Or at least to the Audubon Center, where MJ spent a comfortable afternoon wetting sticks and floating dried leaves in the pond, watching a lizard pump his legs against a rock, (“is he exercising, Mommy?”) and dragging brightly colored shovels from the sand pit to the playhouse to the manual pumps, there to “wash” them over and over again, while dangling her feet in the tepid running water. My child’s ability to amuse herself with a couple of shovels, her imagination, and the minutae of the natural world never ceases to amaze me. Also, how much I love her. But that probably goes without saying.
- Up at 6:04.
- Made MJ breakfast. She didn’t touch it. Lectured her about waste. Wondered if I was breaking some progressive-parenting rule by doing this. Didn’t wonder if I had become a total cliche. Knew it.
- Made Mike’s lunch.
- Unloaded dishwasher from two days ago.
- Put in load of laundry. Fought off dejection when I saw the pile of dirty clothes still left. Wondered if it would be a five or a six load day. Wagered on six.
- Paid Amex bill online. Tried to figure out how the hell it got so high. Heard MJ say “I’m cleaning the living room!” several times. Said “that’s nice, honey.” Stared at Amex bill harder.
- Finished paying the bill. Decided that this week I will sell my old engagement ring. No more delays. If we want to eat.
- Went into the living room. MJ was using a pink rubber duck to squirt water on the mid-century wooden window sill. It was essentially flooded.
- Sopped up mess. Chastised MJ.
- Woke Mike — not that he needed it after the duck-sill-donnybrook.
- Made eggs and bacon for all. MJ asked if she could feed hers to the dog. Responded “Mina’s not good enough for bacon.” I am a monster.
- Washed all breakfast dishes.
- With MJ, watered front and back gardens. Refilled her can repeatedly. She mostly “watered the house.” Prayed she wasn’t damaging the foundation.
- Switched wash. Hung clothes on line.
- Said goodbye to Mike. Reminded him to take his lunch. Asked him — “oh! before you leave!” — to put a borrowed card table in the back of my car, as I needed to return it to a friend.
- Walked Mina.
- Cleaned both bathrooms.
- Stripped bed, threw sheets on floor.
- Played “sleeping” with MJ on the stripped bed.
- Picked up sheets, brought them to wash. Switched load, took dry stuff off line, hung wet clothes.
- Got MJ dressed. Dressed myself. Put on a new white tee shirt. It is sheer. Could not figure out what to wear under it. Stormed around the house grumbling “I had a white tank top.” How many times can you say that with no one listening? You’d be amazed.
- Gave up on finding tank top. Put on pink strapless bra under white shirt.
- Hung sheets on line. Put in another load of wash.
- Got in car to go to music class. Discovered crackers and crumbs everywhere — in the driver’s seat, on the floors, in the windshield, the door wells. Could not understand how this had happened. There had been a cracker box, but in the trunk. Speculated to MJ that “an animal must have gotten in.” Realized, as I said it, which “animal” it was.
- Called Mike. He said “oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. The cracker box, like, exploded.” This happened, apparently, when he put the table in the trunk.
- Chastised him. Demanded to know how a cracker box can detonate in IED fashion. Received inadequate explanation. But also apology.
- Went to music class. Sang, swayed, and saw my outfit in a full-length mirror. Yikes! Felt like a hussy. Tried to keep MJ on my lap as much as possible to block view of pink-bra-through-shirt. Prayed for it to end.
- Drove home in pool of cracker crumbs. Contemplated appropriateness of offering some to MJ as a snack. Decided against.
- Got home. Took sheets off line.
- Put them on bed.
- Had lunch.
- Put MJ down for nap.
- Read seven pages of Beatrix Potter book. She could afford help. She also didn’t have kids.
- Fell into a coma.
- Woke up when MJ did. Felt I could win Guinness Record for most enervated.
- Gave MJ frozen mango for snack.
- Switched laundry. Put in new load.
- Walked Mina. Felt certain you could fry an egg on her rump. Considered trying.
- Drove to car wash. Pulled daughter screaming from the car, crooning “we’re not driving through. We’re not driving through.” Regretted, again, driving through a carwash with her when she was ten months old. Scarred her for life.
- Went to Target while car got washed. Tried to return a lipstick, claiming it tasted rancid. It did. But I also don’t like the color. They told me it was fine. That it smelled like “baby.” Assholes. And whose baby?
- Crossed the street back to carwash. Car was clean, but the back seat was soaking wet. This made sense, as the back window was open. The guy blamed me. “Your window lock was on.” Seriously?
- Put MJ — on a Target bag — in her clammy carseat. Told her this was “fun!”
- Went to Fresh and Easy for a little shop. Eighty dollars.
- Drove home.
- Put away groceries.
- Folded laundry.
- Made dinner for MJ. Tried to appear neutral when she used the butter on her broccoli as “lip gloss.”
- Put her in bath. Read second half of New Yorker article about Roberts’ Court and Citizens United. Felt impotent rage.
- Put MJ’s pajamas on. Read her “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck.” Looked at the illustrations knowingly.
- Said goodnight.
- Came into kitchen. A shambles. Slumped.
- Did dishes.
- Heard MJ call. She had pooped. A half-poop, really. Changed it. Said good night again.
- Cleaned grains of quinoa off of floor.
- Fed dog.
- Heard MJ call. She had pooped again. The other half. Changed it. Muttered something about the price of diapers as I left her room.
