Our daughter Cordelia has reached three years, three months of age. She is still young enough to change rapidly as we watch. For example, recently, she has changed from a bright, smiling, fresh-faced young child to a seething, pestilent pit of germs.
Children are renowned for their skill as disease vectors, picking up germs from all their little friends and inflicting them on their undeserving parents. Cordelia has a knack for it. My wife Mariann and I are still warm and loving in all the ways legally required, but it is hard to keep from flinching when she runs up to hug us. Even her most adorable smile is not enough to help us keep from speculating on what evil, fucked-up, monkey virus she is infecting us with at that moment.
I’ve been holding off the diseases pretty well. Colds don’t usually affect me. My wife Mariann, on the other hand, turns out to have a fragile and delicate constitution, and she has absorbed the full brunt of every illness brought into our house. In a fair world, she would have disclosed this to me before I allowed my virile genes to be sullied by hers.
When we weren’t weighted down with illness, we made some progress in life this month. We signed Cordelia up for pre-preschool, starting this fall. School is a game parents play with each other, where they try to infect other families with as many diseases as possible, using their children as the delivery system. In this game, actually keeping a sick child at home is a sign of great weakness and dishonor.
Nobody sensible ever lets their infectious little moppet stay home for the day. If they did that, why, the kid might miss the day where they are taught about ’e’. And thn thy would go through lif nvr bing abl to spll.
Cordelia still wants to be read lots of books every night. But instead of cute storybooks with fluffy animals and reassuring morals, she insists on being read books on trains and boats. And that’s all the books contain.Trains. Or boats.
One of her favorites is called “The Truck Book.” It’s about trucks. All sorts of trucks. Period. Reading it is, basically, “This is a Garbage Truck. (Flip.) This is an Elevating Scraper. (Flip.) This is a Goose-Neck Trailer Hauling a Bulldozer. (Flip.) This is Straddle Carrier. (Straddle carrier? What the fuck is a straddle carrier? Flip.)” I swear to God, there is nothing more boring on the face of the Earth. Green Eggs and Ham for the thousandth time is more interesting than this once.
Cordelia eats it up with a spoon. She has a glorious future ahead of her as a construction worker. Or a cute, sneezing little poster child for Asperger’s.
Finally, Mariann and I have been keeping Cordelia busy while we play computer games in my office by giving her garbage paper and letting her run it through the shredder. I only mention this because encouraging our child to go into the office and start shredding things is likely the dumbest thing we have ever done. It’s only uphill from that.
Year Three Among the Geeks
One thing that happened this last month was Norwescon, a large science fiction convention near Seattle that we go to every year. Since my parents were off doing some shit somewhere and were unavailable to watch the baby, we tried taking her with us. It was to be a pleasant family weekend at a hotel, surrounded by oddballs and crappy food. Then Cordelia could absorb nerdy essence through the pores in her skin and not grow up to be a cheerleader.
Didn’t work out. Instead it turned out to be an educational parenting event. First, the child totally freaked out when we tried to leave her in the daycare provided at the convention. Then, at night, she refused to go to bed. And then nobody in the family got any sleep during the night. And then, the next day, the exhausted child freaked out at the slightest provocation.
Experiences like this are a good thing. These moments of Parental Love Crisis help you test your mettle, to burn away the waste and impurities and leave you a pure, forged weapon of guardian goodness. It is in these moments of testing that you find out whether you are truly worthy of guarding a young life or, if you, like me, totally suck.
After enough angst on the second day, I dealt with my time of trial thusly. When we were in the presence of friends, I let Mariann take the child off to do something or other. Didn’t really care what.
And then, the moment Cordelia was out of earshot, I launched into a furious, obscene monologue. I will not relate its exact details, as Cordelia learning the details of it would require her to have years of expensive therapy. But rest assured that it full of unpleasant words, anatomical impossibilities, and non-veiled threats, carefully designed to make a mockery of the concept of love for one’s children, or the desire to ever actually want them, when exposed to the grinding relentlessness with which they would suck all the joy out of everything that once lightened your days.
It was pretty good. One childfree woman in earshot looked like she was going to simultaneously call protective services and faint.
And then the family got in the car and went the fuck home.
I don’t have much by way of apologies for any of this. I think that every parent (or, at least all but the most lucky or emotionally inert) has several moments where they’re so fatigued and pissed that they start frothing at the mouth and hallucinating. At this point, the best thing that can happen is for your insane rampage to happen when the child is in another room.
