I woke up and realized that my own child was screaming monkey water in the next room. Monkey water refers to a red straw-equipped cup that we have with a picture of a monkey on it. If you saw the cup, you’d understand but I realize the reference might not hold a ton of meaning for you.
I think the lesson to be learned from this is to be true to your primate nature, and to get more sleep.
As a parent, you are always telling your kid what to do. You hope that a particular kind of voice gets inside their head. It’s called the ‘be careful’ voice. It starts with ‘be careful not to run into the street,’ ‘be careful not to jump around on the couch and fall off,’ and ‘be careful not to play with that sharp object that you somehow got ahold of and that you are not allowed to have.’ Later on it becomes, ‘be careful to take a job where they value you, ‘be careful not to drink and drive,’ ‘be careful to use protection when you have sex’ and all kinds of other cautionary statements that you don’t know you will need to say, yet. But you will say them all, believe me, and often.
That is the science of this, the information, the facts. There is also an art to it. The be careful voice can never have anything negative about your child in it. You want that voice in their head to guide them when you’re not around any more, and it has to be a positive voice always.
I work hard to stay relevant. When I go to a park, I seize the moment by creating sculpture using a traffic cone, eucalyptus leaves, branches and bark. Look out Louise Nevelson, because I might be more relevant than you already, and I am just two and a half. I am a seizer of moments.
At mealtimes with my parents, I repeat mommy mommy mommy over and over to break up the conversation when I can’t think of anything to say. I believe in staying on top of the conversation at mealtimes and this means talking a lot. My father refers to this as ‘sucking the oxygen out of the room,’ but I don’t know what he means. He talks about me being a blustery lobbyist or commentator on Fox, but I don’t think these would be good career choices for me.
Staying relevant means that everyone is looking at you. The best way to do this is to shout, ‘Mama, play with me’ when you want your mama to stop reading The New York Times Week in Review and come over and build a block tower right away. I have seen the Week in Review, and it is filled with fluff. Maureen Dowd is off for the holiday, so there is nothing to read there. Nick Kristof is okay, but David Brooks is a one-percenter apologist blowhard. Joe Nocera is a sophisticated complainer, nothing more. My mama will get a lot more out of making a block tower with me, trust me.
Sometimes staying relevant is challenging. There are moments, as impossible as it is to believe, during which I have nothing to say. At those times, I make buzzing noises to simulate words. There are times when I disagree with my parents’ choices for me but don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying their logic is outmoded, their morality bankrupt, and their creative impulses derivative. So in those instances I just say ‘woof.’ I mean, literally, ‘woof.’ It is easier to become a puppy in the moments when somebody in authority is mouthing an inanity like: ‘Two more minutes of playtime, and then we will be putting away the blocks!’ The only response to a statement like that is ‘woof.’ I use this technique often.
Staying relevant means creating drawings with my parents, but I do it Huck Finn style, getting them to do most of the drawing, while I direct them, telling them what to draw, and in what color.
Staying relevant means listening carefully to when my parents get up at 6:30 AM to do yoga and meditation, and then calling out ‘Mama come in here now’ to stay top of mind during their sessions.
Staying relevant means skipping or shortening my naps so that I can continue to build block towers and seize moments.
Adopt some of these techniques, and you too will stay relevant.
To My Parents,
This is a new year so I want to give you both a chance to get this right. Here is a caliper and a metric ruler so you can cut my waffle pieces into the precise sizes that I require. Here is a schedule to tell you when you may run the vacuum. Please note that all the times listed are when I am out of the house. I don’t think it’s being overly picky to say that I forbid you from running the vacuum in my presence. I am afraid of the noise of the vacuum, but I will never admit that publicly. It is a better choice for us all if you never use the vacuum. Who cares if the place gets a little dusty? The cat likes batting the dust with his paw, so this decision will benefit him as well as me.
