Perineum isn’t a dirty word

My note yesterday about Nick’s investigation of his penis got me mulling about sexism and modesty. It’s common for moms of little boys to share news about their male spawns’ unsavory penis antics — doing things to or with their penises as they explore their bodies, having silly conversations with or about their penises. I haven’t noticed the same lively chatter about little girls, but if my Jesse is any indicator, free-minded little princesses can get down and dirty with their ‘nads just as well as any little boy. So why do I feel a social compulsion to avoid sharing Jesse’s tales?

I’ll give it a go. My fingers hesitate as I prepare to type this: when Jesse was a toddler, she was fond of exploring her crotch. While naked of course, and, well… She masturbated. One night she got out of the bath and assumed a porn queen position on our bed, got busy with herself and started yelling gleefully, “Mommy! Daddy! Watch this watch this!” Anthony took one look and ran out of the room, yelling back in an earnest state of fright and horror, “Jesse, stop doing that! You’ll hurt yourself!!” I turned away from Jesse so she wouldn’t see me laughing as I yelled back, “that wasn’t PAIN you saw on her face, Anthony.”

Jesse was all of two or three when it happened, and it was extremely funny to me – exactly the kind of thing I’ve talked openly about when it was Nick and his boy body. Both were equally naive and innocent in their behaviors; both were really normal toddlers openly exploring their bodies. So why does it feel eye-rolling and funny to talk about Nick and this stuff, but skin-crawling and kind of vulgar and dirty with Jesse?

We don’t really do “modesty” at home, nor are we body shy. Our bathrooms are open-door; we dress and undress in front of the kids and vice versa. My philosophy is that little kids learn a lot about the adult human body in a safe way by seeing their parents nude, and they observe the naked body going about the practical business of life — hygiene mainly — with no sexual under- or over-tones. In the sexed-up gestalt of 21st-century America, that’s important to me.

We teach “privacy” of course, the usual yadda yadda: go ahead and get to know your bodies with your eyes and hands, whatever you want, but please don’t put dangerous things into ANY of your body holes and please explore your genitalia in private, because JEEZ mommy and daddy don’t need to see you do that.

There’s a lot that’s funny about the cringe-inducing dissonance between our grown-up need for this sort of privacy and a small child’s indifference to anyone’s discomfort as she whacks her privates around in the living room. So why do I have an instinct to cloister Jesse, but not Nick?

I could argue that it’s because I’ve been fully immersed in our cultural sexism my whole life, and this is just another example of ways I carry on those biases without even realizing it until it’s too late. I’m sure this is a big part of it, though I hate to admit it.

I could argue that there’s an anatomical basis for the more modest instinct I have with my daughter. A man’s gonads sit front and center, on full display, while the woman’s are less obvious to the eye. I’m not convinced.

Maybe it’s just language. “Penis and balls” about covers it on a boy human, and that’s easy to work with in sharing notes. It’s so much harder for a girl. There’s a lot of equipment and holes down there. I’ve gone over the words and parts with Jesse, and her eyes glaze over like I’m chanting the periodic table of elements to her. Vagina, pee-hole (honest, I don’t know the formal name, except maybe urethra), clitoris, vulva, labia, etc. Ew. I mean, what do you call all that stuff in coffee chat? I used to call it Jesse’s “girly parts,” but that started to feel prudish and wrong. I hear moms telling their kids that a boy has a penis, a girl has a vagina. That strikes me as pretty wrong too, because they’re not quite equivalents.

My nurse neighbor Jill came over to a house party one night and, after a couple drinks, started talking passionately about how we mis-use words about this stuff. She was irate about women teaching their girls to call their entire crotch area the “vagina,” and equally irate about the euphemisms we use to describe all the business down there. She pointed out that the medically correct term for the the region that includes our genitalia is “perineum,” and there’s no reason NOT to use that word with kids. It’s accurate, it’s gender-neutral, and there are no weird cultural/sexual connotations associated with it.

