Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Zoe vs. the Dashed Expectation

It's not a super power. All parents of toddlers develop this ability. We can see into the future. Though only from a short distance. A ten-second window wherein we recognize that The Thing That Must Happen to make Dear One happy is not going to happen, but only mere moments before he or she realizes it.

I see a small child breaking my crystal ball.

For those ten seconds, time behaves strangely, both slowing down and speeding up. Perhaps in that time which is no time we will experience flashes of happier moments, or times when we faced our own disappointments, large or small, and bore them with an equanimity to be admired, held up as the standard for others who've been through similar disappointments. Perhaps we faced these trials with a stiff upper lip. We shrugged, sighed, made alternate plans. Laughed even. (Remember laughing?) We congratulated ourselves on our flexibility, or, if we weren't flexible, resolved to work on it in therapy, speaking of which, now that we could use therapy, having real problems---such as substantial anxiety revolving around money as well as the awesome responsibility of forming a human psyche---we have neither the time or the disposable income. 
The last time I experienced this dubious super power, I was walking Zoe home in the pouring rain. In my left hand I held an umbrella, while with my right I struggled to keep the stroller straight over uneven ground and incomplete curb cuts. Right wrist aching, I made a mental note to Google "carpal tunnel syndrome" for the list of symptoms. Meanwhile Zoe sulked in the stroller, kicking desultorily at the rain guard. She is opposed to the rain guard on principle. It impedes her view, therefore it impinges on her personal freedom. Occasionally she would "drop" her sippy cup into puddles so that Mommy could bend down and scoop it up---umbrella pinned between ear and shoulder as if it were a phone, which if it were would keep her just as dry---briefly consider pretending the cup was lost (a lie Zoe never buys for a minute), before handing it back in drizzly defeat.
So, I'm a bit distracted, and more than a little drenched, by the time we turn onto our block and, flash!: a vision of the future. Zoe wants out of the stroller. Because this is what we ALWAYS DO. 
It's part of the nightly routine that when we reach our block Zoe is allowed to get out of the stroller and "walk" the rest of the way home. (Walk can mean so many things, none of which is walking. It can mean run, skip, jump, dawdle, sit on the ground, bang on a garage door, pick up a rock, discover it's not a rock, wonder why Mommy is making that horrified face.) 
It's only 300 feet, give or take, but in this span dwells a lifetime of steps. Especially if you want to climb up the stairs in front of each house (Zoe does!), and then run up and down each driveway (Zoe does!). Why should this routine change just because the rain's coming down so hard and so fast it's making the Biblical rain Noah had to contend with look like a sun shower? 
So I "see" the tantrum before it manifests. It springs fully formed from my mind like Athena did from Zeus's noggin. (I just used my classical education for the first and last time---yay! Those loans were totally worth it.) And then . . . enter the storm.
"Out! Out!" comes the little voice, feet kicking even more emphatically against the rain guard.
I say, "I'm sorry, you can't get out tonight. It's raining."
More urgent: "Wanna get out!"
"I'm sorry. I know you want to get out, but it's raining and you'll get wet," I say, in a Very Reasonable Tone, like the one Keanu Reeves used in Speed to get the Hispanic gentleman to relinquish his firearm. This doesn't work either. And this stroller can't slow down! Though at this point I know nothing will stop the explosion.

A toddler is made to explode. That's its meaning. Its purpose.

"OUT!" Zoe screams, followed by the full-body freakout against the stroller harness, like the Hulk, only less green and more furious. She straining her bonds. The whole stroller's shaking. I'm speeding up. Who cares if we go over 55? Blood is already on my hands. I just need to get to our apartment door. It won't stop the screaming, but at least it'll be dry.
If parental precognition were truly useful, it would've kicked in several minutes earlier, when I would've had the opportunity to deviate from our usual course and approach our apartment building from a different direction, one unfamiliar to Zoe, and not weighted with any expectation. But I'm living in the Mommy Zone, which, kind of like the Phantom Zone, exists outside the space/time continuum, an outlaw dimension, where toddlers rule.

According to Zoe, being trapped in the Phantom Zone
is nothing compared to the restrictions of the rain guard.

