Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Moms Attack II: The Horror Continues

When last we convened, I shared my thoughts about a couple of moms who I felt had stepped over lines of decorum during recent interactions with me. Since that time, I've been especially worried that the first of those moms, whose gaffe of asking for a play date prematurely was much more understandable and innocent than the Germanic mom's ulcer-inducing suggestions on the potty training front, would stumble upon my post, put two and two together, and decide she had no choice but to pick up and move to Fresno. I guess I left the post as it was in the hope that if she did happen to see it, she'd be able to have a sense of humor about herself. Besides, I figured I'd go on to new topics, and mom craziness would recede into the archives of this blog.

Alas, little did I know I'd have an exchange that would take the whole "When Moms Attack" thing to a new level, especially given that the first two moms didn't exactly attack as much as say the wrong things. This latest mom? Well, she really did attack.

Let me take you to the scene last Thursday morning at the kinder gym again (what is it about that place!?), where I was being my typically spastic, out-of-control self. I should make it clear that when it comes to playing, I'm most definitely not a mom, and I have the penis to prove it. So when I go to the kinder gym (this session is NOT called "baby gym" for a reason, as it's supposed to be for 2- to 4-year-olds), I go to play. Not watch the kids play, but actually play. This has resulted in my forming pretty close (and sometimes physical) relationships with several of the regulars. And when I say regulars, I'm talking about the kids, not the moms. (Ba dum, bum.)

The way this behavior manifests itself is as follows: Two kids in particular, both at the older end of the 2-to-4 spectrum, like to assume superhero personas. One actually shows up in a Batman shirt and cape, while the second simply has the woman who staffs the session write "Spiderman" on his name tag. Naturally, this role-playing has resulted in my referring to them, unexpected as it may seem, as Batman and Spiderman. Naturally, I feel obligated to assume the role of the Joker or Green Goblin or whatever fictional villain I want to be, and I chase the boys around, gently tackling them, softly throwing large, padded nylon blocks at them, and generally causing chaos. (Max typically hangs at the periphery of the insanity, avoiding the real rough housing and instead diving in when things are a bit more mellow. He clearly gets a bit jealous of Daddy playing with other kids--it's kind of adorable.)

Sarah witnessed this scene a couple of months ago, and has since warned me that she thought I'd end up making some of the moms uneasy. No one who knows me well will be surprised that this input only emboldened me, as I think the one thing some moms need more than anything is to be made uneasy. So I'm an instigator--sue me.

Back to last Thursday. It was a particularly energetic day because my recent visits have been hampered by a series of ailments--gout (don't ask), strep throat, and a bout of the flu--that rendered me too listless to exert myself. (Mind you, before someone points it out, I didn't actually go to the kinder gym while contagious with strep or actually suffering the flu--I was there during the recovery periods.) In other words, the fact I was healthy and energetic was a cause for serious celebration (and extra exuberant play) among the boys. We were running all over the room, and all the kids who weren't playing with us were taking great interest. Some of them probably even tried their luck at throwing those cushiony blocks.

This is when the mom in question walks up to me and, gesturing me to the side of the room, says, "Can we talk for a minute?"


A bit of background about this woman might help: she is apparently a long time sporadic attendee of these sessions, but I had seen her for the first time just a month or two earlier. I remember it because this mom, who is youngish, and reasonably attractive (but presents herself as a very uptight, librarianesque figure) showed up that day in a sun dress that brought a lot of attention to her admittedly spectacular breasts. And those breasts were a constant that day, not just because I'm a man and thus biologically predisposed to gawking at spectacular breasts, but because her cleavage was so apparent and pronounced that a few of the other moms rolled their eyes with what can only be described as a combination of disgust and envy.

This mom was also memorable because she brought both of her kids--one who's nearly 4, and a second that's about 9 months--to the kinder gym. Totally understandable, but also an action that should be accompanied by a certain awareness that you're plopping your 9-month-old down in a room filled with crazed toddlers, introducing all sorts of potential risk.

So when this mom pulled me aside, I was braced for a scolding, but I expected it to be civil, along the lines of "I know you're a dad and so you like to play a little rough, and I think that's great, and it's obvious the kids love it, but I'd sure appreciate it if you could pull back just a bit because I'm concerned your exuberance might lead to someone's child getting hurt." And that would have been a completely reasonable request.

Instead, however, this is what she said: "Y'know, we're trying to raise our sons more like daughters now and teaching them to be more sensitive and respectful, and when you teach them to throw and hit, they're just gonna grow up to be dickheads. So do you think you could dial it down a bit?"