She made a compelling point, but until now I haven’t made a concerted effort to change my speech patterns. I’ve taught my kids the word, but maybe I need to use it more consistently. Perineum isn’t a dirty word. Maybe it’ll free my mind a bit and help me think of Jesse and Nick in the same light. I’ll practice.

Pull your pants up NOW, Jesse, no one in this restaurant wants to see your perineum!

Nicholas Lee, don’t even think of touching that sandwich, you just had your hands in your pants and were playing with your perineum!

Stop being such a perineum head!

Get your head out of your perineum!

It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but maybe it’s worth a try.

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Grumpy about my boy’s jewels

Last night in the bath Nick had a funny look on his face, while his hands did something under the bubbles.

“Everything okay, buddy?” I asked.

“What is this hard thing?”

Where?

“In my penis.”

Eh? Show me, I said, trying to act all laid back while cringing inside.

“Right here.” He showed me his very tiny scrotum. “Oooh. There are TWO hard things,” he announced with a look in his eyes, somewhere between curiosity and deep concern. “What are they?” I tried to hide my wincing.

Thus commenced my four-year-old’s introduction to reproductive ideas.

I want to be anatomically correct in this sort of chatter, and not too euphemistic (except when I am), but I’m not ready to talk sex with the kids yet. Sometimes I think I worry too much about the right way to introduce them to the complex social and cultural and personal and reproductive issues that percolate around genitalia.

Last month Jesse asked, “how does the piece of the daddy that becomes part of the baby get inside the mommy’s body?” I didn’t even evade. “I’m not ready to tell you that yet, Jesse. Also I think it’ll freak you out.” Oddly enough, she accepted that and let it go, which tells me she’s already making some good guesses in her head.

It was easier for me to walk this early path with Jesse because she’s a girl, and I’m a girl, so there you go. I know how our business works and where it is. Nick is more awkward for me, but I gave it a go last night. I explained what I think those hard things are called. I told him to repeat the relevant words, like “scrotum,” “testicles,” and “sperm.” (Very cute, by the way. “Scwo-dem? Testicows?”) We chatted a bit about what their function is, only no details about how to share, god help me. The conversation petered out fairly quickly, for which I was thankful.

As the bath was winding down, Anthony wandered into the bathroom. I told him what Nick had discovered. I was feeling a little pensive and uneasy. I asked him, what would you say to Nick if he asked you about the little hard things in his penis?

“Oh those? Those are just your balls.” Anthony shrugged nonchalantly and wandered back out.

Grumpy about playing with Nick

When Nick’s not at preschool (15 very brief hours a week) or on a weekend adventure with dad and Jesse, he’s with me. He follows me around wherever I go, so I call him my third butt cheek. He doesn’t seem to mind, and it’s got to be better than Poopoo Boy, which is what I called him before he potty trained. It’s good to be loved by me.

Nick has a powerful imagination, and an emphatic persistence that can break anyone down. Here’s an approximation of what it’s like to hang out with Nick for any length of time.

Will you play with me? Mommy will you play with me? Let’s play with hard buddies. Do you want to play dragons or dinosaurs? Okay! Do you want to be electrocution dragon or 3-headed dragon?

Why do you call him that, Nick? He has 5 heads.

I dunno. That’s his name. So do you want to be 3-headed dragon? Okay! Are you a good guy or a mean guy? Do you want to be the good guy?

Nick, I don’t want to play dying games today. Can we do no killing, and no eating prey?

Okay mommy. There will be NO turning to dust in my game today. Here comes the mean guy giant squid, GRRRWWAAAH. He is stealing your babies! He is going to eat them! Electrocute him! PHHWWGGAAAA!! You defeated him!

(10 endless minutes later:) I’m going to get some coffee. I’ll be right back.

Mommy? Mommy? Where are you? Will you play with me? Here is electrocution dragon. Now let’s have races. These snakes are The POWERS, and if you hit them you will be turned into a power. So now, wait, waaaait. I will race first. PHRAAAAGFAA, I hit the snake and now (he rummages through his mythical creatures bucket), I am a GRIFFIN! Do you see mommy? Isn’t that amazing? Okay it’s your turn.

