To My Children, When They Are Bored

Hello, children! Mommy here. I know, obvs, right? Or don’t we say obvs anymore? I never know what’s up with the current lingo. I do know, because you just told me, that you are bored. Out of your mind.

And you know, that totally reminds me of when I was a kid. I hated to be bored. Of course, times were different back then. Do you want to hear about it?

No?

Oh, come on – just listen. Just for a minute. You have nothing else to do, right?

I’m not going to tell you about the walk to school uphill both ways in three feet of snow, because my God, it wasn’t that long ago. We had school buses and if it snowed, we had a snow day, just like you. You know what we did on those snow days? Let me tell you. One thing we did was sit around and listen to the radio, hoping and praying to hear our favorite song so we could tape it. On a cassette. Unlike you, we couldn’t hear any song we wanted to, at any time, day or night. No, we had to press PLAY and RECORD at the exact same moment, and we never caught the whole song because we were invariably a few seconds late. And the DJ would always start talking before the song ended, so every time you played “Like a Virgin,” you also heard some guy named Turbo saying “. . . and that’s Madonna, coming in at number seven. . . ” And so on.

The clear ones were fancy.
The clear ones were fancy.

That was fun. You know what else was fun? Watching the movie Alien before I had my 12-year molars. You’re not familiar with Alien? That’s good, because you shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have been either, but a) my parents were apparently idiots, and b) there was only so much to watch on TV, back then. Certainly there wasn’t any 24/7 children’s programming. No Kid’s Choice Awards. Never mind the awards – there was no kid’s choice at all. You watched Alien and if that meant you couldn’t sleep for several months afterward for fear that a small octopus might explode out of your guts and suction on to your face, well, that was your problem.

Sort of like this. But ON YOUR FACE.
Sort of like this. But ON YOUR FACE.

Speaking of scary. I’ll tell you about scary. Scary is answering a ringing telephone when you have no idea who is on the other end of the line. I promise you, you know nothing about fear until you have accidentally found yourself exchanging pleasantries with a drunk or otherwise volatile older relative for upwards of a minute. But that’s how it was, in those days; the phone rang and you picked it up. Period. Oh, and guess how many phones there were in the house? One! It was attached to the wall in the kitchen and if you wanted to talk on it you had to stay there. In the kitchen. In front of everybody.

Could you Google on that phone? Dude – are you kidding me right now? YOU COULDN’T GOOGLE ANYTHING AT ALL, EVER. There was no Google! There were only big, heavy hardcover books called encyclopedias, and if you wanted to know about polar bears, you had to first figure out if that subject would be in the “P” book or the “B” book. What I am saying is that basically, you couldn’t find out shit back then. If I were you, I would Google things all day long. Just because I could.

Google, 1981
Google, 1981

But, whatever. You’re bored and so nothing pleases you; no suggestion will be good enough. I get it. It’s tough. You know what I did for fun sometimes? I went outside and left my mother alone to smoke and drink coffee like a normal grown-up. I went outside because on the hottest days of summer, it was probably cooler out there than it was in the house. You don’t think we had air conditioning, do you? Wrong again, kid. No one had air conditioning, or if they did, we weren’t friends with them. We had a goddamned box fan on the floor and sure, it was fun to make your voice go all vibrato by talking real close to it, but that got old after 30 seconds tops. Especially once your mother heard you and came and smacked you in the back of the head with a paint stirrer. Those paint stirrers were way better quality than these crap balsa sticks they make today. They were thick and heavy-duty plastic with holes at intervals, which I guess were for better aerodynamics.

Wow! That really DOES cool it down in here!
Wow! That really DOES cool it down in here!