Zoe: 14; Universe: 0

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Zoe vs. Steve Jobs

If Steve Jobs were still alive (and if he'd ever had cause to visit our apartment) I imagine he'd be distressed by the damage Zoe has wrought on our Mac.
From a screen sticky with syrup residue from when Zoe tried to swipe a treat from Cookie Monster to a misuse or, perhaps, underuse of Apple's wonders due to her obsession with a fifty-second cartoon of "Frere Jacques," our Mac has been debased. Profoundly.
Think Ruined
Let's start with the hardware. Besides the sticky screen, which glistens in the morning sun revealing a pattern of a thousand tiny fingerprints, Zoe also broke our keyboard. And in such a specific way it's hard not to believe she was sending us a message. Her damage was limited to the left side of the keyboard, and the keys we could no longer use were the shift key, the "a," key, and the "z." She knew we were discussing her, and she wanted it to stop. We replaced the keyboard and then I started this blog. I suspect it's only a matter of time before the Z mysteriously goes out of service again. Zoe's more ruthless about stamping out negative publicity than Steve Jobs and the Scientologists combined.
Our mouse still works but it's not for her lack of trying to break it. I've observed her using it as a lasso for the cat. I suppose there's a certain justice to this truly cat-and-mouse game considering the longstanding enmity between cats and mice. I watched Tom and Jerry cartoons as a kid but now they seem too violent to ever show to my own child. She hardly needs any more encouragement.
Then there's the printer/scanner, or, as it's now called, the scanner. The scanner's glass has fingerprints as well as crayon marks, but those can be cleaned. I can't make out what she was trying to write, but my guess is it was "Eat this," since the crayon she used to scrawl on the surface was then jammed into the printer's control panel, which is why our printer/scanner lost the rights to the first part of its name.
Oh yeah, she also broke our Internet connection by jumping on the box that houses that particular magic.
So clearly Jobs's design aesthetic is lost on Zoe. However, though form is a big part of Jobs's legacy, he was also a visionary in terms of function. Here too, I'm afraid, Zoe's use of our Mac would disappoint him. As stated above, Zoe's interest in the "pee-yu-ter," as she calls it, is limited to the various cartoon renditions of "Frere Jacques" to be found on YouTube. Sometimes she branches out into other animated songs, also from foreign countries, which has firmly established for me that European children's programming is just plain batty.
One more revolution and we will unmake Teacher
AND open the gates of Hell. 

Most of these videos are just short enough that I am practically tethered to the computer. Again and again, I click on the video and by the time I form a plan and manage to walk a few steps away, Zoe cries, "Again!" The sound of French children singing will probably always send a chill through my heart.

Literally: "Lark, I will pluck you," from this cartoon donkey
inspired by the nightmares of David Lynch.
(Note, the donkey is naked except for orthopedic
mustard-yellow shoes--wrongness!)
I'm pretty sure that when Steve Jobs dreamed of the possibilities of the technology he helped to create and market, he never imagined Zoe, though perhaps he would have appreciated that she also has a pleasing and compact design belying a complicated and multitudinous efficiency . . . to destroy. She is the perfect killing machine.
Zoe's most mysterious damage to the computer occurred a few weeks ago. She somehow pressed certain keys in some magical combination that enlarged the display. For days the whole screen was taken up by a giant black arrow, pointing up and to the left, directing our attention to the heavens, where perhaps Steve can be found, seated next to the Original Innovator in the Sky, and if we prayed hard enough, he would do us the favor of leaning in and putting in a good word for our Mac to protect it from further devilment.
Zoe: 13; Universe: 0

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Zoe vs. the Family Bed

On the face of it, Zoe would seem to be in favor of the Family Bed, also known as Co-sleeping. Certainly, if asked, she would say she is. But in practice, it's clear that Zoe doesn't get the family part, i.e., that Mommy and Daddy are supposed to sleep too, not lie awake as she stretches out between us using our necks as a pillow and footrest, respectively.
There was a time a few months ago when almost every night she ended up in bed with us. Sometimes her arrival was preceded by a screaming run through the apartment, and sometimes there was so little fanfare that even though I must have pulled her into bed beside me, I didn't remember it, only waking to find my arm had fallen asleep beneath her, and then that was the only part of me to remain so.
So, Zoe's in favor of being in our bed, she's just not so keen on sharing it. If she's not sleeping sideways, she's elbowing us in the ribs or kicking us in the kidneys, and if we try to move away, try to preserve just a precious half inch of mattress real estate for ourselves, she complains. Loudly. In short, close contact is mandatory. Sleep is something we can do on our own time. Not her problem.
Per my usual folly, I consulted advice guides to learn how to break her of this habit. The suggestions I read about required strategy and consistency. If you decide you don't want the family bed, and that your LO (loved one) should stay in his or her bed (in other words, if you have this thing about sleeping in more than just five-minute desperate snatches every night) you have to make the decision . . . and stick to it.
This means that if your DO (dear one) shows up at the bedside, arms outstretched, half asleep yet in full whine, you're to get up, escort your LB (little bastard) back to her bed and say something firm but soothing: "Nighttime is for sleeping. See you in the morning. Stay. Stay. Stay." Rinse repeat. 
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Good plan. 
Just one problem. You have to be awake enough to carry it out.
I used to say that when Zoe got me up in the middle of the night I was like a zombie, but now I realize that's not accurate. I lack that certain quality zombies have in spades: stick-to-it-iveness.  Zombies stay on mission. (Brains!) In contrast, I was barely conscious. (What's that thing I think with?)

I think I just need a cup of coffee.

I can't even tell which end is up let alone which is obstructing my windpipe.

And say I can muster up the wherewithal to get Zoe back into bed? I've found that in order to accomplish this I have to wait for her to fall asleep again (the escort system where she walks on her own was a cruel joke). Therefore I must maintain some lucidity while waiting for her to drift off, then carefully, oh so carefully, using my dead arm, I must lever her up then lurch gracefully out of bed.