(15 minutes into this inane game:) Do you want to play with your iPad, Nick?

Yeah!! Where is it? Mommy can you come upstairs with me to get it? I’m scared.

No. Man up. I’m checking my emails.

(3 minutes later:) Mommy, can you help me? I need more ducks to unlock the next levels. I cannot do it, I don’t know how.

Play something different then.

Pleeeease?? Mommy, can you find me the show where the people become DINOSAURS?? I’m hungry and thirsty. Can I have pirate booty and apple juice?

(5 minutes later, post-snack:) Okay mommy, let’s play dragons now. Here is electrocution dragon. He will be the bad guy. Where is my tiny Yoda? He will be captured, and you have to rescue him with the angry birds.

(20 minutes into this vapid game:) I’m gonna do some laundry, Nick.

Can I come with you? Will you play with me mommy? When will you be done working? When you are done, will you play with me? Do you want to put on a timer, and when it is done you can play with me?

(Post-laundry:) Do you want to read a book, Nick?

Ummmm, noooo, not really… I know! Read this to me! (He presents a massive dinosaur encyclopedia). Read EVERY PAGE, mommy.

(15 minutes and 32 dinosaurs later:) Mommy, here is electrocution dragon. You be the good guy. Mommy? Why are you putting the pillow on your head?

I don’t want to play dragons anymore, Nick.

Okay. Uuh, I know! Let’s play DINOSAURS instead! Here, you be the long necks, and I am the giganotasaurus. GGGRRRAAAWWRRRRAA! (He arranges a dozen dino figurines around the prone body of a brachiosaurus.) Look mommy, he caught the long neck and now all the predators are eating.

Nick, I said I don’t want to play dying and eating prey games today.

(He looks at me like I’m simple, shrugs with his hands turned up in dramatic frustration.) But mommy. They are meat eaters.

Nick, what if today we practice drawing or writing your name? You could color!

Nooo, I don’t think so, mommy.

I don’t want to play hard buddies anymore. Don’t you ever get bored?

No. Hmmm. I know mommy. What if we play race cars! If you hit the snake with your race car, then you will be UPGRADED and become an angry bird!

Okay pause the game, mommy, I have to go potty. It is an EMERGENCY! Can you come with me mommy? I have to poop. Does the seat go up or down? I forgot. Help with my pants, it’s an EMERGENCY! Mommy can you stay with me while I poop? I need privacy so please close the door. But don’t leave. Mommy? Are you still there? Wow that is a really really big poop. The water splashed on my butt, mommy, is that okay? Mommy, I’m all done. Now you can wipe my butt.

Mommy pull up my pants. Okay, unfreeze the game. Do you want to be upgraded to an angry bird?

* ****

EE TEE SEE EE TEE SEE. Reality is both more annoying (because the quantity of Nick is immense) and more cute (because his “R”s and “L”s still sound more like “W”s).

Nick is so ridiculously cheerful most of the time. He’s grown up in the shadow of Jesse’s dark moods, giving up a lot of attention to her sometimes desperate needs. He’s displayed a patience and innate goodness that I never expected in such a little person, and he’s a huge part of her healing. So I feel somehow duty-bound to spend these hours with him while Jesse’s at school, indulging his beautiful imagination beyond all reasonable boundaries of my own patience and boredom.

My brain is atrophying in ways I never imagined, but I suppose it’s growing new pathways too. Before Nick, I never would have thought of doing what I’m going to do now: I’m going to make a phalanx of dragons protecting their play-do eggs, and then I’m going to grab the hot wheels car launcher I poached off a racing loop Santa brought, and I’ll shoot cars through the air at the dragons, who will be protected by a force field wall that keeps them safe. Nick just added that the stretchy rubber butterflies will also attack and anything they touch will BURN. The Pilates ball is a giant mountain in the way! Total bedlam.

