Try Honoring Thy Child for Damn Once

While I like to pretend that I channel Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp and yodel through life as though I’m about nothing more than playclothes for the children and enjoying myself high on a hill with a lonely goat-herd,

the truth is I do get irritated sometimes.

Early in life, I got irritated when my brother and sister would sit on me or trespass into my personal space. In retrospect, I’m irritated that so many photos of me pinned beneath my siblings exist because this meant my mom continued taking pictures instead of intervening to help me get a single breaf in my body.

Not that, um, I have any photos of my own children in distress that I insisted on taking because it cracked me up.

Later, I got irritated when a junior high counselor looked at my 5’ 6” body at 120 pounds and called my parents in for a meeting to ask, “So, do you think her weight might be a problem?” The deeper piss was that I then had to sit there and endure the three adults in that meeting finding grounds for agreement–as though that wouldn’t still be affecting me, hmmm, let’s see…doing the math…carry the two…30 years later.

Past that, I got irritated in high school when a pushy police officer (no sense of boundaries at all) confiscated the bottle of sloe gin I’d just stashed—at no small risk to myself, considering the prickers—under a yucca plant on the edge of town.

Even later, I got irritated in college when I received my one and only “C.” I got the grade in Russian Literature for a paper over which I’d labored, an essay that examined the symbolism of hair in the Russian novel. Apparently, the professor didn’t buy my thesis, which argued: “Ineluctably, Russians use vodka to cope with the reality of pervasively bad hair, which ranges from scraggly beards to horrific dye-jobs.”

In my twenties, irritation set in when the gay bar with the best music and every possible good vibration would close at 2 a.m. when I was nowhere near ready to be done dancing. Small solace was the fact that the Wendy’s drive-thru was still open at that hour, so I could savor the balm of eating $1 chicken nuggets while propping my bare feet up on the dashboard.

A new kind of irritation was born along with Girl, whose longest stretch of sleep in the first ten months, whether being held, nursed, or driven around, was 45 minutes. Certain that it couldn’t be worse the second time around, I was stunned when Paco was born and trained me into genuine irritation with his 20 minute spurts of sleep.

In recent years, my irritations have centered around: the works of best-selling putter-of-words-on-the-page-but-notice-I’m-not-actually-calling-her-a-writer Jodi Picoult (I only threw one of her books once, and even though the sound of it hitting the radiator woke Groom with a start, I’m pretty sure my restraint qualifies me as surprisingly tolerant, as the book actually deserved a bonfire); the Fox Network; a president who derailed anything I still believed the U.S. stood for; and overcooked pasta.

Oh, yes, and one more thing: parents who actively try not to see or know their own kids.

It’s a rare breed, this type of parent, and (to generalize completely) all too often it’s fathers who opt out. Caveat: pretty much, the fathers I hang with rock the parenthood, especially His Groomishness, who has been our stay-at-home for the last nine years; however, in my many and varied eavesdropping spy pursuits in public places, I have observed Fathers Whom I Do Not Know Personally failing to step up. For example, let’s say two-year-old Jo-Jo is at the library, playing at the train table in the kids’ area under the watch of his father. So long as he’s by himself, Jo-Jo works happily on forging an unnaturally-close bond with a locomotive named Thomas, going so far as to bathe the engine in saliva; during this time of contented individual play, Dad can and should keep his head buried in Distracted Codger magazine. However, when another child approaches the table, and Jo-Jo then throws his torso across the table full of engines, covering them possessively and shouting out “No, me no share. You no touchie,” and Dad doesn’t stir or look up to correct his child’s behavior, I get irritated. I rather want to sidle up to Dad and note, “Say, this looks like a time when you could let your kid know that he doesn’t own the world. What he’s doing over there is a kind of passive bullying, you know.”

This little scenario plays out in many venues, but the underlying point—that Parent On Duty just can’t be bothered—gets in my craw, and the words “Heave off your ass, LazyPappy, and take charge of your kid” burble around in my mouth.

Twenty-seven guesses, then, as to how I responded during a quick phone conversation I had the other day, when I called to RSVP for Paco/Niblet to attend a classmate’s birthday party.

Me: “Hi, this is Paco’s mother. My son is in your son’s kindergarten class and received the invitation today for Sonny’s bowling party on Friday night. Thank you so much, and you can count on Paco being there. He’s really excited!”

Sonny’s Dad: “Real good then.”

Me: “So, yes, he’ll be there, and as long as I have you on the line, I was hoping you could give me a few ideas of what Sonny is into, so we could get him a present he’ll really enjoy.”

