Toy Section

We were at Target and had some time to kill while the pharmacy filled a prescription. Naturally T asked to go to the toy section. As we walked to the aisle with the Transformers I noticed the family already there. The father was a mountain of a man, physically intimidating. The mother was his opposite, a tiny slip of a woman with a hard face. Not kind judgements, but I’m trying to tell this story honestly. There was a baby in the shopping cart and a boy between the age of my kids walking around. The boy was being downright nasty to his parents and the Dad was getting angry. Frankly, the Dad was scaring me a little.

I turned the cart and headed for the lego aisle instead. The family made me uneasy. Again, not very kind. I was making a snap judgement, an unfair judgement, a judgement I try to prevent T from making when he looks at strangers.

The boys were having a blast looking at the Star Wars legos. I was having a pretty big internal struggle over avoiding the other family. The kid and the Dad were audibly bickering, but suddenly the father erupted. His shouting was so violent that my heart started pounding and I had goosebumps on my arms. “I AM SICK OF YOUR FUCKING SHIT. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT.”

T looked at me questioningly. I was frozen to the spot. I wasn’t a little scared anymore, I was terrified. If this man would talk to his three year old that way he might rip the head off a stranger who suggested he should tone it down.

T knew something was wrong, he looked at me for help and all I could do was stare blankly at him.

Listen, I know on this blog I swear like a sailor. But the truth is I try not to swear in front of the kids. I nag Z not to swear in front of them either. It isn’t cute to me when a kid says fuck or shit. Call me old fashioned, call me a raging hypocrite, but I don’t want my kids talking like that. And I try not to swear in anger. I try not to yell, “Fuck you!” at Z when we fight. To me swear words are fun, screaming them at someone equals loss of control loss and poisonous vitriol. I certainly have gone there in my life, more than I’d care to admit, but over the last nearly 16 years I’ve been with Z I try my damndest not to.

The poor kid being yelled at. I felt sick for him. What three year old deserves to be spoken to that way? Of course he was being a brat when I saw him earlier. He was clearly modeling behavior.

Z and I yell at the boys. Lately T has gotten a bit mouthy with me. Is it because I yell at him? Am I creating a monster? How different am I from that Dad? Is it just a slippery slope? How can I judge that man when I engage in a toned down version of the same behavior? Do I think I’m a better parent because I don’t yell in public or swear or lose total control? Is he actually more honest than I am?

The yelling stopped and I heard the family move away. I suggested T follow me in the opposite direction as I pushed C in our cart. Eventually we made our way back so T could salivate over his beloved Transformers. But I felt uncomfortable, ashamed, dirty even for the rest of our trip. Should I have spoken up for the poor kid? Who is going to protect him? What should I have said to T? He looked to me for answers and I gave him nothing. How dare I judge the family in the first place? How dare I feel momentarily vindicated in that judgement when the man freaked out?

Smart friends, what would you have done? What do you do when your kid is exposed to behavior you find abhorrent? What should I have done?

The most important task I have as a parent is to teach the boys to be decent humans. Yesterday I felt like a failure, a fraud.

chocolate drool

How about a funny picture to lighten things up? How about some post-dessert chocolate drool from my sweet mess of a boy?

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When I Grow Up….

A million years ago Z and I were regulars at the most perfect bar in the history of the universe. It was located on a quiet Brooklyn street next to the church that Al Capone had been married in. According to city laws the proximity to the church meant that the bar couldn’t serve liquor-just beer and wine. For a number of years it thrived. The beer and cider selection was unreal. There was a killer jukebox, pool table, dart boards, and a Ms. Pac Man machine. Sparky’s was named for an owner’s dog, I believe, and it was dog friendly. The bartenders would bring their pooches, patrons were welcome to do the same. And then as time passed it just…starting falling apart. There were money problems. The crowds dwindled, the long line of taps were frequently connected to nothing.

