Monday, April 20th, 2009

How To Treat The Screaming Magenta Two-Year-Old

underparentingThe kid is in the playpen, also known as the crib, where I dumped him. The playpen is also known, officially, as a "playard," sales-portmenteau-style for "play yard," because somewhere between the time I was wearing diapers and the time I started changing diapers, "pen" and its overtones were dumped as being retrograde. Who would pen a precious child?

I guess I just did, and not (while we're unpacking the assumptions behind the Graco Pack N Play Playard) for the sake of playing. I did it to shut him up. Now, in the silence, I am running a dishwasher with the lower rack more or less empty. Sorry, Earth Day. We were out of clean sippy cups, and I wasn't in the mood to hand-wash them. I missed one or two last night in the evening dishwasher roundup, which would have been fine, except then we used an extra one to give him a water chaser after his bedtime slug of Motrin syrup, and again after I gave him his 4 a.m. Motrin along with the albuterol inhaler. "Delicious medicine!" he said after the bedtime dose, because he is chatty and good-humored nowadays, within limits, even as he closes in on being a two-year-old.

Being woken up at 4 a.m. out of fever sleep and having medicine shoved at him was not within those limits. Tears squirted out as he howled, which was good, because it meant he hadn't dried out too much. When he was a little younger and sick, I used to use the soft spot on his skull as a water gauge-if it was sunken, we were behind on the Pedialyte.

The kid being sick is the normal state of affairs. Every 10 or 15 days, probably. This is one of the things that nobody tells you when you're having a child, or that nobody tells you in a way that gets through. Like the fact that, for the mother, breast-feeding is essentially congruent with the CIA's torture protocols (nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation) or that for several months, everyone's clothing will get vomited on multiple times a day. The plan was for today have been a productive work day for me-a critically important one, even-but I had just finished one productive week, and you don't get two of those in a row, so the telltale here-comes-trouble thick snot started flowing on Friday and kept going through the weekend.

Luckily, a sick child is not necessarily or exclusively a miserable child, and we had a pretty good morning for people who'd been awake and unhappy at 4 a.m.: watching subway trains and umbrellas and trucks out the window; eating French toast for breakfast; playing "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha" for what iTunes says was the 55th time. Then came lunch. Cooking a second meal shortly after the first is not my strong suit. I put together some leftover chicken and leftover rice-when you're feeding leftovers to a young child, you have to waste time reheating them and then cooling them down again-peeled an orange and cut up a few sections, got out a bowl of Jell-O, and poured some juice into the last clean sippy cup. He sat in his high chair and ate a few chunks of orange, and I went into the kitchen, three steps away, to get something for myself.

After about half a minute, he started screaming. Maybe he couldn't get a big enough spoonful of rice to suit himself. Maybe he swallowed a chunk of orange wrong. There is a school of child-rearing they call "attachment parenting," which consists of the worst, most backward mother-abuse, expanded to include the caring father: whenever your child is crying, it is for a reason, and the most important duty in your whole world is to figure out why and to solve the problem.

This is a cruel and stupid lie. How many adults, with the benefit of decades of experience, a full-grown brain, and possibly hundreds of hours of expensive therapy, really understand the reason every time they themselves are upset? But if you do not immediately know how to correctly soothe a despairing or enraged little semi-human, it is because you have not paid enough attention to its needs, and the parent-child bond has grown weak and defective. (Maybe you weaned the baby to formula and solid food at six months, when it started growing teeth, rather than letting it chew on the breast till it was three; maybe you put it in a separate room instead of cuddling it in your marital bed.) The attachment-parenting experts are quacks and bullies and monsters, and successful and prosperous ones, because everyone nowadays is afraid of bending the twig wrong and ruining the tree, and therefore inclined to believe that there must be an unambiguous way to bend the twig right.

Now the kid was magenta and the screams were deafening. I sat down beside him and asked a few questions-did he want some help with the rice? Did he want some juice?-and got tears and more screaming. He glared around through squinted eyes, and twin shining bubbles of snot inflated, side by side, one on each nostril.

