Thursday, January 29, 2009
Years ago, when Ethan was a toddler and attended preschool, I used to really dread the hours between 4-6 pm each day; for this was the time that he returned home from school famished and hyper-stimulated. With babies, this time of day is commonly referred to as the 'witching hour' as babies tend to get cranky and no matter how much cooing, swaddling, or comforting you do, they still scream their heads off. Our son Ethan, entered this stage and never left. I now call that time of day 'The Bitching Hour' because my son does nothing but complain, whine and make cunning observations.
"Daddy, I don't like this snack."
"Daddy, I want a play date."
"Daddy, you're too old to wear that outfit - it's embarrassing."
In the old days, when George and I first brought Ethan home from the hospital and the 'witching hour' would approach, did we soften the lights, turn on the Mozart, and try to create a restful, relaxing atmosphere? Of course not. We handled that unpleasantness the old fashioned way - we got fucked up. With Ethan stashed securely in the Baby Bjorn, George got incredibly adept at mixing Apple-tinis (remember them?) and we would get properly hammered. To further combat the tedium of our circumstances, we would invite a different gaggle of friends over each night and host rousing cocktail parties in Ethan's makeshift 'nursery' which coincidentally turned out to be our wet bar. I believe that Ethan's first words were 'jigger,' 'extra shot' and 'Grey Goose.'
In addition to the 'witching hour' cocktail parties, to pass the time Baby Ethan and I developed a series of bizarre, semi-sadistic games that for some reason kept him incredibly entertained. I once read in that frightening 'What to Expect When You're Expecting' book new parents should play Peek-A-Boo and talk baby-talk with their newborns because it somehow helps with their speech and face recognition development. I don't know what developmental skills my son acquired while we played 'push-daddy-off-the-really-high-king-sized-bed,' or 'hit-daddy-in-the-head-with-a-Playskool-mallet,' as well as 'pull-daddy's-hair-until-his-eyes-water' but our son certainly seemed to enjoy himself.
Now, that our son is six year's old, 4-6 PM has become his 'enrichment' time. Like all the well turned-out young children in our neighborhood, Ethan enthusiastically participates in the standard tennis, gymnastics, soccer, and Taikwondo lessons. In fact, Ethan has more resume enhancing 'appointments,' 'lessons,' and 'tutoring,' than a third year medical student. Despite this hectic schedule, Ethan still sets aside one day each week (Wednesday) to play a new and improved version of the 'Bitching Hour.' The latest game we've developed is called 'Runway Rampage.'
In this particular game, Daddy is a famous fashion model (Either Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, or Heidi Klum - they're all equally deplorable) and my son is a well known and respected fashion show producer/director. Ethan commands me to 'set the mood' by turning up the lights in my bedroom and blasting Beyonce's 'SINGLE LADIES' as loudly as possible on my stereo system. Donned in his STAR WARS headset, Ethan first checks his clipboard, consults his stopwatch and then silently motions for me to make my pass on our makeshift catwalk. Like a drill Sargent, he shouts orders at me like 'strut' and 'work it' and as I pass him, dissatisfied, he punches me in the stomach as hard as he can.
"You call that modeling?" he cries "You're not even trying! Again!"
I make at least 20 passes down the catwalk and have in turn endured 20 gut punches. I try not to think about the psycho-sexual connotations of my young son pretending his father is Heidi Klum and punching Heidi in the stomach because her strut isn't up to snuff.
After a while, I get tired of working the runway and tell Ethan that this super model is super in need of a drink. Like any good producer/director who is dissatisfied with his 'star's' performance, Ethan yells, cajoles, pleads, and eventually begs me to return to the catwalk so that he can continue his assault. I become terribly conflicted and think about other little boys whose fathers are pursuing 'manly' pursuits with their sons such as throwing baseballs, building model airplanes, and collecting stamps while I'm sashaying down an imaginary catwalk while my son sucker punches me. Am I doing the right thing?
I need a new agent.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I am generally leery of the term 'Family Vacation.' In my experience, 'Family Vacation' has come to mean a parent (me) doing the same boring stuff I do at home like chauffeuring, cooking, cleaning, and chaperoning in some new and exotic place. Rarely is a parent (me) EVER free to do what they (I) want on these 'Family Vacations.' In addition, you also lack the homey resources one (I) take for granted such as cheap teenage babysitters, extended play dates with families far from home, and Vox Vodka which is super difficult to come by in Legoland.
