Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

April 22, 2002

I'm a Pod Dada

By Adam Berliant

Sunday morning, Martha and I did something wild.

With Lucy at the grandparents, we took the rare opportunity to have slow, patiently delivered, babyless meal at a restaurant I don’t think we’ve even talked about since Lucy’s birth. It was the kind of breakfast that featured batter-dipped tortillas and eggs studded with artichoke hearts. The orange juice was freshly squeezed, and neither Martha nor I used two hands to drink it.

While discussed grown-up things like redecorating, international travel and movies starring Parker Posey, it was only by accident that I looked over Martha’s shoulder and saw another couple come in, toting their young daughter.

The little girl had sneakers on. Sort of like a pair Lucy had once.

And they asked for a high chair, but the little girl preferred to sit on the table, not by it, just like Lucy. The girl waved at the waiter and made a friendly smiley face. Like Lucy. She grabbed the silverware and held it in the air. She put her hands in the glasses of water and stirred. She threw her napkin over her head. She made a loud, crazy sound, then another. She grabbed for her mother, then her father, then her mother again two seconds later. All just like my Lucy.

And then, finally, she looked my way. She looked at me, and her little forehead crinkled up the same way Lucy’s does. She clearly caught me looking at her. So, what else could I do?

I hunched up my shoulders, I crinkled up my face, I made a big, big smile, and I gave her a long wiggly finger wave and whispered “hi.”

And she grinned real big, just like Lucy would, and thought about (but didn’t) wave back. Martha turned and looked, and we both sighed, sooooo cute.

And, so, at that moment, I thought about Donald Sutherland in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because clearly, my personality was in danger of being consumed by a pod-borne creature from space.

I have a long history of shunning sentimentality. My greeting cards are cynical, my favorite movies all have Harrison Ford in them, and come holidays and birthdays, as far as I’m concerned, a phone call is fine! And yet, ever since Lucy has been in my life, I’ve turned into this weird, finger-wiggly-waving thing. Slowly, all the refrigerator art in the world makes sense to me.

And the thing is, it’s getting worse. I first noticed it getting worse when Martha started having nightly discussions about the cutest thing Lucy did each day. And I found myself answering the question with sappy little stories like, oh, when she hugged the dog.

The question I keep asking myself is whether or not I’ve crossed some line of acceptable goofiness. Is this something I should embrace, or fight?

And that’s the main reason I thought of Donald Sutherland who, at the end of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, gives the audience a wonderfully ambiguous ending: Did he succumb to the pod people? Or was he just faking it?

I know the answer. His brain must have been sucked out.

I know this because about a week ago, I got home from work, plopped my keys on the counter, said hi to Martha, and put my computer on the table, greeted Lucy with a big hug and kiss. In a few moments, I was about to settle into my home routine in all the usual ways. A few moments later, Lucy was sitting on a little toy car, watching me fumble with mail.

And she said, “Love Dada!” Loudly, clearly, and sincerely.

I didn’t ask her to say it. I didn’t even know she could. And I gave that kid the biggest hug I could give her without causing injury. I could feel my personality getting suction-vacuumed right out of my head.

It’s true what they say: Resistance is futile.

April 08, 2002

The Physics of Crayons

Lucy’s career as a scientist continues. She learned recently that if crayons are placed carefully in front of the fireplace, they will melt. This is not an insignificant discovery; melted crayons spread far more smoothly over floors, walls and upholstered furniture than they do in their natural state.

As Lucy’s lab assistant, I have learned something important about crayons: I hate them. Their only redeeming factor is that at least now I can say the floors have been waxed.

Lucy’s experimenting has not stopped with crayons. For Easter, we bought her some foil-covered chocolate eggs. I pause every year at this time to ponder who thought it was a good idea to have rabbits deliver small, brown pellets for children to eat. No one who’s ever had a rabbit for a pet, that's for sure.

Lucy doesn’t just unwrap the eggs and eat them. She strips them bare, mashes them against her nose and inhales deeply, as one might smell the cork of a prized wine. Then she puts them in her mouth, pulls them out and passes them from hand to hand until she has chocolate smeared from her chin to her fingertips. This, she has discovered, leaves no candy for her stomach. So the experiment starts over with another foil-wrapped egg. I’m not really sure what the goal of the experiment is, other than to determine whether chocolate can be tasted through the skin.

Here, my role as lab assistant requires me to eat as many of the eggs as possible myself. I’m not really sure what my goal is here, other than to minimize the all the smearing. Otherwise, I’m just taking candy from a baby, something that’s already been proven easy to do by countless lab assistants before me.

