Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

February 18, 2002

Making Sport of Tantrums

As soon as I heard that bridge enthusiasts were trying to get their game recognized as an Olympic sport, I sat down and started working on a letter to the people who decide such things.

Bridge is athletic in the same way that reading magazines in the dentist’s office is athletic. In other words, it’s not.

But if bridge players (along with chess players, lifeguards and aeronauts) have managed to convince people that their game is a sport, I figure I have a reasonable shot at turning the tantrum into an Olympic event.

My motivations, admittedly, are selfish. Lucy is turning into a world-class thrower of tantrums. Why shouldn’t my wonderful child get a medal for her efforts?

Moreover, I deserve a vacation. And what better place to go, preferably on the dime of a fat corporate sponsor, than Athens, home of the next Olympic games?

So, without further ado...

Dear Members of the International Olympic Committee:

Kalimari. (That does mean hello, doesn't it? Either that or squid.)

I am writing this letter to persuade you to include the temper tantrum in the next Olympics.

Unlike some of the things you have recognized as sports, the tantrum is a physical skill. It requires coordination, strength and balance (except at crucial moments, where the competitive challenge requires falling).

Also, this sport has winners and losers, and while judges/parents do not traditionally give scores, this is something that could easily be rectified.

Moreover, and unlike netball, pelote basque and tug-of-war, the tantrum is an event enjoyed by all the peoples of the world. There is no tantrum powerhouse, which will keep the competition fresh and compelling, the way the presence of the Jamaicans really spiced up the bobsled event.

Now that we have established the viability and vitality of the tantrum as a sport, allow me to propose the events and how they are to be judged.

The Speed Tantrum
This event includes eight prescribed elements: tears, kicking, stomping, drooling, shrill crying, the sad face, and rolling on the ground. Judges award points based on the effectiveness of the elements. Big tears, swift kicks, long ropes of drool and eardrum-shredding wails earn high points. The sad face and ground-rolling elements also must be crisp and convincing.

The Free Tantrum
In this event, athletes perform an original arrangement of various techniques in the setting of their choice. Some potential venues: the produce aisle, a department store dressing room, a library or a house of worship. In any venue, a disapproving, possibly disgusted crowd of people who do not have small children, is a critical and necessary component. It also makes for good television.

Points are given for the difficulty of the movements (it’s very hard to throw an effective tantrum in a small space); the originality of the combination (judges remain unconvinced when tears are used too early or too often in the program); and for the completeness of the routine. If an athlete is distracted by a bird, a toy, a piece of candy or something shiny, then substantial deductions are made. If an athlete laughs, he or she is subject to immediate disqualification.

Synchronized Tantrums (or Pairs Tantrums)
This event, performed most often by sibling teams, comprises the Speed Tantrum and the Free Tantrum. Pairs are judged as a unit, demonstrating the artistry and athleticism of synchronized arm-flailing, shrieking, sad faces, fat tears and other maneuvers, including the highly difficult “mad at you, but hate each other.” The performance requires harmony, strength and a common goal.

In any event, if the parents are defeated, athletes are awarded the coveted 6.0 score and a 15-minute extension on bedtime.

Once the classic tantrum is recognized as a sport, I am sure you will give thorough consideration to the extreme tantrum, which the youngest of the youngsters are practicing. The freestyle extreme tantrum involves props such as furniture, scissors and other dangerous elements to make it truly thrilling.

Thank you so much for your consideration.

P.S. I am willing to be subjected to a drug test, as long as I get to test lots of them. Lately, I could use it.

February 11, 2002

Don't Be My Valentine

Valentine’s Day is this week. I’m not sure which day, mostly because I’m not really sure what day today is.

And this is not all I do not know. In reflecting on the last 18 months — the time since Adam and I became parents — I’ve realized something Socrates said thousands of years ago: “All I know is that I know nothing.”

If I had paid more attention in college, when I majored in Classics, I might not have had to learn this the hard way. But at the time, it was Greek to me.

I have learned Socrates’ lesson again and again. I learned it when Adam and I bought Lucy her first sippy cup. I wanted to test how it worked, so I filled it with water and turned it upside down. “Nothing comes out!” I observed. “How is she going to drink out of it?”

I took the white plastic stopper out of the lid. Because I was on a stringent crap-reduction program at the time, I threw it away, and forever turned Lucy’s first sippy cup into a drippy cup.

Now, whenever she uses it, I have to follow her around with a rag, because she likes nothing better than swinging it around her head like Huckleberry Finn’s dead cat.

Worse than the sippy cup, though, is the sleep issue. I would say Lucy’s inability to sleep for more than two hours straight has been a bit of a nightmare for us. Only you have to sleep to have nightmares.

We blamed her inability to sleep through the night on her genius. But there’s only so long you can convince yourself that your child — who tries to sniff flour and pretends to cough when she hears the word “coffee” — is an actual genius. Anyone who resorts to puns is clearly a fake genius.

Although it has taken a lot of sole-searching, I am admitting defeet here. Lucy’s not awake because she’s a genius. She’s awake because Adam and I are idiots. I thought I was being a good mother by rocking her to sleep and by holding her every time she cried. I admired Adam for staying by her side until he was certain she was sleeping.

What we did, however, was train her to require our presence to snooze. Now, when she realizes we’re not in her bedroom with her, she climbs out of her little bed and staggers into our room, saying, “Help. Help.”

It’s a sentiment I agree with completely.

We’re trying to reverse the damage. Little by little, we’re trying to train her to stay in her bedroom. Once she does that, we’ll train her to soothe herself back to sleep.