Being the people pleaser I am, I responded with a humble "Okay, I understand," and that was that. Except that I felt parentally castrated. It was as if I'd been given a timeout for excessive playing, and I spent the rest of the session sitting on my hands and telling all the kids--who came up constantly asking me to play--that I had to take a break because one of the mommies felt I was playing too rough.

I did have one key (albeit silent) supporter, though: Batman's mom. She always sits on the side, laughing heartily at my "abuse" of her kid and always putting me at ease when I think I may be going overboard. You gotta respect a mom who embraces rough male play. She thought the other mom was out line, and said she's always been kind of uptight about things that make her uncomfortable at the kinder gym.

What I wish I'd said to the big-breasted mom when she confronted me was this: "So if I understand correctly, you're concerned that by pretending to be the villain to their superheros and running around playing with little boys exactly as they love to be played with, and admittedly risking collisions with other little ones who no doubt would recover as all toddlers do, I'm somehow increasing the likelihood that these kids will end up beating their wives and kids? Because if that's what you're suggesting, I gotta say you're fucking nuts."

By the way, not only does this woman need to think twice about bringing her 9-month-old to a toddler play session if she's all worried about incidents, but she also needs to acknowledge that her older kid--who has repeatedly (and innocently) thrown hard objects at me when all the other kids seem to understand that they need to limit their throwing to those soft cushiony blocks--already has a throwing problem and is thus well on his way to becoming a dickhead with or without my influence.

I guess the moral of the story is this: If you want someone to train your son to be a dickhead, I'm your man.

Or maybe it's this: Moms with spectacular cleavage who bring their babies to toddler play sessions and have toddlers who throw to injure should probably look inward before holding innocent dads responsible for the worst instincts in men. On second thought, that's kinda wordy. Lets stick with the first moral.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When Moms Attack

I've had a couple of Max-related interactions in the past week that have left me contemplating what constitutes stepping over a line when talking with the parent of a little one. Mind you, for a change, I wasn't the one stepping over the line. Rather it was two moms who flummoxed me with their comments. (Moms? Comments that flummox? Nooo!)

The first of these interactions may sound harmless enough. I was at the neighborhood playground, enjoying the last minutes of light while Max pushed trucks around in the sand, when a mom who's new to the neighborhood arrived with her four-year-old son. This was my second time bumping in to her, the first having also been at dusk at the same playground. She seemed, in both conversations, to be a nice, reasonable mom I'd be happy to get to know.

That was when the "P" word was uttered--as in "playdate"--and everything changed. Because while playdate may seem like an innocent, and maybe even cloyingly annoying--modern parenting term--it is accompanied by all sorts of rules of engagement. And this woman was trampling all over those.

Let's start with the fact that we had met spontaneously twice, for a few minutes each time, at a neutral location, in dim lighting. For those inexperienced in the ways of edgy parenting, asking for a playdate at this stage is like going to a bar, spotting a woman you've seen there once before, and casually asking her if she'd like to come by one afternoon for some nookie.

I'm sure there are others out there who will disagree with my assessment, but I was bristled by what I felt was a presumptive request at this stage in our "relationship." And it further annoyed me that because she'd invited us to a birthday party the previous week for her son, and because Sarah had RSVP'd via email (we couldn't make it), she had Sarah's email address, which she made clear she'd use to start discussing a date and time. I couldn't help but think of how Jerry Seinfeld (the TV character version) got himself in hot water by calling a woman whose number he got off an AIDS walkathon list. Let's be clear: we weren't RSVP'ing so they could immediately plug us into their "database of future playdate suckers."

Of course, this could all come down to us having different definitions of the word "playdate." In my mind, a "playdate" is when one parent/child visits the home of the other parent/child. In other words, it implies being isolated with the other parent, and committing your child to an unknown period of time in the presence of another child with whom he may or may not want to play. The other mom, however, may have had different expectations of a "first playdate," which in her eyes might only entail a harmless rendez-vous at a public (i.e. easy to escape) location. But if her definition differs that much from society's at large, then she should have made that clear, n'est-ce pas?

When I got home and told Sarah about this perceived breach in parenting decorum, she seemed to think it was no big deal. Undeterred by her complacence, I made it clear to Sarah that if she got an email about this, I was strongly urging her to suggest a time to meet at the playground. I pleaded with her not to invite the woman over to our house. Not only did I not want to find myself having to be the host should Sarah get called away, I simply was not ready to give this person access to our inner sanctum.

