Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Three-Year-Old Understands Empathy But Could Not Care Less

Finally, another show has punctured the tyranny of Paw Patrol, an overly clever Nickelodeon cartoon about six dogs with cute names who save the day in Adventure Bay on a regular basis. So many crises for one little town. For four months, it was all I heard or saw. Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, Be there on the double! Judging from the chaotic line to meet Chase and Marshall (the cop dog and fire dog, respectively -- GET IT??) at the New Jersey State Fair recently, I am not alone.

Henry, absolutely enamored of his two favorite pups.
(I cropped my fat postpartum ass right out of this picture.)

But one day in August, Henry asked for Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, which is a sequel to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood on PBS Kids. Daniel Tiger is the son of the original Daniel Striped Tiger character. (Remember?!) Anyway, I love the show. It is calm, quiet and educational -- everything Paw Patrol isn't.

The other day, Henry was watching it in bed with me. The episode was about empathy. "Empathy is when you think about how another person feels," Daniel Tiger's mother explained.

Later that day, in the bathroom, trying to wrestle my son to the potty, we had the following conversation.

"Mommy, you have to think about how I feel."

"Ok, how do you feel?"

"I feel sad."

"Why do you feel sad?"

"Because you're waking up my baby." [Completely made up reason he uses when he doesn't have anything else to say but wants to talk.]

"Okay. I'll try not to do that. And how do you think I feel?"

"I think you feel mad."

"And why am I mad?"

"Because I'm not listening to you today."

"And what can you do about that?"

"I can listen to you..."

I nodded, preparing to burst with pride and positive reinforcement.

"...but I don't want to."


And there you have it. He understood the show's message but flat-out rejected it. Congratulations to me on my continued success in raising a compassionate child. I can't wait for the teen years.




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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No One Died, So I Consider It a Parenting Victory

Now that we are a family of four (plus dog), I am nearly always outnumbered, which is never a great thing to be. Plus, since his sister's arrival at the end of June, Henry has been, shall we say, less than cooperative.

I was at such a loss for how to deal with his behavior -- simply not listening to the point of defiance, punctuated with a potty training regression that included exclusive pants-pooping -- that I bought a book about parenting, something I have scoffed at in the past. But I am so cerebral and over-educated that when under stress, I fall right back on strategies that have worked in the past.

There must, I thought, be a book out there that can solve this for me.

There is not, of course, but I did find one that was helpful: How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too by Sal Severe, Ph.D. It was the right mix of theoretical and practical, but I must point out the ludicrous "hope" he holds out for parents of children who have, like Henry, what Severe calls a "persistent temperament."

There is a bright side. Even though children who are bright, verbal, and persistent may be difficult to manage as children and adolescents, they typically do well in life. These are the achievers and leaders of the world. Having this to look forward to may help you get through their childhood a little more easily.

Really? Wow, thanks a lot. So basically the best I can hope for is the ability to brag about my son's professional accomplishments in thirty years. Amazing. I feel so much better now.

Anyhow, today I took my persistently temperamental preschooler, eight-week-old infant and neurotic dog upstate to visit a friend and her dog. Just as a refresher, my dog, Hudson, is afraid of nearly everything, including, but not limited to, vacuum cleaners, hoses, small children, other dogs, bodies of water, cleaning products, the cabinet that contains the cleaning products, riding in cars and feral cats. 

What could go wrong?

The day started out nicely. Though it was sweltering, it was great to catch up with my friend. Henry mostly behaved, which is not the same as allowing me to relax for more than 45 consecutive seconds, but at least he did not pee on the living room floor, like Hudson did, twice. 

In the late afternoon we were playground-bound. We took the dogs, which proved to be a mistake.

No One Died, So I Consider It a Parenting Victory ~ Urban Moo Cow

Upon arriving at the park, Henry (we think) accidentally tripped my friend, and they both tumbled down onto the pavement, seemingly in slow motion. Lucy the beagle sprinted away. Henry was screaming. I dropped Hudson's leash and my tote bag, abandoned the baby in her stroller, picked up Henry and ran after Lucy.

Luckily, she was distracted momentarily by another dog, and I was able to grab her leash and drag her back to my friend, who was just getting up off the ground. We moved off the main pathway onto a patch of grass.

I noticed blood on my forearm and saw that Henry was bleeding. And still wailing. 

