Passive-Aggressive Exhausted Parent Communication: A Translation Guide

As follows are a handful of seemingly benign questions and phrases commonly employed by parents (typically directed at their child(ren)’s fellow parent(s)) when they are exhausted and possibly experiencing a critical deficit of caffeine or calories. Or both. Accompanying each “thoughtful” question or phrase is a handy translation of what your spouse/partner/co-parent actually means. It’s recommended that you keep this guide on your person at all times for use as a quick reference when attempting to pick a fight and/or for the purposes of general moral superiority.

I would also like to note, for the sake of marital harmony, that I am guilty of all of the following about 67 times per day…

1. Commonly used phrase: “Where’s the (insert critically-needed object – for example: pacifier, wipes, diaper bag, keys, phone charger, burp cloth)?”

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Where did you put (insert critically-needed object) and why is it not where I thought it was and why can’t you read my mind and understand why I need (insert critically-needed object) at THIS EXACT MOMENT RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY?”

Note: This question is typically yelled rather than spoken, over a cacophony of baby screaming.

2. Commonly used phrase: “Do you need some help?” (Often accompanied by a hefty sigh).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Seriously, what the f—k are you doing and why is it taking so f—king long?”

Note: Tone is important here, as sometimes spouses/partners/co-parents are genuinely interested in offering assistance. However, when the questioner comes across sounding completely exasperated and as if they are in an utterly un-helpful mood, and/or are standing by the door juggling keys, baby, bags, and a cup of coffee yet to be consumed, see above re: “WTF are you doing.”

3. Commonly used phrase: “I don’t know about that idea…” (or alternatively, “Can we think about this a little more?”).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “I sure as f–k don’t want to do that.”

Note: If the spouse/partner/co-parent on the receiving end of this phrase/question is also sleep-deprived, experiencing low blood sugar, and/or generally irritated by anything else, this one will frequently be interpreted as “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, and so is every other idea you’ve ever had ever.” Be prepared.

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Gender Essentialism with the Ultrasound Tech

Gender essentialism is the idea that the traits we typically associate with femininity or masculinity are in fact innate (or essential, hence the name) to being female or male, respectively, rather than socially conditioned behavior. Shocker – I find this concept irritating. Unfortunately, babies and babies-to-be seem to elicit an astonishing degree of gender essentialist commentary – mainly from strangers, and particularly from medical professionals. My partner and I aren’t planning to find out the sex of our baby before it’s born. While our midwives have largely steered clear of the baby gender guessing games, most of the nurses and ultrasound techs we’ve encountered on this journey can’t seem to help themselves.

We recently had an ultrasound during which we learned our baby has hair. We were rather tickled to discover this, and surprised that hair can be seen via ultrasound (it’s so weird!). The ultrasound tech told us the hair was mostly around the back of the baby’s head – kind of like male-pattern baldness – the typical newborn monk look.

“So,” the tech said, “If it’s a girl, she probably won’t be very happy about that.”

I’m sorry, what?

Later on, she tried to get a picture of the baby’s face. The baby was turned towards my partner’s back, so this was a difficult task. At many of our ultrasound appointments, “Itty-bitty” (baby’s current nickname) has been either facing away from the ultrasound wand or covering its face with its hands. We joke that Itty-bitty is camera shy. After a few minutes of trying to find the face, I started chuckling and said to the tech,

“Itty bitty says ‘no pictures please!’”

The tech chuckled back and responded, “Well, it must be a girl, then.”

I know it’s light-hearted. I know people mean well. I know it’s supposed to be silly. I know. And I’m sure that plenty of folks smile at comments like that. I know lots of people do imagine little baby girl princesses and little baby boy super heroes. People are emotionally invested in baby gender. People are emotionally invested in the binary. I know. But can’t people also take a look at my partner and I and the fact that we are plainly queer and both gender non-conforming in our own ways and think, this might not be the right audience for this kind of joke?