But there was another element of confusion surrounding the situation, that being the age difference between the boys. I mean, who the hell suggests a playdate for her 4-year-old son with a 2-year-old! Duh, isn't that age inappropriate? And who wants to subject their 2-year-old to a 4-year-old he barely knows? It's preposterous!

The second interaction, which occurred the following morning, was even more disturbing. It occurred at the local YMCA, where we take Max once or twice a week to enjoy the so-called "Kindergym," which is exactly what it sounds like--a small gym filled with a bunch of plastic toys and padded shapes and mats in which toddlers can safely run around for a bit, hopefully without seriously injuring themselves or anyone else. So there I am, minding my own business as I follow Max around the room, when I think I get a whiff of something, so I pick up Max and sniff his diaper quickly. (Thankfully, no need for the HAZMAT team). A woman I've never seen before--a tall, big-boned, Germanic looking woman--sees me and asks if I'm working on potty training.

Now here's where I need to inject some advice. First, to anyone who might find themselves in my position: If someone asks you anything about the topic of potty training, do anything you can to avoid or otherwise get out of the conversation that would follow. Act like your phone is vibrating and you need to take this call. Pretend you hear your mom calling you. Scream "fire!" Anything. Because nothing good can come of discussing potty training with anyone other than your co-parent. There are few things in life of which I'm more certain.

Now, to those who think they might, in some fit of insanity, make a similar inquiry: There are very few questions you can pose that will generate a more instantaneous sense of disgust of, or a stronger instinct to flee from, you. Let's make this very clear: Potty training is a--how shall I put this?--less-than-appetizing topic best limited to the confines of your own home because, when you get right down to it, it's none of anyone's damned business.

That said, the wave of irritation, panic and desperation that certainly was evident on my face was clearly not enough to stop this woman, who apparently was dead set on making sure I'd never invite her to one of our legendary Fall Fiestas. Or even something mind-numbing like a Bar Mitzvah, although I've been to Bar Mitzvahs that would have been a perfect punishment for the crime. But I digress.

This woman proceeds to ask me how old Max is.

"Almost two," I answer.

"Oh, no, I mean exactly. In months," she says. My concern for where this exchange is headed deepens.

"23 months," I answer meekly. The woman gasps.

"You're past the window," she says in a tone that suggests I've failed my child on some deep, inexcusable level. "They're at the easiest to work with between 19 and 22 months. But I can teach you a sure fire way to potty train him in 3 days."

What I want to say at this point is, "Shut the hell up before I punch you in the mouth, bitch!" But what comes out is, "really?" Uh-oh.

She proceeds to tell me all about how if you put your life aside for 3 days and take off your child's diaper, and (this is important!) don't put it back on, by day 3, the child will be using the potty flawlessly. My creative version of her description of events:

Day 1: Child poops and pees all over himself and your house. Some items are salvageable, and vegetation should be able to grow again in 75 years. Psychotherapy during the evening suggested.

Day 2: Child starts to get annoyed with the constant presence of pee and poop on his butt, legs, feet, toys, and anything else unfortunate enough to exist within a 3-foot radius of his privates. Amid the resulting fits of frustration, toys are thrown, food is flung, and most breakable kitchen items meet their demise. First voluntary flirtations with the potty provide glimpses of hope. Presence of an anger management counselor strongly recommended, as is consumption of at least one strong alcoholic beverage once child is in bed.

Day 3: Tired of living in a constant flow of his own waste, the child makes regular runs to the potty, where he steadily adjusts to a new paradigm. Sure, lots of pee and poop misses the target during the trial-and-error portion of the proceedings, but hey, at least you're not changing diapers! By the end of the day, the child not only has mastered the potty, he's also cleaning his own room, washing and folding his own laundry, and even volunteering for some light vacuuming duty. The son shines through the roof, creating an other-worldly glow throughout the house, mom dances around the living room in a free-flowing nightgown, showering the room with handfuls of flower petals, and a leprechaun arrives with a pot of gold.

Of course, at this point in the "conversation," I'm no longer registering anything the woman is describing, mostly because what little piece of me isn't trying to gracefully monitor Max while at least looking like I'm vaguely interested is busy visualizing shooting her with an elephant dart.

I guess the moral of the story is, have a child at your own risk, because there's a whole world of parents out there who will be drawn to you like moths to a flame, but sadly, unlike the flame, you can't cause them to spontaneously burn alive.

Thankfully, I returned home, happily changed Max's diaper, and promised myself that he will never, ever play with another child in our home because that would mean I have to interact with a mom, and clearly I can't have any of that.