In order for me to agree to any kind of 'Family Vacation,' I have several requirements:
A. They last no longer than two days.
B. That the venue selected have a fully operational support staff whose sole responsibility is to occupy my son's time.
C. Neither George nor Ethan is EVER permitted in my room without special dispensation. (It is rarely given)
D. There must be a fully stocked bar within 100 feet of my room.
So it was with great trepidation and resentment that I agreed to take a 'Family Vacation' with my husband George and our son Ethan on the infamous Rosie O'Donnell 'Our Family' cruise to Alaska. This particular 'vacation' (I use the term in the absolute loosest sense) already had a ton of strikes against it. The trip's duration was one week, George, Ethan and I had to share a small suite, and the shipboard 'Kid's Club' which I had been told was 'friggin' awesome' by some lesbians reeked of extensive parental involvement. In addition, the trip was wildly expensive and had a full itinerary of frightening family events such as 'Family Pirate Day,' 'Family Hawaiian Luau Day,' and 'Family Casino Night.'
"I think it's really important that Ethan see other families just like his." my husband George suggested one night over dinner.
"All the families Ethan knows are straight. One mommy and one daddy - imagine if your straight parents only associated with gay families while you were growing up - just think how confusing that would be."
Confusing? Hardly. I would have been thrilled. Instead of all the ghastly BroyHill bedroom sets my parents threw money at, my parent's educated and urbane gay friends would have insisted they buy fabulous mid century pieces by Eames, Saarinen, and Mies Van Der Rohe. Instead of the cheap and depressing 'colonial' art prints adorning our walls we would have had paintings by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns hanging in our living room. Pieces that years ago my parents could have purchased for peanuts, I must now pay tens of thousands of dollars for on 1stdibs.com and Ebay! It is wrong on so many levels.
Like many deluded couples of the 50's and 60's, my parents traded their intellect and will to live for a quarter-acre suburban tract house originally described in the newspaper ads as 'Idyllic,' 'spacious,' and 'baronial.' Bought sight unseen off of blueprints, the ads promised a magnificent 'lifestyle' that the developers failed miserably to deliver. The ads surely never mentioned the 'claustrophobic' bedrooms, the 'shoddy' construction, or the 'cookie cutter' aesthetic of the neighborhood. The frothy ads also failed to mention the dreary insurance salesman, accountants, and clerks who in addition to their narrow-minded wives would come to live in an 'idyllic' neighborhood where every original, tree, stone, or stream had been bulldozed.
On moving day I remember my mother sitting on the front porch smoking a cigarette and quietly sobbing.
"Mommy, are you OK? Why are you crying?" I asked.
Startled, my mother quickly extinguished her cigarette and casually said, "Oh, it's nothing baby, I'm just formulating a plan to burn this dump down. If you or your sisters need me, I'll be in the master bedroom hanging myself." I was three years old and hadn't yet learned to interpret the credibility or lethality of my mother's threats. I immediately ran to my father and told him that Mommy planned to burn the house down and kill herself. My father who at the time was trying to maneuver an ungainly, slip-covered sofa through the back door shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't worry about it," he said reassuringly "At least she's not threatening to murder all of us in our beds like last week."
George, Ethan and I arrived in Seattle and quickly made our way to the ship's dock. I exited the cab a la Kate Winslet in Titanic - and as I glanced up at the enormous ship expecting to see trim, well-dressed travelers crossing the gangplanks, their maid servants and valets lugging trunks laden with expensive tuxedos and gowns - I was greeted by a completely different site. From every balcony and porthole there seem to be an obese lesbian, dressed in an extra, extra large Hawaiian shirt waving frantically.
A dark, foreboding feeling overcame me - clearly I had made a mistake of epic proportions. I looked longingly at the cab that had just delivered us and contemplated paying the taxi driver whatever sum he asked to drive me back to Los Angeles.
Having glanced at the look on my face, George became increasingly alarmed. "Come on baby, it will be fun!" He said. I paused for a moment, thought hard and then responded, "You can go fuck yourself." The tone had been officially set for the rest of the week.
Perhaps it was the change in his normal routine, his shipboard chicken nugget and brownie diet, or his hatred for the 'friggin' awesome' Kid's Club which apparently had all the charm of a Soviet orphanage, Ethan never stopped whining or complaining. In one particularly nasty argument between George, Ethan and myself - there was at least one each day - I shouted that I would have gladly thrown each of them overboard if I could have gotten away with it. I stormed out of our cabin and headed up to the Lido Deck where I was again assaulted by a sea of Lesbians whose criminal sense of fashion consisted of over sized t-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and sandals. Frustrated, trapped, I sat on a lounge chair, pulled a discarded 'I Love Rosie' towel over my head and started to cry.
