6YO: You can’t hit girls.
Me: That’s right.
6YO:…..but you can trip them!
6YO: You can’t hit girls.
Me: That’s right.
6YO:…..but you can trip them!
6YO: Hey Mommy, if you say ‘smelly armpits’ really fast, it sounds like a Harry Potter magic spell.
6yo: I’m Albert Einstein!! I’m the guy who invented Times Square!!
One of the most challenging aspects of parenthood is convincing your child that you have some idea of what you are doing…because you usually don’t.
“I don’t need a jacket today,” my six-year-old will report to me on mornings that I look out the window and observe ice falling from the sky.
“You need a jacket,” I will insist, “It’s freezing, and you are only wearing a t-shirt that appears to be two sizes too small.”
“But, I’m not cold,” he will reason, as if logic is something he uses on a regular basis.
“Put on your jacket,” I will counter.
“But, MOMMY WHHHHHHYYYYYYY?” His voice will go up several octaves and level out in a long whine like a dying balloon looking for a safe place to land on the floor.
“Because,” I will pause and then utter those words that all parents swear never to use: “I SAID SO.”
Providing such rationale is typically a dead giveaway to any child worth his salt that you have exhausted all your ‘real’ answers and have gotten desperate. My older son, aged ten going on 40, is especially salty.
“I really think you should join a soccer league,” I will say on occasion, varying the suggested sport with each season.
“Not interested,” he will murmur from the couch, the glowing reflection of Minecraft dancing in his eyeballs.
“You’ll make some new friends,” I will point out, “And, you could really use the exercise..”
I’ll go over a prepared list of data points and supporting research to validate my position, like a freshman on the first day of debate club, usually getting monosyllabic counter-arguments or grunts in reply.
Finally, I’ll give up. “How do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it??” I’ll wail, exasperated.
Here, he’ll glance up briefly and inform me, “I’ve never tried having my brain eaten by zombies, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t like it.”
Obviously, my children are getting older, and they are becoming more aware of the fact that at any given time, as a parent, I am winging it. “Because,” is increasingly less convincing as an answer for questions like, “Why can’t I have a bowl of jelly beans for dinner?” or “How come I have to wear pants to Grandma’s party?” Really, I just don’t know.
Recently, I overheard my older son instructing his brother on the finer points of a video game they were playing.
“Why do I need to defeat ALL the bad guys on this level?” the six-year-old questioned.
“Because….,” his brother paused, “I said so.”
At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Me: So, now that I’m 40, I had to go get a mammogram today.
Max: What’s that?
Me: They squish your boobs in between the plates of this machine to take pictures of the insides and make sure they are healthy.
Me: The lady there had to squish my boobs with her hands. She must do that to 100 women a day.
Max: I think I just found my perfect job.
Being a step-mother is very hard. As much as I have wished my step-daughter was my own daughter many times, I have had to face the fact that she’s not.
I was second guessing myself as we drove the hour and a half home with two very large and rather intimidating rats in a cardboard box on the floor of my mini-van, yet my son seemed to summon a hitherto hidden Dr. Doolittle ability to befriend all members of the animal kingdom, naming them after his favorite television show heroes – Finn and Jake.
The rats themselves were cheap – no pure-bred pedigree papers to buy here – but buying the cage, food, bedding and a number of other ‘must have’ rat items made it clear we were really investing in this venture.
“I hope this isn’t a mistake,” said my husband after the fifth time he cut his hand putting together the $80 cage.
I hoped so too, especially several weeks later when the novelty of having new pets wore off. Insisting my son take out the rats every day to play with and handle them became a daily chore for me. When he complained, I had to remind him that they were HIS pets and HIS responsibility. Unfortunately, the responsibility of cleaning the cage (as well as any random droppings and urine) fell to my husband and me. I began to remember why I had avoided pets for so long. The musky smell of the cage hung heavily in the air of my sons’ room and there wasn’t too much we could do about it, but get used to it. I worried about the rats being bored in their cage, and worried about them not getting enough exercise and worried about them chewing through their cage bars and running amuck in the house. I realized that I was thinking of them as extensions of my own children – well except for the bar chewing bit.
Here’s the problem with letting people know you have rats – they never let you live it down. My family and friends were at best amused and at worst aghast at the notion that we had willingly brought vermin into our home as pets. If I had a dime for every snake food joke or grandmother that declared she would never visit my house again, I’d be a rich woman. My neighbor told me about one of the houses on her street becoming infested with rats while the owner was away. “Thought you’d like that story,” she smirked.
