let's stay nice out there

Have you ever been on a play date where the other kids are like #IWokeUpThisWay?

(this will make sense in a minute)


You know if you have.

Your friend's 2-year-old walks up to her mom and says, "Mama, water?"

The mom says, "Sure baby, you know where the cups are."

You watch the child walk to a low cupboard, remove a single cup, walk to the fridge door, press the cup into the water dispenser until about half-full, and then bring the cup to her lips to drink.

You watch all of this while holding a bottle of water - not a sippy-cup, a BOTTLE - to your 2-year-old's mouth while he stares vacantly and bangs two blocks together like a monkey that flunked out of cosmetic testing school.

Oh my God, you think. It's already too late for this one. Good thing I'm pregnant again. We'll just call Barney our rough draft.

You say something to your friend. Perhaps, "Wow, Angela. That was amazing," or maybe, "I bow before your majesty, o enchantress of Seattle," or possibly even, "What the fucking fuck, girl."

She laughs, but in an awesome self-deprecating way, like your friend would obviously not be bragging about how gifted her child is without a sprinkling of kindness, because she's fucking perfect and shit.

"Oh, yeah, that. You know, we just got lucky, honestly. And we have to really enjoy these few months while she's outpacing her peers in 'drinking water.' That shit doesn't last forever, you know? I mean, at some point other kids catch up on that one. There is a ceiling, right?"

Everybody laughs.

Angela smiles over at Mandy, who is counting softly in Mandarin while she holds a flawless dancer pose.

Angela looks back at you and holds painfully kind eye contact as she says, "But wow, Barney, his hand-eye coordination is amazing! He's going to be a baseball player!"

You look at your child, who goes to bang two blocks together and misses and falls over onto his face and can't figure out how to let go of the blocks to pull himself up again.

"Yeaaaah, that comes and goes," you say.

You go home and vow that by next week your child will be drinking water from a cup with no lid.

Or probably with a lid, let's be honest.

Or holding his own bottle.

There's a reason they call them "baby steps."


___


I still measure my kids against their peers when it comes to soft skills, the character traits that are complex, never-acquired, and fluid. Bravery, kindness, leadership, ability to articulate strong feelings, ability to control impulses... These genuinely valuable skills are tricky as hell to measure, because some days your kid is a champ and other days he's a Trump, and the difference-maker is whether he got a snack on time.

However, I've long since stopped measuring my children against their peers when it comes to what I call "parlor tricks."

Parlor tricks are the flashy, adorable, and meaningless gestures of coordination or sophistication that have little to no relationship to your skill as a parent or commitment to your work.

Parlor tricks are finite accomplishments, and they are all skills that neurotypical and able-bodied kids eventually master, so whether they do it at 4 months or 6 months, or 1 year or 2, chances are that your kid will arrive at some point.

Parlor tricks include:

- saying multi-syllable words
- clapping
- drinking from a cup
- using a fork
- trying salmon
- putting on their own shoes
- riding a bike

What does it matter if you first put on your shoes when you were in Mater diaps or Power Rangers briefs? Are we really going to believe we're failing at the thing we're working the hardest on, just because our kid isn't that into forks yet? With the gift of time and perspective you can take a deep drag on your Parliament and exhale a great big "fuuuuuuuck no."

But early on, your confidence is still a seedling, the tender growth you can't quite lean on yet. You watch other people's kids and care, deeply, about where you and your child exist on the spectrum of peers. Based on parlor tricks.

I wish our self-worth weren't quite so negotiable.

___


Angela didn't wake up one morning and say to Mandy, "You're ready, daughter. Follow my instructions very carefully." Angela didn't talk Mandy through filling a water cup at the fridge door ONE TIME and then Mandy had it on lock.

(Actually that for real could have happened because we might as well start calling Mandy Madam President right the fuck now, that girl has powers y'all.)

At some point, between the moment of parlor-trick-inception, and the moment of play-date-demonstration, that shit was a puddle on the floor.

Parents have to make choices every day about when to "teach skills" and when to "take care of shit." When we're feeling strong, our kids can crack the eggs for us. On rougher mornings, not so much.

