Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Monkey see

I've been meaning to blog about kids, but never seem to get around to it. Here I'll list some of my unsupported assertions. I don't have the energy to construct a supported case for these assertions, as sleep has not been regular. My son has resumed his practice of waking us up at night. No amount or type of coaxing, coaching, threatening, punishing or bribing has ever worked. It's just something he needs to do. Fortunately it seems to go in a cycle. When the cycle completes in a few weeks or months, we should be able to sleep again.

Assertion #1: Monkey see - Anything your kids observe you do, they will eventually repeat. So if you shout when they misbehave, they will pick a time to practice shouting at you or at others. If you interrupt, they will pick times to interrupt. If you scoff, they will scoff. They don't pick an appropriate time or even a semi-appropriate time. You can tell they just want to try things out. If you don't do these things, your kids will do them anyway.

Assertion #2: Monkey hear - Anything they hear you describe, they will eventually try. This is why I don't want my son to hear the story of when my wife rode her tricycle down the front steps. She's still got a nice long scar from that, and while it may be difficult for him to try it on our steps, I don't want him to seek out a location to try something that approximates the story.

Assertion #3: Patience makes princes - Listening carefully and respectfully to your child, granting their wishes equal weight to adult concerns, including them in the decision-making, and giving them a sense of responsibility and equality, leads to little spoiled princes and princesses. They are a child and you are an adult for a reason: They learn from you.

OK, done with the assertions, Vignettes now...

I have lots of clear memories of being a kid, a very small kid, even of being a baby. It's not supposed to happen, but in my case it did. I don't request that you believe me.

When I was a small boy, probably three or four, I had some kind of distress in my eyes, probably dust, and I licked my fingers and stroked them on my eyes in an attempt to soothe the problem. I may have blogged about this already. Anyway, it became a habit, and I did it many times a day for months and months. I recall my parents trying to get me to stop. My son does this now. The only comfort I can take is knowing that I did, eventually, stop.

Then there is nose-picking and facial-tissue refusal. I remember doing that too. Nothing my mom could say would convince me to use a Kleenex, and nothing we say convinces my son. I used to turn away or walk away the same way he does, and pick.

Also there is wiping your mouth on your sleeve rather than your napkin. The napkin is something they can agree to, but not something they can integrate. I remember feeling picked on every time I was referred to the napkin.

Put all this together, particularly when they are sick and coughing, the way both my kids are now, and you tend to want to avoid touching their hands. I remember, as a small child, clearly thinking that when two people are doing something together, their hands should touch. It wasn't as though there was a lack of hugs and back-patting in my family. I wasn't craving physical contact, I just thought that (adult analysis now) it felt more important, like you were part of a team, if your fingers touch the fingers of the other person when doing things. A handoff of some object like a book or a toy happens in a moment, but I remember distinctly reaching higher up so that my fingers would touch the fingers of the parent handing the thing to me. My son does this too. You can hand him something with a mile of free surface for him to grab it by, and somehow his fingers wind up on yours. When doing things, adults generally don't expect a lot of finger contact, and in fact we adroitly avoid it, without giving a thought to it. Imagine handing something around a conference table at the office. Now imagine this one colleague, no matter what you gave them, a pen, a report, a phone ... always touching your fingers with theirs. Seeming to make a point of it. Weird, huh?

My daughter hasn't adopted this habit yet, it comes when they're older. I love my kids, but I don't want to catch the cold they have right now. So when I hand my son things, I tend to hold them up high so that he has to reach, and can't get my fingers.

By the way, my son got his cold by drinking from the glass of his playmate, when she had a full cold going. That's another thing you can't convince them not to do.

He hasn't eaten anything all day, and when they're like that you can't say "You need to eat" or "Would you like it if I made you a ... ?" So I told him that when I was a small boy and was sick, I used to eat a saltine cracker with a little bit of honey on it.

That's sort of not true: I once ate saltines with canned peaches. That was after my father made me go without food for 32 hours. Dinner. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Breakfast, lunch. Actually, he had my mom tell me that I could eat as soon as I apologized to him. At the age of only seven I had stopped talking to him because he yelled at us so much. He waited until dinner on a Friday night to implement his plan. I guess he must have figured that I might have chances to eat at school, so he situated the showndown on a weekend.

I was hungry. I apologized. He was such a prick.

Anyway, we're getting off track here. My son said he wanted to try a saltine with honey. So I made him one. Only one, because I want him to ask for more.

I pretended to be a waiter, and delivered the cracker with great pomp. When he asked for another one, I made him two more. As I set the plastic plate down next to him (He is sitting on the back steps), his little hand shot out immediately and our fingers touched. As adults, we have this unexamined habit of waiting just a moment while the person who has handed us something shifts back. I washed my hands meticulously, and when when he asked for more crackers, I told him that I used to eat them with a little tiny bit of cheese. He wanted to try that. In this way I hope to keep sneaking food into him.

He's sick, and he's acting really cranky and also emotionally fragile. He gets upset over any little thing.

I'm going out there to offer more special crackers.

He ate more special crackers. Then after about 45 minutes he threw up. We decided to put him to nap early, and the poor guy needed it. As I was taking his temperature with the ear thermometer (102.7), he turned around and did another of those little habits that I used to do as a kid, and that he does now. I used to part my lips and blow a stream of air upwards, originally towards my hair, but then for no purpose. Yet another habit. I recall my parents asking me not to do this. Just like they asked me to keep my fingers out of my mouth. As the taller people, they were the ones likely to get the blast of air in their face. Now my son does it too, and just like I try to be so clever and avoid the finger smear, I like to kid myself that I can avoid this too. As I took his temperature he turned and and blew air directly into my mouth and nose (I was talking, but breathing in). He didn't do it on purpose, it's just another habit.

I went downstairs to report the temperature to my wife, who was feeding the baby, and we both smiled and rolled our eyes when I told her how he'd gotten me. Then I went back up, to give him Children's Tylenol, and he was was very good about it, even rinsing the little cup. My plan was to have him rinse it and replace it, so that my hands didn't touch the cup and encounter the germs. Clever. He was gamely helping. I bent over and held out the bin of medicines to him, telling him which one to put it on. Our heads got closer ... closer. Whuff! The blast of air right in my face again.

I dropped the basket of medicines and yelled at him: "Don't DO that!" He started to cry. I hugged him and apologized, told him my crankiness was not his fault. Then I put him to bed and read him a story.

As I was leaving the room he asked me to lie down on the floor and sleep next to him. I had done that a couple of times when he was a toddler, when he was very sick, and I was so worried about him. This time he wanted it for the comfort value. I told him that I needed to eat lunch, and that I would check in on him. I just had to eat.

In parenting, you often have to choose between your child and your death. I favor keeping the parent alive for the benefit of the child.

My son, if you read this some day when you are older, I don't want you to think that you were a burden to us. We love you and you changed our lives. I would never, ever want to live without you. But when you are a parent, it sure is fun to complain.
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