People say these things so casually like it’s not remotely offensive or problematic to suggest that if a child is female, her biggest concern will be her appearance. The stakes are so high that I have a hard time stomaching it. We know that adolescent girls struggle with self-esteem, self-image, depression, healthy eating… We know that adolescent boys struggle with profound pressure to be “manly,” to not show emotion, to command their physical space in ways that may ultimately lead them to violence. Do we really have to wonder how and why this happens if we say these things about our children before they’re even born? What seems silly and light-hearted when they’re babies has a tremendous effect later on when boys become men who have learned their primary value lies in strength and stoicism and when girls become women who have learned their value is in their looks and not their minds.

I’m so bad at coming up with smart, direct responses to stuff like this on the spot, but I hope that next time I can remember to say something like, “if our kid is a girl, I hope she’ll be too wrapped up in chasing bugs and reading books to worry about her hair.”

Princess Movies

 Like a invasive bug in your home. Kids bring it home from preschool, like lice. There’s no chemical treatment, no nit comb. No definitive recovery.

Negative gender stereotyping.

I’ve noticed an insidious motion in Jetpack’s preschool class. As the kids approach five, they are starting to segregate by gender more and more frequently. I don’t know whether it’s encouraged by his teachers (I wouldn’t be surprised, this year) or just a natural age progression.

We were at the library last week, and I was looking for a movie to watch with him. I pulled “Alice in Wonderland” off the shelf. The book is one of my partner’s favorites, and Jetpack has a book of Lewis Carrol’s poetry that he loves.

“I don’t want that. I don’t watch princess movies.”

I was thunderstruck. You what now?

I mean, he doesn’t. He doesn’t watch princess movies—or anyway, he never has. We’ve never offered. He also found Finding Nemo was terrifying, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes left him shaking after twenty minutes*. So his outright refusal was bizarre. I had never offered a princess movie. Furthermore, I mean, what exactly made him refuse Alice as a princess movie?

 

Alice in Wonderland DVD cover, with Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, etc.

 

Here’s the cover. What screams princess about this? There’s no pink dresses, no crowns (well, except on the Red Queen, but she’s itty bitty in the corner and not really indicative of the “Princess” stereotype). So was he actually reacting to the fact that there was a girl on the cover? It’s about the only conclusion I can come to—that we’ve coded “movies about girls” into “princess movies” into “boring movies for boys” and that he’s picked that up from society at large.

Flames. Flames from the side of my face.

Thankfully, my partner swooped in to the rescue, as I stood, mouth agape. “You do too. You like Star Wars, right? That’s a princess movie.” (No, we haven’t shown our 4-year-old Star Wars. He’s played Star Wars Angry Birds a lot, though, and is familiar with the cast and stuff).

“No it isn’t!”

My partner deftly explained who Princess Leia was, and it was settled—we rented Alice in Wonderland, and he loved it (though the Red Queen terrified him). He asked to watch the next episode the next day (if only!) and then we watched the movie again the day after that (he hid trembling behind a chair during all the “off with her head” bits).

I hope that next time he’s more interested in movies with girls on the covers. I may have to rent a bunch more, for since.

Any recommendations?

 

 

*He was concerned because someone was trying to hurt Tony Stark. Cute, but misguided—I mean, come on, it’s Tony.

Anxiety.

Picture from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. I have lived this feeling.

Last weekend, Jetpack wandered off in the grocery store. I had a basket with six apples, and three other things, and I unloaded it, and turned my head, and he was gone. He’d gone the length of the supermarket to look at the flowers, and he didn’t answer my calls. Luckily, some amazing person had seen him wandering and started looking for me. He was gone for about two minutes, and before I found him I was pretty convinced he had been kidnapped.

