worst x-man ever


BABKA

all
will become clear
with time




I don't want to

You have to

But I'm not ready

You have to

No

No

No


In college, we did these acting exercises in pairs. The teacher gave us a short dialogue that could be imbued with any number of meanings.  Like that one. It could be between a mother and son, changing his diaper, or taking him to rehab. Between a doctor and a patient with a fear of needles, between a husband and wife in the delivery room.

At the end of the day, though, I think it's clear that this is not a conversation between equals. At the end of the day, I think it's clear that one person has the power.

I think a lot about power in my days as a parent of two high-spirited boys. I yearn for power;  I say "please bring back that open cup of chocolate pudding, it is 8:30 in the morning and food stays at the table," and my words seem to vanish like fruit flies after you pick up the apple.

Maybe "yearn" isn't the right word. I don't recline on a chaise while penning correspondence to my third cousin in Charleston about how deeply I yearn to be obeyed by my spirited offspring. There's nothing wistful about how badly I want to have an X-Man mutation for mind control.

Maybe I thirst for power. Maybe I lust. Oh, if I could just say "STOP" and see his body freeze, locked, under my command... Instead, I say stop and he scampers away, and I have two new certainties to live with:

1. I just got owned by a three-year-old,
and
2. There is a new priority load of chocolate pudding couch cushion covers that skips to the front of the laundry line. Because, yeah, there was nothing else I was going to do with that time.

I've read all the books about teaching respect by modeling respect. I agree with them. I've seen how my son begins to flail when I take his hand, unbidden, unasked. The quickest way to freak him the fuck out is to attempt to hold him without first requesting access, and then quietly waiting to see if he grants it. He isn't a cuddler.

So I use words. A lot of words. If I do have to use my hand to redirect him, I announce it first, I say why, and I stop as soon as I can. Chicken, I'm not going to let you throw that train. I'm taking the train so I can keep you and your brother safe. It is going on this shelf now. We will try again with the train later.

Simple daily tasks require multiple and repeated reminders.

Chicken, in 5 minutes it's going to be time to use the potty. 
In 4 minutes, it's going to be time to use the potty.
In 3 minutes, it's going to be time to use the potty.
In 2 minutes, it's going to be time to use the potty.
In 1 minute, it's going to be time to use the potty.
There goes the timer! It's time to use the potty.

(He is surprised to hear this.)

I hear that you are not ready yet. 
You're upset because you don't want to stop playing to use the potty. 
It is time to use the potty. 
You can choose to walk to the potty, or I am going to help you put on a diaper, because if you're going to wear undies you have to use the potty.
Thank you for coming to use the potty.
Please take off your undies.
No, baby, you have to take off your undies before you use the potty. I hear that you want to use the potty with your undies on.

Yes, I know that bit was too long to be funny.

Because in life it is TOO LONG TO BE FUNNY.

Everything - everything - requires that level of intense engagement - putting on shoes, eating eggs, picking a fucking story.

it's time
to stop being adorable
and go to sleep

okay
maybe five more minutes


But the worst, hardest part is not how hard I have to fight him.
The worst part is how hard I have to fight myself.

Because I want to just stuff his feet in his fucking shoes.
I want to just sit his butt down on the potty.
Because I'm bigger than he is and stronger, and I could make him do what I need him to do in a tenth of the fucking time.

If I struggle with the ability to "invite his cooperation," it's partly because I know I have the ability to control him, physically. I could hold him down. I have, before. On days when I've lost my way, after a crap night of sleep, near the end of the week, after he head-butted Buster or used a toothbrush (mine) to clean his poopy butt.

You don't get it. 
You just don't get it. 
You do what I say. 
I'm in charge here. 
I'm the biggest. 
I'm the strongest. 
I'm the fucking boss. 
This is what I want.
I'm going to do it now.
Understand?

I've never said it out loud. But sometimes I insist for no good reason other than to prove I am The Insister. YES we have to change your diaper RIGHT NOW. 

We could have been late to school. I hate being late to school. Besides, I wanted to show him. When he got angry and kicked, I stopped him from kicking. Which is another way of saying I held his legs down. And please understand, when I say it felt good that he got upset, it isn't that I enjoyed his sadness. It's that I was glad, for a second, that I wasn't the only one who felt like shit.

Sometimes there just isn't time to get permission.

___

There's been a lot of buzz about standup comedian Beth Stelling's outing of an ex-boyfriend as an abuser and rapist. She published pictures of her bruised body on Instagram in an attempt to disarm the silence and shame of abuse.

(Shockingly, that ex-boyfriend is, like, pretty upset that people are saying some mean stuff about him. He'd like to make it clear that he "still respects" Beth, and also that what she said "isn't completely accurate.")

I went to college with another woman who dated the same man before Beth Stelling did. Last night I listened to a podcast of that college friend, talking about her relationship with that same abuser and rapist.

Beth is telling the truth. So is Lindsay Ames. So is my friend, Courtney Pauroso.

Yes. He did. To her, too.


