Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

January 22, 2002

What kind of mother am I?

I took gymnastics classes when I was six years old, and I was awful at it.

I was freakishly stiff, and whenever I’d attempt a vault, all the instructors would stop coaching the other kids, just so they could, without distraction, watch me smack the horse at a funny angle.

So, when Lucy was mesmerized recently by a TV broadcast of a sport called “rhythmic gymnastics,” I got a little queasy. For our gene pool, the only sport that could possibly be worse than gymnastics is gymnastics with rhythm.

But there she was, watching these limber athletes juggle bowling pins and pull their noodly legs over their heads and under their chins. Lucy did her best to do everything the girls on TV did, and if her chin were six inches off the floor, she might have been displaying talent.

But I aim to be the kind of mother who helps her children chase a dream, talent or no. So, I knew I had to sign Lucy up for gymnastics. There was just one hurdle I needed to clear. The gym only offered classes for toddlers 18 months and up, and Lucy still had a couple months to go.

Rather than do the boring thing and wait, I called to find out if there were spots remaining in the class. The woman said yes, and “How old is your daughter?”

“Seventeen months,” I lied, as smooth as butter. Except for Lucy’s hair, sleeping skills and height, she is a mature sixteen months, so I felt quite entitled to a little fib.

It was for Lucy, after all, and I am the kind of mother who will work the system to get her daughter a leg up. When you’re as stiff as we are, you get your leg up any way you can.

It worked. We were invited to come to the gym. When we arrived, the woman at the registration desk took one look at Lucy, asleep in my arms, and said, “How old is she?”

“Almost seventeen months,” I said. “But she follows directions pretty well when she’s awake.”

This and $139 got us in.

“How old is she?” the instructor asked, when I sat Lucy down in the circle with the rest of the kids.

“Sixteen months,” I said, because it turns out I am really not the kind of mother who is able to lie, after all.

“But,” I said, “She really likes gymnastics.” And then I blew on Lucy’s face, to wake her up.

Lucy is by far the smallest kid in her class. The other kids have a good six months or more on her, and she’s miniature for her age so, this makes her a target for some strange advances. One boy, whose name is Gabriel, hug-tackles her at every opportunity. Last week, Lucy started saying, “No, no, no” as soon as she saw him. It was exactly what I was thinking, even if Gabriel’s mother was not nearly so sensibly inclined.

“He just loves little girls,” she explained from her safe little spot across the room, clearly establishing herself as the kind of woman who not only names her son after an angel, but also believes every action he takes is heaven-sent.

Another child, a girl named Sarah, prefers a straightforward shove. Sometimes, though, Sarah increases the intimacy of her overtures, and puts Lucy in a choke hold.

When she did this last week, I had the opportunity to find out if I am the kind of mother who could body-slam someone else’s 3-year-old. As it turns out, I am not, although I did rescue Lucy as quickly as I could without doing any damage to either Sarah’s arms or their sockets.

This is a good thing, because Sarah’s mom -- a woman with an angelic face and smooth black hair -- turned out to be the kind of mother who apologizes when her kids do bad things.

Given my history with gymnastics, the one thing Lucy has a shot at learning in this class is a chokehold.

So, from here on out, I will be the kind of mother who hopes she uses it on Gabriel.

January 14, 2002

What to do about evil thoughts

Lately, I have been having dark and awful thoughts. This is nothing new, really. The first dark and awful thought I had was in 1974, when my parents brought home this hideous, wrinkly pink thing from the hospital and called it a baby.

We already had a perfectly good baby at home, one who was eighteen months old, and nicely rounded and huggable as a baby should be. The new baby, on the other hand, was good for only two things: peeling, and testing my magical soothing abilities.

While no one was looking, I enjoyed teasing the flaky newborn skin off this disgusting, yet oddly cute creature. This was so much better than picking my own scabs. No blood! And once I’d shucked all the skin that could be shucked, I would pinch the baby until she cried so that I could feel the power of being able to make her stop.

From there, I’ve spent a lifetime conjuring evil thoughts, and my mother has dedicated her life to ensure I never acted on them, or mentioned them in public. On the whole, I’d say she has done pretty well.

Lately, though, not even the goodness of my mother is enough to stop the dark and awful thoughts I am having. This could be very bad news for the cat, because he, right now, is Public Enemy Number One.

For months, I have been whispering, “Go toward the light,” in his ear. He’s old, he has bad kidneys and the medicine that we have to put on his expensive food, which he hates, costs $2 a day. What’s more, it’s potentially toxic to the dog and to Lucy, both of whom have an ardent wish to eat his leftovers.

And that’s not all. He also uses urine to make editorial statements. For years, Adam and I could not have a bath mat because the cat would only pee on it. There’s nothing like getting all clean and stepping out from the shower on to the dry bath mat only to find out that it is, in fact wet. With something other than water.

And that’s not all. Once Adam and I got some area rugs for the floor – really nice ones, the kind you expect to have your children fight over once you’re dead – the cat peed on them the very first day we had them.

Lately, though, he has been saying other things with his pee. When he peed on Lucy’s pajama basket, when he peed on her blanket, and when he peed on her bed, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps he was merely saying, “Trust me. You’ll love the smell of Lucy’s hair when it’s coated in my urine.”

When he did it again, though, it became clear to me that his actual message was something much more dastardly. It was something like, “I’d like to make you cry, so I can experience the powerful feeling of soothing you.”

Even that, though, is not all. While Adam and I were in Ohio for Christmas, the door to the basement (where the cat box is kept) was accidentally closed for a day. I can’t blame all of it on the cat, but for the rest of the five days of our trip, the rest of our house was magically transformed into a litter box.