"Okay, baby, it's okay." I kissed his cheek and set him down. "Let me get some wipes to clean your knee."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," was his obvious response. And off he ran, much like a six-year-old beagle. 

"Come back," I yelled. "I'll be gentle!" I wrapped Hudson's leash around the stroller handle and started to go after Henry.

Just then, the dog that had minutes earlier been the hero who saved Lucy from escaping to Canada, passed by with his owner. Hudson began barking like a lunatic; he charged. The force of his 30-pound apoplectic body pulled the stroller over, and the baby, who was not strapped in (#momoftheyear), slid out onto the ground. 

I scooped the baby up. She wasn't even crying. I think I would have murdered the dog had I had the right tool. Instead, I took hold of his leash and pushed his head to the ground. NO.

In the background, Henry was still crying about his bloody knee. My friend looked dazed. We decided that she should take the dogs home and meet us later. I convinced Henry to wipe his knee off and we went up to the playground. No harm, no foul.

Henry made a beeline for a "ship" structure on a patch of sand, and I sat with a heavy, tired sigh on a bench to nurse the baby, whose little bottom lip had begun to quiver.

"Mommy?" Henry poked his head out of the ship moments later. "Can I pee on this sand?"

"No! No you may not." I got up while still nursing and the cover-up blanket fell to the ground. "Okay, come on, let's find a bathroom."

Henry, of course, was not having it. I tried dragging him with one hand toward the bathroom, my exposed boob and flabby post-partum belly flapping in the wind. But there was no one around, and I thought that if he peed there he would not be the first. I had a change of shorts in my bag. Pick your battles, Moo Cow. I sat back down and continued breastfeeding.

Another two minutes passed and he came charging toward me. "Mommy! Quick, I need a diaper! I have to poooooooop!"

Yes, that's right. Over the last several weeks, in my desperation not to have to clean feces from yet another pair of tiny Thomas the Train underwear, I had offered Henry the option of going in the potty or asking for a diaper. He used to go in the potty; he would again, I reasoned, and I wanted to end the pointless power struggle. You can't physically make someone poop in the potty. You just can't.

Fine. I fished around in the diaper bag and procured a diaper.

"Hurry, Mommy! It's coming out!"

I hurried. With the baby in my right arm, I used my left to take off his shorts and underwear and diaper him up. At one point, I tried to let the baby rest on my knees while still keeping a nipple in her mouth by hunching over. You can imagine how well that went over. When I finally withdrew my hand, it had poop all over it. 

GAH

I used wipes and Purell while Henry went off to poop inside the ship. 

At this point, I texted my friend and told her we were coming back. It took a while for me to strap the baby securely into the stroller and get Henry to agree to "abandon ship," but eventually we were on our way. 

"I want to push the stroller myself!" demanded Mr. Persistent Temperament. (How bright and verbal you are! I'm going to be so proud in 30 years.)

"Fine," I said, relenting. So exhausted. So very, very exhausted. "You can push it on this straight, flat part, and then Mommy is going to push it."

"Okay," he agreed at exactly the same moment in which he veered sharply off to the left onto a patch of gravel. The stroller's plastic wheels locked. And the stroller fell over again. This time my newborn daughter was saved by the straps, or else she would have fallen straight out onto her face (#momoftheyear). 

I righted the stroller and grabbed Henry's hand. "We're LEAVING."

On the way home, Henry began to whimper. "My butt hurts." Well, of course it did. He was walking home with a huge diaper full of adult-style shit. I dragged him back to my friend's house and attempted a clean-up on the bathroom floor. 

I will spare you the gory details of this operation. Suffice it to say, I came out of the struggle with feces smeared on both forearms and my voice hoarse from screaming.

At that point, I threw in the towel.

"Are you sure you don't want me to make you some quick pasta before you get on the road?" my friend asked. "I'm worried about you driving."

But I just really wanted to go home.

As I packed up the car, Henry ran around barefoot wearing only a shirt and underwear. "I'm hungry! I want to go to the dino [diner]!" The baby was also crying out in hunger. 

I folded up the stroller and tried to get it back into the trunk of the car. There was an empty propane tank in there that Rayne had strapped securely with bungee cords this past weekend, in the vain hope of exchanging it at Home Depot. I couldn't get the stroller back in. I was getting agitated. I tried every which way until I decided the best way would be to yank the bungee cord aside and shove the stroller in as hard as I could. 

