My daughter Cordelia is about thirty months old. I’m trying to write about it like I always do, but I’m finding it extremely difficult to concentrate. The weather is hot here, and our trash can in front of the house is completely swarming with maggots. I can not think about anything but the fact that, outside our front door, maggots are feasting on my daughter’s feces. I am hallucinating the sound of it happening. Hundreds of little, pink, munching jaws.
When I found the maggots, hundreds of them were all over the inside of the trash can lid. Cordelia had to run over and see them. Then a bunch of them fell onto the ground, and ants ran over and started to attack them. Then Cordelia ran around and stomped on the ants and the maggots. And thus, the Circle of Life continued. Nature red in tooth and claw, and all that.
But then, in the last month Cordelia has taken to running around the house wearing nothing from the waist down. So seeing her stomp on maggots is far from the most disturbing thing I’ve seen lately.
In terms of development, Cordelia has been much less of a horrible, screaming, punching nightmare for the last month. When I dare to not give her what she wants, she no longer physically attacks me. Instead, she just constantly repeats her request. “Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate? Chocolate?” But this doesn’t work. If using this technique to get sex in college never worked for me, I don’t see why it should work for her now.
Also, when she does this, it’s adorable. This is a tactical error when trying to annoy someone into giving you something.
She can ride a tricycle now. She can work the pedals and shows a crude awareness of the need to not zip out into traffic. She can speak in full sentences. She can pick her nose with an intense single-mindedness she is incapable of showing in any other endeavor.
She still can’t climb out of her crib, though. And she can’t operate doorknobs. And believe me, I’m not doing anything to help her learn either of those skills.
Geek Culture For the Undeveloped Brain
Cordelia has a much longer attention span now. Instead of obsessing over half hour TV shows, she can now sit slack-jawed through entire movies. Well, not movies. One specific movie. My Neighbor Totoro.
For those who have not had the good fortune to see this movie, it’s a cartoon about these kids who live next to a forest full of magical creatures that only they can see. Sure, this sounds like 8000 other cartoons out there. But it’s different. First, it’s actually really good. Second, it’s anime.
The cartoons Disney churns out every year are, of course, shit. They’re all about kids whose parents die and then they run off and sing happy songs. I dread having that stuff in my house. So I feel blessed that Cordelia is getting into anime early.
Anime is the cartoon output of the island nation of Japan. Cartoons are big, popular, business over there, and grownups can go to them without being thought thirty-year old virgins.
Japanese animation has really caught on in this continent in the last few years. Once the domain of peculiar undergraduates trading grainy eighth generation copies of copies of video tapes, anime is now commonly available in video stores, the happy refuge of people who want to watch a cartoon without feeling like their brain is sucked out with a straw.
There are even plenty of anime cartoons strictly for grown-ups, animated, realistic dramas with no fantasy creatures or intrepid chipmunks or musical numbers. And there are even, and here I use the word incredibly loosely, erotic anime pictures. Highly detailed animated porn, which take advantage of the limitless possibilities cartoons allow. Possibilities like, say, tentacles. Lots of tentacles. Please don’t think too much about this.
On one hand, it is not my right to pass judgment on the sexual interests of other people, who are, like all of us, just trying to find a way to get from one of the day to the other. But, on the other hand, ghhhaaahhhhhh.
But this is all beside the main point, which is how good I am at caring for my daughter. Even before Cordelia was born, I was gathering together all the things a proper geek child should be equipped with. Shel Silverstein books. The Narnia Chronicles. The Hobbit. And a huge stack of the best anime cartoons. This way, when she gets sucked in by some My Little Pony-style horrorshow, I will at least have shown her that there is something better.
Random Recommendations For the Shopping Parent
My Neighbor Totoro. Castle in the Sky. Kiki’s Delivery Service. Spirited Away. If your child doesn’t like them, there’s something wrong with it. Take it back. And if you don’t love them, there’s something a little bent about you too.
Oh, and if you want to see the most depressing movie even made by humanity, track down Grave of the Fireflies. It’s like a lot of other movies about plucky children out in the world on their own, but, in other, similar renditions of this story, mommy doesn’t get her face taken off by shrapnel first.
One Warning About Anime
There is plenty of it that doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense. Like those incomprehensible shows about little children who have freakish monsters fight each other on their behalf? Like Pokemon? Not so great.
All Pokemon is about is cockfighting, but with cute, marketable monsters.
A Brief Preface Regarding the Childfree and the Opinions Held By Them
Before I go into this next bit, I have to say a few words about the childfree, bless their hearts. Their carefree, unburdened hearts.