- Picked up sixty-five toys, a dozen books, eight stuffed animals, and six cloth napkins. Decided I will be glad when MJ gets past using the latter as playthings. Realized I will also not be glad. Grew nostalgic.
- Made a huge plate of pasta.
- Carbo loaded. Watched “Justified.”
- Got in bed with Beatrix. And the clean sheets. Realized it had only been five loads.
The road to hellish parenting is paved with good intentions.
This morning, for example. After the a lovely trip to the park, MJ and I sat happily back at home eating bagels and cream cheese. Between bites, Myra-Jean, who was quite fascinated by yesterday’s solar eclipse, asked me to explain to her, again, about “the sun and the moon thing.” Having a pen and paper nearby, I decided to draw her a diagram. So I did. I’m no artist, but I think I got the main thrust.
I drew the whole thing upside down. Impressed?
The guy in the picture is Daddy. The thing he is “holding” (artistic license) is a pinhole camera. See the tiny eclipse reflected on the right-hand piece of paper? And above, the real thing? I mean, really, I think it tells the story rather well.
MJ must have thought so too. So she asked me to draw it again.
“Again?” said I. “But it’ll look pretty much the same…” She didn’t mind. So I drew it again, and tried to change it up a little.
I know. There are too many orbs. In my defense, MJ kept asking for more. And there’s Daddy again — eeny weeny this time! — with his pinhole camera. For realism, I’ve given him hair and a beard. Why is he running? Not sure. Perhaps he believes this is the apocalypse. If I looked up in the sky and saw all of that going on, I would, too.
“Draw it again!”
Sheesh. Great audience! I was halfway through my lifelike sketch of Mike, with moon and sun well in the background…
…when I realized that MJ had fooled me into doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. Something forbidden. Something I have been told repeatedly not to do.
I was drawing a picture for my child!
Any conscientious, parenting-book-reading, Waldorf-embracing, “vulva“-using caregiver will tell you that you are never supposed to do this. Not draw figures, anyway. It can give young kids an artistic inferiority complex so all-encompassing, so devastating, so debilitating, that it can take years or even a lifetime to recover. Or so I was recently told, by a woman who has been teaching art to kids for over thirty years. Never mind that, as a child, Beatrix Potter’s own father used to sketch bunnies for her for hours on end. Her later success — drawing those same creatures — is apparently the exception. Most children, instead, will be moved to toss down their burnt-sienna crayons forever. For even the most inept grown-up is capable of depicting things that a child’s limited motor skills preclude them from drawing. To be a good parent, then, one must never, ever, do this.
And I have tried. Oh, how I have tried. How many times have I stood by the easel, refusing to draw more than a squiggly line or a blob of color, while ignoring my daughter’s tearful cries: “please, Mommy, make a horsie!” It’s been heartrending, frustrating, and occasionally counter-intuitive. But I have stuck with it. Until now. Now I found MJ had “snuck one in” — or actually three — on a technicality. Here I was, innocently believing I was giving her a science lesson, when all the while I was actually chipping away at her self-confidence, her artistic integrity — perhaps her very essence. As if forgetting her sunscreen this morning wasn’t bad enough! Is there a worse parent anywhere?
I think not.
Trying to make up some of the miles of ground I had just lost, I led MJ to the easel. “It’s your turn,” I said firmly. “Can Myra-Jean draw an eclipse?”
“No, Mommy. You.”
“I can’t, sweetie.”
Myra-Jean glanced at the three pictures just produced, now lying shamefacedly on the dining room table. “Clearly you can,” her expression said.
“Just draw a sun,” I begged.
MJ’s eye’s filled with tears. “Mommy, you!!!”
“How about this,” I offered. I took the paintbrush and placed a dot on the page.
“There. A sun.”
Myra-Jean burst into tears of frustration. “Mommy, no! MAKE ME AN ECLIPSE!!”
I turned to her, smiled forcedly, and snapped my fingers. “Presto! You’re an eclipse.”
Comedy is somewhat lost on toddlers. This went over like a ton of bricks.
Five minutes, and five thousand tears later, I drew what MJ wanted. The moon, the sun, and even Mike. In my fury of guilt and remorse I forgot the pinhole camera. Still, I had done it. I had added insult to injury, aesthetically speaking.
Myra-Jean seemed totally satisfied. So what if her father looked alarmingly like John Lennon. She didn’t know from the Beatles. I, on the other hand, felt horrible.
The phone rang. Resisting the urge to answer it: “Failure’s residence!” I picked up and said hello. It was a friend. Leaving MJ in the kitchen, I moved into another room so I could talk more freely.
Five minutes later I returned. I found Myra-Jean at the easel. She was painting. Right over my latest opus. She had covered every mark on the page with blobs and lines of her own. Little remained of John Lennon, or the sun. The moon was gone completely. And the whole thing looked good. Really, really good. In every way, it looked better than it had before.
I walked to the easel and stood next to Myra-Jean. She stuck her finger into the center of a yellow blob and pulled a “ray” wetly across the page. Then she looked at me proudly.
“I’m making the sun,” she said.
“You are,” I told her. “You really, really are.”
And with that, it was naptime.
Fortunately the next solar eclipse isn’t until 2017. I figure by then Myra-Jean’s creativity might have recovered. If not completely, then at least for the most part. If not, I suppose it’s not the end of the world. She doesn’t have to be an artist, after all.
She can always study astronomy.