“Eventually, at the age of ten, I found myself invited to a party during which reverberations of profanity echoed through the night air of the backyard like tender kisses being blown through the breeze by wood nymphs. With the chaperoning adults inside the house, my fifth grade peers felt a refreshing wave of freedom and power.”
Tag Archives: essays
As challenging a life as I sometimes think I have, it’s nothing compared to the torturous turmoil and ceaseless suffering endured by my six-year-old-son.
Each morning, upon rising from ten or possibly even only nine hours of sleep, he is chronically faced with the devastating psychological trauma of an iPad that was not charged the night before and therefore only possesses four percent of its battery life. Hardly enough energy to power through a game of solitaire, never mind a round of Avengers’ Contest of Champions or even Flappy Goat. Even more humiliating, he is usually blamed for the oversight of not plugging in the iPad and must defend his honor. Loudly.
My son must survive throughout the week on an exponentially smaller wardrobe than the rest of the family due to a debilitating ailment that prevents him from putting away his clothes. This condition causes a category of blindness that only affects his ability to see articles of clothing on the floor, although visualization of other objects, such as legos or video game controllers, is not affected. Tragically, there’s no cure or treatment currently available.
Each day, my son must deal with the tremendous stress of being forced to ‘eat healthfully’, precisely defined in our house as three meals that don’t all include chocolate milk. The agony of being obliged to consume raw carrots is written across his furrowed brow in unspoken sorrow….unless it’s being spoken at full volume and with a slight nasally whine.
Constant physical issues plague my son. Nearly every day, and sometimes hourly, my son must tolerate random aches and pains that seem to materialize without rhyme or reason. Whether it’s a sudden twinge in his pinkie toe or an agonizing but somewhat vaguely described popping feeling in his ear, my son’s only recourse is to provide a detailed and regularly updated report on his latest series of discomforts, punctuated intermittently with vocal validation of his pain, such as ‘Ow! Ow!’ Thankfully, most of these problems seem to respond immediately to chocolate ice cream.
Occasionally, my son will experience violent fits, which tend to occur immediately after being asked to set the table or sort socks. He’ll temporarily lose the ability to communicate except in loud shrieks and exclamations of negativity. Sometimes his state will devolve even further to include writhing and flailing on the floor. This corporeal trauma only seems to abate after desperate pleas and negotiations concerning television privileges. By that time, my son is so physically exhausted, he must drag himself up the stairs while moaning and complaining noisily, poor fellow.
My son is cursed with a vivid imagination and curious nature. He is compelled to inquire about a host of random and trivial subjects which may or may not include a discussion on the potential martial arts skills of adolescent reptiles, a post-mortem on all the flavors of soda he has ever tasted, or a demand for the number of minutes he has been alive. Ironically, requests for information about HIM are typically answered with ‘I don’t want to tell you.’
My son’s remarkable resilience despite the brutal torments he must tolerate day in and day out is truly inspiring to me and everyone else in the household. Despite all his hardships, he typically ends each grueling day with a brave smile. As long as that day ends with chocolate ice cream….For medicinal purposes, of course.
‘“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.’….
Although I am not particularly squeamish about using public restrooms that may be described with a list of adjectives that does not necessarily include ‘sterile’, ‘spotless’ or even ‘clean’, I have recently developed a strong aversion to entering a specific bathroom that is right down the hall from where I live. In my own house. And belonging to my own children.
This space, which USED to resemble a bathroom, but now has taken on a certain post-apocalyptic war-ravaged feel, is the only room in the house that appears impervious to the bi-weekly cleanings I pay someone else to do. Like a haunted attic that just won’t stay cobweb-free no matter how many times you dust, my boys’ restroom seems to revert back to its previously characteristic state of horror seemingly within moments of my cleaning lady’s exit through the front door.
“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet, and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.
I’ve tried ignoring the existence of the bathroom and hoping any visiting guests will do the same, but that’s about as difficult as concealing a crack den in an otherwise tidy two-story suburban residence – you’re just bound to notice one room is a bit…off.
So, on occasion, my husband and I will force ourselves through the threshold and survey the damage. Aside from the distinct aroma, we will marvel at the amount of toothpaste that appears to be growing up from the tile on the sink, like an insidious blue-green sparkly mold that has broken out of a science lab petri dish and intends on devouring our home, surface by surface.
Until we look closely, we’ll assume that something has exploded within the basin itself, as tiny white ricochet marks seem to cover the entire expanse of the ceramic. Upon further inspection, we’ll realize it’s a Jackson Pollack pattern of toothpaste, saliva and tiny bits of whatever else happened to be swirled around in someone’s mouth and then shot out in a detonating eruption.