Out of nowhere, I felt a heavy (very heavy) person settle next to me in the next lounge. A soft voice asked me what could possibly be wrong on such a beautiful day. I took the tear stained towel off my face was prepared to tell whichever lesbo was bothering me to get lost, when I stopped completely in my tracks. The person in the next lounge speaking to me (Woman? Man? Transgendered?) took my breath away. He/she had to weigh at least 300 pounds, possessed glorious red hair, alabaster skin, and even had a slight trace of reddish peach fuzz on his/her face. Dressed in a mish mash of denim, flannel, velvet, and leather she/he looked vaguely like Henry the 8th of England.
"My name is Sue, what's yours?"
"Tod," I stammered.
"Well Tod, why you crying? Fight with your boyfriend?"
"Um husband...yeah." I replied.
"Well, that's to bad - anything I can do to help?"
"Yes..could you beat him up?"
Sue giggled and we talked and drank for the next three hours. Sue had come to this cruise with her lover and their two young children. They were very poor and had saved for 3 years just to book their fares. Their accommodations consisted of a tiny, windowless cabin in the ship's belly. To her, this was the most exciting, most glamorous, most incredible adventure of their lives. She was so thankful just to be there - and I couldn't stop complaining about our suite not having two televisions. I felt like such an asshole and in that moment realized "Oh my God, I am Kate Winslet and this must be my Leonard Di Caprio!"
Drunk and incredibly repentant, I returned to my cabin to find my husband and son gone. On the bed was a note that read simply 'Gone to the chocolate tasting. Come join us.' I staggered down to the main dining room where my son, my husband and a thousand lesbians were greedily devouring platefuls of cookies, brownies, ice cream, and assorted fudge.
I walked purposely up to my startled husband and son and said, "I really must apologize for my earlier behavior, my name is Rose DeWitt Bukater of Philadelphia. Tell me, how's The Baked Alaska?
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Several days ago I received the most thrilling email of my life.
A children's modeling agency was interested in possibly representing my son Ethan. Liz-Beth, the agency owner was seeking 'talent' for a prominent childrens clothing catalogue and had heard through a mutual friend that my son Ethan possessed the ideal All-American 'look.' Liz-Beth suggested that I bring Ethan to the set early Sunday morning for some test shots. She assured me it would be in intimate affair and was really just a formality - Ethan's good looks, poise and natural 'ability' was certain to land him the job and a fabulous future career in childrens modeling. My head began to spin with excitement. Just the words 'set' and 'test shots' sent me into a tizzy. I fantasized about attending New York's Fashion Week, front-and-center with my good friends Dita Von Teese, Mary Kate Olsen and Anna Wintour discussing Ethan's meteoric rise to the top of the childrens modeling world.
"He's a winner, an absolute doll!' Dita would shout during the crowd's standing ovation for my son.
Anna, who generally said little during fashion shows, sat in her folding chair sobbing.
"I've seen the face of God," Anna moaned "Ethan. Ethan. Ethan."
"Stop it, you two," I would chide playfully "He's just an ordinary kid."
"Only much better looking!" Mary Kate would giggle.
Anna, Dita, Mary Kate and I would dissolve into peels of laughter, our little 'joke' causing crocodile tears to roll down my cheeks. The other 'lesser' children in the show might as well have been wearing burlap sacks - their mediocrity eclipsed by my son's incandescent beauty. Not wanting Dita, Anna, Mary Kate, the fashion press or (God forbid) the paparazzi to see the tears of joy rimming my eyes, I planned on wearing my Faux Semblant Carré Louis Vuitton sunglasses that I adore, but my husband George swears make me look like Edith Head.
"We'll do our best to make it," I replied (trying to sound blase in my email response ), "But Ethan's been working like crazy - I had hoped that he might have at least ONE day off this month. I'll see what I can do."
The next few days at our home consisted of model boot camp. At regular intervals I would bark at Ethan to 'find the lens' and would demand he give me varied ranges of facial expressions. I would carefully critique his 'look' and then fine tune his poor 'performance.'
"Look Ethan," I said during one frustrating posing session,"Modeling is not for the faint of heart. It's a career, not a job!" He shrugged his shoulders and continued to throw a tennis ball against my bedroom wall.
Sunday finally arrived and I sprang out of bed. I carefully dressed Ethan and styled his hair to look 'sporty.' With great anticipation, we set off for West Los Angeles and our thrilling new life in childrens modeling!
The audition was being held at a large hangar in close proximity to the Santa Monica airport. As we entered the building I could hear the cacophony of dozens if not hundreds of children. A small, dark vestibule opened into large open room that served as a photo studio where throngs of the most gorgeous, blond haired, blue eyed Hitler Youth looking children frolicked. It was as if I had entered the modeling equivalent of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. I was stunned. My son happily joined the throng of boy clones currently engrossed in some kind of twisted video game, and I stationed myself at a table with a mother who never glanced at me nor spoke a single word. From what I could tell, she was too busy downing espresso shots and emailing her son's extensive modeling portfolio to perspective agents, photo shoot producers and magazine editors.