Sonny’s Dad, dismissively: “That’s more his mom’s department. Call back after 5:00 when she’s home from work.”

Me, starting to gently and repetitively pound my head against the wall: “Oh, yes, I see, of course. As it turns out, though, we were about to head out for an afternoon of running errands, and I was hoping we could pick up something this afternoon while we’re out, so even some general ideas…”

Sonny’s Dad, brusquely: “Like I said, I wouldn’t know.”

Me, still thinking I might force an admission out of this man that he’d actually met his own child, even in passing, say, in the bathroom: “I’d guess since he’s turning six, maybe some Legos would be appealing, or would it be nice for you all to have some more outdoor toys? Do these seem to be things Sonny might enjoy?”

Sonny’s Dad, clearly peeved now: “It looks like you might just have to get him whatever you think.”

At that moment, I reached up and grabbed my tongue between two of my fingers and held it still, lest it begin flapping angrily, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you do share a house with the boy, don’t you? And since I know you do, might it be possible that you’ve ever had to swear loudly when you’ve tripped over a random, misplaced toy on the floor–as you’ve stomped from your plasma tv in the den towards the kitchen to retrieve yet another beer from the fridge—and when you’ve looked down to see what the offending object is, you’ve noticed that it’s something that the child begot of your own loins plays with some times? Then, as you have plucked it out of your foot, have you ever noticed something specific about it, such as the word ‘Pokemon’ or ‘Star Wars’ printed across it? Assuming any of this has ever happened, could you be bothered to take one second out of your day right now and mutter those words at me so that I don’t spend my money on a badminton set when all Sonny really wants is an Ariel Barbie?”

Me, releasing my tongue and wiping my fingers on my pants: “Yes, indeed. It would seem we’ll have to wing it on this one since Sonny’s preferences remain a mystery to everyone. Thank you so much for your time.”


Ultimately, Paco chose something for Sonny that he, himself, would like (a newly-released trading card game). Two days later, at the bowling alley, when Sonny opened the gift, he hugged Paco and exclaimed, “Cool! I totally wanted this!”

Right about then, Sonny’s Dad, having swung by the party for a few minutes–as such irritating fathers do–wandered up to Paco, tousled his hair absentmindedly, and commented, “Happy birthday, son. Darned if you don’t look more like me every day.”




23 responses to “Try Honoring Thy Child for Damn Once”

  1. Amy Avatar

    The flip side, or maybe not “flip” but “twin” is the parent who thinks it’s totally appropriate for his kid to hog the public spaces. We ran into that in a Florida hotel once, where at the pool, some kid was trying to get all the other kids out of the kiddie pool, and the dad came and yelled at me because my kids weren’t leaving.

    I hate Jodi Picoult. I’m not good book club material, because I’m too cranky to read what others want to read, but she was the last straw in the last book club I belonged to. We’d read two of her books, and a third was chosen, and I said, that’s it. I can’t take any more.

  2. furiousBall Avatar

    i want a picture of Jodi Picoult pinned underneath me

  3. ArtSparker Avatar

    It’s okay, I think you edited down the original thrust quite ffectively in the final exchange.

    Russian literary hair…could be a rich subject for drawing.

  4. Becky Cazares Avatar
    Becky Cazares

    I never even HEARD of Ms. Picoult so me flips over to and begins to read an excerpt of one of her latest… um… pages filled with words and couldn’t make it all the way to the third sentence! What nonsense! Anyways, LUV the photos! (NOT a good thing to peruse with a mouthful of coffee, tho!)

  5. Shania Avatar

    I MUST know, which book did you throw? It was Sisters Keeper wasn’t it? With Handle with Care following close behind?

  6. steve Avatar

    Aha! I thought there was something different about Paco.

  7. chelle Avatar

    I cannot even imagine being married to a man like that … yuck. Although my husband is not the practically perfect in every way expert like myself (tongue in cheek) he would know what to recommend for one of the gremlin’s presents 🙂

  8. lime Avatar

    what a jerk. let’s hope sonny only ever bears a physical resemblance to dear old dipshit and figures out how to be a better father when the time comes.

    as for the essay on rrussian hair…i’d have given you and A just for making me snort lemon water, but i’m easy that way.

  9. the cubicle's backporch Avatar
    the cubicle’s backporch

    This is another reason parenthood has the potential to drive me insane: other parents. I think I’m talking myself out of having kids more every day! 🙂

    I love the pictures of your siblings sitting on you… hee hee.