My husband and I stand aghast for about as long as we can muster up the strength (which isn’t very long), before loudly demanding the presence of our sons.
“What is this mess?!” I will bellow.
“What mess? By the way, I got an eight out of ten on my English test,” the older one will rapidly fire out, as he takes on the persona of a diminutive Jedi Master attempting to supernaturally compel our attention from the state of the bathroom to something else entirely.
“I think the toilet is dripping.” My younger son’s approach is to place the blame on anyone else, especially inanimate objects that cannot argue in their own defense.
“Oh, there’s some dripping going on, but not from the toilet…” I remark, while pointing my finger and furrowing my brow in a way that suggests less television and dessert if matters are not attended to immediately.
Painfully, I coerce my children into cleaning the bathroom. Unfortunately, my sons are about as effective at it as I happen to be, which is why I hire someone else to do it in the first place. Sigh. Perhaps she has a free day this week.
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.
I realize I should probably be promoting my work a bit more. To that end:
Very excited to have a story up on themid.com! Please check it out!
Certainly, one of the most peculiar parts of being a parent is watching the emerging idiosyncratic quirks that slowly bubble up to the surface of your child’s personality, especially when they seem to mirror your own. Here is a person – a separate entity – living outside of your brain, yet somehow seems to have absorbed and reflected so many of your own attitudes and inclinations. If the culprit is nature, you must assume your anxious disposition or pessimistic temperament originated in your DNA and seeped through the membranes into your unborn child as you lay prostrate and pregnant, pondering the ways you might ruin her. If it’s nurture, you have surely laid the groundwork for his impatience and volatility by tapping your foot angrily while you wait for him to clean up his toys. Either way, you seem to have only yourself to blame.
I was faced with this quandary yesterday when my nine-year-old son approached me with tears in his eyes.
“What is it?” I said nervously, my eyes scanning his body for bruises or bumps. Initially, he refused to answer and continued to wrap his tiny arms tighter around my torso.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” I coaxed, “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Finally, he succumbed. “It’s cello,” he admitted, “I don’t want to take it anymore.”
My eldest son, who has the vocabulary and sensibilities of a 40-year-old, refers to me by my first name and reads reference books for pleasure. He breezes through the advanced placement classes we enrolled him in two years ago, politely converses with older relatives and possesses a sense of patience with small children so profound, we’ve lately taken to calling him ‘the baby whisperer.’
“There’s something about him,” more than one grandmother has told me, “I really feel a strong connection with him.”
In some ways, he reminds me of myself at that age, especially when I see him interacting with adults or displaying a soft layer of sensitivity and empathy that one rarely sees in children his age. He has a strong need to relate to others and develop a rapport with everyone he meets. Sometimes his intelligence, coupled with his keen communicative abilities allows him the luxury of capably avoiding or abandoning situations which may require more intensive exertion on his part.
“You want to quit cello now?” I asked, “Look, you at least need to finish out the year.”
He shook his head. “I just don’t have the time to commit to it. It’s just too stressful for me right now.”
I couldn’t help smiling at these decidedly adult words coming out of the mouth of my diminutive son, who is routinely mistaken for a first grader due to his small stature and frame.
“You are supposed to practice 10 minutes a day,” I said, “That’s not so much, especially when I see you spending more than twice that on a video game.”
“But, it’s really hard. And, I haven’t been practicing enough,” he whimpered, his eyes filling up again, “And, now it’s too late to catch up and the teacher is going to yell at me when he finds out I wasn’t really telling the truth about how much I’ve been practicing, and…”
The whole web of deceit spun out from his lips, as he related how he had lied on the practice sheets the teacher handed out. I was very familiar with these sheets which were designed to compel children to track the minutes each day they spend on their instruments, and I signed off on them regularly with the somewhat vague knowledge that I was perpetuating a deception, as I was fairly aware the 70 minutes he professed to playing on a weekly basis was less of an exaggeration and more of a blatant fiction.
These last several weeks of increasing subterfuge had snowballed into a critical situation for my son. The lack of practice was excruciatingly obvious as he dragged his bow painfully across the strings to emit a sound not unlike the rusty creaking of an ancient tomb door. I had been wincing in the other room listening to it right before he had first approached me crying. The cello, my son had obviously decided, was to be categorized in his head of ‘things that don’t come easily’ and rather than choosing determination and hard work, he was desperately trying to convince me to let him ditch it. By removing this current blemish of failure, he could again return to his accustomed reputation of perfection.
