Thursday, May 29, 2014

Zoe vs. the Long Walk Home

I'm not referring to the 1990 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek about the bus boycott in the South of the 1950s. I have no idea where Zoe stands on that issue from either a historical perspective or as a movie critic who's only seen one movie in the theater---Frozen---but since that was apparently a thrilling experience, I'm sure a Civil Rights movie would impress her for exactly the length of time it held her attention, say, through the opening credits.

Because my blog is timely.

No, I'm talking about the fact that when I pick her up from the day care each evening, she no longer wishes to ride home in her stroller. She wants to walk instead. And by walk I mean run in short bursts---especially as we approach corners, causing me to emit a panicky "Stop, Zoe," drawing stares from onlookers---interspersed with leisurely strolls up the concrete stairs of various houses so she can report the addresses to me and perambulations down driveways in order to knock on every garage door. As a result, even with the running spurts, a walk that should take twenty minutes takes about forty-five.
I know what you're thinking: Why, knowing what I know, did I ever let her walk the first time? Why, indeed. You know those days when you just have nothing left? Zoe was born with an extra sense allowing her to sniff out when I'm weakest.
On a day she sensed my vulnerability, she pounced, in full knowledge I was in no mood to wrestle her into the stroller while she carried on as if I was committing an obscenity like slicing a grilled cheese sandwich lengthwise instead of diagonally. 
Parental Truth Number 245: Say yes, just once, to something distasteful and your position is weakened forever.
Another factor: That particular day there was a birthday party, so she had excess cupcake energy to burn, so I rationalized she might as well walk and maybe, just maybe, she would tire herself out.
Some days I am like a gambler down to pocket change playing penny slots somewhere off the main drag in Vegas, dreaming of the big win. In other words, I am sad and desperate.
And my feet hurt.
When feet fantasize.
So each evening, if I don't finesse her into the stroller before she remembers Mommy let me walk, then I have an alternately harrowing and boring journey home. 
Each night she abuses my patience and each night I escalate my threats to belt her into the stroller so that after a few nights of freedom she gets a few belted nights as punishment but, as I said, she's wily and has fine-tuned her resistance to exactly match my tolerance level.
The hard days are when she wants to pick the direction we go in and I have to hope it's not back the way we came. She used to do that in the stroller, pointing imperiously back across the street we'd just left behind, and I'd tell her no and she'd cry. Slumping in defeat in a stroller is markedly different from slumping in defeat on the ground. It's actually not like defeat at all. It's like a stalemate that eventually results in wrestling with a side of crying. It's also not fun.
Most days though she just tightrope walks on the low garden walls bordering houses, the literal expression of testing boundaries as she attempts to climb ever-higher walls over my objections.
Now that it's spring she's started asking me to pick flowers from people's gardens to give to her. I patiently explain about:
      1) other people's property and how they may not appreciate
                 a) our trespassing and
                 b) our raiding the garden they planted with love (presumably) and
     2) if we pick, aka steal, someone's flower that flower
                a) will die sooner and
                b) will no longer be there for others' enjoyment.
To refute my points, she says, "But I want it."
I suppose I should just save my breath. I have a long walk ahead of me.
Zoe: 46; Universe: 0

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Zoe vs. the Alarm Clock

I've previously documented Zoe's coy flirtation with sleep. Like me, she's a night owl; and like The Husband, she's an early riser. As a result both her father and I are neither anymore. The technical term for what we are now is sleepless.
A few months ago, in an attempt to get her to go to bed at a reasonable time and keep her there longer in the morning, we put an alarm clock in her room.
Not just any alarm clock. It's both analog and digital. And it talks! AND it glows different colors! The analog and the digital aspects being beyond Zoe, much like the concept of time itself, it's the lights and talking that are key allies in my biggest goal in life---to sleep a straight six hours and two minutes. 
Much like a toddler the clock is pleasingly plump with adorable feet. During the day it glows with a dim light. Then, at bedtime, it changes to a bright yellow. This is meant to put your toddler on notice. They see that light and know it's time to wind down, review the day over a cup of warm milk, and listen to a story.

All clocks have hands; not all have feet.

