Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Adventures in Parenting | With a Rebel Yell

Lesson #3485: From the very first moments of his life outside of my body, Mads has been two things: vocal and emotional.  Maybe that statement can be made about all infants, but with mine, it felt more so, amplified.  That first month of his life--I swear this is not hyperbole--if he wasn't nursing or sleeping, he was crying--screaming, actually.  Longest, loudest month of my life. 

By month two, almost exactly, his screaming fits, though still regular, were no longer his only way of communicating with me--he began smiling, cooing, waving his arms about in baby wizard spells. As he gets older, those between-screaming-fit communications become clearer and more endearing.  (He's about as charming as someone nicknamed Booger Breath can be.) But, screaming fits still happen, on average about once a day, some days in public. 

A screaming child in public produces a variety of reactions from bystanders, and I've become something of an anthropologist in my study of those reactions. I've witnessed three basic camps: 1. The Ignorer - either from politeness, stoicism, or the careful application of noise-eliminating earbuds, me and my screaming child may as well not exist to these people, and that is a blessing. 2. The Grimacer - These people do more than grimace. They roll their eyes. They make their aggravation known. And, look, I get it. A screaming child is unpleasant. I used to be a grimacer, at least inwardly. I would think, "if this kid is just going to scream, why bring him/her here?" The answer: because parents need to get out of the damned house, run errands, attempt to have a normal life. I'm mindful of my child's naptimes, moods, patterns, sure, but I can't be at the mercy of his every moody whim, or I'd never leave the house. I'd never get anything done. I'd starve to death because I would have no groceries in my pantry. Grimacers are not only the childless. I've been on the receiving end of ugly looks from fellow parents too, either because they're being judgmental, or because they think I'm making them look bad, I have no idea. To these people I say, I'm sorry I chose to have a child and my life choices or parenting style (hah) are inconveniencing you right now; to tell the truth, he's annoying me, too; children can be obnoxious, I say we all just get over it. 3. The Smiler - Typically, these are fellow parents, mothers mostly, young to old.  Commiserating smiles are offered in my general direction, sometimes chuckles and shoulder shrugs, sometimes even encouraging words. Strangely, these are the people I tend to apologize to, not the Grimacers, and my apologies are always met with some version of, "he's just doing what kids do; don't sweat it; we've all been there."

The key to coping with a screaming child is, of course, keeping your cool--easier said than done. Just yesterday, I removed a wailing, flailing Mads from a[n undisclosed] shop, let him cool his tits on the sidewalk outside, asked, "Do you want to try another shop now?", answered his "yes" by forging ahead, and, as soon as I opened the door to this [undisclosed] place of business, was met by a shriek the pitch of which could/should easily have cracked glass. On that occasion, I admitted defeat, buckled the little tyrant in his car seat, and home we went.

At a park, however, out-of-doors where the only business done is by squirrels behind trees, I have a little more cool to pull from.  I've learned that distraction is key to luring Bubba out of his funks.  "Martigan, do you see any trees?" is typically the first question I ask, because it is the easiest for him to answer. If he's in a truly funky funk, he might answer, "No," even if we're surrounded by trees, but to answer in the negative, he must stop screeching, and so it is a victory for me. A typical dialogue might sound like this: "Martigan. Mads. Baby, do you see any trees? Martigan, do you see any trees?" "HUH!?" "Martigan, do you see any trees?" "...Yes." "Do you see any water?" "Huh?...Yes." "Do you see any water?" "Yeah!" "What lives in the water?" "Um..." "Do fish live in the water?" "Yes!" "Do crawdads live in the water?" "Yes!" "Do mermaids live in the water?" "Yes!" "Do krakens live in the water?" "Yes!" And then, I proceed to list every real or imagined creature I can possibly think of that might live in water, and Mads has been distracted out of his tantrum.*

When I complain about Martigans fits to my grandmother, pro nurturer for 50 years running, she points out, rightly, that he's only expressing himself. I know she's right, and I also know that sometimes I have to express myself by complaining to her, my husband, fellow parents, this blank white text box, you. But, I have to give myself some credit. Sure, I lose my cool every once in a while and hit the momguilt jackpot. But usually, I don't. Usually, I'm listing sea creatures. Usually, I'm gently but firmly wrestling a bucking toddler into his car seat. Usually, I'm telling him, in as affirming and empathetic a way as I can, with back rubs, hugs, and patience, "To tell the truth, I'm annoying you, too; parents can be obnoxious, I say we all just get over it."

*Pro-tip: This does not work as well with husbands, or, at least not with my husband. #bummersauce

"Because they are strong-willed toddlers can be infuriating at times, but human beings are never again so cute and unwittingly funny." - John Rosemund

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