I was not interested in the root cause of the problem. I hooked him out of the high chair and carried him off to his room and set him in the playpen. I gave him a blanket and left him there. I could say that I was trying to "extinguish" the tantrum, deliberately trying to create a neutral response, but I wasn't, and neutral response is another ridiculous myth anyway. He was going to scream if he wanted to; I just didn't want to have to share a room with it.

When I went in 10 minutes later to get a dirty sippy cup, he was asleep.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

saythatscool (#101)

Thanks Tom. The only thing better than taking care of my two year old is reading a blog about another man taking care of his two year old.

Was Neil Pollack too busy at Coachella making his sure his kid had a heat stroke?

Neil Pollack is out fetching me coffee right now.

saythatscool (#101)

You're giving too much responsibility on his first day.

But if he's making a run anyway, tell him I like mine with extra urine.

Another reason I pray that the alcohol has rendered temporarily sterile for at least the next few years.

Sure. That's why nobody ever gets knocked up from drunken canoodles. Get thee to a CVS fast, honey. Latex is your best friend.

karion (#11)

Christ, Balk, that was amazing. I am speechless.

Alex Balk (#4)

Direct your speechlessness at Tom Scocca, who writes this column.

#56 (#56)

so who's number one?

saythatscool (#101)

You are Number 6.

saythatscool (#101)

I am not a number. I am a free man!

A friend of mine (single dad to the kid he had with his ex girlfriend, plus the next kid she had with a ne'er do well who skipped)said that the problem with modern families and chlidrearing is this: Used to be that there were 2 or more kids to one parent, and now there's one parent to each kid, at most. Too much attenion (Okay, he grew up in Franco era Spain in a family of 7, but I think he has a point). We survived for eons without our emotional needs met every bloody second.

I don't have kids, so I must be an expert.

Jaynut (#160)

This story is a prime example of why I have a dog. I can lock her up in a wire cage – not a play yard, not a pen, a fucking WIRE crate. I can then proceed to shout "mommy loves you!" on my way out and consume all the tequila I'd like. When I come home, I am always sure the state will not come and take her away the next day. Kids are rewarding, they say? I'd say a night out is its own reward, really.

jennie (#25)

Thank you, Tom. That was fantastic.

meave (#164)

This is a baby story so realistically told as to trigger a person's au pair-related PTSD. Man there is nothing like being forced to ignore a screaming kid until it shuts up to give a person sympathy for adults in such situations in public. Or at least cure oneself of a sense of shame.

MadrasSoup (#167)

This weekend I had friends over and they brought their kid. He's cute, so I held him for about a minute until he got squirmy and I remembered that I hadn't finished my glass of wine. When I traded (upgraded?) the kid for the Riesling, I thought it underscored how unprepared I was for child-rearing, or even babysitting. But now I'm thinking I stumbled onto a Parenting Philosophy.

hockeymom (#143)

This brings back bad flashbacks. Lack of sleep IS torture and the brain cells you lose never come back.

My personal low moment was when I was on deadline writing for some TV show and my son who could only roll at the time, rolled out of the office, down the hall and then down two flights of stairs. I couldn't figure out what all the bumping was about because I had forgotten about him. Then he started screaming and I remembered that I had a kid.

Peter Kafka (#191)

If Scocca really is going to have a column then I would like him to have his own RSS feed. Thanks in advance for your help.

JV (#195)

As the parent of 3 boys, let me say that this post was refreshing. Helicopter parenting? Fuck that noise.

Cliff Spab (#84)

Reading that post was too much like raising actual kids, so I had some tequila. My kid did, too

Cliff Spab (#84)

Also, if any of you people ever 'lol' I am burning this bitch down

sallytomato (#549)

Tom, I love you. Apparently you are the only person in the metropolitan area who subscribes to the benign neglect philosophy of parenting. You are a welcome respite from the hysterical parents that have overrun my neighborhood.

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