My Son Sat on a Whoopee Cushion and Cried and Nothing Means Anything

  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.

This Shit is Bananas (or These Bananas are Shit): Thoughts on Picky Eating.

I was a picky eater. According to some books, picky eating is evidence that something is terribly wrong. But I think that the person who wrote that simply doesn’t have as discerning and sensitive a palate as I do. I think the person who wrote that is an agreeable tool. I mean, I have to think that. Otherwise, I’d need more therapy than I’m already getting.

So, I understand it when little kids don’t want to eat even the seemingly straightforward foods, like bananas, for example, because bananas are mushy and unnervingly sweet and they never refresh you the way a good piece of fruit should. Are they even actually a fruit? I’ll just say it: I think bananas are best made unrecognizable in bread and smoothies or, better yet, painted into still lifes.

Pickiness, while nothing to be ashamed of, is inconvenient and irritating to authority figures, particularly those who go food shopping. I had become such a figure. And, as it turned out, I was actually hoping he wasn’t like me. Parents talk such shit about picky eaters, they complain about them, they take the rejections personally, they forget how much a plain frozen pea really sucks. By parents, of course, I mean ME. I did these things. I JUST did these things.

I gave Sly hunks of banana to eat when he first started eating hunks of things. And he ate them! And I thought, “You know what? Bananas are pretty great, huh?” I didn’t say it out loud though because I read that you’re not supposed to comment on the food your kid is eating; just let them eat it. So, I just let him eat it. I was being a model mother. I was doing nothing wrong at all. We were buying five bananas a week.

Then Sly stopped eating banana. At first, I thought, “What a stupid food! Thanks for tolerating it as long as you did, kid, but I’m glad we’re done with that bland GARBAGE.” Other babies around us scarfed down hunks of banana like morons. But honestly, I didn’t think they were morons. I was really jealous. The fallen foods were multiplying, among them bananas of varying ripeness, sweet potato, avocado, eggs, toast (TOAST?!), strawberries, and, naturally, peas. (Aside from the toast and strawberries, I would have had nothing to do with any of these foods until late in high school at the earliest.)

A few months later, Sly caught on to how grown-ups eat bananas and he was intrigued. I know he was intrigued because, when he was 10 months old, he stole a banana from an actor named Jimmy at a rehearsal to which I’d brought him. Jimmy was very nice about it. Sly ate almost the whole thing and I don’t think Jimmy had any other snacks. So after the Jimmy debacle, I started peeling bananas and let Sly take bites. He was so proud of himself. Those five minutes he’d spend gingerly eating one of my least favorite foods were filled with joy and wonder for me. I’d equate it to watching your child pop wheelies or crest a wave on a surfboard, but scaled back a bit. This went on for a few weeks.

One day, I offered a banana, Sly took a bite, spit it on the floor and walked away. Either the banana was tainted or he was confused. Or maybe concussed. He must’ve been concussed! I tried again, chasing after him with the non-fruit flapping in my hand. “Do you want to try it again?” I asked, smiling. “It’s really good,” I said, doing the thing that I’d read I wasn’t supposed to do, and also lying. “Look, I’m eating it!” I shouted, and then I took a bite. It was horrible. The banana, my desperation, all the feeding rules I was breaking.

So important had it become to me that my son consume all of the foods he once entertained but now would firmly not that, two days ago on the playground, I gestured to his friend who was eating a mozzarella cheese stick and said, “Sly, do you see Maya eating her cheese?” Sly didn’t see Maya because he was already halfway to the metal horse twenty feet from us. “Neigh, neigh,” he yelled. The horse wasn’t going to make him eat anything. The horse let Sly pet his cold metal side.

I was madly pinballing between what I’d read in books and online about HOW TO FEED YOUR CHILD SUCCESSFULLY AND EASILY AND HEALTHFULLY and what my son actually wanted to eat and my own depths of eating empathy (these depths are, in fact, profound - I didn’t put milk in my cereal until college). Who had I become? I can’t blame Instagram and all the photos of stainless steel lunch box compartments artfully filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables and rare grains. When you find yourself getting angry at Instagram or Pinterest or parenting blogs, you probably need a nap or snack. You probably, if you are like me, need to fling your phone halfway across the room and forget where it went for several hours.

I swore off lima beans the first time I tasted them, no matter the sauce or the salting. But I’ve always loved broccoli and grapefruits. I’ve even grown to adore marinara sauce, though I once politely asked my friend’s mother to wash it off my pasta before resuming our Golden Girls viewing on her waterbed. If young, picky Katie was here for all this mishegas, I think she’d call me buster and tell me to back off. She’d tell me that I didn’t actually know everything and that she did know some things! She’d ask me to boil water for pasta and make sure we had Parmesan cheese. She’d disappear into my son’s room and I’d overhear him laughing really hard at some old lady voice she was doing, probably making fun of me.

When I look at my son, I can’t connect him not wanting to eat certain foods with him struggling in life in general. Pickiness is, for a lot of kids, just an assertion of independence and a phase. But if, like me, he’s a picky eater for a long time, then may he always have a compatriot in a world that doesn’t give him a break. May that person be me and may I respond to yet another person asking, “Is he a good eater?”, with kindness, good will, and the words, “Who fucking cares?”