  10. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    I’ll resist singing “Cat’s in the Cradle” like I used to when my husband was that dad. Thank GOD he has improved his parenting tactics and these days a dad like that one would send him over the abyss.

  11. phd in yogurtry Avatar
    phd in yogurtry

    I only tried one Picoult, can’t remember the name, not Keeper, I know that. And I was astounded by how poorly written.

    As for the parents who lapse in the “take action” department when their kids act up .. isn’t this a gender-wide phenom? Especially smiling upon little Johnny, as if looking for a nod of agreement, “Isn’t he so cute when he smears his feces on the table?”

    It’s epidemic in some neighborhoods.

  12. jess Avatar

    I threw a Jodi Picoult book once. I refrained from bonfiring too, but then it was a library book so I felt a little guilty even throwing it.

    I didn’t feel too guilty though, she’s just that bad.

  13. citizen of the world Avatar
    citizen of the world

    I think I’d be saying, with an incredulous tone, “Seriously? You have NO idea what your son likes? Really? Not even a guess? You’re kidding!”

  14. monica Avatar

    OK – is there maybe something you should have discussed with groomeo?? :o) love the pics too…

  15. Jeni Avatar

    Loved the Russian essay thing -bad hair has a way of ruining lots of things that a shot of vodka can seem to cure. Around this house, you’d never get a clue as to what toy is liked by inspecting what you just stepped on cause these two have virtually every toy known to man strewn about somedays so no common thread there as to whether it is well liked or barely tolerated. The words “Clean up” don’t appear to be part of their vocabulary, or at least not the words they hear and will obey. ARRGH.
    Boy, lots of venom there geared toward Jodi Picoult. And me with everyone of her books in my bookcase. I never said I was a reader of fine literature -just love to read maybe. But seriously, which book did you pitch?

  16. NeedleDancer Avatar

    Oh my! I so love this post. I’ve lived this post (much to my dismay). My own beloved husband has called me to ask ME what he should get his daughter from a former marriage (yep, my step-daughter), who lives 2 hours away if you’re speeding, for her birthday or Christmas. Like I’d know? Like she calls ME on the phone?
    Of course, he also asks me that about the kids he lives with. SIGH. Then again, I always make him figure it out for himself, and he generally makes good choices in the end.

  17. Diesel Avatar

    Ugh, what a tool.

    If you really wrote this in your paper:

    Ineluctably, Russians use vodka to cope with the reality of pervasively bad hair, which ranges from scraggly beards to horrific dye-jobs.

    …then you’re my HERO.

    So what’s this about you having trouble finding my site?

  18. Kylie w Warszawie Avatar
    Kylie w Warszawie

    Okay, I just have to say that if I had been your Russian lit teacher, I totally would have given you the highest “A” ever.

    And now I’m going to ramble a bit…

    Poles DO NOT like Russians. Apparently there’s some history there. Someone took over or something. I’m not real clear.

    Anyway, one of the mums from Piglet’s (6) class is Russian. We were at a party yesterday at a playplace yesterday and she walked up to the place and spoke Polish to them. REALLY GOOD POLISH. Because Russians can speak Polish, it’s a damn slavic language and all. The woman at the counter, a Pole, turned to her and spoke in ENGLISH. My eyes widened. It was all, “Boom, Roasted.” And while I am not a huge fan of the Russian woman in question, I was deeply insulted for her.

  19. Pearl Avatar

    1. Jodi Picoult is not much of a writer, really. Dull, dull, dull.
    2. I’ve met that father, and I’ve hated him.


  20. actonbell Avatar

    Ugh. Poor Sony.

    And I agree about Jodi Picoult-I read My Sister’s Keeper and thought it thinly written with a cop-out ending. So much GOOD stuff has trouble being published…

  21. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    Oh, gawd. Let’s hope Mom has some influence and Sonny doesn’t end up acting like Daddy Douchenozzle. Of course, she bred with him so don’t count on it.

    If it’s any consolation, Jodi Picault books, of which there are many, are ALWAYS in the .50 bin at the Friends of the Library bookstore. I bought one once but couldn’t get into it. I think she’s a poor(er) man’s Danielle Steele, (who owns a mansion with its own security force patrolling the perimeters in SF.) The success of such “authoresses” 🙂 is a sad commentary on American literacy levels.

  22. rak Avatar

    I found this perfect moment in time to sit upon my bum and read this story…and it must be said that I LOVE your stories…and I’m a happier woman because of it! Thank you for teaching me my new favorite word…DANDLE 🙂

  23. Glamourpuss Avatar

    Wow. You could be English.


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