10 January 2013

Infant Sorrow

In today’s episode, I discipline my infant son. And the seeds for his eventual bitter resentment of me as a human being are firmly planted.

Man, parenting is awesome.

All kids are curious. I assume. I’ve only really intimately known two of them. And from that very small sample, I can say that 100 percent of the kids I’ve known well have been curious. Little Brother, though, has taken it to a somewhat maniacal extreme.

It’s not mere curiosity that drives him, more like obsessive, fanatical inquisitiveness. And yes, this dogged persistence to explore the boundaries of his world, to experience everything in an immediate, tactile fashion would be admirable if his efforts were dedicated toward eradicating disease, inventing a new language or even in radical devotion to the creation of art. However, when applied to, say, biting our wooden furniture, manhandling glass Christmas tree ornaments, or venturing several inches too close to the fireplace—it is not so much.

Like all parents before and after us, we have now been put in the position of having to tell our son, “No.” Frequently. Loudly. Emphatically. Repeatedly. Frantically. Desperately.

When the Doozer was not but a wee babe, we had the same experience. Which you would think would prepare you for handling it better the second time. Strangely, it doesn’t. Or maybe that’s just me. In fact, rather than improving at being a dad this time, I often feel as though I am—preposterously, unfathomably—worse at the whole thing.

But anyway, with the Doozer, it was different. We would say, “No,” he would look at us for a long moment, take in this admonishment, and promptly ignore it and return to whatever activity we were attempting to get him to stop. It took much pleading and negotiating and insistence to get the point across. Our rejoinders never seemed to faze him or impact his feelings toward us beyond simple bemusement.

Not so with Little Brother. The word “No” has now manifested itself with him in the form of an almost complete emotional breakdown. It’s all there. The quivering lip. The red face. The screaming sobs and seemingly endless stream of tears. Like all kids before and after him, Little Brother does not like to be told “No.” Doesn’t like it one single bit. The look of complete betrayal and anger and confusion that plays out across his face feels like an indictment of my entire being, everything I am as a man and a father and a human being.

He’s not even one yet and I’ve ruined everything, forever, between us.

(My therapist tells me that I am prone to catastrophizing. But really, for all that I pay him, you would think he could just take my side.)

Why don’t they understand that we are only trying to keep them safe? Like when we chastised the Doozer for sticking his face in the bathtub the other night. We are not Johnny Buzzkill and Jane Killjoy, that’s not our purpose here. We’re fun. We get it. But keeping the two of them alive is our main priority in life. And it’s a big responsibility. Why can’t they understand that?

But apparently this is parenting. Being the bad guy. All the time.

(Also, I haven’t seen even 50 percent of the Oscar nominees, announced today. That is also parenting. But that’s another story.)

Why don’t I feel like I’m doing this any better the second time around? And here I thought that having one would mean you’ve got it worked out. But you find all new ways to screw up. And you screw up in all the same ways, too. Because this is hard. This is really, really hard.

Trying and failing and only occasionally succeeding. That is parenting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go and attempt to dissuade the little one from trying to eat a delicious-looking picture frame. Thus ensuring the implantation of even more issues which will have to be worked out over years and years of therapy. No doubt on my dime.

Maybe if I smile as I say “No”? Maybe that—oh, forget it, I’m screwed.

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