Nick and I can keep this game up for at least an hour, if I have the stamina for it. It sucks, AND it’s awesome.

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Grumpy about the strange things I see

I’ve always had floaters in my eyes, ever since I was very little. I used to sit quietly and watch them shimmer across my field of vision, twisting fuzzy threads that moved peacefully like seahorses. I’d try to follow them but they were elusive, always drifting just faster than my eyes could turn in their sockets. I never talked about them. Now I have an especially huge floater in my left eye after some kind of gel detachment. It’s ridiculously annoying but apparently it’s with me until the day I go blind or die. I can make it dance by moving my eyes back and forth and around and around. I’m trying to stop this habit in public places, because I think it may make me seem a little bit wrong.

I’ve always seen the world as a sort of quivering, disorganized, pixelated thing. If I look at a blank surface, like a wall or the sky, it’s especially obvious. I don’t see a smooth surface, I see little dots vibrating, like a seething mass of randomized molecules. It used to bother me, but now I don’t mind it at all. If I’m bored, I can always liven things up for myself by staring at a wall.

I thought (or hoped) this is how the world looks to everyone, until I finally told Anthony about it some time in the last few years. He played it straight, of course. “No, Carla. That’s not normal.” And then he looked at me sidewise.

Maybe the quivering is related to whatever makes me have so many floaters, or maybe it’s neurological. I also experience slow-downs and smells. Sometimes, everything seems to go slow-mo for a short moment, and I hear voices in a particular cadence, like a chanting sing-song. The voices are usually (but not always) real; the way I’m hearing them isn’t. Also in those moments I often smell a chemical perfume-like stench, not quite vile but unpleasant (and no, it wasn’t because I was farting).

I finally told Anthony about that stuff recently too (“That’s weird, Carla”), and then I was able to start chatting about it with just about anyone willing to be bored by me. It’s amazing how I convinced myself these things weren’t that odd, even while I kept them secret for more than 40 years. And now that I’ve talked about the slow-mo/voices thing openly, it doesn’t happen as much anymore, raising a question about whether a trip through the DSM might shed light on what’s going on in my head.

I wish I had been able to tell someone about my perceptions when I was little. I would have felt better. Or probably more accurately, I wish there had been an adult who listened to me. I look at my children now and wonder what strange things they see and can’t describe to me. Have they tried, and I dismissed it as fantasy or play? Are they keeping secrets of the strange things they see?

I refuse to believe that I’m in a tiny minority on this front. I’m very ordinary, and therefore I conclude that every human has some unique interface with what’s around her. Maybe we would all benefit from sharing the strange things we see. Maybe we’d find kindred spirits. The world might be more magical, more beautiful, and no less real for it.

grumpy about love, second iteration

In our late 20’s, Anthony and I went through a rough patch. We’d been married a couple years, but we’d pretty much been together since our sophomore year in college. I think now that it was a trying time, though I don’t remember thinking of it that way when we were in the moment. Anthony was working full-time on his Ph.D. I was in my early years of lawyering and was in the office 6 days a week at least. I worked a lot of hours. We partied hard and drank too much. We golfed together.

That last bit is a true crucible of a relationship, from a lot of angles. Thoughts for another day.

Anthony and I fought all the time over big things and small, mostly small. I can’t think of a single issue we argued about that was important. But the fighting was becoming definitional, draining the joy out of us. One night after another conversation devolved into nattering at each other, Anthony said it aloud as we lay in bed: “Maybe we should separate, or get some counseling. All we do is fight.”

I was paralyzed. I stared up at the dark ceiling, and for a moment I couldn’t decide which would be worse, living apart from Anthony or having to go to a marriage counselor. There had to be another option.

What we came up with was quite brilliant, I think, and a fair reflection of Anthony’s pragmatism mixed with my desperation to sidestep the therapy-or-lose-Anthony algorithm. We decided to (1) stop fighting, and (2) fake being happy around each other.

