Category Archives: Parenting

Halloween in the Pissing Rain

So, finally, a posting from Marin county where we landed in August. I know. It’s been a while. I’m averaging a post every three months, well worth the 200 dollars a year I’m giving to WordPress to host the website. I told myself last year if I’m not posting at least once a month then I’m taking the site down. Well, it’s been a year and I just gave them another 200 dollars with a promise to myself that I’m going to post at least every two weeks. Reverse logic, but I’m thinking I’m going rogue. No more of these attempted polished gems that I’m imagining some editor from the New Yorker seeing and contacting me about after traipsing all over the internet to track me down. “Yes, Mr. Scott, we’re wondering if you have anything longer we might be interested in, oh and by the way I have the names of a couple of agents who would like to talk to you.” Instead, I’m going a bit more punk.

We did Halloween of course. Some ups and downs. I was struggling with the tail-end of a man-cold. Not a cold, but a man-cold, which is an entirely different beast. It’s like comparing a Prairie rattlesnake to the Mojave variety. Only one is deadly. Hence, struggling with the man-cold, I couldn’t smell toffee apples if put under my nose and wrapped in garlic, and Barry White’s been camping in my windpipe for three days. Not at my best, had a long day dealing with 16 year olds who no matter how many times I cough and splutter enquire not after my health and instead concentrate on asking why I’m wearing a neck scarf. So I’m feeling a touch jaded, a touch sorry for myself, and I’m supposed to traipse around Fairfax for two hours sans alcohol. Oh, and it’s raining.

It’s not about you my wife reminds me, who’s dealing with her own head cold (though it’s not a man-cold) and when she says it she’s already in full zombie regalia plus make up so it’s more than usually intimidating. She’d be intimidating dressed as a rose petal, but that’s not the point. The point is that the kids absolutely love it. Of course I’m coming I tell her, but don’t expect me to dress up. Unacceptable response, and ten minutes later she’s got me in a wig and the kind of long down coat that people in Minnesota sleep in. What am I supposed to be I ask. Everybody’s slightly off-center neighbor she tells me. Well then. The kids are eleven and almost four, so right at the optimum ages where it’s not too spooky nor too cheesy, and the rain’s an added bonus. The 11-year-old’s a little sceptical about putting on full zombie attire cause, you know, she’s at that age where she’s beginning to think about what if I see so and so from school, so she insists on wearing her Converse and putting on her favorite sweater under the shredded zombie t-shirt, but she’s sufficiently in the spirit of things. And for about an hour it’s actually fun. I get to stand in the street under my umbrella that’s about the size of a studio apartment and watch the kids scamper in and out of this decorated house and that decorated house while all the other parents look at me a little strangely cause my umbrella’s beyond Marin’s specifications for umbrellas, not to mention more interesting than my costume. In the rain I probably look a lot like their slightly off-center neighbor just, you know, out for a walk. And then it starts to pour. As in torrential. The kids are still loving it, but most of the adults are gently trying to persuade them that going through their candy at home and sorting it into piles according to color or weight is actually the funnest thing about Halloween. I’m certainly up for that, alongside hoping that we got a good haul of Nestle Crunch.

The 11 year old certainly loves that moment of getting home way after bedtime, dumping her candy out on the floor and organizing it. And it was certainly priceless to put my 4-year-old to bed and have him tell me he’d loved getting wet, even when his underpants were wet and that when he got home from school tomorrow he was going to have some Dots and then maybe a Kit-Kat. After that he wasn’t sure, but I was under strict instructions not to touch any of his candy. Okay I said as I closed his bedroom door then promptly went into his stash for a Nestle Crunch followed two minutes later by another one as I waited for the water for my hot toddy.

Sleep All Haywire. Again.

Bedtime’s all haywire again. For a while there I thought we’d cracked it. Just turned three, out of his crib and in a bed for big boys and, for a while, a solid nine-and-a-half-hour schedule. Up in smoke. Now, it’s all about Mama. Deep attachment issues. Attachment like spending half the day clawing at her left calf attachment, and bedtime resembles something we need hockey masks for. He basically won’t go to bed for “mama.” With me he’s fine: a bottle, two books, teeth brushed, down he goes, gets to call out one time and out. All of which only works if “mama” ain’t in the house.

So she’s been doing a lot of yoga. Half the time actually doing yoga and half the time taking the yoga mat out to the car and then heading to CVS to compare shampoo and Dramamine prices. If she’s home, he wants to read six books, plus another three bottles, then water, then, when she finally gets him into bed, he’s calling out every three minutes for his blankets to be fixed or to have Buzz Lightyear closer to his head, or Bear-Bear more precisely at a forty-three degree angle from the wall and exactly an inch-and-three-quarters from Squirrel. The only thing that works, “if you don’t stop this right now, Papa’s putting you to bed.” Cause, you know, Papa’s such a bold stroke disciplinarian with the intimidating physique and the no-nonsense voice. Which I’m not. Except to a three-year-old. For mama, he won’t even stay in his room. Just keeps on coming out like Jack from his box.

The base line for all this: I haven’t been out for months. I mean, we’ve been out as a couple, cause, you know, for a baby-sitter he’s down by 7:30 and the mice don’t even rustle. Nancy’s out all the time cause, well, it’s easier for everyone, but I’m basically attached to the house. Haven’t been for a beer in six weeks. Nobody to talk to my perfect marriage about, my perfect colleagues, my perfect life. Instead, high and dry on the couch every night grading papers on “Heathcliff as heroic: discuss,” cause, you know, I’ve no excuse not to be doing such things–though you would think I’d have more time to come up with better essay questions. The other advantage being the obvious one of a partner who does yoga six days a week.

