Parenting Faux Pas: Mystery Goo & Other Questionable Activities

“My eye hurted!” says my almost-two-year-old in the bathtub.

“My arm hurted” says my almost-two-year-old after lifting his fork.

“My butt hurted!” says my almost-two-year-old on the changing table (that he’s way too big for btw, and lays on like a fat weiner dog smushing a chew toy).

I’m sure you’re thinking “Awww, poor little baby! What’s hurting him and how can I make it better?” Start gathering up your stones to throw, because our reaction to this constant stream of apparently painful, yet invisible, physical problems has become one of strained patience and unbridled sarcasm.

“Your eye doesn’t hurt. Your face isn’t even wet. There is no soap anywhere near your eyeball and, even if there were, the fat alligator tears you’re producing would have already washed it out by now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that your arm hurts. Perhaps you should stop poking it with your fork. There is plenty of food on the plate for you to practice spearing, leave your own flesh alone.”

The butt issue is a little different. I’ve seen/cringed/cooed/powdered and patted that little behind many times when he was suffering through painful forms of diaper rash. But this is not one of those times! He’s claiming that his baby ass hurts when it’s hanging out commando, footloose and fancy free in the breeze! He should feel golden, not grumpy…in my opinion.

At this point he doesn’t quite grasp the idea of “the boy that cried wolf”, so it’s difficult for my husband and I to convince him that, the more he whiiiiiiiines about things hurting him, the more eyerolls he’s going to get. He also doesn’t seem to understand that the more times in a row he says something, doesn’t automatically lend it more weight. Saying “my foot hurted” a dozen times in the span of a minute while I continually nod my head and reply “I’m sorry about that buddy. I know. I hear you. Yep. Ok. Uh huh.” does not seem to bother him in the least.

On the flip side, he’s also thrilled to repeat pleasantries randomly throughout the day. He’s constantly checking in on my husband and I by happily chirping, “hi mommy!” “hi daddy!” Rarely even stopping first to see what warm-bodied adult he’s even sitting next to. He’ll say “hi daddy!” to me a variety of times before he looks up from the mud pit he’s been poking with a stick to realize that I am not, in fact, his father. No biggie. “Hi mommy!” is soon to follow.

And yes – poking mud pits with a stick is one of his favorite games. And no – we don’t live on some backwoods farm where there is nothing for him to play with besides old corncobs and abandoned mailboxes. He’ll ignore soccer balls, sidewalk chalk, plastic trucks and mini-golf sets in a heartbeat if there is a pile of dirt within squatting distance.

Some assume this is an inherently “boy-ish” trait, similar to laughing when he farts or hanging out with his hand in his pants. But the weird part is, no matter how much he LOVES digging around in the dirt, he HATES having his hands dirty. He’ll run frantically towards me clenching and unclenching his little digits like crab pincers screaming for a napkin. Then once he’s been properly wiped down, head straight back for the stix. Go figure.

I’d like to pretend that we’re the kind of parents that get down and dirty playing with him in the backyard every night until darkness falls and everyone is sleepy, and smelling of summer, and ready to tumble into baths and bed. The truth is that we probably do that, like, once every….week? Fortnight? It’s not like we don’t want to play chase through the sprinklers with our kiddo, but after a long day at work, it’s more likely that he’ll get about 30 minutes of outside time before, insert dread-like music here, the Apple products come out.

The first time our son looked at me and said “iPad” was one of surprised baffledom. I’m pretty sure I asked him to repeat the word a few times to make sure I had heard him correctly. “Sam watches Elmo on iPad. Please.” At least he’s polite about the request (unless refused, then he turns into a shrieking poltergeist who can only be silenced with puppy and paci and night night).

Is it normal for almost-two-year-olds to refer to Apple products by name? How about the fact that he knows how to uncover it, turn it on, swipe to the proper app, open it, scroll through a variety of Sesame Street seasons until he chooses the one he’s after, and then press play?

A year or so ago I saw a hilarious video on YouTube of a pre-toddler girl trying to play with a magazine like an iPad. She kept punching the pages with her stubby finger and trying to swipe around the images to no avail. And the more the pages actually turned and tore instead of magically move around the crystal-clear screen, the more frustrated this little baby nugget got.