Next I must traverse a dark apartment where a cat with either a nervous condition or a taste for vengeance lies in wait, springing out in front of my feet just when I least expect it. Then if I make it to her room I must confront the most delicate operation of all. Setting her down without waking her.

This involves a finely calibrated weight distribution reminiscent of the bag of sand/golden idol switcheroo from Raiders of the Lost Ark, except the stakes are higher.

If I fail, hopefully I'll just have to face poisoned darts
and a giant rolling boulder, not a cranky toddler.

If I'm successful, I tiptoe backwards toward the door, close it, and return to my own bed, where I will remain awake, finally drifting off just as I hear her door opening, heralding her next visit.
Zoe: 12; Universe: 0

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Zoe vs. Potty Training, Part the First

I don't know how many parts this will have. I'm just hoping I don't end up writing: "Zoe vs. Potty Training: The Wedding Edition."
I've already detailed how Zoe feels about the diaper change. A reasonable person might conclude she'd want to learn how to use a toilet to avoid that particular indignity, however, she does not see any contradiction in her behavior and refuses to entertain our arguments. 
As with everything else, Zoe's in charge, her father and I mere advisors, looking for avenues of influence. The biggest question we faced was when to start. We were apparently to look for signs she was ready, such as:
1. Asking to be changed (hilarious)
2. Telling us when she needs to go (Zoe only volunteers such info when it's a lie to get attention)
3. Being able to pull up and down her pull-ups (something she can magically accomplish at the day care yet always needs Mommy's help to do at home)
4. And, my favorite, from Baby Center: "when your child is in a generally cooperative stage, not a contrary or negative one." The closest we've come to this is when she says, yes, in response to my saying no, but I think you can see the problem.
Check out the newest looks for fall!
So we started slow. We introduced her to her Elmo potty, which was the signal she was waiting for to turn her back on Elmo forever, only not in the seated position we'd envisioned. We got her picture books to help her connect the dots between the independence she craved and a fresh and sparkling tuchus. We also bought a potty seat, which Zoe has decided is a hat. I firmly believe it will be the new look for fall among trendier toddlers.
At the beginning we'd try once a day, before bath, and if she peed while she was perched on the potty, the Husband and I would throw a parade to congratulate and encourage her. 
The results were hit or miss. Literally. She'd sit there, smiling at us, not peeing, waiting for her parade anyway, until finally I'd give up and say, Time for bath. Here she'd play it one of two ways:
1) Grab both sides of the potty while yelling, "No!" insisting she had to go, but really she just wanted to prolong sitting there leafing through magazines while we stared at her, rapt, as if she were the Dalai Lama passing a kidney stone engraved with a message from Elvis.
2) Get in the bath and immediately pee. 
Sometimes she wouldn't wait till she got in the bath. Sometimes she'd just stand there next to the bathtub as it filled and quietly, with no fanfare, pee on the floor. Then she'd jump up and down in it splashing and laughing while I ran for paper towels. Still, silver lining! We'd have a clean spot on the seldom-mopped bathroom floor. (Note to self: consider spinning child through air while she pees so the rest of the floor gets clean?)
Now as we know, toddlers, like other humans, don't just pee. There's another piece to the potty training puzzle. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting no one's favorite number: two.
From the beginning I was in charge of it. The Husband just can't handle it, runs for the hills, where they presumably don't allow people who aren't potty-trained. It took him several months before he could even change a poopy diaper. Faced with this unholiest of numbers (not 666, as thought), he panics. So it's up to me.
I can handle it though. Me, I mind vomit. Otherwise I'm fine. Pee, poop, blood, mucus, plasma, dark matter, bring it on. There were a few months where I was peed on so many times I felt disoriented if one leg wasn't warm and sticky. Getting pooped on didn't happen as often but each instance was memorable. Early on there was even some projectile poop. Between you and me and the lamppost, which is a pretty accurate description of the trajectory of this poop.
So when she's firing warning shots, causing me to gently inquire if she has to go before I put her in the bathtub, and she says no, and then drops a deuce in the tub, guess who's cleaning that up? To be fair, the Husband has other responsibilities. He's in charge of killing bugs, transferring contacts to new cell phones, and taking out the trash (all meanings).
Of all the orifices I could've had . . .
Meanwhile, at the day care, Zoe's apparently doing quite well with potty training. She uses the potty a few times a day. Perhaps it's the peer pressure, perhaps it's just that Mommy's not there to help/be her slave. I don't know. But the day care said she was definitely ready for us to make a big push, so to speak.
And so we decided it was time to try harder. Last weekend we put her in her new underwear and the plan was to take her to the bathroom every half hour. She peed before the half hour was up. So we figured we'd take her every fifteen minutes. Once again, missed the time frame, did not miss the rug. Ten minutes. Nope. Apparently she pees like she eats, a little here, a little there. 
We went through several pairs of her big girl underwear before I just hauled the potty in front of the TV, undressed her completely, stood her on her changing mat, and told her to sit on the potty whenever she had to go. As soon as I turned around to continue cleaning the rug, I heard the unmistakable sound of a stream of liquid hitting plastic.
Zoe: 11; Universe: 0