We have to make choices every day about what skills we must prioritize - those skills are influenced by our values, our environments, our friends, and our needs. Swear to God, the only reason Chicken learned how to pull on his own pants was because Buster was teething and wouldn't get off my boob, and we were late for a field trip to the zoo, so we talked that shit through. I was like Jeff Daniels in Speed you guys.

okay okay
on the front of the pants there should be a button
what kind of button?
it's
it's a button
a pants button
a BUTTON
look for the only button
on the--
ok
thank you
yes
so you've got the button

beneath the button
are two hollow cylinders of fabric
those are the pant legs
sit on your bottom
and slide your legs
feet first
into the pant legs
until your feet
come out the bottom
wait
wait
is the button in the front or the back
chicken
where is the button
ok stop
just stop
let's go back to the button
If you watched Chicken get dressed today, you might think that kid had been putting on pants since his first Cheerio, but don't ever forget: there was a day (a month of days, in fact) that "pants" was the thing that fucked my day up, Monday through Friday, and "pants" was the thing that fucked Ryan's whole weekend. Pants was a PROCESS at our house. We chose pants to make our lives easier.

We didn't choose "drinking without a lid," until one day I was feeling strong and tried that shit. (Pro tip: Put like a half inch of water in the first time, you guys. Don't be like me.)

Here's how the cycle goes in our house:

1. I feel strong. (And/or situational chaos mandates a massive and rapid skill acquisition for my child. See also: Pants.)
2. I decide to try something I've seen other children do. I pitch it to the kids.
3. They're psyched. They LOVE SKILL ACQUISITION!!!
4. I talk them through the process while preparing the necessary supplies.
5. I present the necessary supplies and repeat, very clearly, the first step.
6. It all goes horribly wrong.
7. I have to make the choice: I want to bail and try again in 5 years, but now they've had a taste of man flesh, and they won't stop until they've feasted. I must choose between suffering their outrage that I'm pulling the plug, or repeating this exercise (while swallowing my own growing desire to run, just run, just run far far away) for however long it takes until they can do this damn skill without staining the drywall.

buster
doesn't believe in forks right now
it's super fun
after the rice and peas incident of tuesday
i have vowed to serve him only dry cereal
and cut up string cheese
until he stands down


I'm writing this today, because today Buster asked for a banana.

1. I felt strong.
2. I said, "Sure, babe. You know where the bananas are. Go ahead and get one."
3. He was so psyched. He slid the door open and walked into the kitchen.
4. I called after him, "Pull one banana off the bunch and come outside to eat it, ok?" He called back, "OK mom!"
5. A moment of silence later, I checked in. "Everything ok?" He called back, "I'm just picking!"
6. I went in to check on him.




he didn't pick these


Listen, it wasn't a catastrophe. If the cost of my child's growing independence is 3 bananas I have to bag and eventually put in smoothies, I'll pay that PLUS tax (I'm assuming tax is 9.6 blueberries) every single day until the kid can go for one banana, and return with one banana.

My point is that the next time you see a kid go get a single banana without opening every other banana, know that at some point, not so long ago, this was a thing. It was a WHOLE THING.

The next time you see a kid tie his own sneakers or successfully place a pretzel inside his mouth on the first try, know that you are witnessing the result of someone's absolutely batshit crazy, invisible, thankless, drive-you-to-drink labor.

When you see a child, take nothing for granted.

Every glorious thing a child can do (and every horrendous thing a child does not do) is the result of  - yes - that child's hard work, but also 729 mopped up water spills, 411 bananas we had to put in the freezer, 9 million reminders to "take your finger out of your nose" that were met by 8,999,999 mischevious smiles and flicked boogers.

The point is this:

Everything is a process.

Kids are so much hard work.

You don't see most of the work that other people do.

They don't see most of the work that you do.

Whenever you're tempted to complain about a whiny kid, or a spilled drink on the table, remind yourself that children are born with only the instinct to gulp the life out of human bodies and dig their tiny sharp fingernails into human flesh to ensure they don't get left behind. If that didn't happen to you today, that child's parent worked fucking hard on that, so slow the fuck down with your snark and have some goddamn gratitude.

Let's stay nice out there.


___


If you enjoyed this post, read my blog regularly, or think you might want to start, please consider supporting my writing through Patreon. $2 or $5 a month might not mean a lot to your wallet, but to me, it means that other people care about this work as much as I do.

I write this blog because I believe that parents deserve writers who love, understand, and celebrate all their hard work. We need writers who will laugh with us after even the worst of awful, scream-in-your-pillow, cry-in-the-car days. This is the best way I can show up for other parents.

I'm grateful every day for the people who read, share, comment, like, and support this work. That means if you're reading this, I'm grateful for you! Thanks for showing up for me, too.

xoxo

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