In the meantime, though, Adam and I are doing what we can to get by. Eighteen months is a long time to go without sleep, unless you’re Lucy and the biggest thing you have to worry about is whether to give the dog her chew, or try to eat it yourself before Mama takes it away.

To survive this sort of challenge, though, you let go of things that really don’t matter. Like Valentine’s Day.

Just tonight, I made Adam promise not to screw up the holiday for me.

“Please,” I said. “DO NOT get me anything. I haven’t gotten anything for you, and if you give me a present, I’m going to be really pissed.”

This is in sharp contrast to last year, when I served homemade pasta and salad festooned with strawberries cut into the shape of tiny hearts. I can’t remember how I managed to make that with a six-month-old who wouldn’t sleep, although I think it had something to do with the fact that she was too teeny to crawl off her blanket.

This year, we’re having fondue, because it’s something I can cook and serve in the same pot, and because we have a VCR-sized block of cheese squatting in the fridge.

Come Valentine’s Day, whenever that is, Adam and Lucy and I will all sit down at the table together for our dinner. And when I think about how this will feel, I realize how little I have to complain about.

Once I’ve shucked away everything unimportant, like cards, flowers, gifts — and even uninterrupted sleep — I am left with something simple that really matters: a quiet evening with the two people I love best.

If I know anything, I know that is everything.

And, oh yeah. Valentine’s Day is Thursday.

February 04, 2002

How Dada Goes Back to Cool

By Adam Berliant (Lucy's Dad)

As Lucy gets older and significantly wiser, I am yet again settling into some of the unwanted realities of being the father. And I’d like to encourage you, Dada, to remember these two words: Give up.

Allow me to explain.

Not long ago, I was driving to my neighborhood grocery store. At an intersection on the way, I saw a large, silver sports utility vehicle pull up to the stop sign. It was a brand new Lexus, with a black interior and 6 tons of chrome trim. It had a ski rack on top and a bike rack on the back. It had fog lights suspended from the grill, a 300 cylinder engine spewing jerky-scented smoke and tires made by Boeing. You could just make out the leather seats, the eagle feather hanging from the rearview mirror, and I think I saw kayak paddles in cargo. Inside was a man with a Clint Eastwood beard, a James Dean haircut, a Harrison Ford scowl and a Sam Sheppard leather jacket, whose face was lit up a little by the GPS in-dashboard display, I suppose. By comparison, I guess I should be happy that I have Woody Allen’s nasal condition.

But the defining feature of the car, and the man, really was none of those things.

Sorry to say, the Winnie the Pooh sunshades stuck to the back windows pretty much ruined the whole image. Seeing Pooh and Piglet holding hands, carrying balloons and protecting “precious cargo” was all it took to reveal that our rugged explorer was actually just the same as me: Dada, running an errand.

Accessorizing was futile. This Dada was not cool. And neither are the rest of you. You are on a rainbow-colored plastic slide to the land of lackluster, and you’re going to have to get used to it. I, for one, have held onto a pair of expensive Oakley sunglasses, but that’s pretty much where it stops. And I feel lucky every time I wear them, but mostly because they cover the bags under my eyes.

I’ve discovered that Dada’s only hope to be cool, is to be cool to the one person in the world you can still impress: your toddler. So, for this I started making great efforts, because as you know, coolness is like food and water.

For example, Lucy has shown some excitement over the notion of being in a fort. She likes to hide under a blanket. She likes to crawl under the table. She enjoys peeking from behind upright pillows, and so on. So, Martha and I bought her a small Ikea tent in November. And she loved it.

“Tent, tent,” she said, pointing to it when I got home from work. She’d walk in, then out, then in, then out.

Then over the holidays, my parents (not knowing we already had a tent) bought us an even bigger tent.

“Tent, tent,” Lucy said, climbing over the box, begging us to open it. When we finally did, she decided that she would prefer to eat her peanut butter sandwiches in her new, big tent, as opposed to her high chair, booster chair, or any other normal, toddler place to sit.

So, a few weeks back, I went to REI, thanks to a generous gift certificate I received from some friends and co-workers. The choice was obvious.

“Tent, tent,” I said to the salesman. And I bought the biggest tent REI makes or, I think, has ever made.

The tent is so big, the store doesn’t even put it on display. I think it’s a fire code violation, or something. At one point Martha asked me why on Earth I would need a tent that could easily double as a garage. Have I even been camping in the past 5 years? The answer was simple. Soon Lucy will be big enough to go camping for real. And when that time comes, I want Lucy to be astounded, speechless, bowled over and in every way amazed at the size of her tent. And I want her to think, Dada is soooo cool!

If I only go camping with Lucy one time, and I get the cool label, I will be happy.

It doesn’t stop with the tent, though. Lucy finds it very cool that I give her root beer instead of milk. She points at the plastic bottle and yells “moot boo!” and sometimes does a little dance. Lucy is definitely impressed with me when a Nestle Crunch Bar actually does qualify as a healthy snack. It is “milk” chocolate, after all. Lucy agrees that TV is cool, especially the “Funniest Animals” show, which she recognizes offers no educational qualities, except lessons in how animals defend themselves by kicking.

She thinks rubber boots with pajamas is a very cool outfit, so therefore, so do I. And sometimes, she gives me major points for pushing the shopping cart SUPER fast through the aisles of Target. She seems to especially admire me when I climb on the cart with her as it’s rolling out of control, and yell, “I’m king of the world!”

I’m aware, of course, this gets me no cool points with anyone else.

But, there’s something about seeing the look on your kid’s face, when she’s standing in her tent, wearing bumble-bee boots and green pajamas, wiping milk chocolate all over her face that makes you realize, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet are plenty cool enough, and it’s OK to give up on the rest.

Except the sunglasses, of course. There’s a limit to everything.