn't matter. It would seem that they don't like their foods intermingled. These small people are bonkers.

Take Alabama Jen's twins. Cute, weird, fascinating and astonishingly loud twins are little brothers to Jake. Jake is an unusually brainy little guy. Turns out Wolverine is both of our favorites, so we bonded right away.

After grocery shopping one afternoon (a whole 'nother adventure, oh my God), we ignored the glares and glances as we herded all three of them into the minivan. Before starting the car Jen bellowed out some forewarning mom-like proclamation -- getting their attention can take a few tries because Jake is usually chattering on about kid stuff, you know. Like the fall of Rome, Occam's razor, and the inherent flaws in the expanding Earth theory that he believes can be dis-proven with further study of tectonic plates over time.

"If everyone is good during Wii time you can have a shot of Old Jack." Maybe it wasn't Old Jack, it was probably a cookie, but you get the idea.

"Wii time" is a specific time in the day, set by the kitchen clock and timed by the kitchen timer. Five minute turns among the three boys. So at all times, two are playing, one is waiting his turn.

The waiting one, almost for sure, cries and carries on. Did I mention how loud these children can actually be?

God deliver me from Wii time.

The moment Jen brought it up, right away there's an outcry. Who's going first, is it going to be Lego Batman or Lego Indiana Jones or Lego Legos!?

One of them just simply began to wail like a tiny siren.

It was at this moment that Miss Michelle (that's what they call me, Miss Michelle) has to stop everyone and ask a question. "Hold on, hold on," I said. To my utter astonishment, everyone stopped making noise. Even the wailing one. For a  single beat the sudden silence was stunning, but hey, they just passed me the ball so before the cacophony could resume, I ran with it.

I directed my question to the wailing twin. The thoughtful one, he's also the quickest to despair. His favorite mode is "pout." This little guy acts so surly during times when most kids would be thrilled that we now call him "the world's youngest Little Old Man." You people are pissing him off big time. All of three, he's already perfected the "sending food back to the kitchen" thing and is practicing scolding the TV. I hear next summer he'll advance to telling people to get off his lawn and fastening his Indiana Jones belt just below the armpits of his Batman shirt.

When I met him, he was going through a phase where he hates everything. "I'm afraid this is a long phase," laments Jen. He hates treats that he asked for, or activities he loved doing as recently as yesterday. You could offer him his favorite chicken fingers, a pony ride, an afternoon at the beach, doesn't matter. First the little rosebud lips pout, then gossamer  eyebrows draw together in tiny, furious consternation.

"I hate chicken fingers!"

"I hate ponies!"

"I hate chocolate!" Wait, what? Now you've gone too far, kid.

"How come," I say, turned around in the passenger seat so that I could see his expectant little face, either still in mid-pout from the last offense he endured or freshly re-pouted in anticipation of what I'm about to say. "How come you cry so much during Wii time?  You KNOW that every guy gets five minutes to play. You know how long five minutes is, right?"

*sniffle sniffle* "Yah."

"You had fun on YOUR turn, so now it's five minutes for the next guy. You know that it's your turn in five more minutes, right?"

*sniffle sniffle* "Yah."

I felt like I was really on the home stretch now. I have set up the syllogism, the premise has been confirmed as understood, and now I'm ready to reveal the conclusion. In about sixty seconds I'll have demonstrated logic and transformed these caterwauling twins into peaceful  turn-takers, then I can fly home to Boston satisfied and announce that I'm a Twin Whisperer. "So then," I said, "There is no reason to cry. Your five minutes is coming. So why do you cry?"

"Becauuuuuuse! Because I...I haaaaaate Jake's tuuuuurn!"

Oh dear.

We got back to the house. Jen and I made dinner. There was Wii time. There was crying, there was hitting. One of the kids shit his pants because he would not give up the Wii conroller to go use the potty. Logic my ass, I was in way over my head here.

"I hate Jake's turn" is a story I've told a half dozen times in the year since it happened, and will surely tell a dozen more.

"I hate Jake's turn" renews my affirmation that kids are crazier than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs...and yet...that adults should listen to them.

"I hate Jake's turn" out of the mouth of this surly babe is a genuine, pure emotion free from self-examination. It's not schadenfreude, exactly. It's more like...well think about it. Say you're in a rush, you stop for coffee, you've never needed your double coco crappacino so bad in your life, but the guy in front of you is ordering, apparently, enough complicated coffees for a bus full of picky cheerleaders. Don't you just, well, HATE that guy's turn?

"I hate Jake's turn" is the tip of a vast iceberg. In sixty seconds that child put me in my place, cut me down for trying to use logic where it does not belong. I brought a theorem to a bullfight. Not only is there no "why" in his world, but he reminded me that someone has to shape these little personalities, people who have already grown up have to now guide these completely open, fresh brains towards a belief system, defend a moral code and in every way possible prepare them to live in this world. And I got nothin'.

I know full well that Jake's turn sucks, little fella. Really I do, but I can't begin to explain to you how to...how to wait? I don't know how to teach someone to wait. I don't even remember how I learned to wait. I'm sorry, I would have paid more attention if I had known it would come up again.

And I definitely don't want to listen to that earsplitting caterwauling. You're cute and all, but Christ on a cracker, dude...

Motherhood is just one of those things that's for Other People. Like competing in a tractor pull, launching into outer space or living on a raw diet.

The final word, from one of my favorite superheroes. Louis CK, you have the blog...