Our dude can seamlessly toggle between Elmo and Nemo and a drawing game where he creates collages of miniature bananas and helicopters. There’s also an alphabet game he’ll play with where we’ll hear his sweet little voice reciting letters aloud. Why, thank you iPad, for acting as teacher and playmate and babysitter while mom and dad drink beers and look on with avid curiosity.

I promise that we roll around on the floor playing airplane, or indulge in rousing games of hide-and-seek in his old-school teepee, or practice counting all of his animals who, when they tip over on the carpet, are immediately deemed “sleeping.” But dear, sweet iPad is like the nanny we can’t afford on many nights where we just can’t muster up the energy for high-level parenting.

It’s also quite nice that, since the day our child was born, he’s been able to self-soothe by playing with his hair. He’s had so much since the day he popped out that it’s been a constant, replacing the need for a well worn lovie and becoming his go-to whenever he’s tired or upset or confused. You’ll never see me crumpled on the floor in agony because we left his favorite singing dolphin at home and now he’ll NEVER go to sleep. Or worry that he’s dribbled, sucked and drooled one too many times on that scrap of cotton until it dissolved into a pile of germs and bacteria. Instead, we’ll just watch as he reaches up to twist the strands of brown hair between his stubby little fingertips, or just pat the tips with his palms, and instantly his eyes will go dreamy.

Recently, however, he’s decided that playing with his hair is also appropriate while eating. How he decided that hairplay and yogurt, or spaghetti sauce or peanut butter, were a good mix I’ll never know. But for a kid whose “eyes hurted” even looking at water in the bathtub, this makes for a, pardon the pun, sticky situation. Now he comes home from daycare with more than just notes like “Learned about sunshine and cardinals today!” on his report card. On the extra space provided we’ll see things like “Got syrup in his hair today after lunch” or, “Played with his hair after fingerpainting, this is why you might see orange and yellow streaks. No we didn’t try to dbag highlight your son’s hair.” **

Today I arrived home from work and, as is a usual routine, husband and son were spotted watering the lawn together in the backyard. (It’s a pretty adorable sight, I tell ya.) Well, following greetings and hugs and reports on the day, my husband asks me, “Did you put gel in his hair today?”

“Um, what? Why would I do that?”

“Well look at it! Feel it! It’s super crunchy.”

I take a closer look and realize that his hair has taken on more than just it’s usual windy, slept on wildness. It’s clumped together in haphazard spikes and really, really hard.

“Buddy, what’s in your hair?”

Chirping nonsense reply.

“What?”

Same chirping nonsense reply.

“He’s clearly trying to tell us something,” my husband says. And we stare at the boy as if he’s alien and communicating with us in some advanced space language.

“It smells kind of sweet” I say after a sniff that almost gauges out one of my eyes.

Braver than I, my husband then leans over and takes a chunk of mystery hair in his mouth.

“Well, it’s definitely not gel.”

This reminded me so much of that moment in the movie Baby Mama with Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, where the sister licks some unidentifiable brown substance off her kids face and asks “chocolate or poop?” Deeming afterwards, with a collective sigh of relief from the audience, “chocolate!” And Tina Fey asks, “What if it had been poop?!”

I’m not saying I plan on licking anything questionable off my kids face, but I have absolutely used my own spit to clean things off, and am grateful my husband is daredevil enough to taste-test the latest hair product from lunch. We later realized, after checking the weekly school menu, that they had ice-cream sandwiches as their end of day snack.

“Did you say you have ice cream in your hair?”

His tiny face lights up with happiness. The uneducated humans from this foreign planet have finally uncoded his language and understand.

What can I say – we’re muddling along as we go. Many things are a crap-shoot and I’m careful to steer clear of blanket statements about what I will and won’t do when raising my kid, because you never know what’s around the corner. But with sweet ol’ iPad hanging around, ready to teach him to read and write and arithmetic, how can we go wrong?

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*What? This isn’t how you eat a pear? 

**No. The daycare girls didn’t actually write that they weren’t trying to bleach my son’s tips. But the afternoon shift can’t be any older than 17, so I’m not sure I’d put it past them.