An hour later, my son's name was called by a bored production assistant who informed me that they had already met with 500 children in the last two days - and were in desperate need of some Red Bulls. I had difficulty in locating Ethan as he had officially joined the Aryan Brotherhood. I had a hell of a time differentiating him from the Austin, Trevor, Brandon, Malcolm, and Henry clones so I loudly called out his name and took the child that responded in the affirmative.
The entire photo session lasted 15 seconds. My son looked at the camera, yawned and made a half-hearted attempt at smiling. The photographer snapped a dozen or so listless digital photos, high-fived my son and it was over. My son raced back to join his buddies in the brotherhood and I watched my, I mean his dreams of modeling go down the tubes. There were no fashion shows in our future, no fabulous lunches at NOBU with Anna, Dita and Mary Kate, and certainly no future bidding wars by IN-STYLE for our 'candid' at-home photos.
On the drive home, I casually asked the child in my car (I think I took my child) if he had enjoyed his modeling experience. I was shocked to learn that he thought it was 'cool' and asked me to set up a playdate with his blond buds from the brotherhood.
I put the number for NOBU back in my Blackberry's speed dial.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I love Disneyland. I can't help it. As cynical and embittered as I might be - the second I enter that crazy, Third Reich-inspired Anaheim parking structure I squeal with pleasure. I delight in the incredibly ordered, military precision of those polite Disney 'Cast Members' who direct me into my Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, or Chip n' Dale parking space. Southern California may have the nation's worst traffic, filthiest air, and unrelenting poverty - but I am able to buy unrestricted, go-anytime-you-want, zillion dollar platinum passes for my family. (I can't be bothered with pesky black-out days or having to stand in line with those sandal wearing, German tourists)
I'm one of those truly embarrassing dads that wears his Mickey Mouse ears around the entire park and has the gumption to rock-out to that bizarre 'Block Party' parade where all the cute, young dancers dressed as flowers bounce up and down on stilts. Naturally, I maintain a standing reservation at 'Ariel's Grotto,' the chicest place at Disneyland. (Ariel's Grotto is Disney's version of the Stork Club, all the prettiest most poised Disney princesses visit your table and make small talk. I've developed a very close personal relationship with Cinderella who calls me 'Sir' Tod when she sees me - it's a gas!)
Last weekend, we arrived at the park promptly at 8:30 AM and the moment I slid my Platinum pass though the gate scanner I was like a thoroughbred charging down main street. Anxious to get to Space Mountain, The Haunted House, Indiana Jones, and all the choicest rides I took no notice of my son having come to a complete stop behind me. I whizzed past a tour group of Japanese housewives and was but a few, precious steps from jumping on the new (minimum two hour wait) FINDING NEMO ride when my cell phone rang. My husband informed me that our son Ethan was staging a sit-in and refused (REFUSED!) to go on any rides. My husband George, who works in film production and at times talks to me like I'm his production assistant, ordered me to return to base camp at once.
Angrily, I returned to our 'base camp' which of course turned out to be that hokey, general store where Disney sells their ghastly treasure trove of high fructose corn syrup-laden candy, cookies, and Mickey Mouse shaped Rice Krispie treats. Ethan was in tears and made the most grotesque pronouncement I had ever heard.
"I don't like Disneyland rides," he cried "I only want to go to the playground."
George explained to me that the majority of 'adult' rides were too loud and hurt Ethan's sensitive ears. Munching on a Goofy shaped scone, Ethan was resolute. He was absolutely NOT going to go on a single ride that I favored. No Indiana Jones, no Haunted House, No Space Mountain and certainly no Tower of Terror. He even nixed IT'S A SMALL WORLD and PETER PAN for Christ's sake! My fury began to build.
"You can't be serious," I demanded, "What is the point of coming to Disneyland if you don't ride the rides?"
"I'm afraid this day isn't about you," George replied, "This day is about our son and he wants to go to the playground in California Adventure."
"Yeah, Dad it's about me." Ethan sneered as the scone crumbs fell from his mouth.
Hand in hand, George and Ethan began to head down Main Street towards California Adventure home of the infamous 'Tree Playground.' I was outraged. Clearly this was some kind of cooked-up conspiracy. What did they mean 'This day wasn't about me?' Excuse me, but EVERY DAY is about me. I work hard. I break my back making the money to pay for those elitist entry passes. It's my God given responsibility - no scratch that, God given RIGHT to ride THE MATTERHORN with with my family. I was seething and sulked all the way to the gates of California Adventure. I wanted to kill them both.