Please never put a blue yoga mat where my mommy places her red yoga mat. If you do so, it will be upsetting for me. Please never move my block towers, yogurt cup towers, constructions, doors, fences, and other things that may be blocking your path. I understand that you believe that you should be able to freely walk around our place, but you have that wrong. Building things is important to my mental development, honing my sense of spacial relations, hand-eye coordination, and self worth. When you consider that huge value to me, what does it matter if you trip over a toy once in a while? Get a sense of perspective, please, and we will all live in harmony.
Here is a timer that will go off when I say it is okay to change my diaper. Here is a weekly schedule that describes when you will be taking me to school, how long I will be permitted to dawdle on the walkway before getting into the car, and how many minutes I will be allowed to fumble around in the car before I get into the car seat. Here is a list of approved radio stations, when it is preferable to play them, and for how long. Here is a list of what I will eat. Here is a much longer list of what I will not eat. The short list just says ‘toast,’ ‘yogurt,’ and ‘figs.’ That is not a mistake. The long list is too long to reproduce here, but I suggest you memorize it. This will make it easier for all of us. When I request food, such as an organic fig, please deliver it at once, no matter what else you are doing.
Here is a list of parks I play in, and a map showing the streets you will take to get to them. Please don’t repeat the same park two days in a row.
Here is a list of sounds I make inside, and another list of sounds I make outside, and at what volume and intensity for each sound. Note that these lists are identical. So get used to me screaming, shouting, singing, and whatnot in the location I choose. Do not attempt to modify this; it may affect my ability to self-express.
If I am tired of walking when you are holding my hand to cross the street I will signal this intention by lifting my feet from the ground or by dragging my knees on the ground, making a spectacle of myself in the middle of a busy street. This may cause you some embarrassment, but you need to understand that when I am tired of walking, I am tired in that instant and something must be done.
Wait – I need to update this blog. My father has said that I can’t be giving orders all the time, can’t yell at my parents, can’t repeat the same thing over and over even if I want it very badly, and that I have to live together with my family and be a ‘citizen’ whatever that is. I think he is wrong, but he seems as set on me being a citizen as I am in demanding an organic fig, no matter what else you are doing.
I know I am just two and a half, but I might have to budge on some of this because when my demands escalate, even my mommy, who is a goddess, has to walk out of the room sometimes. She talks about this thing called ‘cooperation,’ which has to be bad because she says it with a serious voice. Still, there is merit to having her in the room with me, so I might have to listen.
Guess what? I have decided that I am not afraid of the vacuum. When I go to a restaurant I will eat french fries with ketchup and will remain seated for almost the whole meal. Is that what is called being a citizen?
We say ‘one more minute’ a hell of a lot around here. One more minute, and we will be leaving the playground. One more minute and we will be changing your diaper. One more minute and we will be going out. One more minute and we will be coming back. Mama texted to say she will be home in one more minute. We are staying in the bath for one more minute. We are reading for one more minute and then it will be bedtime. I will stay here for one minute to help you fall asleep. When you wake up and repeatedly shout, ‘Mama come in here right now,’ you will need to wait one more minute for me to get the almond milk from the refrigerator, put it in your sippy cup, and bring it to you.
With all this talk of one more minute, you’d think that kids would become excellent timekeepers. Well, they certainly value each moment, expanding a walk around the neighborhood that takes 10 minutes into a 45-minute adventure where everything is examined and everything commented upon, especially if it is a fire truck. Most of the time, however, they are at war with time. There’s no other explanation for the tears that flow when that ‘one minute’ is up. When it is time to go, if you are two, you fight it, even if you have been given a one-minute warning. When it is time to sleep, to eat, to clean up, to put away, to wash off, to change clothes, to come inside, to go outside, to leave, to stay, you fight it. You fight it all.
We say ‘one more minute’ so much because it is our clueless way to negotiate with master negotiators who will not budge. Therefore, they are not really negotiators at all, are they? We refuse to see that. In our parental wisdom and with boundless compassion, we think our timekeeping smooths the path, wedging an inch of reason into the toddler mind. What we fail to apprehend is that the toddler mind is pissed off, really pissed off, because the toddler has been passed over for the position of running the household. Their intractability is sharper than our compassion. There is no negotiation that will work. The only tool we have is time. Not one more minute, of course, but patience for a longer time, until they are older and can be reasoned with, at least a little.
