One evening last week, I made my son sit on a whoopee cushion. I thought he was ready, finally, at fifteen months, and I can tell you why: 1) when I ask him if he just farted, he looks at me and gets a focused, sparkling look in his eyes and tries to fart again. He tries really hard. Sometimes, it works. 2) Before his nap, while I’m singing to him, he makes impressive fart noises on my arms and my shoulders and sometimes, when I’m breastfeeding him before bed, he stops nursing and makes fart noises into my breast. If this horrifies you, you’re reading the wrong mom blog. If it doesn’t, can I ask you — does your kid do this? It’s so sweet and harmless and strange and hilarious. It cracks me up as I cringe, mainly for the benefit of the studio audience in my living room (an enormous stuffed bear wearing a bow; a ring stacker with the face of a smiling, hat-wearing man on top; a very realistic and very tiny plastic dog).
The whoopee cushion seemed like an admirable reroute.
Months ago, when I first showed Sly a whoopee cushion, he was wary of what I’m realizing maybe reminded him of a deflated placenta. He did not want to hold it. He, in fact, veered purposefully away from it. But he was amoebic then! Now, he’s practically ready to do magic tricks. He says things like, “I know!” and “Two!”
The day this went down, Sly found the whoopee cushion in between a couple of old novels in the back of our big bookshelf and, so, thrilled, I blew it up and patted the floor next to me. There was suspicion in that place on his forehead between his eyes. But he walked over. It’s possible he tried to say whoopee. I like to think he didn’t though, because it just makes me feel sad about him not ever wanting to say that word again. He sat down dutifully on the little sack of air and I gave his shoulders a press. I did it like he was riding a bike. Like, off you go kiddo! There was a juicy series of explosions. “Yeah!” Lance and I cheered. You know, the way you do when the thing you were trying to make happen actually happens.
“You did it!” I thought or said, I’m not sure, because that was when my son’s face broke into many different pieces and he was crying very hard and shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” and walking furiously in his father’s direction, not mine. I looked at the whoopee cushion like, “You fucking piece of shit. You couldn’t have reined it in a little? I am burying you so far behind that bookshelf, we won’t see you again until we MOVE!”
I looked over at my kid in his dad’s arms and tears came to my own eyes. 15 months of trust shattered by a witless piece of rubber.
He likes me again, Sly does, but I feel like sometimes we’re walking barefoot together on cracked open cement, like we’re constantly on the verge of disappointing each other in these tiny, but exhausting little ways that neither of us can help.
Like: Sly often asks us to sing the Hello song, which is a Lance-Invented riff on something we sang at the beginning of his Music for Aardvarks class. It also sounds a little like the start of a verse in the Paul Simon song “Leaves That Are Green”, so one day, I sang him that version. I thought, you will one day love this kind of melancholy music, these existential lyrics, and it is my job, now, to expose you to real music and to all of the feelings, all of the musically-induced High Fidelity feelings. But it’s a really a sad progression. The notes are sad. I felt sad singing it to a hopeful kid in a diaper holding half a waffle. What was I doing?
Like: Sly’s been waking up between 5 and 5:30 am for months, maybe for as long as I’ve known him, which is basically forever. He used to go back to sleep but then he stopped doing that. It’s fine, it’s shitty, there’s no joy in it, you have to scrounge for it, manufacture it; you have to go get bagels as soon as the sun catches up to you and find a playground and chase your kid chasing a bird before you can be OK with a 5 am wake-up. It’s nobody’s fault, I tell myself. But every time I hear him through the wall chirping before the birds do, I feel so defeated. Like, what did I do wrong? I’ve read about all the things you’re supposed to do to prevent this from happening and we do some of them and not others, so, maybe, I wonder, still nestled under my blanket, my husband entirely unaware and breathing shallow sleep breaths next to me, maybe it is my fault.
Then I remember the thing that not many mothers or people tell you but that you have to tell yourself every few hours, every day: most things don’t mean anything. And the things that do are mostly out of your control. And the things that mean something that are in your control you probably don’t have time to figure out or fix. Being a mother, like being a baby, isn’t a series of perfect little steps in perfect order leading to a perfect existence. I don’t know what being a mother or being a baby IS, I just know it’s not THAT. How do I know that it is not that? Well. Um. I don’t. I am just making it up! I am making everything up, as far as being a mother goes! I was born into a long line of women who are open about their lack of authority/certainty but will completely reject any and all unsolicited advice. We are a stubbornly diminutive breed.
I think maybe I am the whoopee cushion. I think maybe I will always be the whoopee cushion. And if that’s so, then may my age old powers someday delight you, my sweet son, and until then, know that I am probably wedged back behind some books, watching, waiting, a soft and potentially hilarious place for you to land when you need me.
Happy Mother’s Day, fellow gasbags.