Upon arriving at the 'Tree Playground' which I've come to learn is called 'Grizzly Peak' Ethan scampered off to climb a rock wall. George and I sat there staring at our son and at each other. It was 9:05 AM and I insisted on getting a frozen Margarita from Rita's Baja Blenders. (My second favorite watering hole at Disneyland after Ariel's Grotto) Standing there in my Mickey Mouse hat, sipping my alcohol day-glo drink, I watched my son climb the same rock wall 30 times.
It was probably the cheap tequila that had permeated my brain, but by 9:25 I began to see the Zen of this situation. I had no place to go - I had only to be. My job was to sit there, watch my son climb the rock wall an infinite number of times and shout words of encouragement. My husband George tentatively came next to me and squeezed my neck.
"How's my baby?" he asked soothingly.
"I'm sad." I responded.
I mourned that there would be no thrilling rides on 'California Soaring.' I mourned that there would be no witty cocktail banter with my close friend Cinderella. Worst of all I would be forced to be my son's valet, carrying his half-eaten scone, Mickey Mouse ears, and water bottle for the rest of the day.
George put his head on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, "I love you, you know."
I pulled my husband close to me and kissed him deeply. I pretended not to notice the German tourists gawking at the two full-grown, drunk men wearing Mickey Mouse ears kissing.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
My son Ethan and I were watching WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY last night - the old school version with Gene Wilder, not the new, awful one by Tim Burton. After observing the film's gorgeous ending where we find Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and Grandpa flying around in the glass elevator - my son commented not on the family-is-the-most-important-thing message of the film, it's delightful even campy feel, but rather that he would like our swimming pool drained and filled with chocolate pudding. I watched as a dreamy quality came over his face. He was having his Sugarland Express out-of-body experience, and I was left with the body.
"You know Daddy," he said meditatively "Sugar is my best friend. I wish the whole world were made of sugar so I could eat it."
In that moment, I realized that Ethan was a junkie. A true, dyed-in-the-wool junkie that would easily slit your throat for a red velvet cupcake or a moon pie. His obsession is deep and ugly. It manifests itself in characteristic junkie behavior such as sneaking extra mouthfuls of cake at birthday parties, 'fair trades' of his healthy snacks at school for nasty Pudding Pops, and even stooping to eating stale crumbs from our forever-empty cookie jar. George and I rarely give Ethan sugar as he metabolizes it poorly. His ingestion of sugar is not what you would expect - it does not make him hyper or overly energetic. He first becomes impossibly irritable (like an angry drunk), then emotional (like a weepy drunk), and finally sleepy (like all the drunks in my family). We're Jews - and as we all know Jews can't drink. Give us two glasses of Manishevitz and you'll find us passed out under the glass and chrome coffee table after a furious fight over who Zada and Bubby loved more. It never fails.
At one infamous family get together (my grandmother's funeral) - my inebriated younger sister announced her preference for sleeping with African American men. This came as quite a shock, as at that particular moment we were discussing whether Grandma Sadie should be buried in the pink shift dress she preferred or the smart blue suit that made her look like school marm. My sister's pronouncement was all the more shocking as we had recently come to learn that she was gay.
No one said anything as none of us knew what to say.
An uncomfortable moment passed and then all our eyes turned towards my father who had raised an imaginary glass to his mouth as he grunted 'glug, glug, glug.' A knowing look came to my relative's faces. They'd all seen this many times before. Poor girl, they must have thought, Jews just shouldn't drink! Remember Aunt Dot at cousin Randal's Bar Mitzvah? How about Uncle Abe at Shelly's wedding - beyond belief! Oy vey -such a shande! My sister's statment meant to be provocative and disturbing, dismissed as one-to-many White Russians.
My son had returned from his sugar fantasy.
"Dad," he asked "Are you ok?"
I gazed at my son lovingly and said, "I'm in the mood for some chocolate chip cookie dough, how about you?" My son glanced at me as if he hadn't heard me correctly. A moment passed, a smile crossed his lips and he asked tentatively "Let's not even bother to bake them this time, we'll just eat the raw dough until we get sick, ok?"
"Sure." I said
My son leaped off the sofa and raced to our kitchen. Like any good user/enabler, I readied myself for the fighting, crying, and pleading that was to await me after our cookie dough pig-out. While our mixer turned the dough, my son became hypnotised by the heady smell of sugar, flour, and chocolate. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I wanted to stop, but just couldn't. The dough had finally finished mixing and we dove into the bowl. It was every man for himself and my son put up a fierce battle. He shoved whole fistfuls of dough into his mouth and labored to swallow them. Concerned he might choke, I insisted he slow his attack.