Finally, the clock turns green, which, as always, means go, in this case, go to bed. At this point the obedient toddler will lay her head down, yawn, close her eyes, and drop off to sweet dreams.
This hasn't happened yet.
Mostly I keep pointing out the color, as in: "Zoe, your light's been green for a long time now, please stop pretending to be a dancing and singing bear-like creature named Gunky Banana-head (Gunky, sometimes Banana-head's surname, is also featured in all her knock-knock jokes) and go to sleep.
An especially fun thing is when she pulls the plug out of the wall or pulls the other end of the cord out of the base of the clock. Not sure why this cord attaches at both ends, by the way; it's not like it's a charger. I'd research this conundrum, but when I'm on the Internet I'm too busy looking at pictures of rashes to see if they match ones on Zoe and then getting sidetracked by some weird symptom I have that matches some disease you can only contract if you've been to Malaysia but that only makes me think they'll never diagnose me properly and I'll end up a medical mystery, a footnote in some scientific journal, while I waste away in the hospital, which brings me back to what we were talking about.
Pulling the plug.
Zoe pulls out the plug from either end and then I have to reset the clock and reset all the lights, but this time with Gunky Banana-head breathing down my neck and possibly biting it at the same time.
Did I also mention the clock talks? It's supposed to help your child learn how to tell time. You press the clock's pudgy left foot and a computerized voice tells you what time it is. Zoe loves this and presses it repeatedly, faster and faster, so that the robot voice can't finish what it's saying. Say for instance it's 8:23. Zoe presses the foot and I hear: "Eight twenty-three P.M. . . . eight twenty . . . eight twenty . . . eight twen . . . eight twe . . . eight eight eight eight." Which is when I consider pulling the plug myself.

Steve "Gunky" Bananahead. Famed for
putting bananas on his head at 8:23 daily.

As for the mornings we've had mixed success. Either she ignores the clock completely or seems to get out of bed exactly when the green light goes off at 6 A.M. I say "seems" because by 6:00:05, she's in my room, dragging me out of bed and into her room so she can show me the clock and prove what a good girl she is. See? She waited.
If I can't make out the dim yellow indicative of the clock's daytime mode due to my lack of glasses as well as my crusty eyelids, Zoe helps me out by pressing the left foot again and gain. And again.
"Six. Six. Six."
The sign of the devil. How fitting. Evil never sleeps.
Zoe: 45; Universe: 0

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zoe vs. Potty Training, Part the Third: The Poopening

Before starting this post I looked back over my blog to see when I first wrote about what I'm calling the Elimination Enterprise. It was last September. That was Part the First. Part the Second I wrote in November.
Obviously we took a break. A long one.
We decided she just wasn't ready. And now? Now it's May.
Vessel of olfactory horror genie.
Not wish-granting genie.
The truth is we didn't really give up. We just sort of put it on the back burner, occasionally letting Zoe go pants-less on a slow Saturday morning, and maybe bringing it up as a general reminder. Basically, we did the number-one thing all the experts say doesn't work, being inconsistent. I'm here to tell you, they're right. The proof is in the pull-ups, piled high within our long-suffering diaper genie that is even now staring at me balefully from Zoe's room, where it stands right by the window, which, far from mitigating its scent is in fact in the perfect position to carry the stench within on the breeze.
So. Is Zoe finally ready to use the potty? All signs point to "Meh." Turns out the "progress" we thought she was making in day care was short-lived. Once she'd demonstrated she could do it, the novelty wore off.
Her teachers are out of ideas as well. One time, when she forgot that going potty is banal and so accidentally didn't have an accident---i.e., she used the potty---they made a big deal, clapping and celebrating. But she quickly set them straight by throwing herself on the floor and crying.
Zoe doesn't like it when you make a big deal. Don't tell her she's pretty either. It's very upsetting. Zoe does not like fanfare. She prefers what The Husband and I refer to as the "Ramius nod." This is the acknowledging nod Sean Connery as Ramius gave to Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October after Ryan obliquely referred to Ramius's deceased wife then simply stated, "Sorry for your loss." Therefore, on a recent Pants-less Saturday when Zoe sat atop her potty and peed, I said to her, without inflection, "That's wonderful."

Submarine life is hell on a shy bladder.

