Don’t Make Me Come Up There

L has been learning some Spanish. His new favorite word is amarillo, yellow. Last night, in the car, he was holding a yellow truck and we heard him say, “Amarillo truck!” and then, in a voice that could have been mine, “That’s right! Amarillo!”

“Man,” I said to B. “That kid must hear my voice in his head all day long.”

Turns out I’m right. There was a This American Life episode a while back–I can’t find it now–about how kids whose parents talk to them and read to them have a distinct advantage over kids who don’t; they do better in school, in part because they have many more words (and more positive words) than kids whose parents don’t read to them or actively teach them language. By Kindergarten, kids who are read to and talked to are miles ahead. Experts think this accounts, in part, for multi-generational poverty and illiteracy. It’s very sad. Anyway, I knew this–but I didn’t think so literally about it, like, that the actual words I say to L are bouncing around in his head.

This made me think that I need to be more careful about what I say. I don’t even mean because, say, L was running around last week yelling “Get off my fucking vest! Get off my fucking vest!” (oops; and what does that even mean?). More because he is obviously picking up not only on what I say to him–but also on what I say to others and to myself. And lately, I have not been very kind to myself. I’ll just come out and say it: I have had a really difficult couple of weeks. My anxiety has been so uncontrollable I have almost wanted to head straight (back) to therapy and a bottle of something. It’s been caused, undoubtedly, by what I think of as bourgeois American problems: we have now extracted L from his current daycare and are about to transition him to another one, and for whatever reason the whole thing has felt very sanity-testing. I hate not being liked, and now people are upset with me; the voices asking if I’m making the right decision have been pretty loud; the financial piece of it is stressful; etc. Perhaps worst of all, the whole experience completely derailed the month of January, which I’d planned to use for my own writing. I got very little done.

So, anyway. My friend K asked me to go to a yoga class with her the other night, and the invitation could not have come at a better time. The class was restorative yoga, which means it’s not exercise at all but you lie around propped up on pillows with an eye bag. At the beginning, the teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice (if you’re not familiar with yoga, know that this is basically a…well, an intention, a place to put your energy. It’s quasi-religious, and I love it). Make an intention: into my head popped the words, love yourself as much as you love your kid. I nearly started to cry. I realized that there I am, saying to L, “Amarillo! That’s right! Good job, sweetie!” While in my head I am saying to myself, “You suck. You made a big mistake with this daycare and now you have to clean it up. You suck for not being able to finish your book. You suck because you will never get published. You suck, basically. And did I mention you suck?”

Okay, I’m being a little extreme, but it’s not too far off.

So, resolved: be nicer to myself. Because little pitchers have big ears. And even if I’m not saying it out loud, little pitchers are pretty perceptive.

On a lighter note, here’s a very funny This American Life clip about talking to kids. Well, yelling at them, really. Enjoy.

Kid Kid Kid

Hey, thanks to everyone who, after reading my post last week, called or emailed to send love and hope I had a good weekend. We did. I was still kind of uptight, and L had a high fever again, but now we’re all on the mend and the mountains were gorgeous (if snowless).

So last night I went to a Moms’ group that I had been invited to by my friends S and E. Neither of them could make it, so it was me and a handful of others I’d never met before. We all went around in a circle and talked about our days, our kids, whatever needed discussing. It was interesting because even though I’d never been there before people just talked–about the decision not to have another child, about anxiety over any number of things–personal stuff you might not share with a stranger. I felt honored to be included, and it came on a good night since I’d had a difficult couple of days with L, who has been by turns cranky as all get out and emotionally fragile about daycare, both of which are wearying and concerning. I had a good time last night, and I’m glad I went.

But I have to admit.

In the middle of someone talking about birth trauma and how it still comes up when your kid is two, which is true for a lot of women, sure, this little voice said to me, what are you doing here? Why, after having spent the entire day talking to your two-year-old and to others about your two-year-old–and given that there’s a babysitter at home–why are you not out drinking margaritas with a childless friend? Or reading a book? Or seeing a movie? Or doing anything that doesn’t make your eyes glaze over with kid, kid, kid??

It was an excellent point. Earlier that day, S and I were out with R, from England, who said that one of the things that struck her about American parenting is how involved we get, both with our children and in our own philosophies about parenting. (At the time, L and S’s son were wrangling over a truck, and S and I were involved in the negotiation somehow, using all our best tools.) R said that in London people would be much more apt to just say, “Hey, you need to share” and turn back to their own conversation. Here, she pointed out, we tend to give choices to our kids; talk about discipline styles with each other; engage in our kids’ disputes and encourage them to be good sharers; etc. It was an honest and smart observation. I have participated in some playground conversations that were so intricate and esoteric on the finer points of two-year-old psychology I felt I could have been doing dissertation research. Then you turn that lens on your kid, and sometimes the intricate psychology works and sometimes you can almost feel your kid thinking, Mom, this isn’t really that complicated.

This came up again today, when an Argentine friend and I were hanging out at the park. She told me that when her child was young she had joined a Moms’ group but left after one session, because she realized that mostly she was pretty happy to have a baby and didn’t need to discuss everything all the time.

Wait, so, both of my international friends think we Americans overthink and overprocess our children.

Do we?

Yes. We do. I think we do, anyway. I have prided myself on being able to straddle a pretty good line between a) being able to discuss politics, art, cooking, shopping, travel, writing, music, etc. and b) succumbing sometimes to the need to just talk talk talk talk talk about my kid and my issues as a parent. Which is to say, it makes sense to me that people need to discuss their parenting a lot, because even if you have a pretty awesome kid (I count myself in that camp), being a parent is a difficult job. Punto. And on the other hand, amen for having some time when you don’t have to discuss potty training and all its nuances (BOring).

It occurs to me that this is why childless people get so fed up with people with kids, because they feel we can’t talk about “real” stuff anymore. And because we tediously overthink everything. Over the weekend, one such friend made a snide remark when B and I were trying to get L to do something. “Why don’t you not give him a choice, and just tell him what to do?” Ah. Yes, that is the remark of a non-parent. I’m happy to try to order L around, and watch the afternoon get FUBAR because he feels he has no control and is just a puppet of the parental state (he might have different language for his feelings in this situation). There are times when I only want to hang out with other parents, because they have a clue of what our days our like.

But at other times, I’m desperate to come up for air and forget I have a child for just an hour or two. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who don’t have kids, and I want to maintain those friendships, because it feels invaluable to me to get some perspective, sometimes. Sadly, some of my friendships are not as strong since I have had a baby. Childless friends want me to meet for drinks at ten p.m. They call at 4:00 p.m. and prattle on. I admit I am now the one who needs to call the time and place. A couple of my wonderful dear friends have gracefully accepted this, for which I’m grateful. I know I’m a pain in the ass since I have a two-year-old strapped to my leg all the time. So sue me.

What’s my point, exactly? Well, that next week maybe I won’t blog about parenting again. Politics, anyone? Art? Cooking? Anyone want to get a drink at 8:30 some night or call me between 1:30 and 4:00, when L is sure to be snoozing?