The simplicity of the decision he had made – never again return to cello class – to solve this problem was as satisfying and sensible to him as it was maddening to me. Not that I could blame him. Because he got it from me.
Obviously, I am far from perfect, but much of my life has been carefully constructed to avoid inadvertently revealing my analytic inefficiencies. Like many bright children, I became accustomed to being called smart. And, it was only when I excelled at something that I received that praise. If I couldn’t excel, then I didn’t earn the approval. If someone wasn’t praising me, then I felt criticized. And, if I didn’t feel smart, well then, I guess I felt lacking or deficient. And, certainly, that was one of the worst feelings in the world.
Scholastic and academic prowess had always been paramount in my house. No one cared whether you made the team (or even went out for it), but bringing home a less than perfect test score prompted the inquiry, “What happened to the other two points?” My father’s aggressively well-read intellectualism and broad grasp of politics, history and social culture was intimidating but inspiring, and I craved his praise, which seemed to be granted on occasions few and far between. The thick aroma of mildew that sometimes hung heavily in the air of my father’s alcoved office amid the warped wooden shelves that held countless quantities of yellowing books in various states of decay was the smell of intelligence. Even so, my sisters and I learned quickly not to ask my father for help with schoolwork. Instead of answers, you got a stack of dusty, ancient tomes, too voluminous to read and too heavy to carry back up to your room.
As a result of my perceived pressure to stay perfect on my own, I carefully avoided pursuits I felt outside my range of proficiency. I never pushed myself, never set my sights high on the horizon, never took failure as a learning experience, but only as a warning to remove something from my purview. My mother was only too happy to help me in this regard. I was given free rein to quit any activity that made me feel incompetent or frustrated. As a young woman reflecting on my mother’s encouragement and sometimes even blatant suggestion that I give up on endeavors I found more difficult, I remember feeling angry that she didn’t push me to work harder, but today, as the mother of two young boys who would do almost anything to stop their pain or suffering, be it a broken leg or a hangnail, I find myself better able to appreciate her choices, even as I struggle to make different ones.
There is no question the value my father placed on scholarly achievements has been reflected back into my own parenting with my oldest son. It doesn’t bother me that he barely knows the rules of most sports games and has the slight and petite physical build of a spectator. The ease with which I watch him undertake most academic subject matters gives me a thrill. When his acceptance into the advanced placement program seemed in jeopardy, preparing an appeal on his behalf became a critical mission for me. I enjoy boasting about his scholastic efforts to friends and family, and although I try to abide by the current educational trend of avoiding the term ‘smart’ in favor of ‘motivated’ or ‘determined’, I have been guilty of letting the ‘s’ word slip out here and there. Perhaps the pride that I take in his accomplishments is a manifestation of the memories I harbor of my own – the strong need to outshine and out succeed – or quit trying.
As he stood before me, his red, tear-tinged eyes filled with anxiety and fear, I wondered whether he was more concerned about being caught in an embarrassing, lingering lie or if the pressure of needing to feel perfect was weighing heavily upon his tiny shoulders. Had I contributed to his angst? Had I laid the groundwork for a redux of qualities that I recognize in myself and strive to surpass?
For a moment, like my mother before me, I was possessed with the overwhelming need to save him from this cello-induced catastrophe. Call his teacher and explain why he must be excused for the rest of the year. Maybe I could blame it on finances, “I’m sorry, we just can’t afford the 12 dollars a month to rent it anymore,” or the psychological stress of too many after-school activities, “It’s either cello or Minecraft class, and he really loves Minecraft….” or even carpel tunnel syndrome, “A doctor’s note? Is that REALLY necessary…?” Whatever it took to remove this worrisome burden from the brow of my fragile first-born baby.
Instead, I took a deep breath and said, “Cello is not stressful. Not practicing and lying about it seems to be extremely stressful, however. Wouldn’t you agree?”
He nodded emphatically.
“I will write a note to your teacher to explain that you have fallen a little behind and see if there is a way to get extra help. In the meantime, how about we BOTH agree to remind each other about you practicing every day? Because I know you don’t want to go through this again, right?”
While I was not surprised by the initial enthusiasm that went into cello practice over the next several days, I was slightly bemused when it continued. A week later, on a night that bedtime loomed and the cello had not yet been played, I suggested he take the day off.
“You’ve been really good. You can skip it one day,” I assured him.
He shook his head and picked up his bow. “I won’t get better if I don’t practice,” he said, shrugging.
And THAT, really sounded nothing like me.