She also seemed to make progress while visiting my in-laws, wearing underwear the whole time, but, alas, as soon as she came home it was back to business as usual, which meant doing her business in her underwear. After all, who did she have to impress? Her parents? Not likely. 
Enter: bribery. We now offer Zoe one chocolate for number one and two chocolates for number two, even though chocolate is known to throw a wrench in production.
So far we're just offering bribes, not indulging in bribery's evil counterpart, threats. I came close the time I treated her to the grim tale about the little girl whose potty-trained friends all moved on to pre-K leaving her behind to hang with all the babies. Zoe looked dismayed and seemed to feel genuine empathy for the little girl but did not identify with her. Guess I was too subtle.
Then two weekends ago we took her out wearing underwear. Just to the park. The first day she used the public restroom, which opened up a whole new world of revulsion for me as I watched her indulge her need to touch everything. The next day we went to the park again and, bored with her success, she peed through her clothes, how droll, and I had to rush her home. 
The Monday after, I decided to take her to day care in her underwear. "Let's just go for it," I said, with the misplaced confidence of the desperate and sleep deprived. It's a bit of a walk to the day care so I'd previously shied away from trying this because I didn't want her to wet the stroller seat.
I needn't have worried. She peed herself before we left. Twice. The second time within a minute of putting on the new outfit, including socks and shoes.

This M&M has somehow captured the exact
potty-emptying expression. 
The following weekend, when we ran out of underwear, she again went pants-less, a look only a toddler can pull off with elan. We gave her M&Ms every time she used the potty. She did it more than she ever had before. Whee! But also wee. A lot of it, on the floor and on the rug, because accidents do happen. I spent most of the weekend following her around with paper towels, constantly stepping on the same wet spot on the carpet that I'd keep forgetting about, and greeting her successes with urbane restraint.  
Hopefully we're almost to the end of this journey. Hopefully Zoe will be completely potty-trained by her fourth birthday. And hopefully the dark smudge currently gracing my elbow is chocolate.
Zoe: 44; Universe: 0

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Zoe vs. Dr. Seuss

Hop on Pop was in the news recently. Someone wanted to ban the Dr. Seuss book claiming it promotes violence against fathers. As if Dr. Seuss came up with the idea of toddler-on-parent abuse instead of simply writing from observation. I'd gladly submit to a little light hopping if it meant I'd avoid Zoe's more regular full-contact love. Come to think of it, she has beaned me with a book quite a few times. Perhaps I should rethink my rigid anti-book-banning stance.

Purveyor of perverse prose
priming preschoolers for punching.

I've always been an avid reader, and I wanted Zoe to be one too. At least I thought I did. Until story time, like many other words that end in "time," became another battle of wills. 
Before I wised up, she'd ask to read the same book over and over, and I'd be stuck in Dr. Seuss mode for a good hour after putting her to bed. I'd sit on the couch with The Husband---along with dear friends Ben and Jerry---and find myself saying, "With spoon in my hand, and eyes on my treat, I'll fill myself up from my head to my feet."
Clearly I had to impose a limit. Three stories total, read one time each. 
All well and good. Except. Not all children's book are created equal.
Some are more annoying than others. Some grow to be annoying with repetition; some are tiresome right out of the gate. The latter tend to be the interactive ones. For instance, they play music when you press a button---or more like when your Precious Joy presses the button over and over until the batteries are all but dead and then it's even more annoying as the recorded bits cut off in the middle and Dear Heart can't understand why so she keeps pressing that button until one of two things happen: you lose your mind or . . . no, just the one thing.
Then there are the books that ask questions/interrogate the child or direct the child to imitate sounds. So far I've been able to sidestep those because she can't read. I can either skip those lines or make something up.
The final interactive type are the lift-the-flap books. Owing to Zoe's OCD she never misses a flap, and if her lift is incomplete or somehow less than satisfying (satisfaction being a constantly moving target), we must start over from the beginning. Yay!
If it's a new book, a fun thing she'll do is hold the book up, splayed open, teacher style. I'm sure she's learned that from story time at school. The imitation is cute but also frustrating because she only does it with new books, never one I've unintentionally inadvertently unwillingly memorized; and she holds it just far enough away and keeps moving so that even if I can make the words out I get seasick.

The four sisters shared 1 love seat
1 cat, 1 dog, 1 ventriloquist's dummy
1 book, 3 pairs of legs, and 1 colon.