The rules were simple. When we woke up in the morning, we had to smile and say good morning, whether we wanted to or not. Same smile rule when we said good bye or hello throughout the day. If we caught ourselves fighting, we had to stop. We were allowed to tell each other when we were breaking the rules. We had to comply with the other person’s directive to put a smile on or to cut that fighting shit out. No fair defending yourself or claiming exceptions.

It really didn’t take long for things to sort themselves out. The smile rule became comic relief quickly, because we looked very silly with a rictus smile glued on our faces. So the fake smiles became real again soon enough, and the happiness was real too. The fighting took longer to cure, because we had formed some bad habits together. But we must have listened to each other, because the constant bickering was gone soon enough too.

I often think back to that episode in our life together and wonder how in the world we did it, without any help. It would be easy to say that “love” carried us through, but if I think hard enough I really can’t wrap my head clearly around what that flat-voweled four-letter word is supposed to convey. I think what made it work was something more basic, something like respect or diplomacy, because we each had to respect the other’s directives and discover some boundaries on what we could reasonably expect of each other—

Oh god, shut up, Carla. Everything I was just saying is a bunch of mumbo jumbo words, and whenever I start sounding like that I know it’s time for a self-head-slap. It’s exactly the kind of blubbing that can trash a healthy relationship, and exactly the kind of talk talk I couldn’t bear to face in counseling. Honestly, Anthony and I just needed to stop fighting and start faking happy. We already could hold a conversation and tolerate each others’ farts with good humor. Once you clear those hurdles in a relationship, it’s all easy, isn’t it?

Grumpy about the CGI era

I was swallowed alive by cinema in my 20’s, which would have been in the early 90’s. We lived in Washington, DC at the time, and there was still a collection of theatres all over town that played all sorts of movies. I had a soft spot for trash action flicks, but also we got to just about every indie and foreign film that came to town. We backloaded as well, renting old classics to watch with friends, working our way through Bergman and Kurosawa, drunkenly reviewing the movies amongst ourselves, branching out into early Japanese anime, and so on and so on. During the summer, we’d watch 7 or 8 movies a week, taking in double features to avoid heading home to our sweltering, ac- free apartment.

Then everything changed. In my imagination, it began with stadium seating and The Matrix. Most everything I watch now feels derivative, doctored, loud. All the CGI effects and surround sound overwhelm me. 3D is dismaying, a migraine waiting to happen. Young indie films aren’t compelling anymore either; the feelings they express are things I’m past now. I’m a grumpy old cynical fart.

I have movie PTSD, and I’ve been grumbling about it for a long time now.

But we saw “Her” last night at the Oriental theatre. I haven’t been there before, which is pretty lame since I’ve lived in Milwaukee more than 7 years. The Oriental is an old renovated theatre, very beautiful and ornate – think gold painted crown moldings and elephants, and the show was introduced by a dude playing a pipe organ that sunk down into the basement.

There’s no stadium seating, and I didn’t notice surround sound. It was a relief not to be bombarded. Her was a perfect movie in this quieter setting. There was no obvious CGI in the film, except for stuff that was supposed to actually be computer imagery. I’m sure the cityscapes were CGI, but for me that’s the same as studio lot background paintings. At least the human humanoids were actual human actors, and talented ones at that.

No one died. No one was beaten or tortured, or even threatened. There wasn’t a spot of blood. No one yelled. Nothing exploded. There wasn’t a single car chase. The characters were all decent people and AIs. The tension in the film was from what really ordinary people experience–just relationships and talk talk and dreams of being more.

There was sex-related stuff, and a naked pregnant lady, but that was actually comic relief and strange. And also not violent.

I didn’t feel grumpy after seeing “Her”. I want more movies like that.

Grumpy about my cheerful, positive attitude

Three and a half years of behavior modification therapy with Jesse have taken their toll on me. I’m finding that I see the positive side of things more and more. It’s positively unnatural.

