i never understood the appeal of coffee breaks. my mother-in-law always talked so highly of them when she was raising her sons. her parents would come over for coffee and then stay and play with the young ones for a little while. “i would always ask, ‘going so soon?’ when they had to leave.” now i know. it’s a chance to ignore your kids for a minute. commiserate with other parent-kind. that’s why, when my neighbor casually mentioned we should get together for coffee sometime, i showed up at her side door at ten a.m. sharp. she came to the door in her pj’s, maybe not a little surprised to see me. “just wondered if you guys were up for a morning visit?” i said, trying not to sound overly hopeful.
“this is good,” i said, sucking down her coffee like it was an oxygen tank. ruth and her daughter began to do the usual toddler stuff, eying each other from across the room, taking individual bites of cookies and then putting them back on the tray. i held joel on my lap. her baby was still asleep. joel and her second daughter were born two weeks or so apart and my neighbor and i are both wading through the murky territory of a new two child family. “it’s been so hard,” i said, “not joel, but…” here i pointed to ruth as she had her back turned. my neighbor nodded but her older daughter is still just two and a half. almost an entire year behind ruth. people keep telling me that it’s harder to have the second one when the first one is still so young. they are still a baby themselves. but, i wonder. i wouldn’t necessarily say that ruth is less needy than your average two and a half year old and she’s become so much more difficult lately. we’ve entered into a phase where when your back is turned, she knows it and does the absolute most naughty thing she can think of. not only that, but discipline is a real issue, which it wasn’t for so long. i tried to explain this to my neighbor. “all they really need is unconditional love and consistent limits,” she said. “right,” i said, watching as ruth began to create a circuit climbing over the back of her living room chair, then running around to the front and climbing over again. this is my loophole. if i don’t set limits, ruth isn’t breaking any. i cleared my throat under the scrutiny of my neighbor. by the time ruth was trying to build a fort with a blanket and i saw her, out of the corner of my eye, yank the blanket out of her daughter’s grasp, i knew it was time to go.
“we need to be nice to our friends,” i said walking back. “in preschool, you need to use your words, ruth. why did you yank the blanket away from your friend?” perhaps it’s because she’s seen me yank shit away, throw shit around in anger. nah. “i wanted to build a fort,” she said. “you need to use your words, though, ruth. your friend was just trying to play with you. she likes you.” blah, blah, blah. all of this falling on deaf ears.
“greg,” i said later, “i’m afraid she’s gonna hurt other kids in preschool. someone’s gonna get a cap popped in they ass.” she’ll be fine, he always says. right. he’s not the one who will be dropping her off, fielding phone calls. that would be my department.
we set up the doorway jumper for joel. he scoots around in it like a limp puppet on a string with a big dopey smile. of course, as soon as he’s out of it, ruth wants to hang on it, climb into it and ride it like a freakin’ bungee cord extreme sport. i stayed on top of her pretty good all day, not letting her hang on it, stopping her every time she tried, which was a freakin’ lot of times. then, greg came home and, as i always do, i relaxed my prison guard status a couple notches on ruth, the logic in my head saying, “greg can now help keep watch on this kid”, which is a silly thing to assume, i guess, because he really doesn’t as he’s still in work mode and doesn’t even seem to notice when she’s doing something wrong. she immediately went for the swing. i didn’t look. nope, i just sat on the couch cuddling joel. it felt good to not have to be on her ass every second of every minute. greg was in charge now. nevermind that he was sitting next to me on the couch talking on his cell phone. nope. it’s his territory. i could tell she had actually climbed into the swing and was launching herself into the dining room to be catapulted back into the kitchen again and again. i’m pretty sure there’s a weight limit on that thing, i thought to myself. then, i’m not setting any limits at this moment, so technically, ruth isn’t breaking any....my logic was getting weaker and weaker as the day progressed. she started laughing hysterically, having the time of her life. i should stop this, i thought, but found i didn’t have the energy, the willpower to do so. instead i turned my attention back to my second child, the neglected and overlooked one, the one i haven’t yet begun to fuck up or make bad decisions concerning. “i love you, joel. who’s the big boy?” huge smile. so easy.
“greg, are you aware there is silly putty in our toilet?” no response. i looked down at ruth who was standing there, probably wondering how upset this was going to make me. “ruth,” i said, “how did your silly putty get into the toilet?” she said she didn’t know. i considered flushing the thing down, but thought it would probably get stuck and clog the plumbing and then we’d have to deal with a plumber and all. so, i reached my hand into the urine-saturated, poop-crusted bowl and fished it out. i need to say something parental right now, i thought. “what a shame, now you don’t have any silly putty.” ruth looked nonplussed. no effect. is that the best i could do? i took a breath and went on, “and if you put anything down the toilet and it gets plugged up, that would be very expensive to fix. it would take a lot of chores to pay for that.” a little better, mom. she looked slightly more concerned. i proceeded to scrub my hand like a surgeon in the sink. never thought i’d see the day….a phase, a phase. it’s gotta be just a phase. a really destructive, manipulative, controlling, rebellious, bad, bad phase. it’ll pass. right??????