We finished half the dough when my son began to tire. We both sat on the floor, nautious and fatigued but pleased we had satisfied our shared addiction. I tried desperately to remember that 12-Step serenity prayer - but couldn't.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
On our way to Palm Springs yesterday, my six year old son Ethan announced that I was a huge 'meanie' and he didn't like me very much. This pronouncement was not made through careful consideration or reflection - rather it was in retaliation for not agreeing to grant one of his unfathomable demands the instant it came out of his mouth.
I responded, "Well I don't like you either, so we're even."
Ethan shot me a look and said "You can't say that, you're a grownup you have to like me."
I was amused by this concept - I am required to like him - sort of like civil service or enlisting in the army. I was intrigued.
"Ethan," I responded "what makes you think that every grownup has to like you? I don't mean to be a 'meanie', but you can be a real pain sometimes."
He mumbled something about his peers receiving a RED SLIP at school for saying something benign such as "I don't like you," or "your hair looks really unflattering," or "you might want to rethink that finger painting - it's not your best." RED SLIPS. There was no doubt that this daddy would be wallpapering the downstairs powder room with red slips if I attended his school.
In addition to the dreaded RED SLIPS, Ethan went on to explain that he and his classmates were encouraged to use something called COOL TOOLS. COOL TOOLS are apparently some code of behavior that supposedly builds self-esteem in children. COOL TOOLS dictate that when another child gets abusive or too confrontational you put on your EXIT SHOES and leave the room. EXIT SHOES - the next time I'm in Gucci or Prada I'm going to get my EXIT SHOES in both brown and black. (As a man, I've come to learn that if you love a pair of shoes it's best to get them in at least two colors. While the old fashion rules such as black shoes with grey or blue slacks has become somewhat relaxed - I cannot abide black pants with brown shoes - it's just wrong!)
It was becoming painfully clear to me that in an effort to build self-esteem, my son and his fellow classmates were receiving the message that all adults (including one's parents) are required as if by law to like him. Further, in my son's world there is no such thing as freedom of speech as BIG BROTHER school board in their zeal to eliminate bullying, has also eliminated brutal honesty. In addition, when confronted with any type objectionable criticism (Is there any other kind?) our child believes that he should exit the room.
I pondered all of this as I zoomed down the freeway. What if I could live in my son's protected and privileged world? What if every person I ever met was required by law to like me? At the slightest hint of criticism or contradiction I would leave the room. All new acquaintances would speak to me in polite, dulcet tones and were encouraged to say things like "I appreciate and value your divergent opinion," or "I'm not mad at you, only the behavior," or "I really appreciate the way you've agressively tried to turn back the hands of time with Restylane injections - you simply get younger and younger!" Lost in my utopian fantasy - I failed to notice that we had passed our exit.
We continued down the freeway in silence.
"Hey Ethan," I asked "as we've gone out of our way, do you want to stop and split a date shake at Hadley's?"
Brightening, Ethan cried "That would be great...I love you Dad."
Ethan happily returned to singing his acapella version of the theme from Star Wars and I connived to I convince him to visit the Gucci outlet at Cabazon- I suddenly had an unexplained urge for new shoes.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Last night at the dinner table, my six year old son Ethan suddenly announced that he would like an Apple NANO. My husband George and I were startled, as Ethan is not very materialistic and rarely asks for anything.
"Why do you want a NANO?" I asked.
"Well because it's black, cool and plays music." he explained excitedly.
When further pressed about which songs or artists he favors, he said that he likes the theme from STAR WARS in addition to the theme from his favorite movie IRON MAN. I don't know what alarmed me more - his gross materialism or his complete lack of musical knowledge and taste. I mean I don't have anything against John Williams, but I was hoping that Ethan would name some cool but obscure chanteuse, he would say Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms, I would have even settled for Hanah Montana. Nope, I'm stuck with a child who does tone deaf renditions of tunes that were orchestrated the same year I was Bar Mitzvahed.
My first impulse was to say ABSOLUTELY NOT! What six year old requires a musical device that until recently I felt was inappropriate for a teenager? I was about to shut Ethan down completely when I got a brilliant idea.
"Sure," I said "You can have an Apple NANO if you get a job and pay for it yourself." At first my son looked hopeful, but then a frown covered his face and he coyly reminded me that he was six and due to child labor laws was unable to get a 'legal' job. "Nonsense," I countered "A lad of your intelligence, fortitude, and craftiness could certainly find a way to earn the money"
'Like how?' he asked doubtfully.