This morning Anthony and I attended the PE/gymnastics demo for Jesse’s second grade class. Nineteen cute little second graders marched proudly into the gym and took up their positions. One little cutie took a look at the seated parents, turned around, and marched straight out of the gym in a nascent panic attack. Nineteen little cuties started doing their stretches and calisthenics. One little cutie huddled on the floor against the wall in a little ball, pressing her face to her knees. Nineteen little cuties moved quickly to their assigned gymnastics stations and got started. One little cutie mewled and made scaredy-cat faces and hung her head as she slowly shuffled over to her first spot.

Well. At least Jesse’s not as short as she used to be. I walked out of there a half hour later, feeling good. The vector of her emotional development continues to be pointed in the right direction. Two years ago, I kept Jesse out of school on the day of the gym demo. I made this promise to her a few weeks before the event, so that her panic attacks would stop. Last year, we prepared emotionally for the event for several weeks, at home and in therapy, with the hope that she could make a run at participating. This year, we didn’t even talk about it until yesterday, let alone plan for it. Last year, she started out crying and making weird noises. This year, she didn’t make any weird noises, or at least I didn’t hear them, which is close enough. Last year, she gritted her teeth and powered her way through the show. This year, once she got over the initial performance anxiety, she seemed to be enjoying herself. Last year, when friends tried to help or encourage her, she brushed them off. This year, she accepted their aid. Last year, she seemed mostly relieved that she survived the nightmare. This year, she seemed really proud of herself and downright happy.

This is all very encouraging. Plus there were at least four moms there who know Jesse well, and who lifted my spirits with the kind of wee chatter that reminds a person there’s kindness everywhere.

And see, there it is: I see KINDNESS everywhere? When did that start happening?

Before I left the school, I gave Jesse a big hug and a lot of praise. I made sure I found the gym teacher and told him what a spectacular job he did handling Jesse. Anthony told me the principal was the person who got Jesse back into the gym. So I sent her a thank you email and said all sorts of nice things about the school and its staff. I went to lunch with Anthony. When we left the shop, I actually told the guy who made our sandwiches that they were delicious.

That’s crazy talk.

I decided that seeing Jesse have these sorts of (increasingly rare) anxiety attacks is actually important. We shelter her from many stressors and we work hard to help her manage her feelings, so sometimes now almost a whole day can go by with no tooth-gnashing. An event like today’s reminds us that she does in fact have a severe anxiety disorder, so that the adults in her world need to remain diligent in helping her cope.

In other words, I’ve convinced myself that watching my daughter behave publicly in a way that would humiliate most parents is a good thing.

And there’s more. After school today, Jesse went to a friend’s house. I’ll call the friend L–, because I don’t have her mama’s permission to name her here. One of Jesse’s more serious tics is a tendency to blurt “I hate” about people she likes and loves. She describes it as a need that grows and grows in her mind until she can’t control it anymore–a pretty classic compulsion or Tourette’s style tic. She also sounds and acts really strange when she’s doing it, which is understandable because something is coming out of her mouth that she doesn’t mean, and she knows she’s going to hurt someone and also get in trouble. It must suck to be Jesse in those blurty moments. I know it’s really hard for her to control this thing, but I don’t think it’s fair to subject her friends to such hurtful words. So these days I’m really straight with her about it. I’ve explained that I’ll only let her have play dates if I’m observing that she’s using all the self control tools we work on in therapy, and I’m seeing her actually making good choices. That’s been going on recently, so I jumped on this play date offer. Jesse was really worried about how she’d do, but everyone was happy when I picked her up. She reported to me that she never said anything mean to L–, except once during the school day she ran to the bathroom, which is “sort of my private place”, because she really really needed to say it! She got in a stall and blurted it once, “I hate L–!”, and then she was able to take a deep breath and get a grip on it.

Hurray, I told her. Great job facing this challenge and succeeding! I’m so proud of you! Never mind that she put on a nice little freak show in the potty at school. And now I also know that she has a go-to spot in the school can for venting her compulsions. Great.