Not A Nerd…But Almost

Remember that character in Sixteen Candles with the back brace? The one played by Joan Cusack who had braces and wore a red sweatshirt with some 50’s doowop girl on the front? And when Joan bent over for a drink at the water fountain (all awkward and hunched because the metal hinges on her brace only allowed for robotic movement) she used the skirt on her sweatshirt to wipe her mouth?

That could have been me. That probably should have been me. Somehow I managed to escape epic nerddom by a just a hair.

A brief (or not so brief, depending on your attention span) blast to the past will outline a few of my more prominent dweebilicious traits. Weigh in as you will. Remind me of others I have forgotten, this should be fun.

The Eyepatch

It wasn’t a black pirate one, but almost as bad. I have what is called a “lazy eye”, and NOT I must clarify, the kind that runs rampant in its eye socket like a cat chasing red laser dots on the wall. This kind of lazy eye is truly of the slacker sort, and allows its counterpart to do all the work while it sits aside, smoking pot, looking pretty and batting its eyelashes at the passersby.

My patch was flesh colored, which now that I think about it, might have been worse than channeling good ol’ Captain Hook. It pretty much matched my skin color and was plastered over my left eye and worn in hideous combination with oversize 80’s wire-rimmed glasses. I bet from afar it looked like I didn’t even have a left eyeball, just some super creepy stretched skin cavity where a normal 9 year olds eyeball should have been. And I walked around like this, day and night (that’s right, I had to even sleep in this ocular bandaid), possibly oblivious to the horrified looks of small children. Or just blind to them because they were always on my left side.

I endured an entire summer of this superficial deformity. I can only imagine the kind of traumatic, self loathing inspired poetry this inspired at the time. (That’s right, 9 year old poetry. Also nerdy). And now my left eye is only slightly worse than my right with proper lense correction. My family was kind enough to avoid any photographs during this short phase of my life so that it’s memory lurks only in the disgruntled recesses of my brain. It’s so much easier to laugh about when the off-balance, one-eyed raccoon tan line fades.

Scoliosis

I was diagnosed with scoliosis in 5th grade. This was after several embarrassing moments in the gym locker room where some stocky, fuzzygendered nurse would ask me to lean over the dressing bench while he/she ran a prehistoric plastic tool down my spine. For everyone else it was a quick, painless swipe. But for me…there was always this dramatic arm movement when he/she swished around the curves of my rogue vertebrae. Then there would be sighing, and retrying, as if on the 3rd attempt each spindly, spinal piece would suddenly jump to attention and back in line.

What followed was quarterly trips to the Orthopedic Surgeon so that they could slap lead magnets over my ovaries and x-ray my thoracic curvature for changes. My spine was a lazy piece o’ poo. Slumping in not just one spot, but two! Making a sinking, slimy ‘S’ pattern on my back that, later in life, prompted my mother—irritated already by the 90’s trend of backless tops—to point out that I “didn’t really have a pretty back”. (Sorry mom, hate to throw you under the bus here, but that comment has been the source of much laughter between your two eldest daughters throughout the years).

I had nightmares that I’d end up like Joan Cusack. A clunky, rigid human being who creaked her way through life, carrying an oil can just like the Tinman in case of rain. It’s possible these were the only months of my existance that I paid any attention to posture. I sat straight up, poised and proper through every reading, writing and hebrew school studies class I had. The completely slumped, side-shifted, kicked-back-gangster position I’m adopting currently in my chair as I type will clue you in that I managed to scrape by without the brace. However, if you happen to catch a glimpse of my back you can easily see where it goes astray. Just glad I managed to dodge that iron bullet.

Swing Choir

Now, the first of my two pushes towards nerdvana were out of my hands. Just random lumps of coal in my genetic stocking. But this third piece? All of my own making. When I turned 13 and entered 7th grade, something inside of me called out for, The Jazz Square! Three Part Harmony! Acappella Christmas Carols! and Awkward Middle School Choreography!