Currently her favorite books are all ones I hated right from the first reading. I try to remove them from her room when she's not looking but this usually backfires because she notices they're gone and then searches the apartment, adding even more time to the nightly routine.
The first of these obscenities is a Sesame Street book about exercise, and it plays music with the aforementioned half-dead batteries. "Elmo loves to p---" "Up and d---" "Back and f---". 
The second one's a lift-the-flap book, with a Christmas theme, because it's May, and though only eight grueling pages, when you get to the end, when you think it's almost over, the pain is just beginning because the final two-page spread is an advent calendar with windows from 1 to 25 that she must open, in order, correctly (according to her slippery definition) or she must start again.
Finally, there's her Dr. Seuss anthology, which contains six stories, and every night she tries to pull a fast one and act like it only counts as one story and I have to set her straight. Every night.
Only one of the stories in this book is a Seuss standard while the others are either written or illustrated by also-rans. Her favorite is The Tooth Book, whose general mediocrity drives me batty, but also because there's a page which recommends, quite rightly, not to eat too many sweets, but when we get to that page the message gets pushed aside and she wants me to tick off each cake, pie, cookie, ice cream, etc., Billy Billings is eating while his teeth rot right out of his face, and then, though she and I both know she agrees with Billy's underlying philosophy, we have to castigate him. "That's bad," she says, with the utmost seriousness. "You don't do that." Nope, you sure don't, not on a boat, not with a goat. 
The Tooth Book ends with the sound advice: Don't bite your dentist. But then undoes all that good by saying, "Bite someone else instead." Really? As if she needs the encouragement. I must write to my local politician.
Zoe: 43: Universe: 0

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zoe vs. Hide-and-Seek

Hide-and-Seek used to be simple. When Zoe was a baby, I'd put a blanket over her head (or my head) then remove it and say, "Peek-a-boo!" It was a big hit.
As she got older she initiated the game. She'd get under the blanket herself or maybe even hide behind a piece of furniture. Still guileless, Zoe would leave a leg exposed, or she'd giggle, giving away her position, but it was still a good time.
However, in the past year it's become more complicated, and what was an innocent childhood pastime has become a terrifying expression of her OCD. Now, each night before bed, we must play submit to a game of hide-and-seek, and it has to go the "same exact way." Or else.
The rules are too rigid, her manner too draconian, for this to be regular sleep-avoidance. Her stormy relationship with hide-and-seek must go deeper.

The hide-and-seek craze
reaches Carcosa.

The requisite elements are as follows:
1. Daddy must hide with her. Only Daddy.
2. Mommy can only seek, never actually find. Zoe must reveal herself. 
3. She constantly warns Daddy to be quiet, so even if I didn't know exactly where she was (see next), I'd be alerted to her presence.
4. She hides in the same place each time. (Behind her open bedroom door.)
In order to earn the big reveal I must deliver an Academy Award--worthy performance, moaning piteously how I can't find her, or go in for some jocular threats, e.g., "Oh well, I guess Zoe left. I suppose I'll just read all her stories by myself while I drink her milk."
It takes longer and longer for her to come out from behind the door every night. God help you if you "find" her before she's ready. You'll be sorry. Because you'll just have to do the whole thing again. 
And I'm already tired from the other hide-and-seek routine we did earlier in the evening.

Be the rug. Be the rug.

In this scenario I still don't get to hide with her. Instead I'm kind of her straight man. The idea is to surprise Daddy when we come home. She's in the stroller but underneath a blanket.
This one evolved as well. At first she put the blanket over her head outside our door, so that when The Husband opened it, I could say---in that "let's just humor her, for the love of all that's holy, I need to use the bathroom" tone parents use---"Zoe wasn't at school. I have no idea where she is."
"Oh, no," The Husband would respond. "And I have juice ready for her. Guess I'll just drink it myself. Glug, glug, glug."
Here Zoe would pull off the blanket revealing (What!) she was that toddler-shaped item beneath it.
Gradually we went from blanket-donning outside the door, to doing it in the elevator, to putting a blanket over her head at the end of our block. Currently, she requests the blanket outside the day care and she keeps it over her head the whole twenty-minute walk home.
Embarrassing? Sure. But now let me describe the blanket.
It's the one we designated for the stroller because it's old and perennially dirty. However, it's dirty in another way.
When we received the blanket as a gift at my baby shower it was so fluffy and pink, and in the center, peeking out, was a little bunny head plus two paws, looking as if a little pink bunny was ensconced in all that pinkness and just poking its head and arms out as if to say, "Hi there, new best friend!" Aw!
This blanket has undergone some abuse in the past three and a half years.
First, we lost one of the bunny's arms to a car door.
Then the cat ripped off the bunny's head in some sort of heated dispute the cat still refuses to discuss.
So. Let's think about what's left, shall we?
A stubby pink appendage with a darker pink end.
We call it the uncircumcised blanket.
This is what my child has draped over her head. For the whole twenty-minute walk home down a busy avenue as I endure double-takes from passersby. I wish I could hide as well, someplace no one can find me. Until I come out on my own. And I don't intend to.
Zoe: 42; Universe: 0