There was a time when I would have put this in a proper perspective. I would have gone off the deep end about kindness and kind words, battering Jesse with my verbal diarrhea as feelings of helplessness and directionless rage filled my heart, wondering what the hell is wrong with my child and will she end up in prison someday? On wings of anger, I would have circled back to the gym episode and blathered at her about getting along and doing what you’re told to do, just like all the other nervous little kids, instead of being a selfish little wanker trying to ruin a fun thing for everyone. I would have punctuated my tirade with a rising chorus of WHY’s, going on until I had fully indulged my own infantile feelings. Then, in a screaming coda, I would have sent Jesse sobbing to her room and stormed off somewhere by myself, my work of shredding my little girl’s spirits done, wondering why she turned out like this and feeling like complete shit. We would have spent weeks trying to sort through the emotional wreckage I created.

But that was the good old days. I honestly just feel happy today. I do feel like it’s another banner day for Jesse, despite her anxiety and tics and whatever else is going on in her intense, dark soul. Behavior modification therapy is working, slowly and inexorably. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank her patient therapist, Dr. Abrams, without bursting into tears. I think I might even be making a difference myself, in a good way. I think I might not be a complete f@*#-up as a mom anymore.

Nothing good can come of this sort of cheerful, up-beat attitude. Next thing you know, I’ll be telling people what an amazing parent I am, and I’ll be trying to give people advice. When that starts happening, there will be no hope left.

Grumpy about using my words

I hate the phrase “use your words.” A few years ago when I was still paying some attention to the world around me, I used to hear moms saying “use your words” all the time. It started to take on the quality of a sort of Druidic incantation in my mind, echoing around playgrounds as a white noise chant, interrupted only by the high pitched shrieks of little tortured souls having trouble sharing.

I hated it because inevitably the mom I was hearing would say “use your words” to her child precisely because said child had lost the ability to use words and was in the middle of a tremendous emotional meltdown, at which point the directive meant as much to the child as hearing mommy say, “honey, speak a poem to me of 14 rhyming lines, using iambic pentameter. NOW.”

But cultural osmosis has caused the phrase to flow inexorably into my brain, and once in a while it pops out my mouth without my even knowing it was coming, like an unexpected fart. This morning during our daily mommy-child bed wallow, Nick rolled himself onto Jesse and squashed her painfully. “Nick!” She snapped. He continued to squash. “Niick!” Nothing. “Niiiiick!! Niiiiiick!!” Still nothing.

I interjected. “Use your words, Jesse. Use words to tell him what you want.”

Bleah. There was the use-your-words fart, stinking up the air in my bedroom.

She complied. “Niiiick! Get off me! You’re hurting me!” And like magic, it worked. He got off.

Okay okay, I’m full of shit. What actually happened is, after Jesse spoke those words, I realized Nick was going to ignore her. So I just pulled him off her. I could go off on a tangent about direct and indirect causality, but I won’t.

Now that Nick was off her, I added, “Seeee? You finally used your words and it DID work!”

Oh no you didn’t, Carla! Yes, I did. I made it a double fart, and a didactic one at that. Double stinky. Even worse, for reasons I can’t possibly explain, I was being all cheerful and up-beat about it, like I was channeling Kathy Lee Gifford’s chirpy voice and making Michelle Bachmann eyeballs. It was so wrong.

Jesse paused for a perfect beat before answering me, speaking slowly and with a mild tone of recrimination, like she was addressing a Very Stupid Person: “‘Nick’ is a word.”

TKO.

Grumpy about my vacuum filters

Honest, I’m not out of ideas. I just needed to wash the filters on my Dyson. Washable filters sound like such a great idea, but they need 24 hours to dry, which means my ‘cuum is out of commission until tomorrow at 3:01 pm.

Shit. It’s only been 15 minutes since I cleaned the filters, and I feel a desperate need to vacuum. I spied the glitter Jesse spilled in the basement, and a thousand dried play doh crumbs are all over the carpet in the same region.