Even though my sister stopped by daily to check on them, and even though she opened the basement door, by the time we came home, there was poop on the hall carpet, on the ottoman and on the family room rug, which also was soaked with cat pee on its fringe.

The worst, though, was underneath the Christmas tree. The cat peed on the towel I put under the tree holder to catch any water that might leak. I know he did this, because I caught him in the act. And that very towel, instead of protecting the floor, turned into a giant sponge. It not only trapped the cat pee, it gave it ample time to eat it into the hardwood floor, which is now rough, warped, and permanently branded by the toxic chemicals in his urine.

And this, sadly, is not all. He’s peed on Lucy’s bed three more times since then. Part of me wonders if this is why other kids her age have much more hair than she does. If his pee burned a hole in the wood floor, Lucy’s probably lucky she doesn’t need a special helmet to hold in her brain.

And so, these days, when I look at the cat as he sleeps on the sofa (which is now swaybacked from his years of decadent lounging), I sometimes think how easy it would be to slip my fingers around his skinny neck, lean in really close and whisper, “Time’s up, buddy.”

But I won’t do it. The better part of me, the one my mother put there, knows it isn’t right.

Talking about the things that drive me nuts makes me feel better, though. And I guess this is one of the key coping mechanisms of both pet-ownership and parenting. The small creatures in our care might sometimes drive us crazy, but somehow, we have to find ways to stay sane. After all, we are the ones who chose to have them.

All this idealism aside, though, there’s one more reason I’d never kill the cat: There’s a good chance that he’d lose bladder control as I was choking the daylights out of him, and I’m not going to give the little creep the last word on the subject.

January 07, 2002

Lucy the Reckless

I think Lucy has a death wish. I’ve made this observation based on her new hobby, which involves sitting and standing in dangerous places.

Here’s a common scenario: The arthritic and kindly dog is lounging on the floor, so Lucy decides the thing to do is stand on the dog’s hips. This makes the arthritic dog sigh pathetically and scrabble to her feet, knocking Lucy to the floor.

Lucy also really enjoys standing on the chair at my little desk. This is an antique folding wooden chair, one my Dad found when he moved to his first house in 1966. It was already an antique at that time, an orphan left to decay inside the termite-infested shack where he and my mom first lived.

The shack was built in 1908, so I am assuming the chair was born around that time. Like other things born in 1908, the chair is no longer sturdy on its legs. I have it because it’s old and weird looking, and I like old and weird-looking things. Except for Joan Rivers.

But back to Lucy. Lucy likes to stand on this chair, which bobs and creaks like a dinghy in stormy waters. This is fun for her, and clearly worth the effort she makes to get into the chair — an effort which involves folding herself over the seat, arching her back, tucking her legs underneath her stomach, then finally making her way to her feet while the entire chair buckles and shudders beneath her.

It is not fun for me. Over and over ahead in the filmstrip of my mind, I see the chair tip, fold and devour Lucy with its ancient and splintery jaws. She fell off of it once, and for several days afterward had a quarter-sized bruise on her forehead. This bruise corresponds directly with the portion of the brain that cues children to go to sleep at night, which, I think, is why Lucy has lately been waking up at 10:30, ready for hide-and-go-seek.

“HIDE!” she says, lifting her blanket and inviting me inside.

“SHHH!” she says, sticking her index finger in front of her lips, and then, because of her great enthusiasm, up her nose. “SHHH.”

After this, because she likes to hide with the dog, she calls out “MEAT! MEAT!” (Lucy cannot yet say Misty.) And then the dog comes and spooks the cats, who start fighting, and no one gets any sleep.

All of this because Lucy likes to take her life into her own hands and stand on wobbly chairs.

And that’s not all. She also likes to stand on the dining room table, sometimes during meals. To do this, she flops herself over the chair, pulls herself up, then flops on the table and pulls once more. This morning she got on the table and grabbed the spoon out of my very hand and started eating my cereal.

Now, I know I should be able to figure out a way I can keep Lucy off the dining room table, and I should also be able to figure out a way I can keep my own spoon in my hand. She’s only seventeen months old, after all. I’m almost certainly stronger and smarter. It does not bode well for when she is seventeen years old, and is my physical and intellectual superior.

But I can’t do it, even now. Even when I take my spoon back and put her on the floor, she gets up on the table again and does a little dance, a dance that looks strangely smug and supercilious. No matter how many times I remove her from the table, she just gets up again until I give up and put her in the family room.

Now, I suppose I could put all the chairs into the basement. But I see chairs in all the other houses and apartments I go to. Somehow, people are managing to have both children and chairs without catastrophic results.

And, even if I did put all the dining room and desk chairs in the basement, Lucy still likes sitting on the arms of the family room furniture. This might be the worst habit of all. The chairs are squishy and rounded, and she likes to balance on them, holding her arms out and feet up while she leans back, challenging the gaping maw of gravity to swallow her whole. She thinks it’s hilarious, the hideous little beast.

Just yesterday, as she was doing it, I put on my meanest face and said in my very sternest voice, “LUCY JANE BERLIANT, get DOWN from there. It’s DANGEROUS. You could FALL and split your head like a MELON.”

All Lucy did was look at me, wave her hand by wiggling one finger at a time, and giggle. Where did she learn that smarty pants little wave? I don’t wave like that. Adam doesn’t wave like that. How did she know that’s the wave you use when you’re flagrantly disobeying an authority figure?

I have no idea. I do know one thing, however. Her death-wish hobby is giving me and Adam heart attacks. If she keeps this up, I’m gonna kill her.