Monday, January 18, 2010

Parenting without a license.

You've kind of heard this before, but here's what I churned out in desperation for my first assignment today:

Why is it that we require permits for all sorts of other skilled or dangerous activities, like jumping a motorcycle over fifteen monster trucks, but not to engage in what is arguably the most difficult and dangerous activity known to man: parenting? Leaving aside the most obvious offenders, the horrifying, abusive parents who shouldn’t even be given a pen to fill out the application, what about the rest of us? Shouldn’t we at least be required to pass a few simple classes? Nothing prepares today’s rootless parents for the terror and humiliation of raising small children, but some basic training for the onslaught would go a long way. Soldiers aren’t sent into battle without a few weeks in boot camp, for Christ’s sake; why are we?

I wish my children had arrived clutching little manuals in their tiny, red fists. Then instead of wasting all those hours watching daytime TV and poking idly at the Shar Pei folds of my vacated belly, I could have spent my post-partum depression learning how to be a mom. I couldn’t rely on the forty-five “definitive” manuals on child-rearing that I had bought, each telling me something completely different about how to turn my little cavemen into polite, law-abiding members of society. With so much conflicting information I’ve been left to cobble together suggestions from each into a giant, play-doh wad of failure.

If you’re bored on a Saturday and you have a mean streak, the grocery store is a great place to witness all sorts of people’s failures as parents. The other day, I put on a good show for the crowd at Whole Foods when I took my two year old son in with me to buy a bag of cat food.

Two year old: “Mommy, I want to walk.”

Me, adopting a fakey, commiserating tone I knew would be useless: “Honey, we’re just here to get some cat food. I’m going to hold you and we’ll get out of here.”

TYO, with a needling whine that acts as a head-snapping beacon to adults: “Noooo! Don’t hold me!”

Me: “Ok, how about you stand here while I lift this 30-pound bag of cat food, then I will pick you up with my other arm and we’ll go! Whee! Doesn’t that sound like fun!?”

TYO: “OK.”

Me: “Thanks, buddy!”

Why I was fooled by his easy acquiescence, I have no idea - probably because I had no alternative if I wanted to get that frigging cat food. If I had been willing to buy cat food that didn’t have “other cats” as one of its ingredients, I could have tossed my kid into a cart at Safeway and we could have called it a day. Instead, as I kneeled to grab the soul-satisfying kibble, off he ran. Before I could stand up, his rubbery little legs had carried him all the way into the next aisle. I knew he was there because I could hear his gleeful, piercing shrieks, and so could everyone else.

By the time I caught up to him, our faces were both red; his with the exertion of outrunning me for the length of the store, mine with humiliation. As I had chased him up and down the aisles, trying to appeal to him in an authoritative hiss that I hoped, magically, only he and no one else would be able to hear, everyone had turned to look at me with expressions either pitying or appalled. I scooped my flailing, bucking child up sideways into my arm and marched him to the check-out line. The old woman in front of us glared at me disapprovingly as my son somehow escaped my grasp and hiked himself onto the conveyor belt. “Hello,” he said to her as he passed her on his way to the checkout clerk. The old hag’s expression told me she wouldn’t have put up with such nonsense. “Hmm,” she opined through sour, pursed lips.

“Lady,” I said, “I know that you and I are both thinking that I’m that mother, the one who can’t even control a two-year old. And I’m sure things were much different in your day, when you would just cuff your kid on the head if he acted up. But have you been to Wal-Mart lately? If you think slapping my kid would solve the problem, I suggest you go take a whirl through their aisles and see how well that’s working out. So I’m kind of at a loss.”

The old shrew narrowed her eyes at me and, emphatically grabbing her change from the clerk, turned on her heel and walked away.

“Mommy, that lady is so meeeeeeeean!” said my kid, climbing back onto my hip as if the last 10 minutes hadn’t happened. “You’re nice.” As I kissed his head in reprieve, he rappelled off of me and darted towards the door.


Anonymous said...

Oh, the joys of public outings with a mobile and fearless tyo. I had my first taste of the public humiliation yesterday, trying to convince the Bear that it was time to leave the park. That "conversation" quickly devolved into a wrestling match (which I barely won). Embarrassing to say the least.

You *definitely* captured the horror/humor of it all.

Chi Qoung said...

you get to look back later and have a laugh for taking life so seriously. Have fun time will pass!