If the Dyson were functional, I’d be ignoring the glitter and play doh brazenly. I’d walk right by it and think things like, “huh, I should probably do something about that.” On tough days I might stop to stare dumbly for a second, and then continue on while reassuring myself that I DID remember to restock the liquor cupboard. That sort of procrastination can go on for weeks in my world.

But now I’ll be thinking constantly about that mess, and waiting for the chance to suck it up, for the next 23-and-a-quarter hours.

Grumpy about irony

I use a lot of irony, mostly in the form of feigned ignorance, to help me stay calm with the kids. It’s my private joke, a place inside me that’s mocking my children, and they don’t seem to get it. I know I’m being mean, like teasing a dog, but it’s so much better than screaming at them.

Kids are so literal, despite their wide-open imaginations. Kids love “opposites” games, but my sense is that they don’t really understand the humor of irony. It’s the silliness of imagining daddy with his underwear on his head instead of his butt that gets them rolling on the floor. Or it’s a fun oppositional thing to do things like smile after mom yells “I DON’T WANT TO SEE A SINGLE SMILE ON YOUR FACE TODAY!” I can’t wrap my head around it quite right, but I feel like there’s a difference between that and irony.

I rely on feigned ignorance — I love the sound of those two words together — in situations where I used to get really frustrated, sometimes enraged (always inappropriately), by Jesse or Nick heckling me with repeated questions. When I use irony, they’re the ones who get pissed off instead. That makes me feel good all over.

Nick hates it. If he asks me for the hundredth time in an hour if he can play with the iPad, I might answer, “oh. I didn’t know you wanted to play with the iPad.” I work on acting a little surprised, slightly out of touch.
“YES YOU DID, MOMMY!” He’ll yell back.
“No I didn’t.”
“YES YOU DID! I aaaaasked you.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I DIIIIID, mommy!!!”
“Really? I don’t remember that.”
“YES YOU DO! WAAAAAAH.”

Whatever. Score one for mom.

This morning before the drowsies had all worn off, I was rolling around in bed with—

I wish I was about to say “Anthony.” Sometimes it feels hopeless. I met a delightful woman from Virginia some years ago when Jesse was about 2. This mom had shared a family bed with her kids, who were now adults. We chatted about nursing and co-sleeping, and the pressure our culture applies to end those practices much sooner than I wanted to. She encouraged me to stay the course and ignore everything but my own heart, to treasure this and be patient (apply your best southern accent): “I guarantee you, when Jesse is 21, she will NOT be breastfeeding and she will NOT be sleeping in your bed.” She had a healthy long view of things.

Right. What? Oh, so I was rolling around in bed with Jesse and Nick. You know the drill — snuggle, tickle, hug, jump on mommy and crack her spine, etc. Jesse flopped on her back, relaxed and said, “So mommy. I really want to go back to little Grandma’s house.”

GGGGAAAH I’ve had to listen to some version of that every fracking day since before we even left California. It’s literally the first thing Jesse brings up with me every morning (until today), and then all day long until she closes her eyes to sleep. I’m hearing about this at least 30 times a day, no exaggeration, and lots of different versions, including proposals for travel dates. Jesse has been using her full emotional range as well. I’m being heckled.

Today I felt the demons awaken inside me. I fought them down. I took a breath and I answered Jesse sleepily, trying to sound as earnest as possible. “Really? I didn’t know that.” I prepared myself for irritability, whining, a challenge to my memory, all the things that empower me instead of her in these strange battles.

There was a moment of silence as I stared out the window at the rising sun, and then from next to me I heard an easy-going, grown-up chuckle. Jesse was laughing WITH me at my private joke. She got it. We murmured about it as we smiled. I didn’t know an 8 year old could grasp irony. Awesome.

But now I’m having mixed feelings about this. Watching children mature is a magical thing, and I love it. But Jesse has just taken away a really important device in my quest for sanity. It won’t be as fun anymore, since she gets it. Now what am I going to do when she drives me crazy?