So, yeah. Outside, I’d invent some game to play by myself for a while, often involving pine needles and rocks. When I got bored of that I might walk to a friend’s house, going the long way around the block to avoid the two neighborhood thugs who always threatened to beat me up. They were boys, incidentally. I was a girl. They were allowed to threaten me because no one cared about bullying back then. “Fight your own battles,” my mother used to tell me, and so that’s what I did. Usually by crying and running as fast as I could while they laughed. They didn’t even bother to chase me. If they had chased me, I am pretty certain I’d have peed my pants or worse. I am telling you, they were dangerous times. But I survived, as you can –

Hey! Where are you going? What do you mean, you can’t sit here and listen to me? Suddenly you have other stuff to do? What could be more important than life lessons from your –

Oh, fine. Go do what you need to do. I’ll just sit here and reminisce all on my own.

No, it’s fine. Really.

Sucker.

 

Plank Position, or, I’m Pretty Sure I’m Doing This Wrong

retro-1480639_1280Six years ago.

Of course, my kids were happy to see me. So happy to see me it could break your heart if you weren’t careful. Fat little hands and chubby cheeks, arms reaching up for me, so excited. Mommy’s here! And it had been a long day, just as long as all the others. Eight hours in an office for me. Over eight hours in a room full of other day-care-going toddlers for them. “Mommy! Mommy’s here! Hi, Mommy!”

“Hi, hi, I missed you so much!” I’d tell them, even though I’ve read that you’re not supposed to say that. You know. In case their little baby brains forgot about you in your absence, because then they might feel guilty for having a good time without you, or whatever. Whatever, is what I say to whomever made that one up. It’s that kind of bullshit that leads us to raise children who can’t handle even thirty seconds of trauma or inner turmoil. I did miss them. I’m telling them. So what.

So anyway. I picked up my babies and their binkies and blankies and off we went, happy as can be. Into the car seats, strap-strap-click-click and we’re on our way home. That’s how it happened in my imagination. What really happened is that the three-year-old needed to find a “wock” before we left and so yanked free of me to go inspect some nearby loose gravel. “Hey – hey!” I said, giving chase but unable to actually swoop in and grab him up due to my arms already being occupied with a wriggly two-year-old.

Happily, it was only a minute before he found an acceptable rock; he showed it to me. “It’s the one I was wooking for,” he said.

How did he know which was the right rock? Your guess is as good as mine.
How did he know which was the right rock? Your guess is as good as mine.

“Excellent,” said I, thinking – seriously, tomorrow I’m putting my foot down. No more rocks! Soon there will be no more parking lot, because it will all be at my house. It ends here and now, kid, just you wait and see. FYI: I did not stop him the next day, nor the next after that. It just seemed too hard. Quite frankly I think almost everything about parenting is too hard. I don’t know why they let anyone do it at all.

Strap-strap-click-click, finally, one down, one to go. Close the door and circle around the car to the other side. Two-year-old is getting a bit fussy in my arms but I’m not worried. As babies go, he’s typically pretty compliant.

Well. Except when he’s not.

Today, for instance.

By the time I’ve opened the rear driver’s side door, he’s already off the rails. It’s that quick. “Nononononononooooo! Noooo! Don’t want to! No seat no seat no seat! No car! Noooooo!”

I look around as you always do, knowing that someone surely will think I am kidnapping him. “Shhhh!” I tell him. Like that ever works. “Shhhh…calm down! Sweetie, shhhh, we have to go – ”

“NOOOOOOOOOO! Wet me go! Wet me go! I not going! I NOT GOING NO NO NOOOOOOO!”

Sweet Jesus. Please help me.

I am guessing this child has never fought his parents on car seat usage.
I am guessing this child has never fought his parents on car seat usage.

And I’ll interrupt this story here, for a brief word on plank position. “Plank position” is most commonly known in exercise circles as the pose one adopts when one is preparing to do push-ups. Hands and toes are on the floor, arms straight, body locked in parallel to the floor and straight as a board (hence the “plank”). In the lives of some parents of very young children, it is also the position one’s child adopts when said child is uninterested in car travel. The child’s body goes stiff and rigid and actually straighter than most boards I’ve seen. The child usually accompanies this performance with shrill and desperate screams. The problem is that in order to safely install the child into the car seat, the child must be willing to bend at the waist.

