Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Zoe vs. the Gentlemen's Agreement

It’s probably not so much that she’s against it as she doesn’t know what it means. In fact, Zoe is unfamiliar with all three words contained in the phrase, including the definite article, but most especially "agreement." And I’m talking about the original meaning of the phrase, not the one it came to mean, where the gentiles exchange knowing looks as they pass each other on the street on Yom Kippur and which was dramatized by Gregory Peck in the eponymous movie about anti-Semitism.

It's not what it looks like, I swear.

Basically, the takeaway is, you can’t expect a toddler to act in good faith. There’s no honor among the playground set.
First, some backstory. Every night on the way home from the day care we pass a school which has extensive grounds. It's not only a school but also a monastery or nunnery or retreat center. The gate is always open (probably due to their religion-y all-our-welcome mandate, belied by a sign that says no trespassing, but perhaps they mean this in a forgive-us-our-trespasses kind of way but by all means, walk on the grass). And many evenings we’d see a father and daughter playing catch, or some kid running with his dog, i.e., some idyllic vision of childhood set against the twilight. And I'd thought, with an unearned innocence, one of these days I'll bring Zoe by so she can also run on the grass in some idyllic vision of childhood.
Let’s skip ahead now to a housebound Zoe recovering from another bout of pink eye. I didn’t want to take her to her usual park since she’d be touching everything, which is probably how she got the pink eye in the first place, and I got the brain wave (I’ve had these a lot since Zoe was born and they are things that end badly but always start with the euphoric optimism that is the hallmark of sleep deprivation) to take her to the grounds of this school, the all-girls’ institution she might someday attend if we strike it rich and if I manage to repress the negative associations of my Catholic school upbringing so that the positive ones rise to the surface, whatever these might be (with apologies to my Catholic grammar school, high school, and college---it was a trifecta).
We pull into the gate and I let Zoe out of her stroller right next to the grass, i.e., God’s carpet, which is dappled in sunshine, i.e., God’s warm hug, and Zoe veers away from God’s, i.e., my plan, and makes a beeline for the steep, concrete stairway to the main doors of the school and proceeds to go up, then down, then up, then down.
Et en Arcadia ego.
Which roughly translates as, Look at this idiot running in the grass
as if we're not all going to die someday.

If you have a toddler then you are familiar with the stair attraction; the call to climb must be heeded. It is like a black hole in that it is both a gravity well (for a toddler) and a place where time slows down (for a parent).
Finally she tires of this I wrest her hands away from the railing, and I try to steer drag her towards the grass, but she pulls free and runs to the side of the school to the retreat center/monastery/nunnery, where the true treasures are to be found. For, behold, here are even steeper (and metal!) stairs to conquer, and, lo, a door to be banged at and pulled on, and, hearken, broken glass to be picked up and marveled over, and a dirty traffic cone to pat and lick. And didn't I have egg on my face for thinking we’d be on the same page about the running on the grass in idyllic childhood spendour (British spelling required for the type of idyll I'm thinking of).
Zoe does not do idylls. No pastorals either. No sentimental reenactments of bygone times. It's just not her bag. Her bag is ripped and sticky and filled with rocks.
Looking back I’m not sure where my misplaced optimism came from considering the following facts:
The countless other stairways she's met and conquered or fallen down
The many “favorite” books I’ve had to re-purchase because Zoe "loved" them too much
She really really likes to run away from me (and her dad)
She really really doesn't like to listen to me (or her dad)
And everything else I know about her from her behavior up until this time
They took away our rulers;
that was their first mistake.

As she continued to run from one questionable treasure to another, ignoring my pleas and threats, I became nostalgic for my own particular childhood experience with Catholic school, where exactly when you were enjoying yourself doing something you shouldn't, a nun would be sure to appear to bring an end to your nonsense.
But that day I looked around in vain for assistance from someone with actual authority. Clearly, I had none; after all, I was just a mom.
Zoe: 9; Universe/Mommy: 0


  1. One time when my guard was down during a visit to a farm, I saw my (then) two year old son french kissing a goat. It is a vision forever seared in my memory. I was sure he was going to get Ecoli or anthrax. He survived, but I could have used some nuns right about then. --Lisa

    1. Ugh, yikes. Nuns bearing antiseptic wipes and Listerine!

  2. We are so in the same phase as you right now. There is nothing that can't/won't/shouldn't be climbed. We even tried to erect a barrier to the stairs off the deck of our vacation rental to no avail. Henry the great still scaled the walls of the barricade and dashed toward the rocky street. Hurrah!

    (ps, I know what grounds you are talking about. lol)

    1. They are little juggernauts and they love a challenge! Especially if it has the added bonus of scaring Mommy and Daddy. That's funny that you know the school I'm talking about. Those walls could withstand a zombie army. It's totally my fallback position should that eventuality come to pass.