The bar was on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. We found it when Z started working in Red Hook. No trains go down to that neighborhood and it is cut off by Robert Moses’s folly, the BQE. Stopping at the bar was a reward for the 20 minute hike back to civilization for the crew in the drafting room at Showman Fabricators at the end of a long day. This was back before Ikea and Fairway moved in to Red Hook, before the ferries to Manhattan–Z began working there in the heartbreaking fever dream that was the fall of 2001.

One night I was playing darts with a group of friends in the back room. We were quickly crawling through the perfect window of opportunity of buzzed dart playing in which you were suddenly a rock star who could hit the triples and bulls without much fuss and on our way to the free fall of terrible drunken dart playing. We were also smoking up a storm. Damn, it was just one of many fantastic nights at Sparky’s. It was perfection. Drunk, irresponsible, young perfection. Man, I miss that place.

A woman about our age, a woman who was certainly not a regular, hustled over to us and got very nasty. She yelled at us for feeding her dog. The pup had wandered back to us several times unattended. But we didn’t actually have food. It was a liquids only event for us. This was reasonably pointed out to her and it had the desired effect of taking the wind out of her sails. She did have the decency to blush and stammered, “Well….this is a dog bar you know!” before flouncing away, probably to find the group with the takeout so she could yell at them.

“Huh,” someone much cleverer than I mused. “I thought it was a people bar.”

She was a caricature of a certain type of entitled New Yorker (Ok, to be honest we were as well, just a different flavor of entitled) I mean, if you don’t want your dog to eat takeout tidbits at a bar shouldn’t you be watching said dog? In fact, if you have a dog in a strange place shouldn’t you be watching it no matter what? Do you really expect others to intuit how to treat your animal?

Though this was years before Z and I became parents I remember thinking if she was such a shitty dog owner it would be awful if she had kids. Obviously I have no idea of who she was as a human, but in the last decade plus I’ve thought of her often. She has become a larger than life cautionary tale to me. She is the person I don’t want to be when I grow up. She is the person I fear I am deep down inside.

The last post about T and his classmate really wasn’t about those four year old kids. I told the story wrong. It was about parents, it was about me.

So far we haven’t had an interaction with a parent like the one with that girl in the bar all those years ago. We are lucky enough to have the boys at an extraordinary preschool. A couple of years ago I remember finding out that T had hit another child on the playground. I approached the child’s Mom the next day and apologized. She could not have been more gracious about it.

That ridiculous gal in the bar in Brooklyn has become a bit of a talisman (Can a memory be a talisman? Does it need to be an object?) to me. She reminds me to check my behavior. She reminds me of the kind of grown up I want to be. I will not attack others in an effort to mindlessly protect the ones I love. I will not teach my child that if he comes crying to me I will defend him to the death, but that his own actions will be unexamined. What a terrible disservice that would be to him.

And if the day comes in which we do need to approach parents about an interaction between our children I hope Z and I will do so with care and compassion knowing we might not have the full picture of events rather than with hot headed accusations.

Funny, I’m grateful to that girl in Brooklyn. She might not understand it, but even though I was off my ass drunk she got through to me. She taught me a huge lesson that night.

Jesus, Sparky’s really did rock. Wish it was still around.

sparkys

The night that Sparky’s closed.

k and z last night at sparkys

Good lord, we were a messy. Closing night. Think it was after the smoking ban happened, but that night nobody gave a shit.

snowmen

Alien snowman and robot snowman made by Z and T.

cold c

Cold C at the Atlanta Zoo with Grandma and Grandpa last week.

long haired t

I’m not going to lie. I miss the long hair.

Teaching T

There is a little library room at T’s preschool and that is where I found him, in the middle of a tight little knot of boys, when I arrived to pick him up yesterday. He didn’t see me, so I stood and watched for a bit.

A little girl was trying to be part of the group and she was rebuffed by the boys. She was crying. The teachers were negotiating the rough spot appropriately. My heart ached for her. I was composing the speech in my head for the car ride home-how T should speak up in those situations. How he needs to be kind to all the kids. How he should always stand up for a kid who is being picked on. Because T wasn’t participating in the treatment of the girl, but he was there. Watching.