As long as your child’s illusion of parental angelic and unconditional love is kept intact for as long as possible, let off steam however necessary.
How You Can Tell That Being a Parent Is a Pain, Despite All Societal Propaganda Telling You Otherwise
Every new parent is repeatedly warned not to shake the baby too hard. I think that the need to spell this out explicitly kind of gives the game away.
And Now For the Hook
In a bold blow to bring the quality of our parenting up to barely acceptable levels, we took Cordelia to the dentist for the first time. It took quite a while to work up the courage.
Normally, we can’t even subject Cordelia to the indignity of wearing pants without a screaming tantrum. We couldn’t imagine what she would do when a total stranger lunged at her mouth with a metal hook.
Fortunately, our dentist is reasonably smart about this. The toddler’s very first visit is just to get acquainted. The kid gets shown the dentist, the chair, the hooks. Free toothbrushes and toys are given. Lots of talking slow and smiiiiiiiling. A huge amount of effort was taken to create the illusion that the dentist’s office is not a place of terror and suffering. And Cordelia didn’t buy a bit of it.
Cordelia kind of behaved, and being held in mommy’s lap calmed her down enough to get her to agree to a tooth inspection. However, her finely-tuned baby senses were able to pick up on the constant wavelengths of suffering, the years of agonized screams of small children, which soaked into the plaster of the walls, and haunted the office with a weak field of psychic misery.
But who gives a shit? I can’t stand those wussy parents who are overwhelmed with guilt when subjecting their children to the occasional discomforts of advanced medical care. I don’t have to lose a minute’s sleep about Cordelia dying of typhus or malaria, or of her growing up to have a nightmarish tangle of rotting gray teeth like the homeless guy on the corner I always have to ignore.
Cordelia will get her shots and have her blood tested, and if I have to hold her down and force an ether mask on her face so her teeth can be cleaned, I’ll hum a happy song while I do it. Considering how many parents on this planet have to beg and scrape to get antibiotics or aspirin, any other attitude towards our good fortune is an abomination.
Anyway, the visit wasn’t so bad, overall. I shrunk into the corner and felt happy she was in the chair instead of me. The dentist said that Cordelia’s teeth look all right and we’re allowed to keep giving her a pacifier. And then we got Cordelia some nice, sugary ice cream as a reward for her good behavior, a bit of self-defeating stupidity for which I am sure we will pay dearly.
I Strike Another Blow For Justice
Cordelia still uses pacifiers. We have found that they help her be quiet, relaxed, and docile in public. Keeping her erratic little three year old brain calm and happy seemed like a good thing, and the dentist felt that the pacifiers weren’t hurting her teeth any, so we went with it.
But recently, some invisible switch was flipped. Now pretty much every random busybody loser we meet on the street is commenting disparagingly on my daughter’s binky, as if it was any of their goddamn business. Recently, a cashier at the Fred Meyer (a chain of stores similar to Wal-Mart, but selling shoddier goods for higher prices) made some comments that have driven me to strong action …
An Open Letter To the Cashier At the Fred Meyer Who Thinks She’s So Damn Smart,
Thank you for taking a few moments off from your busy day of cashiering to give us your opinions on how we should raise our child. Since you are a cashier at Fred Meyer, I am sure you are of particularly good breeding stock.
I must also compliment you on your very high self-esteem. Most people would feel that raising a three year old is enough of a kick in the balls without being ambushed by the opinions of Minimum Wage Mary while getting errands done. You, however, recognize the considerable value of your own opinions, and your confidence enables you to continue the traditional practices of the millennia of shriveled-up old fishwives that came before you.
However, I must humbly point out one thing. While criticizing us and boasting of how your children never needed pacifiers, you seemed to imply that this was a result of your own high-quality parenting. It is not likely that this is the case.
Perhaps your children did not have the genetically determined temperament that made them want to constantly suck on things when very small, which isn’t something you can take a lot of credit for. Or perhaps you are a cold, coarse, unfeeling person, and the screams of your infants did not trouble you in any way. Or perhaps, when they did scream, you silenced them by briefly covering their faces with a portion of your pale, quivering, loathsome flab.
In sum, I thank you for your valued advice, and, though we will ignore it completely, we do appreciate the effort. And I hope the days and years of mindless minimum-wage drudgery you have waiting for you go down nice and easy.