I thought. Hmmm..."Well, now that you mention it, you could start by dusting the house. How about washing the windows? Clean the car? As a matter of fact I think you're old enough to do the laundry and ironing." The more I thought about it, the more chores I felt could be offloaded to my child. He's certainly capable - nice strong back, wiry arms, small hands for dusting behind those first editions George and I had collected for our library. Why not? I could let the cleaning lady and gardener go and finally have the live-in servant I had always wanted.
His expression grew from doubtful to frightened.
I went on to explain that he would not attend school anymore as he would be home all day cleaning, ironing, food shopping, skimming the pool, tending bar, performing oil changes on our cars, and mowing the grass. He would sleep downstairs in the furnace room and I would rent out his room to borders.
Like any good interviewee, my son considered my offer and calmly asked how many days he would have to work as my servant to buy the NANO. I told him that I could easily outsource this position to a 6 year old from India for pennies a day, (globalization -it's a bitch) so that it would take him roughly 3 years. Of course I would have to deduct his food, clothing, and medical expenses so the 3 year tour of duty was probably more like 5. I asked him if he would like to tour his new subterranean sleeping quarters and test the straw mat I had chosen for him to sleep on when Ethan's eyes got red rimmed. I knew that he was trying to be brave in light of having to accept a position that was less than ideal.
My saintly husband George who never appreciates my cruel games, interceded by suggesting that instead of becoming our live-in, Ethan could retain his current position as our son and could collect cans and bottles from our neighbors for recycling. Ethan brightened. "How many cans and bottles would I need to collect?" he asked.
George explained a NANO is about $150 - so if each can or bottle is worth 5 cents you would need 3000 cans or bottles.
"That's alot of cans and bottles," Ethan observed "I'll have to get back to you."
George and I never recieved Ethan's counter offer. Apparently he had done his due diligence with the neighborhood moms and had discovered that we were low-balling him. My offer of domestic servitude and George's bottle and can offer were not going to fly. The whole NANO thing died on the vine. I'm stuck having to shine my own shoes, do my own laundry and cook my own Eggs Benedict as my son hums an off key version of DARTH VADER'S IMPERIAL MARCH theme.
Globalization, it's a bitch.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I've come to realize that my 6 year old son Ethan is a sports jock.
This didn't come as a total shock to me as athletes run in my family. My father was a jock, so were my sisters. The jock gene bypassed me altogether. Like many 'flamboyant' young lads, as a youth I was interested in dramatic arts, cooking, and interior design. Not exactly the interests a young boy growing up in the 60's and 70's is encouraged to follow. My parents observed me at an early age playing with my sister's Barbies - my 10 year old sister having long abandoned the world of Barbie for its shallow, sexist, and materialistic sensibilities. The EXACT reasons I worshiped Barbie. Alarmed, my parents immediately devised a sports-intensive routine of little league baseball, military-style sports camp, and ceaseless criticism. Needless to say - their efforts to make me a star third baseman failed.
After years of trying, my parents grew frustrated and bored and decided to write me off as some kind of bizarre genetic anomaly. They resolved to hedge their bets with my gorgeous and talented sisters. Why waste any more effort on their 'artistic' son - when greener pastures abounded? One might argue that such treatment would have been cruel or in my case even sadistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. My parents were absolutely Darwinian in their thinking - favor the strong - abandon the weak. After all, in their minds I was a lost cause and their other offspring offered limitless possibilities.
As a teenager I was left to my own devices and settled into a world of suburban mediocrity. My parents no longer tried to mold me into a baseball or football player - they eventually tired of such pursuits and settled into their own world of unmitigated narcissism. I left for college at 18 and watched as my mother had my bed, dresser, desk and all personal affects removed from my bedroom. She and my father had plans to turn the room into an in-home gym. Out with the kid, in with the treadmill and free weights. 'You know,' my mother announced as I was leaving, 'Norman Mailer was right, you REALLY can't go home again.'
After living with my family for 18 years, you can understand why competitive sports makes me uneasy. Imagine my shock when my six year old announced he would like to become a professional tennis player. My husband and I glanced at each other in total shock. WHAT?! Professional tennis player - it can't be! We're grooming you for a career as a world famous concert pianist. I have my seats picked out at Carnegie Hall and everything! If not a concert pianist then George and I were prepared to settle for Ethan to become a famous artist, film director, author, or politician. A TENNIS PLAYER?! WTF?
My worst fears were confirmed by an evening call from Rod, Ethan's perky tennis instructor who informed me that my son had the natural ability and heart to go far in the world of tennis. He had 'it,' that elusive thing that I never had. Most dads would have been thrilled. I felt oddly depressed and terribly conflicted. What do I know about being a tennis dad? Sure, I can play decently - but I have no passion for the game. I'll play tennis because I like the white shorts, warm-up suits, and visors. In addition, the instructors are always young and cute (a prerequisite I assume) and you are assured the requisite vodka tonic post game. A tennis dad? This was so depressing!