I don't want to

You have to

But I'm not ready

You have to

No

No

No


That's super fucking dramatic, but it's exactly what I'm tangling with here tonight, with my Trader Joe's chocolate babka and my second glass of scotch.

all
has become clear
with time

When I told people I was having a boy, and then another boy, often they'd say, "oh, I bet you're relieved! Girls are a lot of worry." I understood what they meant. Because, raising boys, I don't have to worry about one of them coming home pregnant, right? Because since I've got a house full of d and no v, I don't have to avoid news stories about teenage girls getting gang-raped by the high school football team. Because if I'm a mother of sons, those stories don't scare me, right?

No. False.

I'm just as terrified by sexual violence as any woman, as any mother of any child, boy or girl.

As a mother of sons, I worry about my babies becoming victims.

I also have nightmares about my boys becoming perpetrators.

If modern media coverage of sexual assault has devastatingly betrayed women, it has also done a fine job of sensationalizing the white-bred clean-cut boy-next-door rapist, chino-clad and looking like a man in size, and like a boy in his fear, as he waits for the verdict that could change his life. (Wow! You got a trial? You're lucky. I just got raped. That's what changed my life. No, but yours had evidence and a judge to make sure your sentence was fair? That's great for you. Congratulations on that.)

Like survivors of rape and abuse, perpetrators of rape and abuse come from anywhere. On the top-three list of things I'm afraid of fucking up as a parent, "failing to teach my sons to respect other people, and particularly other women, not because women are more deserving of respect than men, but because women are more physically vulnerable than men" is like #2 on that list. Right underneath "failing to teach him to not murder."

And as I have deepened my relationship with my charming, challenging, screaming, pinching children, I have to get comfortable knowing that there is some part of me that understands the mindset of a person whose impulse to control others exceeds his limits of socialization, empathy, and self-control.

I mean, every person who does something shitty has somehow talked him or herself into it, right?

I stole my mom's diamond earrings but she left us for a week once when we were kids, and I needed to pay the rent.

I shook my daughter, but she KNOWS she shouldn't touch my work papers and there have been layoffs so I'm really stressed.

Yes, we are going to fly airplanes into buildings, but these are the same people who have dropped bombs on our families.

I listened to my friend talk about what it was like living with and loving someone who did a lot of shitty stuff to her - who shamed her, harmed her, violated her. I think, somehow he talked himself into this. I think, how is it fucking possible that he thinks this is okay? Because he does. In the Wicked version of his life, somehow, these women pulled the poison out of him. It is the human condition to believe your own bullshit when there's a payoff on the line.

I wonder if his mom ever just stuffed his fucking feet into his shoes. I wonder if she ever felt, the way I often do, that it would just be easier to make people do what I want them to do.

Please don't misunderstand me - good God, I would never blame a parent for an adult child's actions. I don't doubt that this man was once a child who was raised with love. I don't think, as the old joke goes, that it's all the mother's fault.

Except, you know, for me. As a parent, I would never consider blaming the mom for the sins of the son. As a parent, I would never be able to not blame myself if it were my son who'd sinned. I wouldn't be able to help but remember all the times I looked at my son and thought,
JUST LISTEN TO ME! JUST DO WHAT I SAY!

Is that not the textbook shriek of a mother on the edge?

Is that not the textbook defense of an abuser?

Is my son watching me now?

Now?

Now?

Is he learning?
___

I've never been hit or raped, and I've never hit anyone in anger except my sister when she caught me wearing her Delia*s baby tee with the cherries embroidered on it and was all WAH WAH WAH.

I have never hurt my children. I cannot imagine hurting them, which is to say I have been angry enough to imagine it, and then immediately fell to my knees to reach out with hands that said "I'm sorry," even though they'd never done anything to apologize for.

I've been in my fair share of unpleasant relationships, threatening moments, scary encounters, rooms in which I was keenly aware of being outweighed, outmatched, at mercy. If my head were Inside Out, there'd be a character of Womanhood voiced by Fairuza Balk who would tell me when it was time to go dark, because shit's about to get nasty. Ask a girl, any girl. She's got these stories.

Us girls have babies. Some of them are boys and some are girls. Some will grow up to fuck people up, and some will not. Is it about power? Is it about parenting?

Talk about the human condition... I could find order in a bag of spilled rice, wisdom in the way those grains lay, if I wanted it bad enough - my condemnation, or my pardon. I could find the signs.

I'm a product of a world that makes people do things they don't want to do, and then be sorry they made a mess. And then shut the fuck up about it.

I'm trying to carve out a new road for my kids. Every day I'm aware of another time I gave up and forced. Every day I remember another time I gave up, and was forced.

I think about power - bigger men, stronger voices in chorus, a nameplate on a desk. How it's made me, shushed me, hurt people I love, poisoned the thoughts of those who hurt them.

I still, God help me, yearn for it. I lust for it.

I hunger, in dark places, for the ability to stop hands, change minds, freeze the large bodies of others before they make stains, before they make scars.

I say, to my son, "please, stop."

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