I don’t know if my kids were special or if all babies become superhuman when they’ve decided not to do something. I do know that among the available super-powers, car seat avoidance is not one I’d agree to bestow on my children, given a choice. Unfortunately the powers that be did not consult with me before endowing my offspring with spines of steel.

So here I was, baby like a board, my own body halfway in and halfway out of the car. My “calm downs” were getting me nowhere. The three-year-old sat transfixed in his own car seat, clearly too overwhelmed to consider launching his own tantrum.

The two-year-old continued to scream.

I tried pushing on his midsection with one hand while wrestling his arms into the straps with the other, but really, this was a job for two hands. So instead I tried to lean my elbow into his waist while using two hands to sort of pin his arms. Also ineffective, not to mention incredibly awkward. I was sweating. The child kept screaming. A car pulled into a parking space near mine. Its driver, a mom I didn’t know, gave me a sympathetic if maybe slightly suspicious smile. As she hurried away I thought, Good. Let her call 911 and maybe the police can get this little maniac into his seat!

I don't know what I thought I'd find when I searched for images of the word "stiff." This wasn't it.
I took a chance, searching for images of the word “stiff.” Who’d have thought I’d find this?

By now I was sweating profusely and close to a nervous collapse. I hunched over and climbed into the car for better leverage, but the elbow maneuver would do me no good. More parents arrived, car doors slammed. My words – “Stop it . . . now just get . . . come on” – were becoming meaningless. Plus I was wrestling with a baby.

“Dammit, that’s it,” I said, and the curse word startled him but not for nearly long enough. His little body bucked even harder, holding me back with the sheer power of his hatred. I was truly at the very end of my wits. I realized there was no other way. The legs would have to be involved. My legs. My big, strong, grown-up adult legs. I looked at my son’s tear-streaked face, his panicky little eyes, and I drove my knee into his abdomen.

I could have cried, I really could have. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t know what else to do. As for him, he screamed louder and bucked harder but could not overcome the weight of his mother. Now it was just a matter of getting both arms in the straps and clicking the whole godforsaken thing into place. Which would have been much easier if my kneeling leg weren’t blocking the main part of the harness. Goddammit.

Parents continued to hurry by; I am happy to report that several of them have been in this exact same situation themselves, at some point. I know because I’ve seen it, though quite honestly I don’t recall seeing any of them apply 150 or so pounds of weight to their child’s intestinal area. To tell you the truth I’m not sure how they handled it, but I’m pretty sure whatever the method, it had to be better than this.

help-153094_1280

Which is exactly what parenting is all about. Isn’t it? Thinking that surely, the rest of the parents are doing it better than you are. That the impossible situations would be way less impossible if only you knew what you were doing.

Well I mean, I don’t know that for sure. I hope that’s what parenting is all about. Is It? At least sort of about that? I am pretty sure I heard someone say so, one time.

No? All right, fine. Maybe not. Maybe I never heard anyone say that, but I should have, because it’s true. We are not supposed to know exactly what we are doing. Like it or not, there are hundreds or maybe thousands of things we can do every day to cause irreparable damage to our kids. But that is how they learn. And also how we learn. Bad things happen, and so do good things. Which ones do you want to pay attention to, kid?

Certainly there are parents out there who seem to do everything right. Most definitely there are parents who at least believe they do everything right. I admire them and feel kind of bad for them, all at the same time. The one thing I know for sure is that I am not one of them. I do things wrong all the time.

So if you, too, feel like you are doing it all wrong, feel free to come and talk to me. I mean, maybe not in person. I hate unannounced visitors. Also I rarely answer my phone. But definitely talk to me on the internet. I will listen. And empathize. And tell you it will all be fine.

How do I know it will be fine, you ask? Because. That two-year-old is now seven, and he never, ever fights with me about getting in the car. Also, based on the available evidence, his gastrointestinal tract works just fine. See? It’s all good.

I mean, it is. All good.

Isn’t it??