For now, the best unit of measurement we can offer is ‘one more minute.’
Below, a recording of our toddler practicing his negotiation skills a few weeks ago. He goes to school with a few German-speaking children, so he is working through his ‘nein.’
When walking home on our quiet streets, everything merits further study. Every blade of grass is worth picking, every plant identified, every post-rain mushroom examined.
The child’s dialogue goes like this: ‘That’s a fire hydrant. That’s agave. That’s a crescent moon. That’s dog poop. That’s a mail truck. That’s a mailman. That’s a U-Haul. That’s a big truck. What’s that sound? That’s a fire engine. That’s a car. That’s a car coming this way. That’s a doggie. The dog says woof. That’s a bird. That’s a fountain. That’s a driveway. Where did mommy go? What’s that over there?’
The parent’s dialogue goes like this: ’Stay on the sidewalk, that’s dog poop, or is it a pine cone? No, it is a mushroom, but don’t touch it, and don’t eat it. Those look like blueberries, you can touch them, but don’t eat them, they are probably poisonous. What’s poisonous? It means don’t eat it. Yes, we sometimes eat mushrooms, but they are the right kind. Stay on the sidewalk. Hold my hand when we cross the street. That’s an alley, you have to hold my hand. If you wipe your hand along that dirty car, you hand will get greasy. Okay, I will wash it when we get home. Stay on the sidewalk. Stay close to me. Your hand is dirty, but we will clean it off when we get home. Mommy is waiting for us when we get home. Don’t walk in the neighbor’s plants. Stay on the sidewalk.’
For a child, I suppose, there is great comfort in hearing one’s father say ‘stay on the sidewalk.’ Why else would he make me repeat it often? Surely a child’s memory is not short. I know precisely the opposite to be the case: Like his vision and hearing, his memory is sharp and flawless. Tell him what kind of plant is an agave, and he always remembers. Point out a crescent moon, and he remembers. Tell him that is a telephone line repair truck, and he remembers. Skip a page In a book accidently, and he makes you go back. Tell him mommy is waiting for us when we get home, and he asks, ‘Where did mommy go?’ six or eight times during a 40-minute walk.
The puzzle is solved with this, I think: With a two-and-a-half year old, fact-memory is strong. He is amassing facts every moment, focusing on a mastery of things. He is building a catalogue to describe the outward workings of the world.
When it comes to emotional memory, however, the opposite is true. Emotional memory is slippery. It is porous. The answer to ‘Where did mommy go?’ always changes. It therefore merits endless asking. A mail truck is a mail truck. There is a fact to be absorbed and there is nothing to be worried about. Where mommy is merits further study, is worth worrying about, is worth refreshing your knowledge about, is worth hitting reset on until you see mommy and verify that she is indeed waiting for us at home.
There is something really satisfying about flushing a toilet over and over, especially when there is somebody in authority standing close by, telling you not to do it.
There is something great about running around the apartment, turning on all the lights, closing all the doors, closing all the windows I can reach, and watching the temperature climb until my dad’s head turns red and explodes. That’s nice.
There’s something gratifying about asking for bananas over and over again in a commanding voice, and then, when they arrive, not eating a single one of them. It works even better if you say ‘all done’ and toss the plate.
There is personal enrichment in saying no to everything, even things I really want. I can always say I want them later, because if you use a loud voice, your parents will give you anything, I’ve learned.
It’s great to be two and two months. I can taste the power.
Oh, I have to go now. Some men have arrived with a straitjacket they want my father to try on. I think I might have to stop this, before they cart him away. All I have to do is say NO NO NO in a loud voice. I have a lot of practice, so I know this plan will work.
Editor’s note: Child development experts write ‘The better the parent, the more the child dares to disagree.’ This sounds good, but it makes you wonder if these child development experts have a quart-sized jar of serotonin reuptake inhibitors always close at hand, or are faithful consumers of bulk, box wine in the evenings when trying to unwind.