q&a

My sister and I were talking on the phone the other day. She has a 3-year-old too, and like any conversation between two parents of three-year-olds, our conversation was about 10% to each other and about 90% explaining to our respective children that we were on the phone and that we would talk to them after we were finished with our conversation.*

*File this under "Belief broadly held by people without 3-year-olds that if you just EXPLAIN to them that you are ON THE PHONE, then they will wait quietly, probably in silent prayer, for you to finish chatting." You may jointly file this under "Shit that never works but I try it every time anyway."

I heard the indistinct chirping of her son's little voice in the background, and then I heard my sister say, in a tone of voice so familiar she might as well have been Morgan Freeman smiling, "Why are there cars? You want to know why there are cars? Like, in the world?"

That's what she said. What I heard, and what any parent would have heard as clear as day was, "Please... please... don't make me explain the reason of cars to you... I'm so tired, and you really don't care." I could practically hear the dark circles under her eyes.

I say things in that tone of voice all day long.

"Mommy, can we have french toast for breakfast?"
"You want french toast? For breakfast? Today?"
I'm so tired.



Him: Mommy, why is this wood?
Me: It's... why is it wood?
The wood?
Why is the wood wood?
I'm so tired.


"Mommy? Why is she wearing that?"
"Why is who wearing what?
"Why is that lady wearing that shirt?"
"Why is... well, because she picked it."
"But why?"
"Because she likes it, I guess."
"But why?"
"Golly, I don't know, baby. I really just don't know. Why are you wearing your shirt?"
I'm so tired.

It's not that I don't delight in his curiosity. It's just that sometimes wood is just fucking wood, right?

If our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but rather that we are powerful beyond measure, then MY greatest fear is not that I cannot answer his questions, but rather that I can, and he knows it, and therefore the questions will never, ever stop.

I don't know, sometimes I think he's giving as good as he gets. How many times a day do I ask him a question that he KNOWS I already KNOW the answer to? How many times a day does he respond with my brand of reflective avoidance, or feigned ignorance?

"Baby, why did you hit your brother?"
"I don't know. Why did I hit my brother?"
"I don't know, baby. Why did you hit your brother?"
"I don't know. Why did I hit my brother?"
"You tell me, baby."
"No, you tell me. Or do you not know?"
"No, I don't know. That's why I want you to tell me."
"Tell you what?"
(well played)
(you didn't hit him that hard)
(this conversation is much more painful)
(it was more of a graze)
(a caress, really)

"What do we do when it's time to leave for school?"
"Do you know?"
"Yes, I do know."
"Okay."
"Okay?"
"Okay! I'm proud of you, Mommy."
(runs away)
(what?)
(what?)
(what?)

"Do you want an apple or a banana with lunch?"
(silence)
(as he makes unblinking eye contact with me)
(and smiles)
"You're freaking me out, Chicken. Apple or banana?"
(smile gets bigger)

On my good days, I recognize his questions for what they are - the larvae that hatch from a mind as chaotic and teeming as the shallows of tepid pond on a windless day. On my good days, I believe that he is just working shit out.

But why is he sad?
He misses his family.
Why?
Because he left them to go to where the wild things are.
Why?
Because he was mad when his mom sent him to his room with no supper.
Why?
Would you be mad if I sent you to your room with no supper?
Yeah.
Okay, well, that's why.
Okay.
But why is he sad?

I was really close that time, but I gave up right around supper. Did you spot it? He did. He knows what I'm going to say, but there's something he hasn't quite nailed yet, somewhere in the wild woods of childhood and power and hunger and savagery and smallness and feeling lonely and feeling alone. Join the club, kid. Sendak was a genius.

This compulsive questioning grows from the same root as compulsive storytelling. When I was pregnant I heard a lot of tragic birth stories from strangers on line at the 7-11. As a pregnant woman, I blamed the patriarchy. People saw my swollen lady body, sensed my weakness, and believed I needed assistance in the form of advice like, "and that's why you never leave the hospital until the baby shits mustard," or, devastatingly, "I hope you won't need this, but if you need a youth coffin don't buy retail. Most places online have free expedited shipping if you search for a coupon code."

But I was wrong. It wasn't the patriarchy. THAT TIME.

It's just us, just people. Even tiny buds of people like Chicken. It's no mystery that the way humans work shit out, the way we heal, is by talking about it. With Chicken, the way he works shit out, the way he makes sense of the world is by making me talk about it.

Whenever I visit a new mom, I always invite her to tell me her birth story. (And okay yes, usually I am wearing my Birkenstocks and my Peruvian llama socks and sometimes yes, I am holding a stoneware mug of yerba mate but I'm not sure why that's relevant.)

This is a big moment for us, the border-crossing. Sure, when you're the one doing the crossing, it just feels like you're stuck in customs for 3 months, but in hindsight you'll realize everything was about to happen. In fact, everything had already begun to happen. Telling the birth story over and over is how you figure it out, how you manage to make sense of literally spilling open, how you begin to slowly knit yourself together again, a little bit smaller now.

A lot of people who still volunteer their birth stories many months or years after the birth never had the chance to make sense of what happened that day. You can see them hurting when they talk. It can't be comfortable to stay apart for so long.

Chicken can't help but try either. That's why he asks, again and again, until I've answered, really answered, really found out what this whole line of questioning was about. And then he says, "oh, okay." And - finally - that one is over.

Sometimes you get to be there at the moment someone grows. When you are, you'll know because that will be the last time you hear them tell that story; when you are, that will be the last time you hear, "but why?" At least about "the reason for cars."

My reminder for the day: we are all exactly as experienced at this as our children are. My family is a foursome of amateurs. We're just sitting around the table together eating cheddar cheese, pulling out our stitches and then sowing them back in, the same thread, every day a little differently, until one day...

I don't know. I'm told "one day" comes later.

Upon careful reflection and the writing of a blog post that I swear I didn't really mean to write, I know three things for sure:

1. My kid deserves a real answer to his questions for the same reason I deserve to tell the story of the time my whole 6th-grade class stopped talking to me for three months and during the class pizza party that we won the boys all sat at one table and the girls all sat at another table and I sat alone at the third big table, reading "Carrie." Because you can't stitch a wound until it's clean. Because I made a promise to my children to respect them all the time, no matter what.

2. Sometimes I'm too tired to respect my child. HEY, I know, promises to the children and yadda yadda yadda but you guys, respect is a lot of fucking work. Besides, at 4:30 every day my child is too tired to respect me, so. Let's call that a draw.

3.
BECAUSE IT IS WOOD.
It's WOOD.
That's what wood IS.
It's WOOD.
WOOD.
WOOD.
 Hey, I have an idea!
Let's eat some 
candy.
Let's just
pack
your whole mouth
with candy
okay?
Sound like a good deal?

0 comments:

Post a Comment