A week before that, I wrote all this:

I’m not good enough. I’ve yelled at Jetpack for really stupid reasons, like not listening or not letting me use the toilet without climbing all over me like a caffeinated capuchin. I’m always late on flea/tick drops for the dog, and someday she’s going to get lyme disease again because of it. My sister (I’m her primary caregiver) didn’t get a bath the other night, even though she should’ve, because I took Jetpack trick-or-treating. Sometimes she has dry cereal because we run out of soy milk in the fridge and I don’t notice until after she’s eaten breakfast. Sometimes we yell at each other because we don’t understand each other well. The other night the Mister was up very late because I forgot to clean something up, even though I promised, and it really needed to be done. The last two times I put away laundry, I did so because I needed to the basket, in order to wash all the newly dirtied stuff. I can’t fix everyone’s problems. I don’t think I can fix anyone’s problems. And my worries about something terrible happening to Jetpack are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I saw it first written, about me, in college. The student counsellor didn’t mention anything to me. She just wrote it on her notes, and I happened to see. It left me with a huge mistrust of her, and a diagnosis that I researched on my own. (Protip, mental health professionals: don’t act like we’re stupid, please).

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t spend some days at home, terrified of going in for absolutely no reason. I’ve never been bad at a job, but I’ve always had attendance issues, usually from days spent sitting at home, sobbing and shaking, afraid of going anywhere. Classes too. I’ve dropped plenty of classes because I was SO SCARED of going. I had a panic attack in spanish class once—not anxiety, a full-on panic episode. Completely lost it. I drove home and actually hid in my bed. (Protip #2: don’t drive directly after a panic attack. I made it home okay, but it was probably the most unsafe I’ve ever been on the road).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a pretty complicated childhood. I also know I don’t have a lot to complain about—my parents are very loving, I’m white and have never been homeless or without food.

But sometimes I’m still damn crazy.

A friend—who has been travelling her own bumpy mental health road—mentioned the fear of passing these problems on to our children. If you’re genetically related to your child, some of your mental health problems are probably passed on automatically (thanks, genes!). But nature and nurture being the murky waters that they are, who knows. And I know so many people who identify their own neurosis in their parents, and blame them.

I don’t want Jetpack to look back and see that.

Sometimes I wonder, who am I to have a kid? Shouldn’t I have thought about this before taking on that responsibility? (I did, but that’s not the point). I never want to see Jetpack even half as crazy as I feel sometimes. But no matter how much I struggle to shut it down, no matter how much therapy I attend or medication I put into myself, I can’t hide it all. That sad and twisted fucked up me is still in here. I can’t just cut it out. And it scares me that someday he’ll see that too, and he’ll resent me for it.

I don’t have any answers for that friend. I don’t have any hopeful closing paragraph for this litany of my own tragic faults. I can try my best, and I will probably fail.

Guest Post: Holiday Edition

Kids aren’t always little angels who teach us the meaning of family and commitment. Sometimes they are just weird, disgusting people.
This post is a submission by a guest author. To submit your own guest post, click here.

Sometimes, our kids are brilliant and profound; they say things that really make us stop and think; things that make us beam with pride and joy.  However, more often than not, they say things that are absolutely ridiculous, cause us to (try to) stifle our laughter, and/or wonder what planet they actually hail from (because it sure as heck can’t be this one).

Living in house with a 5 year old and an 8 year old, I find myself often speechless, my mind completely at a loss, trying to understand what is happening right now.

The things these kids say, seriously. WTF:

“Remember in my bedroom at my old house, when we used to have sleepovers, and we’d pretend we were fish and cut each other up? Wanna play that?”

Well, now I don’t know that we should go to this Chinese buffet so much as maybe I should turn the car around and we should go to therapy… Pretending to be fish, that’s cool, I’m a Nemo fan myself, but fileting one another? Now that’s taken a macabre turn.  I’m grossly curious at the same time as to just how this game is played. Wait, I don’t want to know. Yes, I do. No, I don’t. Well, kinda… I don’t even know how to ask a follow-up question. Go, be fish, my children, for tomorrow we have sushi.

“I forgot to put underwear on this morning.  My butt’s been naked all day. Wanna see?”

*pulls down pants in front yard*

Well, now the neighbors have seen your alabaster kid-bum and probably are wondering what kind of circus I run over here…Oh, you know, my kid just mooning the neighborhood on a random Tuesday night. No big deal, right? Modesty, what’s that all about?  I hope they don’t call the cops. