Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

August 26, 2002

Dada: A Sucker for Soccer

By Adam Berliant

Before Lucy was born, Martha and I played on a soccer team together. We quit after not one, not two, but three people on the team broke their legs.

Naturally, as soon as Lucy got old enough, we wanted her to play soccer as well.

When Martha found out that a local soccer club offered lessons to two-year-olds, she signed me and Lucy up.

“It’ll be a good time for you two to bond,” Martha said. (Editor’s translation: “I can’t wait to get you two out of the house so I can sit on my rump eating muffins.” )

I was a little nervous before the first class. So, Lucy and I showed up 15 minutes early and I helped her warm up. First, I instructed her on the technicalities of soccer.

“Kick it! Kick it!”

Then, I reminded her earnestly that soccer is a team sport, involving the coordination of numerous players on the field for the greater good.

“Don’t kick it to me! Kick it in the goal!”

I also taught her the most important part of the game: style. When she scores, I explained, she must run around the field with her arms up yelling “Gooooaaaaalllll.” If she wanted to rip her shirt off, that would be okay, too.

As you might imagine, she did all of this very well. I was getting increasingly excited for the class. Lucy was going to be a star.

But then, fate kicked a blooper.

Once the other kids arrived, and the coaching actually began, I learned that our pre-game warm up would be the last we’d see of any soccer balls. Soccer for two-year-olds isn’t really soccer. It’s “red light, green light,” “stomp on the bubbles,” and “stack the cones.”

If this is how kids get good at soccer, Lucy’s not likely to make it to the Neighborhood Cup, let alone the World one.

She understands the concept of “red light, green light,” but is only willing to play it if I hold one of her hands, while she sucks the other. Also, we are only allowed to run slowly. Lucy is good at chasing the bubbles, but she prefers popping them with her nose to stomping them. And when the other kids are playing “stack the cones” – Lucy prefers cleaning up the cones, and putting them back on their storage racks.

The real deal-breaker though, was “jump the noodles.” In this game, kids jump over long foam tubes that have been placed on the ground like mini-hurdles. In two years, I’ve never criticized Lucy. How could I? And so it is not criticism, but fact, when I say that Lucy can’t jump.

She can’t even come close. She makes a big attempt, with spinning windmill arms and bent knees, and it’s super cute. Super-duper cute. But she can’t lift herself even one centimeter off the ground. In the best attempts, here knees merely straighten.

I yell “GOOD JOB!” every time, and she smiles. But really, honestly...she gets as much air as a sack of flour.

Still, we keep going to soccer, and having fun, which is the important thing. Jumping be damned. And I made sure to show up 15 minutes early each time for some good goal scoring. (It might be the last chance she gets.)

But then, just this last Saturday, Lucy had a breakthrough. It was the glimmer of soccer brilliance I had been waiting for.

It was photo day, and all the kids were sent to line up for team and individual pictures. The team photo went well enough, but the individuals were a nightmare. Most toddlers don’t “stand right there,” “hold still,” or “smile for the camera.”

But Lucy isn’t most toddlers. Lucy posed for the camera like a professional. “Smile, smile!” And she did. “Hold the ball under your arm!” And she did. “Sit with your legs crossed!” She did. Ah ha! Talent!

I spent the ten bucks for the prints, and walked out as proud as any world-class athlete’s dad. I learned a valuable lesson, here. Sometimes, it’s not how good you are at something as much as it is how good you look when you’re doing it.

Maybe she has a career in product endorsement. I wonder if there’s a class for toddlers on that.

August 19, 2002

It was the breast of times...

Now that she’s two years old, Lucy is finally weaned. She still tries to “drink a little mopple, just a little sip” every now and then. But those attempts are coming farther and farther apart.

I never thought I would be one of those people who would nurse a kid who’s old enough to negotiate for breast milk. The whole thing shocks me. I can’t believe I’m even writing about breasts.

My boobophobia goes way back. When I was in middle school and needed a little trainer bra, I was too embarrassed to ask my mom for one. I joined the track team, which practiced after school, and I had to cup my nubbins with my hands as I ran laps. That same year, I came home from a dance once rather badly chafed. But that beat discussing my walnut bulges — and the fact that I was changing in ways I couldn't predict or control — with Mom.

Life has a way of making you confront the things that frighten and embarrass you most. It’s called parenthood.

Kids are great at sensing your weak spots. They sniff them out, and then they poke away until those weak spots lose all their nerve endings. They might still be weak spots, but you can’t feel them any longer.

Do you fear passing gas in public? Once you become a parent, your teeny newborn will honk like a tuba. The noise will be so loud that everyone around you hears it. And because no one believes how loud a baby can fart, everyone will think it’s you. So what are you going to do? Blame the kid? Then everyone will think you’re gassy and cowardly.

Do you fear emotional displays? Your gassy newborn will someday be a toddler who, when denied a brownie, will scream loud enough to rattle your spine out of alignment. And if the denied brownie is resting in a public display case, people will assume the safety leash you’ve got your child wearing to keep her from running out into the street is actually a modified canine shock collar. They’ll think you’re evil. They might even yell at you. My advice: buy the brownie. You'll both be happier.