And then T was mean to her.

Tears sprung to my eyes. He wasn’t a bystander. He was part of the pack. This girl was crying and he was mean. It probably wasn’t the first time he ganged up on a kid, but it was the first time I witnessed it. I called him over to me and demanded he go to her and apologize, which he did.

Last fall I wrote a post about watching a classmate of T’s be mean to him at the playground. I wrote that as much as it hurt to watch another kid be mean to T, I knew it was only a matter of time before T was mean himself. Knowing that with my head almost a year ago is really different from feeling it now. I felt helpless and horrible and fiercely overprotective that day last fall. Yesterday I felt worse. I felt helpless and horrible and disappointed. I am disappointed that T made the choice to be mean. I am disappointed that my parenting hasn’t been good enough to prevent this. I am disappointed that my expectations both for T and myself are completely unrealistic. T is not a perfect child. He is a regular kid. I am not a perfect Mom (Said in Severus Snape’s voice, “Obviously”). I am a Mom who loves her kids and makes tons of mistakes everyday. Both of us need to try harder. Both of us will mess up. Our characters aren’t ruined by a single bad choice.

We did talk a lot about it yesterday. I asked him how he would feel if he was crying and someone was mean to him. He said he’d feel bad. But he also said that she wasn’t his friend. Oh boy, that is a whole other ball of wax. I cannot force him to be friends with every child he comes across. I did tell him that being nice was not something we just did with our friends. We treat others the way we want to be treated. We protect those who are being picked on. I told him that one day he might be the kid that is being picked on and I hope on that day another kid would stand up for him.

Z and I want so much for our boys. We want them to be happy, we want them to learn the value of hard work, we want them to have fun, we want them to use their intelligence, we want them to be responsible. But mostly we want them to be compassionate. Some days I feel so ill equipped for this parenting gig. I feel helpless and frustrated and angry. No matter how much I desire it I have no idea how to raise respectful and kind children. I put too much pressure on T. I expect the behavior of a much older child.

Raising the boys is the most important job I will ever have. So every mistake on my part or their part feels amplified. It is hard to remember that we have almost two decades until they are grown. The four years that I’ve been a Mom have gone faster than any others in my life. Yes, we have almost two decades, but I’ll blink and that time will be over. The day that T was mean to a girl in preschool is not going to be the defining moment of those two decades. Neither is my handling of that situation.

Child rearing is a lot like marriage. Constant, overwhelming work. I can’t think of any work that is more worth it. In both cases the rewards are the best parts of my life. As I say goodnight to T each evening I sing him a silly little song I stole from Z called Mommy Hugs (yes, it was Daddy Hugs when Z used to do it). A few nights ago T told me he wanted to sing me a new song instead. As he held onto me he sang, “I love Mommy hugs! Mommy gives the best hugs in the world!” It was the highlight of my week.

And today when I picked T up he called to me that the little girl from yesterday also likes Transformers. So he interacted with her today. He made an effort. I still wanted to grab her and give her a hug and tell her I was sorry yesterday was a rough day for her. Instead she and T leaned against me and I read them Cinderella. While successfully swallowing all snarky comments about what a misogynistic piece of shit the story was. I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

z and cousins on porch

Our niece G visited last week. We really did try to get a nice picture of the cousins. At least Z is cooperating.

z rib tattoo

Z’s 40th birthday present. Isn’t it amazing? Hopefully we’ll get back to Baltimore this fall to get the color done. And so I can get another one myself….

world breastfeeding week

World Breastfeeding Week just wrapped up, but here’s one of C and me to celebrate.

Mean Kids

We went to the playground yesterday with some friends. T was the oldest one in our little group, so he gravitated towards the big kids who were already there. I overheard one of these kids telling her friends that T was in her class. She seemed way older than him, but I looked closer and recognized her. She asked me if T’s name was Thomas and I told her it was, she marched right up to him and gave him a big hug. It was really sweet.