Of course I know it’s another stage, but they come so quickly. In a couple of days we’re off to England for Christmas and that’s going to throw him into a monster spin, hopefully the kind that realigns his sleep patterns into a neat 7:45 at night to 7:15 in the morning virtual perfect circle kind of thing cause that’s what happens when kids don’t nap for two weeks, sleep in blow-up beds in bedrooms so damp that the ceilings buckle, and eat fruit loops and Christmas cake at every meal cause that’s what their cousins do. The other possibility being that he comes back to Los Angeles and never sleeps again.

Slippery Slope

Hugo had his first grocery store meltdown yesterday—full scale, full on, no stopping it, no means of sidestepping it, just a banger of a breakdown. At the Coop on Broadway and 17th, a block down from the 18th street café, the notorious “Bob Dylan” café with the boxing ring in the back, so-called because apparently Bob Dylan owns it and because, apparently, there’s a boxing ring in the back, all of which might be true and all of which might be nonsense, but a friend of mine who knows a friend of a woman who used to sleep with the woman who opens the place every morning swears all over his tattered heart that she swears that all the employees are sworn to secrecy and what’s the point of swearing to secrecy a rumor without at least a little something to it? So, anyway, at the Coop on Broadway one block down from the “Dylan” café and Nancy decides Hugo’s old enough to push one of the infant carts designed for five-year-olds. He’s two-and-a-half. Humongous, yes, but, no, not five. So, Nancy lets him push the cart, but it’s a Thursday, grocery shopping day, and it’s five o’clock, so the store’s beyond busy, and it’s small as grocery stores go, not in terms of square footage, but in terms of how much they pack into that square footage, so the aisles barely allow two regular-size trolleys to pass without jockeying for neck-to-neck advantage, and everything’s a foot race.

He’s banging into things left and right. Shopping carts at the best of times as easy to handle as a three-legged braying donkey, the smaller models just as intractable, equally ill tempered, and it’s not like he has one at home to practice with. He’s banging into shelves, into other shopper’s shopping carts, into Nancy’s ankles. None of it good. Finally, Nancy says enough—it’s just too much—and she takes the cart off him, says no more banging. That the trigger. Followed by a war zone. He’s in bits immediately, prostrate on the floor between the nuts and seeds and the lentils, which is the worst aisle to full apart in not least because he’s lengthways between the shelves, and humongous, so taking up all the aisle, but, more to the purpose, the dried goods aisle is where shoppers have to get a little bag, fill the bag with pecan halves or oats or yoghurt covered almond-flour gluten-free pretzels or whatever, write down the number of the bin on a twisty-tie with a stubby pencil, and then repeat. So, at the best of times there’s a lot of negotiating, a lot of back and forth. It’s a congested, free-for-all, f-up of an aisle. Screaming ball of wax on the floor not helping. And he’s in the middle of it, not caring about the logistics, or about being lengthwise, not caring that it’s five o’clock, not thinking about anything but himself and his scaled-down shopping cart experience. Selfish.

Nothing appeases him—all too late. Not snacks, not even the ones not yet purchased, not an I-phone, not the offer of getting his cart back. All too late. Nancy’s trying all the tricks she knows. Nothing working. A woman looks at her and says, “You need to do something about that.” Just step and walk Nancy wants to say to her. It’s not your spilled milk. Go one aisle over and get on with what’s left of your day. I’ve gotta deal with this wreckage. There’s nothing at home for dinner. For anybody. My husband’s on a soccer field somewhere for the next two hours no help whatsoever. So the “something” can’t be just to take his screaming self and airlift it to the car and spend twenty minutes trying to bend him into his car seat. That “something” not part of the equation. Not quite so many words were actually exchanged.

There’s a famous story of a woman dealing with something similar in a similar grocery store. A woman who sat down next to her child and upped the ante. Literally had her own tantrum, a more severe one, right next to her child, the woman spread-eagle in the aisle, flapping and wailing. Showed him what “screaming, intolerable asshole” really looks like. Urban legend claims said child never tantrummed again. Experience suggests that latter part apocryphal. But still. That’s “something.” Probably what the woman had in mind. But not really a Nancy-esque move. She’s more of the type to commit a felony involving a sharp knife and moving body parts (purely hypothetical) rather than voluntarily do screaming, inverted breaststroke moves on the grocery store floor. For those who’ve never been there, the impossibility of the situation hard to get your head around. It’s more than chastening, it’s beyond that. It’s like being drained utterly of blood cells, of free will, of lion mind. You can’t give in, can’t cede control, cede authority. That’s the ultimate weakness. Not to mention the practical necessity of dinner.

We talked to a counselor once, a phone consultation before forking out the actual moolah, when the other one, the older one, was going through her hell and high water phase. The child therapist’s advice—give her what she wants. What’s the worst thing that can happen? The problems with that statement so innumerable it’s hard to know where to begin. First, it’s beyond giving him what he wants. He no longer knows what he wants. Rejected the offer of getting the cart back. What’s the worst thing that can happen? If he doesn’t learn something about control and respect and the delayed gratification of desire? The worst thing? Let’s start with an orange jumpsuit and our legal bills.

How did Nancy deal with this? Brilliant move. Up the power authority. Involve the store manager. Preferably someone in a uniform with a stern voice and an equally stern not to mention inordinately long index finger. A realization on Hugo’s part that this is serious, the start of a long slippery, slippery slope. No ifs. No ands. No buts.