I tried out and, oh joy, joined a group of gangly bumpkins ready to sway their way through a bunch of boring show tunes. And as if just being a part of this song squad wasn’t enough, I somehow managed to get stuck in the soprano section. Have you heard me sing karaoke? I can rock a mean Just Like Jesse James, but those high notes are A STRETCH. So how could I have possibly ended up singing One Tin Soldier at the top of my lungs, at the top of the music scale? It must have sounded like someone was chasing a potbelly pig the entire performance the way I was squealing out those notes.

Thankfully that year, my weekend choir performances at the local retirement home were offset by a constant stream of Bar and Bat Mitzva parties on Saturday nights. While this may sound like it belongs in the geek bucket, it was actually a place to eat, drink (soda), and dance the night away with boys. Albeit they were the adolescent, hairy sort, but better than nothing. And I found that I’d rather belt out every word to Baby Got Back than Circle Of Life, which led to dumping swing choir the following year. Though, there may, or may not, be a video on my facebook page that some crazy ex-swing choir mate tagged me in. We’re dancing with hightops on our hands. Enjoy.

I’d like to be clear that I in no way mean to offend the glorious land of nerddom. I could have flourished there just as happily as anywhere. I’m just intrigued by the slight forces that ushered me away from the world of dungeons and dragons, and into one of busch light in basements. Maybe that’s why I’ve always had kind of an affinity for the loveable geek? The answer to why many of my crushes over the years had a couple of dorktastic qualities themselves. I consider it an honor that I was able to straddle the fence between spouting Shakespearean sonnets on stage, and playing Beer By Albertsons with the cool, older kids.

And now, what’s nerdy is cool, and all the lines are blurred and preconceived notions should be left at the door. And I’ll work hard to make sure that, whatever my child enjoys doing as he grows up, that I strive to embarrass him as much as possible along the way. Maybe he’ll develop a love for the foghorn, or realize early on that studying cell particles is his thing, or take up yodeling. Or, you know that lone boy in the ballet recital who’s dressed as a crab while all the other girls are mermaids? That might be my kid.

I’ll never be sorry for the path I’ve traveled thus far. It’s all just a part of Choose Your Own Adventure, right? But dude, I’m pretty happy that I don’t have an eyepatch on right now.

Parenting Faux Pas: Just Kicking Things Off

It’s bedtime (7:15pm and still light outside). Jammies are on (the fleece footed-onesie has a hood—because he might suddenly need a head covering at 3am in his crib). Bath routine has been successfully completed (this includes a fond goodnight to the bathroom Hawkeye gnome). Time for a story while tucked up on the little sofa in his room. His hand immediately goes up to pat the unintentional mohawk sprouting voluminously from his tiny head, and I pop open a beloved storybook with beautiful pictures, a singsongy rhyme cadence, and plenty of swear words.

Is this when I should question my parenting decisions?

I know I’m not the first to receive Adam Mansbach’s hilarious “children’s book” Go the F#@k to Sleep as a ha-ha-funny indoctrine into the world of parenting. But, wait, am I not actually supposed to read this to my kid? It rhymes, and that’s supposed to be good for their cognitive learning. It has pretty pictures with animals that he can point to and say “rooooaaar”. Plus, it’s just the right length to get him bedtime-prepped without putting mom to sleep as well.

Many of my friends laugh and say “Oh, sure. I read that to my baby, but I replaced all the cuss words with banal language that wouldn’t be offensive.” Guess I didn’t get that memo. I mean, he’s only 1 ½, he can’t read and at this point he leaves off the end consonant on almost every word he says…so even if he tried to say “fuck” it would come out “fuuu” and we would promptly infer that he wanted some traditional vietnamese noodle broth for dinner. No harm, no foul.

It’s things like this that give me momentary pause in the haphazard cadence of our lives as first time parents. Should I be worried about how the outside world will judge my decisions? Is it like a tree falling in the forest if these “errors in judgement” happen within the private walls of our home? If no one can see them…maybe they didn’t happen at all.

The problem is, it’s not limited to just our house. For example, a couple weeks after our son turned 1 and started walking, we took him for a weekend getaway to Austin. On his first trip to the stay-weird-city he was confined to his carrier for any outings…which of course meant we took him to a bar for the NE vs. UT football game. But this time around it was full-fledged summer and we had a tiny toddling man to entertain.