He’s in the preschool room this year, so there are kids his age and a year older. With young children that single year really does make a huge difference in size, I’m reminded of that fact every time I see one of the kids in the toddler room scurry by. Was T really that tiny just last year?

T really wanted to play with the big kids. And the gal in his class told him in no uncertain terms that he could not. She also told him to get off the seesaw because the big kids needed to use it for their game. Her three friends backed her up. He sat there quietly. I didn’t know what to do. I told her he really was a big boy, but she insisted 3 was not big enough. I asked her to include him. She said no.

Listen, she’s a 4 year old girl. I wish she hadn’t been mean to my boy, but I’m not angry at her. I don’t know her or her family well, but I actually like her mom a lot and I know she would not be thrilled with her daughter’s behavior. I know because if T did it to another kid (and really, isn’t it a matter of when?) it would upset me deeply.

This stuff is going to happen. Frankly, this was a mild episode. It really shocked me that I didn’t know what to do. How to help my little guy out. We both ended up just quietly going about our business. I did not want to let her bully him off of the seesaw and I could see the confusion on his face, but I was proud that he stood his ground, that he didn’t retreat.

Later in the evening we joined Z downtown to grab some dinner before a gallery opening at which he was giving a talk.  We strolled down the sidewalk towards the restaurant together and Z asked T about his day. T said, “The girl in my class was mean to me on the playground.” My heart just sank. I didn’t know how much of what happened really sunk in with him. I was hoping he didn’t understand that she was being unkind. Clearly that was wishful thinking.

Suddenly I found my voice. I told him that the girl was mean to him, that was a fact. He had every right to be hurt by her behavior and I was really sorry that she made him feel bad. I told him he should remember how he felt today when he gets older and there is a young kid on the playground that wants to play with him. I asked him to make the choice to be kind to the little kid, to include him rather than hurt his feelings. Because we need to be nice to each other, we need to treat each other exactly how we want to be treated. We need to give each other a chance, just because someone is younger or different doesn’t mean they aren’t worth our time.

I don’t know that he got it, but I hope he did. I mean, clearly he got her behavior so it isn’t a stretch to think he understood what I was telling him. Even if he did get it I know he’ll be mean to kids throughout his childhood, dude is not perfect. Hell, he might already be unkind when he’s at school. I have no way of knowing how he acts when I’m not watching.

It has surprised me how unsettled I am by the incident. Again, in the greater scheme of things it really wasn’t a big deal. But jesus, it’s put me through the emotional wringer. The pain I experience when my kid hurts is so extreme that my gut reaction is to do anything in my power to take that hurt away. It’s one of the parts of being a Mom that is the most surprising to me. But when I stop and think for a second I realize the kid is going to get hurt. A lot. And it isn’t always a bad thing, in fact in some cases it will help him grow. I saw the mother and little girl today and I’m ashamed to admit that the small hurt little girl inside me totally wanted to tell on her. Thankfully I didn’t seriously consider it for a second. I do understand she was being completely developmentally appropriate. She was trying to assert her authority among her peers, to show she was one of the big girls (she looked to be the youngest of her group). And before this all happened she did greet T and hug him.

I’ve had a number of shrinks explain to me that folks who have anxiety disorders generally suffer from acute oversensitivity, which isn’t all bad because it often leads to a huge capacity to feel empathy. If I may be so bold, I know I’m hideously oversensitive yet one of my strengths is my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I’ve spent a lot of time since yesterday thinking about what is going on in T’s head, but I’ve also thought about how the hypothetical kid will feel when T is the mean one some day. And how that kid’s Mom will feel. I don’t want my son to cause that pain every bit as much as I don’t want him to feel the pain. But he will. And it won’t be because he is some horrible monster, it will be developmentally appropriate. It’s where the little girl is right now, she is being normal. Seeing the boy T will become in her actions helps me not overreact to her behavior. Holy shit, the anxiety is helping me right now. And there is a little “turning lemons into lemonade” action for your Friday afternoon.

