Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Unanswerables

Everyone who lives with a 2-3 year old expects to be struck down by a hail-storm of why questions on a daily basis. Amid the innocence, laughter, joy, and frustration of those why questions lurks an unsettling truth: there is a lot that we don’t know as parents. (E.g., last week’s why from Eleanor: “Why do most shirts cover armpits when armpits aren’t Private Areas?” Hmm, let me spend my precious few minutes of uninterrupted thinking time pondering that question and then get back to you). Tobin & I have twice sailed the parental ship through the choppy waters of the whys (one more voyage left to go), and we’ve come out the other side feeling self-congratulatory, glad to have reached calmer waters. But recently, another disturbing weather-pattern has blown our way: The Blizzard of What Ifs.

Here are a few examples that I jotted down recently, all originating from the mouth of Curious Eleanor:

What if the whole world was made of candy and you had to eat everywhere you went?

(Stopped at a traffic light): What if this light never turned green and just stayed red forever? (And as a follow-up): Where would we put the van if we had to walk home when the light stayed red forever?

What if sleeves were made out of napkins? Then could we wipe our mouths on our sleeves?

What if everything in the whole world was soft? Would Eli go around snuggling everything?

(And my personal favorite): What if Eli was in your nose and when you blew your nose part of Eli came out?

I think you get the point.

Sometimes these questions make me laugh, but other times I’m reminded—with a cold sweat and growing pit in my stomach—of the feeling of impending doom that I felt as I studied for the bar exam. Back then, I had nightmares comprised of question after question of unanswerable questions. Not unanswerable because I didn’t know the material—because, believe me, I did know the material (there wasn’t a moment of the day that I wasn’t reciting some flashcard in my brain: “The elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and consideration…,” and I had vowed that I’d study hard and only take the bar once, and if I didn’t pass, I’d interpret it as a divine sign that I wasn’t meant to practice law)—but unanswerable because the questions were pure nonsense. Reading through the question in my dream—“blah blah square root of 24955 (there was always a little math scare thrown in) was blah blah anticipatorially repudiated the marriage of blah blah discrimination action blah blah what would the court rule blah blah”—I’d think, “How’d I miss this stuff? Oh God, help me! I didn’t study this! I can’t answer these questions!” Given the similarly bizarre, nonsensical nature of the What Ifs, you can understand why they trigger this PTSD response in me.

Considering this history, I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I ask some questions of my own. This is the start of a movement, people! Parents of the world, unite! Take Back the Questions! Repossess a smidgeon of your parental brain that was annexed by Kid Questions and tell me what I want to know!

Question One: Is it ever okay to lie to your children?

I swear, this doesn’t come up often in our family, except when dealing with the Unauthorized Recycling of Eleanor’s Projects. For example, the scene this morning:

Eleanor (looking into the white plastic recycling bin): Hey! This is my paper badge from church! I made this! WHO put this in HERE?

Me (biding for time, my back turned away, preparing lunch): Hmm? What’s that? What did you find?

Eleanor: My badge! (With loathing, her eyes squinting with disgust): It was in the RECYCLE BIN!

Me (first trying a truthful, generalist approach, avoiding blame): Well, I guess sometimes things get put in there accidentally when we clean up the house.

Eleanor (not deterred, insisting on finding the culprit): But WHO put this HERE?

Me (totally guilty, lying-through-my-teeth): Um, I think it might have been Eli…You know how babies carry things around and don’t really know where they belong…

Eleanor (smiling, all anger melting away at the very thought of her favorite baby): Yeah, babies are so funny. They don’t even know what goes in the recycle!

Me (already composing this blog entry in my head, wondering what damage I’ve done to the cause of Truth in Parenting): Heh heh, how true, Eleanor; ah, those funny babies…

Question Two: Will Sylvia ever stop putting unauthorized objects in her mouth?

Sylvia will eat just about anything (excluding healthy vegetables), and my concern is a teapot about to hit boil. At what point is a call to a Child Psychologist in order? Really; let me know what you think. Here’s what she’s eaten in the past two weeks:

  • Dirty snow (not just small flecks of dirt, but snow from the ground of a parking lot containing grotesque car dirt)

  • 1/3 of a tube of grown-up Toothpaste (prompting a call to Poison Control, where “Ben” assured me it wasn’t a toxic amount, and kindly gave me his direct line to call back if Sylvia started throwing up, whereupon I replied, “so I’ll just be calling you directly from now on,” and then “um, that was a joke” when I heard nothing but uncomfortable silence on the other end)

  • Paper

  • Markers (and I don’t mean just a dab of color on her tongue, I’m talking actual bites taken out of the top of the marker and chewed up like a Cheez Nip)

  • Cat food (this occurs nearly on a daily basis. Sometimes I overhear her say, “I am not a cat” before or after the deed, and I enter the room to her beaming, crumb-filled smile)

  • Whatever dirt, moss, or bugs she collected while licking the side of the apple tree

  • Melting Snow-turned-Ice from our back deck, which in the winter is covered in slippery Seattle deck-scum, dirt, cat hair, and other nasties tracked around by our cats and the Marauding Racoon who frequents our doorstep at night

  • Bits of Eli’s chunky board-book

  • Wood-like pieces that she picked off a rattan laundry basket (she wasn’t able to successfully chew these up but she did attempt it)

  • Nail polish flakes that she harvested from her finger nails

  • Whatever living organisms and grime she collected on her tongue before I found her, licking the hardwood floor of the kitchen.
And this is just the stuff I know about. God only knows what she eats at naptime or when she’s left unattended. She’s almost 3-and-a-half. Should I be concerned?

Question Three: Are we the only family cursed with poop-streaked bathmats?

Yes, you read that right! Our bathmats have two statuses: either they are snowflake white (which lasts *up to a few hours* after they’re laundered) or they are white with unsightly brown smudges (which lasts from a few days to a week while I stubbornly pretend not to see the stains). Inexplicably, our girls have adopted the practice of getting off of the toilet in order to wipe. Trying to be thorough (but failing miserably), they shift and scoot around the bathmat like a dog dragging its hind-end in the grass. Ahem. Now that I’ve divulged our family’s vulgarities, I won’t blame you if you gently refuse our next dinner invitation.

But please, do get back to me. I want some answers.


Ally said...

Here's an update, dear readers: Last night, after putting Sylvia to bed, I went into her room to check on her. The scene? Sylvia sitting on top of the changing table, scooping out hand-fulls of Desitin zinc oxide ointment. The ointment was on her face, her chest, her back, and, by the handfull, in her night-time diaper. She's had a rash recently. She said her bottom needed ointment. She said she hadn't eaten any, and I didn't detect any in her mouth. Fast forward to 3:30 a.m.: Sylvia threw up, and had a diarrea blow-out. A call to poison control revealed that one cannot digest enough zinc to do much harm but that it is an irritant causing throw-up and diarrea. Huh. After taking our name and number (and no doubt looking up our sordid history in her computer), the kind lady on the phone promised she'd send us a packet of Mr. Yuck stickers.

Little Monkies said...

Wow. Where to begin? The eating thing is a little strange...doesn't that stuff taste gross? Maybe she has an olfactory/taste issue? Am I grasping here?

The poop on the bathmats is truly hysterical, though. I haven't quite had to deal with that one yet...I just think it's ingenious, though. It gets the job done!

Oh, Mama! ;) It will make for some *great* stories come wedding rehersal time...

bgirl said...

okay, the eleanor section is've seriously got a live one there! Love her spirit, incredible pay-off as a woman.

sylvia, the scientist. sensory situation...remind me to pass on more via email! :)