My school has recently instituted a “healthy foods initiative” in which students are required to eat only healthy snacks in class. Let’s forget about the fact that a “no snacks in class” policy would be easier to enforce, and determining the concept of “healthy snacks” is tantamount to recognizing what constitutes “pornography.” What frustrates me is that we are running all over the place, arguing the relative merits of granola versus quinoa, when we have students (females students I imagine)
who are soaking tampons in vodka and shoving them up themselves in an effort to covertly fuck themselves up at school. I understand the relative merits of the “broken window policy,” but we’ve got bigger problems to deal with.
Everybody’s job is frustrating.
To continue about my middle daughter:
We fret over our kids basically in the same way that we fret about ourselves. We hope that the weaknesses we have aren’t too overwhelming or debilitating on a day-to-day basis. If they are, we have to change, or try to. I don’t think we change all that much, and that chemistry is character and character is fate. So why worry? Because we are all very squishy, abnormal, weird little beings, and we strive everyday to make sure nobody else sees that. So it’s not about change; it’s about adaptation for the sake of survival. Chameleons change color, but the color doesn’t change the chameleon. We find a new hobby, lose weight, stop smoking, etc., but that isn’t us. That’s our best attempts to present something palatable to the rest of the world and to the mirror. Chameleons don’t have mirrors (if they did, it would be terrifying on a lot of levels–where would they keep them? Are they tiny make-up mirrors? Do they have pockets? The horror!) but if they did they’d still recognize the reptile in front of it, regardless of the color.
With kids it’s worse, really. Not only are you dealing with another being in your keep, but you’re dealing with your worst impulses at a remove. The embarassments visited upon us by our children are the embarrasments we try to hide from others everyday. And I don’t mean when they walked in on daddy and mommy when we had the rubber sheets and baby oil out.
My oldest is very much like me. She’s studious and reserved in unfamiliar situations, and incorrigible when comfortable. She’s obsessive, probing, prone to navel-gazing and mild bouts of depression. She’s probably a little socially retarded. She’s certainly self-involved to an uncomfortable degree. Her weaknesses are my weaknesses, an when I see them, I’m not embarrased for her, but for me. I GAVE those to her. Thanks, Dad.
My worries and concerns are mired in guilt.
My son, who is four, is not fully formed. If you stuck a toothpick in him, it would come out covered in unbaked chocolate (actually, it would come back bloody, but you get the idea…). He’s still raw on the inside. I don’t know who he is yet, and I know his less than my other children. He’s working on it, though, and what I see is a little scary. This morning he told me that the PBS show Arthur was “brought to you by your butthole” in full pseudo-voiceover. Maybe that’s me too.
I am obsessed with my butthole, as well.
My middle child, my seven-year-old daughter, concerns and embarrases me in a different way. She is very much my wife’s child. She is incapable of learning anything she does not feel is immediately and specifically related to her current happiness, prone to extending arguments past any and all logical or intellectual appeals to the contrary, and an emotional spastic. Furthermore, she suffers from a verbal diarrhea that will someday, quite possibly, get her shanked.
She is also the quickest wit of the three, capable of feats of love and compassion that neither I nor my oldest child have even considered as feasible uses of our time, and in possession of an encyclopedic knowledge of any information SHE considers useful (entire swaths of The Three Amigos, for example). I am concerned and embarrased for her because she is my wife. I am enraptured with and bewildered by her because I can’t figure her the fuck out.
I can’t HELP her.
Every night we sit and read, and go over addition facts, phonemic “hunks-n’-chunks,” and common English phrases, as if she were an Arabic exchange student. She hates it, and I worry that it’s making her hate school. She’s been put into programs to improve her reading, and the solution those programs seem to have is to give her more work at home. She hates schoolwork and exhibits no interest, so we try to change that by giving more, and getting frustrated, and worried, and embarrased.
Because all of a sudden, she decided she could read; then she did, and now she does. She’s not working on her dissertation or anything, but holy shit she gets it. Maybe she always got it. Maybe we can ease up. Except we don’t, because her skill sets–emotional magnetism, charisma, humor, a soul that vibrates with life and love, confidence that teeters between the elan of a Parisian fashion icon and the tastelessness of a cut-rate stripper (maybe the last isn’t necessarily a strength…)–are not rewarded by anybody when you’re in second grade, or any grade, for that matter. Those are the kind of things you start the parent conference with, to tenderize Ma and Pa Dipshit a little before telling them that their child is a braindead hooligan (“Wyatt’s is a real card, I’ll tell you! Why, he’s just a stitch, but…” and then you pull out the hammer).
I’ve been assured by my mother-in-law that my wife was the same way, but I consign such encouragement to the twin trash heaps of placation and creative remembering. We all edit the story to fit in any and all unnecessary, outlying details that don’t quite fit. We either rationalize or even excise them if need be. My mom likes to tell people that I spent a good portion of my high school career awash in community service projects, and I didn’t do a goddamn thing for anybody else in high school. Shit, I forgot to buy Christmas presents for my family two of the four years.
So, when I’m older, and my children are well-adjusted and successful (on the outside, at least), maybe I’ll call up this blog from the chip embedded in the base of my skull and marvel at how worried I once was. Or maybe I’ll wonder if I should’ve worried more. Still, maybe what I’ll realize is that she doesn’t have the problems. I do. She’s fine and great, and my efforts to improve her simply will not take until she’s ready.
I took her to gymnastics last night, and watched her throw herself around the heavily-matted floor for an hour. To watch my daughter run, roll, and cartwheel reminds me of how she moves normally. Watching her move from room to room in our house is to witness not a consecutive series of measured steps by a human being, but a frenzied series of pop-‘n-locks that resemble nothing so much as a flip book of unrelated, discontinuous stills depicting epileptic patients in mid-fit. That or a frieze designed by Keith Haring.
At gymnastics, she jacks this mode of ambulation up by a multiple of HOLY SHIT SHE’S GOING TO EXPLODE.
Except, at one point, she stopped. She was in line, fairly vibrating with excitement at her chance to jump on the springboard, vault over the pommel, and flip onto the mat. The girl in front of her, a sad faced girl normally accompanied by the kind of over-involved dad that seems to want nothing so much as to take the fucking class with his own daughter, totally bailed on her turn, stepping onto the board, bouncing twice and then tanking, flat on her ass.
My daughter’s first reaction was that of the libertarian. She looked at the girl with a glance that said, plainly, “Fuck you, my turn.” But then she stopped, stepped back in line, and waited while the girl tried again. She has such a good heart, and puts others before herself. The next time I push her, I’ll try to remember why I’m pushing her, and who exactly I’m pushing her for.
And I’ll try to forget that the only reason she was behind that little girl was because she pulled another little girl’s hair and cut in front of her in line.