Lucy somehow knew that I was embarrassed about my you-know-whats, and from the moment of her birth, did everything she could to be drinking from them, twiddling them and worse. It wasn’t enough for Lucy to quietly nourish herself. She had to lift up my shirt and show everyone what was going on down there.

I used to wrestle with her to keep my dignity. Once she got to talking, we actually had arguments about “shirt up” versus “shirt down.”

Eventually, I guess, I got used to it. Before Lucy was finally weaned, we had dinner with a priest. The next day, Father Tom wrote an e-mail that said, “I am pretty sure that you are the first person I've ever dined with who, as we proceeded from course to course, was being forcefully disrobed by her curly-headed table companion.”

But here’s the thing. If he hadn’t mentioned it in his e-mail, I wouldn’t have even remembered Lucy’s valiant attempts to strip me naked. In front of a holy man!

The person I was before I became Lucy’s mother would have died before flashing a man of the cloth. When Lucy was just a few days old, I didn’t know how I’d have the strength and patience to nurse her for even a year. And yet, I managed to do both things and somehow, I survived.

People talk about the great and wonderful things parents do for their children. But that misses the mark. It’s just as much what your kids do for you. They help you do the hardest things. You don’t have time to think about your fears or your pride. You simply think of your children — what they need, and how good it feels to give it.

No wonder I miss nursing Lucy so much.

August 12, 2002

Have baby, will travel?

The good thing about people who don’t have kids yet is that they can remind you how little you knew when you thought you knew everything.

I heard a woman who has no children talk about how free and easy parenthood would be. The implication was that those of us who've found it to be otherwise are nuts.

“When I have a child,” she said, “it’s not going to change my life at all. I’ll just strap the baby on and go.”

I am much stupider since becoming a mother, so I can't be sure — but I have a sick feeling that I said similar things before I had Lucy.

Strap her on and go: That would be my battle cry.

Forget the battle. All I have left is the cry.

My education began when Lucy she got too heavy to strap on comfortably. By the time she weighed 17 pounds, carrying her in the Baby Bjorn felt like being stabbed repeatedly in the back with a fork.

Adam got it worse; by the time Lucy was that big, she was tall enough to kick him in the groin.

But even that turned out to be nothing. I would gladly suffer the backache if I thought I could take a relaxing trip somewhere.

Fat chance.

A few months back, Adam and I realized we hadn’t taken an extended vacation since our honeymoon. So we decided to go someplace fun — San Francisco. How hard could it be? It’s a ninety-minute flight. The weather is nice. People speak English.

Adam planned a trip. And off we went. This is the life, I thought. Adam, Lucy and me. We’ll just strap her in her car seat and go.

Lucy must have sensed our eagerness to escape, because she chose the week of our vacation to go on a strap strike. A toddler on a strap strike is pure hell. Every time we tried to buckle Lucy in to her car seat or stroller, she freaked out. She freaked out so bad, even the junkies in the Haight shot us pitying looks. I swear I saw one mutter, “Bad trip, little dude?”

The worst night was our last. We went out to dinner with the priest who performed our wedding ceremony because we wanted to show him what his handiwork had wrought. Instead, we convinced him why celibacy isn’t such a bummer, after all.

It was just a short car ride to dinner, and yet, these few blocks stretched for miles. Lucy screamed the whole time. If oranges could express the pain they feel when their peels are ripped from their trembling flesh, they would make the exact sound Lucy makes when she doesn’t want to be buckled into her car seat.

Her wails were so loud, even the priest was beyond prayer. Instead, he started singing. I’m not sure what song it was, or even if it had words. I’m guessing it was an ancient melody they teach priests to use when they’re being tortured by evildoers.

I wish I had paid better attention, because I could have used that song the next day when we were heading back to Seattle.

Lucy writhed and screamed in her stroller for a mile because we had the audacity of leaving Golden Gate Park. We had to bribe her with jelly beans to get her buckled safely into the cab on our way to the airport.

We stuffed her mouth and got a silent ride. But when we were standing in the ticket line, she started picking remainders out of her molars. By the time we made it to the front of the line, she’d swallowed the better part of her hand. This made her gag, which ultimately led to worse. Right at the part where the ticket agent asked if anyone else had touched our luggage since we packed it, Lucy barfed jelly beans all over herself and Adam.

“You’ve been randomly selected,” she said.

It took me a moment to realize she was talking about going through extra security inspection, and not spontaneous toddler eruption.

We passed the test. But on the flight home, Lucy again resisted the straps. As she started peeling her psychic orange again, I could feel the hate brewing in the rows all around us.

Adam and I played toddler tennis the entire flight home, bouncing Lucy from his lap to mine and back again. She won. There were no straps. But no one killed us, either.

And that’s the thing with kids. Before you have them, you think, “I’ll just strap the baby on and go!”

But then you learn, over and over again, that the baby is a person with a mind of her own, and the older she gets, an increasingly loud say over where she goes and when. Your job as parent isn’t so much to keep on living the life you had, as much as it is to figure out where you’ll go from here.

The destination isn’t always clear, and sometimes, no one is wearing safety straps. But if all it was to be a parent was to strap somebody on and go, we wouldn’t have kids. We’d have Cabbage Patch dolls. And that really would be nuts.