LJ Idol Exhibit A | week 6 |1370 words
You enter into parenthood knowing that there will be ups and downs over the years, but people don't talk as often about how much of it will simply be weird.
Yes, there will be diapers and tantrums and that godawful kiddie music that makes you want to blowtorch both eardrums at once. There will be sweetness and laughter and the touch of soft baby hands that you'll want to remember forever. But there will also be moments where you are giddy or horrified or just stung by something that puts you squarely inside the 'How did I get here?' of that song by the Talking Heads.
I'm not talking about rookie mistakes, like your home contractor being the one to tell you that your baby has heat rash instead of diaper rash, because you've overdressed her for the weather. No, I mean things like taking a four-day trip out of state and having your baby turn into an eating machine and shoot up an inch and a half, and grow right out of all the clothes you packed.
We expected some sibling rivalry when our second was born—who doesn't? Instead, I took our daughter on an outing three weeks later and we weren't even five minutes out of the house before she told me that she missed the baby. Then she followed it up a minute later with another dose of random by asking a surprising but November-appropriate question: "Why we don’t have witches in the sky?"
Those unseen ideas or context are responsible for much of the bizarreness of life with children. My husband and I once bought an outdated version of the Fisher Price Dollhouse's "Mom" at a garage sale. We thought she could be an older sister or babysitter, and left her in the dollhouse as a surprise. I was busy doing something later that day when I heard my son say, "No! Not Mommy!", and noticed shortly afterwards that he seemed to be trying to ram something through a heating vent. I asked my husband about it that night: "Was that about the doll?" "Oh, the little homewrecker doll?" he said. "She had to go. Christopher does not like her."
Around the age of four, kids start to invent their own context. They enter a stage where they proclaim what I call True Facts From Nowhere. For instance,
Daughter: Donkeys don't live on farms.
Me: Yes, they do.
Daughter: *pouts* Well maybe some donkeys do… They live in the jungle!
Right, those famed South American jungle burros—how could I forget? Now, some of those wacky ideas come from other children (usually, a Bigger Kid), but at that age the line between what you know and what plants itself in your brain via imagination can also be very thin.
Parents talk about accidentally finding themselves having uncomfortable conversations with very little kids, usually involving awkward questions about sex. We've escaped that particular topic, but not the event. The most memorable was an unplanned dialogue with my 3-year-old son about healthy food and energy that got derailed with, "When snails eat their food, they die." I literally reeled. How did I suddenly get trapped inside a discussion about death (and the ethics of deceiving snails)? I still don't know why he thought that stuff was "snail food," unless his grandmother called it that or he extrapolated from the pictures on the box. Backing out of that mess was like trying to run with your feet stuck in cement.
Some of the surprises were ones I should have expected, at least the second time around. My husband introduced our daughter to Rocky Road ice cream when she was two, and a week later she told me, "Did you know you can buy chocolate ice cream without any things in it? They sell it at the store! *nod-nod-nod*" I actually thought she would grow out of some of her pickiness over the years, but after trying lemon bars at age eleven (which I was sure she would love), she said that she liked the taste but that they felt like jam in her mouth! What does that even mean? Criminy. She doesn't like that many foods to begin with, so hating things on the basis of their texture just makes a bad situation worse. She still insists she'll become a vegetarian when she leaves home, but she only likes about five fruits and six vegetables, so I don't expect that to go particularly well.
I have a friend who can't wait for her daughter to grow out of the stage where she isn't sure which things are real, and I don't understand that at all. To me, that confusion adds a lot of magic to childhood. Life is full of possibilities when you don't know the limitations of reality! The cluelessness also creates its own weirdness, which is where some of the cutest memories are born. Really, that phase will end on its own, and once it does there is no going back.
Now, I thought I had a pretty good idea of knowing when my kids would move past that stage, but it turned out I was wrong. Twice.
I definitely knew by age ten that my toys did not have feelings, and it probably happened even earlier than that. So a couple of years ago, when I remembered the "backup" toy hedgehog we'd bought as a duplicate and hidden away in case my son's ever got lost, I decided we obviously didn't need it anymore and that it might be nice to give it to our little nephew. My son was twelve, after all, and I was sure he'd understand. I asked him, though, just as a formality.
My son dissolved into tears, fixated on the horror of that toy hedgehog living in a box for the past seven years. Instead of going to my nephew, the toy became "Twin Hedgie" and joined the extended hedgehog family that lives in my son's bed. Talk about epic parental fail!
But it wasn't just my son. Our daughter decided at age eleven that virtually all her toys needed to leave her room, including the tiny toys (and not-toys) she'd built habitats for over the years. She did a major room makeover (with the goal of it looking "more mature"), and I'd assumed that was the end of it. Fast-forward to fifteen months ago, when I got ready to sell some of her cast-off furniture. I opened the big, wide dresser in the playroom to make sure all the drawers were clean and empty, and discovered all of her habitats laid out inside! They had all been relocated and preserved, and parts of the drawers decorated to make nicer "homes." Most bittersweet of all was the little letter she'd left on the tiny living room table of one particular setup:
Picture shows plastic doll-sized living room set in a drawer, with various toy animals in it.
Picture shows the hand-written note on the above table. It reads, "I will never forget you. You were amazing friends. You will always hold a place in my heart & memories. I love you. xoxoxoxoxoo Lauren"
She must have felt such guilt at burying her little creatures away in the dark, while also believing that it was a necessary part of growing up. Even when I cleaned out the drawers, there were still a few creatures and houses she wanted me to save—and she was fourteen then! Meanwhile, my now thirteen-and-a-half year-old son is in an indecision spiral over which Beanie Ballz toys to buy with his Christmas money. Plans to get just the giant huggable penguin have expanded to include the giraffe, hedgehog, zebra, and maybe the turtle, because they are all so ridiculously cute that he can't stand not to have them.
Yes, there are highs and lows in parenting, and if you're lucky it's more of the first and very little of the second. Some of those will merit mentions on Facebook or letters to family, and you probably won't forget them. But the things that will make you roll your eyes or bring you delight many years down the road are the moments of unforeseen strangeness that are unique to your own experience.
It's those little twists and turns that make the whole ride so utterly worthwhile.
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