Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yesterday, I nearly tore a fat, Russian man right in half.

Here’s what happened. I was walking through our local grocery store, sporting a cold and a temperature, trying to get in and out as quickly as I could before my 3 year old got lost or hurt; or conversely before he lost or hurt someone or something else. Two sides of the coin, both entirely possible because walking around with a toddler is the same as walking around with a loaded gun and a bad case of road rage.
So, we’re making or way down the first aisle and already Sebastian has run away towards the toys (whole other rant), sat down in a pre-tantrum rage in front of the mayonnaise, and knocked over a display of vegetable peelers. We haven’t even been there for 1 minute. And of course he won’t sit in the cart—that’s too hard and he “just couldn’t do it, Mommy.” So, walking it is. Needless to say, I now understand the child leash I judged so harshly before giving birth.
We get to the eggs. Brief history here—I need eggs because Sebastian pulled a full dozen of them out of the refrigerator and accidentally dropped them on the floor. (What would a childless person say? you should have been watching him. You should have childproofed the frig. You should have raised the eggs out of his reach. You should have raised the entire refrigerator out of his reach. You should have raised a better child with no free will.)
Anyway, just as the fat Russian is pulling up along side us with his cart, I reach up for the local, organic, cardboard-cartonned dozen, and turn around to see that Sebastian has a full dozen of flabby-styrofoam-packed eggs in his hands.
A brief flashback to the spill and a brief flash of being appalled by his choice of eggs, and I say, “Nono, Bash. I have the eggs. Put them back, please.”
“Yup. Put them back, please.”
Fat Russian guy says, “Oh. You should be happy.”
I looked at him, just to make sure he was in fact addressing me. In fact, he was because he reiterated, “You should be grateful you have such a good little helper.”
A brief flash of blindness, a stab of rage, and a logjam of one hundred thousand snarky retorts stopped my words as my mouth opened to speak. So I just raised my eyebrows and shook my head. I must have changed color, or my eye-teeth must have grown because he actually backed down with an “ah kids, whad are you goink to do, eh?”

Now, this may seem like the most benign of all interactions. But to me, a mother snared in the brambles of child raising, it was an outrage. Clearly this man has no children. Or, if he does, he never actually raised a single one of them.
Because he did what most childless people do to me nowadays—tell me how I should think, feel, act, emote, behave, speak, look, eat, stand, walk, drive, and generally BE now that I am a mother. Apparently, most if not all members of the bekidded society are free game when it comes to unsolicited advice (not to mention physical contact). And it always comes flavored with lightly braised arrogance, a dash of hostility, and a pat of simplistic reasoning. I once had a woman who babysat in high school lecture me on how to get my breast-feeding, teething, colicky baby to sleep: “just make up a story, a nice long adventure where he’s the star. Oh, and use his name a lot. Children love to hear their names.”
There aren’t enough exclamation points to describe my reaction to this.

The simple plain fact of it all is this: people who have not been put in full-time charge of a new life just don’t get it. They can have nieces, nephews, godchildren, or long-distance foster kids in Sierra Leone (yes, I’ve heard from that faction). They can be deeply involved with a sick mom and so help out with her kids. They can even work full time in a day care. But the fact is, if that kid didn’t crack em in half coming out, then they simply don’t understand the scope, the depth, and the span of change a child has on your life. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about biological birth--that previous image just comes from my own experience. Gross, and inaccurate, and I apologize.

What I’m really talking about is being given care of a new life--a pooping blob that you love uncontrollably, who in turn tortures you endlessly with sleep deprivation, disgusting tasks, profound boredom, complete isolation from your previous life, and therefore complete obliteration of your sense of self.
And if you haven’t been through THAT, then you need to stop telling me what to do.

And you know who I blame for all of this? Not republicans (though they do help proliferate the attitude), or society, or the 80s supermom, or bad schools, or even Walmart (who also sucks).
I blame TV. And that’s a really hard thing for me to do because I love TV. TV practically raised me and I love it to this day. I find it comforting and lovely to have around, though I don’t actually own one anymore. I was a latchkey kid, and full-blown Sunday cartoon junkie, and I turned out OK: So how could TV have betrayed me so onerously?

I’m still in denial, but I’ve studied it. And have the following observations.

When you watch sitcoms or any other character-based show, they make a huge deal out of the build up. Pregnancy is scandalous and marvelous, excellent fodder for jokes and horror, and a clear lead up to an ultimate birthing episode. That episode, of course, shows the quintessential funny pain (women grabbing men’s faces, screaming at them from the stirrups--oh, the poor men) until it stops being funny (i.e. when the women bleed, or tear, or genuinely cry, ask to be killed, or pass out from the pain). Then they cut away and rejoin the joyous mother with a clean happy baby in her arms and all of her family and friends around.

And then, once the baby is born, it pretty much disappears. The main characters resume their lives, and the baby only pops up occasionally as a plot point or as a massively sedated second to the scene between grown ups. New mothers go right back into their old lives without a blip—skinny, well rested, and career-driven. They walk out of the house without a thought. Occasionally a joke will be made about bad sleep or baby weight or momming troubles. But it’s fleeting and solved by the end of the episode. So, all gone! And who cares!

On TV, once they’re born, the babies and kids evaporate.
On TV, kids are silent, wonderful, silent, uncomplicated, and did I mention silent?
On TV, they show up only when the main characters need to prove a point, get out of work, or reiterate their status as a parent.
On TV, kids are only sick to move the plot along.
On TV, kids are accessories.

And like I said, I watched a lot of TV. So, when my son came along, I was really angry. Not at the baby, not at my husband, not at my solitude; but at TV, and the attitude it created in the world around me. I can take everything else--the solitude, the poop, the sickness, the boredom.

But I just can't take the misinformed judgement.
And frankly, most of that misinformation and judgement comes straight from TV.
Whether it be fat Russian men at the store, or teenagers at mall, or even young new mothers at the park, they all tell you that they get most of their advice on kids and parents from yup, TV.

I know because I asked.
And so here comes my blog about parenting.

I'll never give you unwanted advice. I'll never tell you what to do. And I promise that I'll only tell you what's happened to me--a recovering childless parent-judger--and hope that it helps you as a new parent.

Watch out you fat Russians!