I telephoned my father seeking advice - I elaborated on my conflicted feelings about competitive sports, my lack of passion or interest for the game, and even my inability to locate a decent pair of tennis sneakers in my closet. He ignored me completely and got incredibly excited and cried, 'Hey man that's great, finally a REAL BOY in the family! If you want that kid to be a professional, you better get cracking. You've got to let that pony run, or he's going to resent you for the rest of your life! He's not like you - he's meant for greater things. He's a thoroughbred.'
I thanked my dad, hung up and in that moment realized I was doing to Ethan EXACTLY what had been done to me. Instead of supporting his ambition, I was trying to mold him into something that more closely resembled George and I. No matter how hard I tried, he was NEVER going to get excited about the original cast recording of Pippin, never really care about the fabulous vintage dining room fixture, or play Carnegie Hall. He was going to be himself whether I liked it or not.
I have attacked the part of tennis dad with gusto. As part of my duties, I must throw a ball to my son for an hour each day to develop his hand/eye coordination. My son has the energy and determination of a golden retriever and can play this game endlessly. I on the other hand require a large glass of Cote Du Rhone. I have never seen him so happy - not only to play this small game of catch but to have my undivided attention.
Hmmmm...what should I, the well-dressed tennis dad wear when my son wins Wimbledon? So much pressure....!
I never really wanted to be a dad.
There, I wrote it. It looks strange on the page. Kind of like writing something pornographic - it's honest, brutal and meant for your eyes only. It's not that I don't like kids - I like kids. I certainly liked other people's kids - I thought they were like little kittens or puppies - you played with them, fed them and handed them back to their owners when you got bored and went back to your cocktail.
It's weird, but most of my experiences with other people's children involved a round of martinis first. I never got what these parents were complaining about - I mean their kids seemed perfectly nice to me. Little Luca, Jack or Felix never got on my nerves after two stiff ones. Hell, I could play SHOOTS AND LADDERS for weeks properly hammered. As a matter of fact - I was a far better player drunk than not drunk. I would get super competitive and not let any of the little kids win. Letting little kids win is Bullshit - if you're going to play SHOOTS AND LADDERS with me PLAY-TO-WIN or don't play at all! I can't tell you how many times my son Ethan would go to pieces after I kicked his ass at SHOOTS AND LADDERS or CANDYLAND. No one would ever accuse me of being a 'graceful winner.' I would take my victory lap around his room and enact my YOU SUCK victory dance. He didn't see the humor in it - he would charge out of the room, tears streaming down his face uttering some nonsense about me cheating. Now, I can assure you that I NEVER cheated. Sure, I may have kept a PRINCESS FROSTINE card under the table now and then - I may have even moved COOKIE MONSTER ahead a color or two - but this was in the interest of moving the game along.
How many times have you been in a SHOOTS AND LADDERS vortex where you and your little one keep getting sent back to that same 2nd row - the game NEVER ending? Even the most patient parent in the would open a vein. It's hateful. Anyway - I digress.
So, like I said, I never wanted kids. How did I arrive here? How did I wind up with this alien child whose moods, desires and interests shift on a minute-by-minute basis? One second he's loving, devoted and polite - the next he's spiteful, mean, and manipulative? My husband George likes to churn out 'useful' parenting chestnuts such as 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - you have to model the behavior you want Ethan to emulate. He lacks the ability to decipher your sarcasm and bitterness. You need to speak from your heart and use 'I' statements such as I FEEL SAD, I FEEL FRUSTRATED, I FEEL ANGRY. Therein lies your salvation.'
Yes - George actually talks like that. Enchanting isn't it? I can't tall you how many times I've wanted to shove a Popsicle in his mouth during one of our many parenting arguments. Is George right - of course he is! Who cares? You try telling a hungry six year old already engaged in an 'You're-absolutely-not-getting-a-Frappacino' meltdown that you're feeling 'frustrated' by his behavior. I'm sorry, but that shit just doesn't work.
When we're bored, my son Ethan and I play a little game called 'Let's talk about our feelings.' It usually involves me imitating George and using lots of 'I' statements. Ethan usually puts his hands to his ears, cackles and then makes his own 'I' statements such as 'I'm feeling like I need to run away from home,' or 'I'm wishing you would stop pretending you have feelings.' I find this hilarious. It's our own secret language- a conspiracy of sarcasm and bitterness. Don't tell me he can't make the distinction between the two - I'm teaching him well!