Sunday, October 17, 2004

O, Parenthood! O, Maturity!

It's been a Slow Blogging Zone here in Booland, lately-- one parent after another has been visiting. This weekend it was my dad, and in search of diversion and fun during this rainy, gloomy weekend we all dragged ourselves merrily (or not so merrily) to the Gay Film Festival (yes! For a sing-along version of "Mary Poppins." My dad was a very good sport about it), and the new Downtown Library, and the exciting deli near our house with the pastrami flown in from New York. Since my dad is also flown in from New York there was a certain lack of point to this last one, but I think he felt he had a duty to vet it and see if the deli food in this Godforsaken outpost was of sufficiently authentic quality for his daughter to consume. It got relatively high marks, in spite of the friendly but clueless server neglecting to bring Russian dressing, and asking us if we wanted our rye bread toasted. [No! No! Never! Never toast the rye bread! And take away that mayonnaise!]

In between jolly outings, we entertained each other at home. Generally this consisted of sitting around in the living room ignoring each other, while my dad played the piano or read the book I'd foisted upon him, I read the mystery novel RW has finally relinquished to me, RW bustled about being productive, and Mermaid Girl drew on things and hummed to herself. Periodically we roused ourselves to these various effects:
1) My dad would try to engage Mermaid Girl, and she would snub him
2) RW would try to engage my dad, and he would ask "What?"
3) I would try do show off my parenting prowess, and Mermaid Girl would snub me as my dad watched.

It was an episode of type (3) that brings me to this post.

RW and I hardly ever place restrictions on what Mermaid Girl can do or where she can do it, but we recently instituted a new rule: Mermaid Girl is no longer allowed to draw on or cut up pieces of paper on the living room floor. This is not as Draconian as it sounds: she has a big table to work on in the living room, and she can do whatever she wants in her own room. Our house is small and cluttered enough as it is, and we were tired of picking up stray markers and marker caps and tiny snippets of paper.

So, Mermaid Girl hates this rule and "forgets" it at every opportunity. Saturday morning she was absorbed in markering on the floor when I suddenly snapped to and said, "Mermaid Girl, remember the rule."

Mermaid Girl continued markering as if nothing had happened. So I got down into her face, all the while thinking: Great! Force a big confrontation in front of my dad! So either Mermaid Girl, or I, or both of us will lose face! Fun, fun, fun!

"Mermaid Girl," I continued reasonably, revealing none of my inner panic (ha! ha!), "You need to draw on the table, or in your room, or stop drawing. Remember the rule about drawing on the floor."

Mermaid Girl, still drawing and not looking up: "No! Can't you see I'm busy! That rule is a stupid baby poopy diaper rule!"

My dad: continues reading, seemingly oblivious, though my paranoia-driven psychic abilities enable me to discern that he's really thinking "I can't believe how they spoil that kid. And the mouth on her!"

I repeat my firm, clear inanity about the rule, following up [as all good parenting books advise] with an immediate consequence: I grab one of the many pieces of paper Mermaid Girl is working on and announce that I'm taking it to her room, where she'll be able to draw on the floor to her heart's content.

Mermaid Girl follows me, shrieking and crying. I am thrilled that we are now at least battling in private. We get as far as RW's and my bedroom, which is actually sort of a closet/hallway between the living room and Mermaid Girl's room--very cozy and attachment-parent-esque, but not the ideal arrangement in terms of privacy, especially now that she's getting older. She splays herself on the floor and yells at me for a while. I toss the piece of paper through the open doorway into her room. She shrieks that she wants to be alone, and slams the door on me. I return to the living room to the sound of her sobs, and take up my book, saying something dumb to my dad about how she'll be fine.

A couple of minutes later, Mermaid Girl re-emerges, much cheered up. In fact, she's chuckling in an obvious and maniacal fashion.

"I did something in your room," she announces to me.

"Hmm, okay, sweetie," I yawn, turning a page.

"You are going to learn a lesson," she says. "You will see."

"Fine," I say. "I guess I'll find out later."

"Yes. You'll be sorry you did that mean thing to me." Chuckle, chuckle.

"Yeah, could be." A sudden thought snaps my head out of my book. "Wait-- did you ruin any of my stuff?"

"No!" She looks shocked and stops chuckling.

"Oh, okay, then." I go back to reading.

Mermaid Girl picks up a toy my dad brought for her, a propeller-and-balloon contraption that, set up properly, will soar into the air and bore a nice circular mark on a ceiling tile before plummeting back to Earth, emitting a piercing whistle all the while. "Mommy, will you blow up the ballon on this for me?"

"Sure, hon, hand it over." I'm about to blow up the balloon when I'm struck by inspiration. "Oh, you know what?" I say casually, "You know that thing you did, the one that's going to teach me a lesson? Before I do this for you, why don't you go into the bedroom and fix that?" This is a gamble, since she could refuse and then I'd have to refuse to blow up the balloon and technically, since I just told her I'd do it, she'd feel entitled to have another tantrum, and we'd be right back where we started.

But she agrees and trots into the bedroom, returning with a dignified mien and a determinedly neutral expression on her face.

"I took your socks out of the garbage," she says sweetly.

"Oh, good," I say, maintaining my own poker face with the greatest effort. I blow up the balloon. My dad turns a page. The propeller thing shrieks and thwacks the ceiling once again. Mermaid Girl claps her hands in delight.

It's moments like this that make it all worthwhile.


Blogger Kate R said...

He didn't say anything? Your dad did not say a single Word?? Wow. What a dad.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

and you are going to integrate that excellent story into your NaNoWriMo effort, right? Maybe make it a flashback or something?

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Els,

May I suggest the parenting book 1-2-3 Magic? I am not a big fan of parenting books but it totally works, and we don't have these types of confrontations anymore. Much love, Alice.

5:32 AM  

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