Her other primary food experiment involves rudimentary calculus. Lucy is figuring out the volume of her mouth by stuffing it as full of food as she possibly can. Is her mouth the same size as a bowl of goldfish crackers? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to eat them all at once. If I try to stop her, or encourage her to chew, she gives me the look she always gets when she experiments. It’s a look that says, “I dare you to revoke the funding on this project. If you even try, I will scream until my face turns purple, and I might kick your neck.”

With as much intensity, Lucy is also studying gravity. Did you know, for example, that cat food, dropped from the back of the chair in the family room, can bounce all the way across the room? Or that when you shake your sippy cup very hard, you can spray milk?

Lucy knows this. She also tells me in her outside voice exactly what it’s called: “BIG MESS.” For some reason, however, she describes pen on the wall as a “TINY MESS.” Clearly, her scientific experimentation is running just a bit ahead of her ability to comprehend adjectives.

It’s also running ahead of her ability to understand expletives, which is lucky for me. I let one that rhymes with snap fly out of my mouth last week when I came upon her making a concoction in the dog’s water dish. She’d taken cat food from the bowl next door, one pellet at a time, mixed it into the water, and was scooping handfuls of the resulting sludge and rubbing it in her hair. She smelled like tuna and socks.

I suppose rubbing it in her hair is a notch better than eating it. She does that too, only not as much as she used to. I think she fears her lab assistant will go on strike if such experimentation continues.

Little does she know, though, that I wouldn’t go on strike, even if I could. Though it’s often terrible to behold and messy to clean, there is something quite wonderful about watching a child get to know the world using every limb and sense she has. As her assistant, I’m getting to smell and touch and taste it all too. Except for the cat food slurry, of course. That’s just gross.

April 01, 2002

The Institute for the Exorcism of Parental Pride

Most of my friends don’t have kids. In fact, most of them aren’t married. I’m the Marge Simpson in a Sex and the City crowd. Besides the messed up hair, there’s only one real problem with this setup: I have to find other things besides Lucy to talk about.

No matter how wonderful they are, you can't expect people who don’t have children to be interested in what your child can say or how cute she looks when she tries to gallop. You can't even hope for sincere interest in the contents of her diaper, no matter how big a part of your day it is.

At my friend’s wedding last weekend, I was surrounded by a sea of childless urbanites, none of whom had puffy eyes or peanut butter on their pantyhose. To avoid boring these clean and elegant people with chatter about Lucy, I found myself making conversation about business development, Playboy and something called limoncello. I never did figure out whether this was a fruit, a musical instrument or some unholy combination of the two.

All I really wanted to talk about was how cute Lucy had been on the plane ride to the wedding. Two little girls were sitting in the seat behind us, and Lucy wanted to get to know them. I told her that to make friends, she would have to tell the girls her name. Amazingly, she did. She stood up, peeked between the seats, patted her chest and said, “Sucy.”

While it’s true that she can’t pronounce her name correctly yet, I think Lucy deserves lots of points for trying to make friends. And I deserve lots of points for not knocking those little girls’ heads together like coconuts when they ignored Lucy’s introduction.

What people like me need, I’ve concluded, is someplace to unload all this parental pride. Someplace clean, shiny and impressively official, with an important name, a Web site, sterile instruments and jars filled with the brains of dead Nobel laureates, professional golfers and people who know how to fold fitted sheets.

It should have a hotline for reporting after-hours achievements. “Press 1 if your child speaks French. Press 2 if you are French. Press 3 to request an application to college in France.”

And during the business day, it should be staffed with earnest scientists holding with clipboards, ready to be knocked flat by the genius, beauty and prodigy packed into a the slightly damp Huggie standing before them.

“It’s remarkable,” the scientists should say, whatever the child happens to be doing. “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen very often. Your child is one in 10 billion.”

This, after all, is what parents want to hear: something that confirms our pride and wonder in what we have wrought. In a matter of months, these children go from being tiny creatures that need constant monitoring to stay alive, to being heavy creatures that need constant monitoring to keep from killing themselves. Some things they do early; some things, late. But all of it creates irrational thrills that make the world feel like it’s spinning faster than we ever thought possible.

Please, someone build an institution for parents. Keep us from boring our friends and revealing how uncool we’ve become. But most important, give us validation that the small beings that dominate our minds are as wonderful as they seem.

Or at least give me a place where I can feel safe telling my latest Lucy story, the one where she caught a glimpse of a young Tom Cruise on television. Before I had a chance to change the channel, she dropped the toy she was playing with, pounded her chest and said, “Name Sucy.”

She’s 19 months old and she already knows Tom Cruise is hot. Is this kid a genius or what?