When my sister suggested a visit to her local splash pad, we were all in. If you haven’t visited a splash pad before—it’s a wonderful invention. Schizophrenic fountains of water spout up from the ground and out of control kids run through them screaming like banshees. Squatting their little hiney’s over the bubbling water like it’s one big, concrete bidet. And the best part is that parents can just hang out on the sidelines, clapping and smiling enthusiastically without worrying about trudging through some pee-soaked baby pool like at the Jewish Community Center.

Needless to say, Sam was mesmerized, and hit the chlorine soaked pavement with the vigor only a newly walking human could possess. Adding to his joy was the fact that he had the splash pad all to himself and could squat carefree over every jubilant, spurting stream without challenge from older kids weighing more than 19 lbs. Why, might you ask, was this fabulous water park so empty on a Saturday afternoon in August? Oh, well, that’s because there was a storm brewing and thunder and lighting were currently assailing the afternoon skies.

I swear I don’t want to get my child electrocuted. Between my husband, sister and myself,  a large amount of thought was given to the fact that a mere baby was splashing through frothing puddles while laser flashes crashed over our heads. But…he was having so much fun!! The cheerful exaltation of his cries stopped us every time we thought to rescue him. Just one more minute, we said. Then finally, after a somewhat nasty bout of thunder shook the ground, and the drizzle turned to a full on downpour (I mean, WE didn’t want to be wet) we scooped him up and headed home. Fun, right?

There are a lot of heated debates on parenting techniques these days. To breastfeed or not (and to say “not” is to be assailed upon by screaming righteous feminists, so be wary). Homemade, organic baby food vs. old school Gerber mushed turkey-product sticks (I loved those as a kid. So did our cats). Landfill-waste disposable diapers vs. good-luck-keeping-their-poop-confined-to-that-washable-landing-strip cloth diapers. It’s gonna be a toss-up either way. Your kid will still cry, and laugh, and sneeze out the most disgusting boogers you’ve ever seen.

Which brings me to my biggest “oops” so far in the 18 months my son and I have been learning to work together. And I’ve already told my mother, so this hopefully won’t make her keel over in a dead faint.

It was our usual morning before work routine. Hubby makes breakfast for baby while mama finishes getting ready. Then baby and Kitty discuss world politics while lunches are made and bags are packed before we head out the door in separate directions. I was hefting little dude into his carseat—you know, under the awkward strap that holds it steady while he’s still facing backwards, forcing us both to duck and tuck and contort—when he lets out a huge sneeze that sends strands of Nickelodeon snot cascading down his face. It’s a slow motion dance, me diving into my purse for kleenex before his wily arms can reach his face and smear green goo galore. Whew! We make it in time, and he smiles gaily at me as I hand him Hop On Pop and get into the drivers seat.

It sucks not being able to see his face on the drive since he’s turned towards the back window, but in the rearview mirror I notice his head cheerfully bobbing as we merge onto the highway for our 25 mile commute. I zone out thinking of the day ahead, and after a half hour or so we make it to the lights right outside my office, which is when I hear a chirpy “hi!” from the backseat. He’s turned around looking at me from his chair. Hmmm, that shouldn’t be possible. Unless, of course, someone forgot to strap him. It dawns on me that he just spent the last thirty minutes exploring the backseat while I went 75 mph on the Tollway.

I was horrified, I was ashamed, my hands shook for the next 15 minutes and I was grateful we were both safe. But when I told my scary story to co-workers and friends, I was met with consoling pats and reassured with equally pee-your-pants tales about leaving their kid at the grocery store or watching them fall off the table. Shit happens. We do our best.

So…when we let the baby take our Coors Light cans to the trash for us, or drop him off at Great Aunt Judy’s house on a Saturday so we can go to a movie and take a nap, or watch him run around the house with suffocating-hazard-plastic-bags while we lounge on the couch scanning ESPN and Pinterest on our respective Apple electronics…it’s not for lack of love. He’s our joy, he’s our life, he’s our heart. But we’re all just trying to get along, and sometimes that ain’t pretty. I figure if someone wants to judge, I’ll just tell them, kindly, to go the f#@k to sleep.