Despite the reputation we were developing as ‘that family with the rats’, I felt our pets were serving their purpose. My sons were becoming less afraid of animal encounters – even with dogs – and we got used to Finn and Jake crawling into the bookshelf or scurrying behind the toilet when we let them roam out of their cage. I am not too proud to admit that I began to adore them. They both had very distinct personalities and especially Jake was very fond of snuggling. Rats do this odd eye-ball popping thing when they are having a good time and it became a physical manifestation of their joy when they did it while nestled in your arms. Perhaps I was becoming a pet person after all.
And then, disaster.
To Be Concluded….
Max (age 9): Reuben, I can teach you how to handle bullies.
Max: If someone is bothering you, just say to them, ‘Do you consider yourself a worthy opponent?’
Me: THAT’S what you are suggesting a kindergarten kid should say??
Max: Trust me, it works. Then ask them what 12 divided by 4 is.
Me: Math for bullies? He’ll get beat up for sure… Wait a minute… what is your angle here?
Max: Hee hee.
I don’t want to make myself out to be some kind of anti-PETA monster. I think puppies are cute. I appreciate the aesthetic of a basket of kittens and yarn. Seeing-eye dogs provide an amazing service to those in need. Animal friends can help old people live longer. But, perhaps because I grew up with an understanding of how much work pets can be, when I finally moved out of my house, it was with a sense of relief that the only thing I had to take care of for a while was myself.
Eventually that changed, and unfortunately, as much as I knew about owning animals, no one really prepared me for how much work it was to have kids. But, for some reason, taking care of babies didn’t bother me as much. Maybe it was the biological link or maybe it was the fact that they didn’t have teeth yet to chew up my shoes, or maybe it was because they wore diapers to prevent accidents on the rug. I didn’t mind changing them, or feeding them or playing with them the way I minded cleaning up after animals. (Except for vomit. Vomit’s always bad.)
For years my husband, kids and I lived without any pets at all. Happily. I smiled knowingly when I heard my friends complain about finding someone to watch their cats or guinea pigs while they were away. I shook my head when I read the latest neighborhood email trail about a loose dog found on the street. I casually scanned through Facebook photos of ‘fur babies’ and ‘fur mommies’ without the slightest consideration of whether adding a pet to our own family would be a desirous prospect. I was surprised when my sister, who I thought shared the same views on animals as I did, purchased a dog with her husband. “I have enough things and people to take care,” I would say, if my mother – who to this day, remains an ‘animal’ person – would bring up the idea.
It wasn’t until I noticed that my two sons, who were growing up isolated from any kind of regular pet contact, were afraid of animals that I gave owning one a second thought. The idea that my stubborn refusal to entertain the notion of having a pet might in some way be detrimental to my children’s psychological state set off some perfectionist paranoia and I abandoned my rock-steady resolution on pets in a matter of days. Initially, we tried a couple of beta-fish and hermit crabs, but it became clear a species on a slightly higher order was necessary.
“Kids need to have a furry pet,” I reasoned with my husband, who had grown up with dogs and cats and was more than happy not to have any now.
“No dogs,” he said.
For a moment, I considered a cat, but I was still very allergic and the idea of subjecting myself to cat dander and the heavy regimen of anti-histamines which would be necessary in order to live in my own home was not appealing.
That left the rodent group. Ferrets, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice and……rats. Let me briefly explain that prior to the story I am relating, I always had a ‘thing’ about rats. For Indiana Jones, it’s snakes. For me, it was rats. They’re clever, creepy and contagious. As a child, I’d seen at least two movies in which humans get eaten by rats. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ and ‘The Secret of NIHM’ notwithstanding, I hated rats.
Yet, as I continued to research the best ‘first furry pet for a child’, rats kept coming up at the top of the list again and again. Apparently, they are as smart as dogs. They can be trained fairly easily and will adapt to your sleep schedule (most other rodents are strictly nocturnal). They are extremely social and enjoy interacting with people and rats. They very rarely bite without provocation. They don’t require shots and are relatively easy to take care of.
Ultimately, no one was more surprised than me when I agreed to allow my nine year old son adopt two rats for Hanukkah. Two instead of one because they are so social, they will get lonely if left by themselves for too long, apparently. We didn’t even own them yet and I was already anxious about their psychological states.
To Be Continued….
Max (age nine): So, we had a pre-test in grammar today. Man, I didn’t know half of what they were asking us! One of the questions was ‘what word should you use to get two other words together?’ I had no idea, so I wrote ‘sex.’