P.S. Fuck you in the ear.
This Month’s Effort To Make the World a Better Place
If I am to trust in what I see and hear while wandering around and living my everyday life, I have to conclude that most of you people out there are morons. Hell, an hour at the mall makes me want to kill every last one of you. Therefore, I feel that I have, in this column, a sacred trust. I must do what I can to make the world a wiser, smarter place.
So this month, I am going to write about scientific research, and how stupid it is, and how it is one of the many tools used to make normally sensible parents feel guilty and inept. There are whole industries built around taking advantage of the insecurity of parents. Reading books by self-proclaimed parenting experts or watching the local news makes my wife and I feel like we occupy a place on the morality scale somewhere between axe murderers and squirrel-rapists.
And most of the time, they’re just trying to pull a fast one.
For a helpful example, I am going to select one scientific study, one which received a good deal of attention and uncritical press, and explain why you should just ignore it.
Science Is Stupid
The study was carried out by Frederick Zimmerman, an Ivory Tower douchebag at the University of Washington. His study found that children who watch lots of television were more likely to be bullies. Every daily hour of extra TV watching (on average) gave the child a 6% higher chance of being a bully.
And that is where most news reports left it. Put in a Wallace & Gromit DVD so you can go make dinner or get some writing done? You just made your child a thug. Good job, stupid mom and dad.
First off, and this is the thing I think everyone should learn about in school before they’re exposed to the tender mercies of Fox News, is that there is a difference between correlation and causation. What this means, in human language, is just because thing A makes thing B more likely doesn’t mean thing A CAUSED thing B.
An example. Suppose I notice that a lot of women wear bras. I do a study, and I find that if a person wears a bra, they are much more likely to be a woman. Therefore, I release my study, and Fox News reports that wearing a bra makes you become a woman. And it’s probably the fault of the liberals.
Heck, I could look at people getting chemotherapy and notice that all of them have cancer, and then say that chemotherapy causes cancer. Would be great for getting coverage on NPR.
The news reports all strongly imply (and which Frederick Zimmerman actually states in an interview with CNN) that lots of TV makes your child a bully. Which is not what was proven. What is far more likely is that being a bully and watching TV come from the same cause: crappy, disinterested parents. Or maybe the aggressive children most likely to become bullies are better at coercing more TV out of their parents.
But that wouldn’t enable anyone to lord their superiority over the poor, harried parents who are trying to steer their shrieking monkeys from one end of the day to the other.
As a side note, the study didn’t examine the effects of different sorts of TV shows. I doubt all television has the same effect. If a kid watched Clockwork Orange four times a day, sure, it would make him a little warped (though with a respectable admiration for Beethoven). But Barney? Dragon Tales? All those shows can produce are pussified little wads of goo completely insufficient to maintain our new American Empire.
The second stupid thing about the study, and this is a much subtler flaw, is this: How do you know if a kid is a bully? Think about it. If the study is trying to show that 100 kids produce 10 bullies, how do you look at a kid and see if he or she is a bully or not? There is no Pap smear for bullying.
The answer is this: they ask the mother. That’s right. It’s up to the parent to judge their child. Which is dumb in two ways. First, if a mom is so detached that she is showing her kid nine hours of TV a day, how can she really know if her kid is a bully or not? Second, if a mom is so smitten with her offspring that she spends all the time she can parenting, can so loving a parent be trusted to honestly recognize that the kid is a little thug?
And maybe the kids who watch lots of TV aren’t more likely to be bullies. Maybe their parents just like them less. And in addition to calling them “bullies,” they call them lots of other names too.
The final stupid thing about the study, and I admit I may be on shaky ground with this one, is that it implies that being a bully is a bad thing. I’ve experienced bullies. I’ve been bullied by the best. That is not something I am exactly eager for my child to experience.
Morality and basic human decency aside, if I had to choose between my daughter’s head being jammed in a toilet and her being the one who does the jamming, well, that is a tough call. Maybe I should show her just enough TV to make her mean and thoughtless but not enough to make her a sociopath.
Anyway, I’m glad to get that off of my chest. Be wary. Nobody ever got news coverage or tenure by saying, “Hey, parents! You’re actually not so bad.” Or, “That thing you do that makes life bearable? It’s actually OK! News at 11!” My advice is simple: Never believe anything anyone tells you unless you want to believe it.
As long as you never commit any felonies, you’re probably OK.