This kid has my whole heart. 

Especially when he’s being silly. 
Syracuse as we were leaving downtown last night.

If You Didn’t Think I Was an Insecure Dork Before….

T and I had a pretty huge morning. We finally walked the 3 blocks to our public library and I got a card after living here for two years. We hung out in the kids section and read board books. Then we walked home a slightly longer way (T was following two older boys on bikes) and went by the pizza place he sometimes visits with his Dad. He pointed and asked for pizza, it was a few minutes before 11am. I figured they opened at 11, so I waddled across the street and T got the first slice of the day.

Totally normal stuff, and we were back at our front door in less than two hours. But man, was my mind racing the whole time. I kept thinking is this what normal feels like? This is the stuff that other moms do without thinking every single day. They surely don’t feel like they should get a gold star, but I was so proud of myself. And then, of course, I felt dumb for feeling proud over such a small thing. The negative feelings were close to the surface because of another hurt feeling situation. But this one was real, and it was aimed at someone I love. It’s not my place to discuss the details, the gist is someone I know was a complete and utter dickhead to one of the people I am closest to. It makes me feel so angry and impotent and vulnerable and just plain old sad.

So when the two boys that T followed out of the library showed up and started looking at books my mind was on overdrive thinking about all the social situations T was going to have to navigate during his life. He sweetly followed those boys around to every shelf they looked at. When one of them sat on the reading mat T sat right across from him, book in lap, copying the kid’s every move. When the boys left, T was crushed and ready to leave himself. Out front he saw them climbing on their bike and he called, “Bye guys!” I was proud of him for being so brave, but it also broke my heart to watch him seeking approval from two kids that didn’t even act like he existed.

Don’t get me wrong, those boys were perfectly pleasant and age appropriate and it was in no way their responsibility to play with my kid. What I was reacting to was thinking about my own longing to fit in when I was the perpetual new kid growing up, and how so many of my peers didn’t have the time of day for a new girl. Again, most of those kids weren’t cruel. They were being normal kids who already had friends, it wasn’t their job to coddle the new people. But I’ve never gotten over wanting people to like me no matter what. And not everyone is going to always like me, I often do very unlikable things.

Now, this is an embarrassing confession, but it’s also been bugging me all morning that overnight I lost two friends on FB. I have no idea who unfriended me, and I know I shouldn’t give a crap. I’m just as honest and uncomfortable on FB as I am here, I offend people all the time and am often unfriended. And yet…it makes me feel bruised. Pretty ridiculous. It also made me think about a friend request I sent out months ago to a childhood friend. The request hasn’t been accepted, and it hasn’t been denied. And I’ve thought about it on and off quite a bit. It was a kid I had a crush on, a sensitive and quiet kid, and I was aggressive in what I thought was a joking way with him. I vaguely remember him ending up in tears as we played several times, and suddenly it hit me that he probably felt like I was bullying him. I’ve written about bullying before, and my abhorrence of it, and suddenly I’m realizing I may be the bully remembered by a contemporary. I really liked this kid, and I feel terrible that he probably remembers me as the cause of hurt. I kind of want to send him a message in which I apologize, but I’ve already reached out. I’ve realized the kindest thing I can do is leave him the hell alone.

Someday T is going to be hurt and do the hurting over and over again. He is going to make his own mistakes and have his personal victories and I’m going to have to stand to the side and let it all happen so he can learn how to navigate his way through interpersonal relationships. I’ll always be there to step in if needed, and I’ll be there to listen. But he needs to get hurt and pick himself up and figure out how to deal with people himself. I hope he is more successful than I have been.

A hot date at the pizza parlor with my sweet boy. 

Much to my anxiety-ridden surprise, it was pretty fun. We’ll have to do it more often in the next few weeks before his brother joins us.
My serious guy at a cookout in our backyard this past weekend.