Before we had kids, Mariann and I had a number of ideas and opinions regarding how they should be raised and how we would raise them should we be “blessed” with the chance. But, as famed military tactician Helmuth von Moltke said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Mariann and I have since learned that most of our opinions had been pulled out of our asses.
As it turns out, the parenting opinions of people who don’t have children can and should be freely ignored. In fact, even the most basic and logical opinions become suspect merely by being uttered by a childfree person. If someone with no kids says I shouldn’t bury Cordelia in sand up to her neck, my first instinct is to look for a shovel.
But anyway. Some (though not many) have expressed the opinion that my keeping of this journal reflects some impurity in my feelings as a parent, that the existence of these writings show that the quality of my parenting is suspect, even flawed. Not surprisingly, these opinions tend to come from people who have not yet been exposed to the full parenting phantasmagoria, 3-D and in color.
So I just want to preface the next section by saying one thing, and believe me, it causes me intense pain to write something this obvious and banal. But, in case you are so stone stupid that you need to hear it. I love my daughter. The mere thought of living without her makes me feel like I am standing at the edge of some deep, dark abyss.
Ugh. Now that that’s done, on with the show.
People who haven’t had kids, even ones who recognize how gruesome and draining parenting is, often have this odd, gauzy view about what parenthood is like. Sure, they know it’s difficult. Sure, they know that lack of sleep is involved. But there is this perception of this pure, overpowering sensation of love that gets you through it all.
It is really hard to accurately imagine the complex feelings one has towards one’s offspring. Heck, it’s hard to understand it even when you’re feeling it. So the brain sensibly conjures up this fantasy of mindless adoration. You feel warm whenever you see them, and you love all your children equally, and all that.
It’s not like that.
I can see where this idea comes from. When you haven’t had kids, your main experience with parenthood is being parented. And, unless your parents are psycho fuckups, when you were a kid, they were loving to you. Even when they weren’t at their best, they put up a front of caring for you and approving of you pretty much totally.
Sure, they slipped sometimes, but just sometimes. All but the worst parents will keep the spasms of impatient rage you drive them to out of your view.
It takes some effort to realize that this constant adoration was a front and that you were really driving your parents up the goddamn wall. Unless, of course, you have a kid and it becomes your turn to live the lie. Then comprehension dawns pretty quick.
Love felt for children is not like other love. Before Cordelia, I loved the people I loved because they were lovable. Nice, interesting, fulfilling, occasionally sexy. But Cordelia, like other children of her age, is not usually lovable. She’s a pain in the ass, and lousy conversation. She hits me. She spits in my books. To love her is not rational, and for someone who has spent his life trying to be at least on a first name basis with rationality, this makes my brain hurt.
I know this mother. The sort of mom for whom the phrase, “My mother was a saint!” was invented. She’s sweet and tireless. But she confided that she and her friends have a secret phrase to signify to each other when they’re at the far end of their patience and really can’t stand to see their kids a moment longer: “I’m filling up the bathtub.”
For those that don’t get the joke, every once in a while, the news will be hit with a story about some mom who, high on a combination of fundamentalist Christianity and unmedicated schizophrenia, fills up the bathtub and drowns her kids. It’s the sort of gallows humor normally heard from morticians and morgue workers.
(But not to worry. Our just culture is wise enough to realize that the best way to deal with a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic is to dump her into a maximum security penitentiary for 40 or 50 years.)
I have a dark sense of humor, but this joke is a bit too macabre even for me. But then, I only have one kid, so my neurons haven’t been completely frayed yet.
For parents, there is an extra level of horror in hearing about these crazy parents who kill their kids. And it’s not just because of mommy hormones and an awareness of how much work it is to make another human.
It is for the same reason geeks and nerds were extra-horrified by the Littleton massacre, in which two misfits shot up their school and caused all sorts of trouble. It is because these parents understand, in some vague but still tangible way, how someone could do something like that. It’s thinking, “I don’t live in that land. But sometimes, on a bad day, I can see it from here.”
I don’t understand love for children. It can’t all be hormones, can it?
Anyway, ambivalence happens. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s completely normal. Just, Dear God, whatever you do, don’t tell your kids. And don’t shake them. That’s bad.
Another Sweet Parenting Milestone
For months, just before we put Cordelia to bed, Mariann and I would say, “I love you.”
The other night, for the first time, when we were leaving her in the darkness, Cordelia said, “I love you.”
I suppose this is really sweet, but, honestly, Cordelia doesn’t know what it means. From context, she probably thinks “I love you” means “I’m about to run out of the room now.” Which isn’t very romantic, if you think about it.