But instead of stretching the cord, I ripped the hook with a loud pop straight out of the wall of the trunk, fuzz flying everywhere.

I lost it.

I let out a shriek that echoed off the street's old walls. 

"Mommy, what did you yell?" (Henry)

"Waaaaaaaaaaaah!" (the baby)

"Are you okay?" (my friend)

I went inside and slumped down onto her couch. I nursed the baby and let Henry eat some leftover chicken salad from lunch.

Finally, the car was packed, and we were ready to go. 

Except for Hudson, who was sitting fifty feet away from me, in front of the house.

Oh, Hudson.

I opened the back door of the car. "Come!" Nothing. "Come on, Hudson!" Nope. "Hudson, COME!" Nada. He looked off to the left and pretended not to hear.

I stormed toward him. And in that moment, somehow, in some way that must defy the laws of physics, I ran into a bug so hard with the bridge of my nose that I thought I had been bitten. But, no. I had simply charged a large fly with my nose, Taurus-the-Bull style, and connected. I now sported a small, fairly painful bruise on the bridge of my gigantic Italian schnoz.

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

On the ride home, Henry chattered at me the entire 90 minutes. ("Can we follow the 1 train home?" "The 1 train is only in the city." "But can we follow it home?" "No." "Why not?" "I don't know." "Can you guess?" Rinse, repeat.) The baby only cried for the last 15 miles. Hudson, wisely, did not make a peep.

But you know what? No one died. And that's what I call a parenting victory.



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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Baltimore and Rage

I didn’t feel right saying nothing. So here are my brief thoughts on Baltimore.

Racism Is Real

Make no mistake: racism is real.

Institutional racism, like this wonderful story about Chicago cops torturing black men in police custody or the police brutality in Baltimore that has led to our present-day situation. Or the de facto segregation in New York City public schools. Or the shocking, inexcusable racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S. Take your pick, really.

Idiosyncratic racism, like this gem from a conversation string on a friend's Facebook page:



Animals? Really? Additionally, Missy, you might want to check your definition of civil disobedience. (Also, your spelling.)

Unconscious bias, like my own brush with racial disharmony on the playground almost two years ago. Think you are immune? Check out Harvard’s Project Implicit to understand your implicit associations about race, gender and sexual orientation. I did, and it freaked me out. No one is immune. No one.


As for the Rioting, I Get It

Have you ever gotten so mad you’ve thrown something? Or broken something? Or slammed the door so hard the house shook? I know I have, more than I care to admit.

So why is rioting so incomprehensible?

We know all the intellectual arguments for why rioting is often counterproductive. Rioters end up destroying property in their own communities, communities that are often already crying out for rejuvenation. Violent responses turn the mainstream against you. Violence begets violence. Et cetera.

But remember that time you threw something down in anger, and it broke? Did you have an intellectual, rational argument with yourself before you threw it down? Did you stop and consider: Gee, if I break this, I won’t have it anymore. Or if your rage was directed at a person, did you first muse: I bet if I say this, it will make the fight worse. Or did you react emotionally in the moment, even if you regretted it later?

I suppose if you have never broken anything or yelled at anyone in anger, then you can go on being your sanctimonious self. For the rest of us, let’s just take a step back. Why did you overreact? Maybe someone cut you off on the highway. Perhaps you were tired of cleaning up toddler poop, and whatever happened next was the last straw. But let’s be clear. All of that pales in comparison to centuries of systemic racism and oppression. Or being harassed by cops just because of the color of your skin. It’s not even close.

You don’t have to condone violence to have a shred of empathy for the reasons behind the rioting. Say it out loud, people: I get why you are so angry. I GET IT.


I Don’t Know What To Do

I have read a few interesting articles and opinion pieces, but nothing makes me feel more helpless than arguments I have heard before—after Ferguson, after Eric Garner, after Abner Louima, after Rodney King. So little has changed. I suspect that were I a bit older, I’d be even more cynical. This has been going on for centuries.

I only know that I must do something. My issue for the time being is the epidemic of gun violence, where there is no doubt a racial element. I only know that I must teach my son to recognize racism in himself and in society, and to react with horror, reflexively, at the violence in our world.

I only know that I must speak out, and add my voice to the chorus of those once again crying Black Lives Matter.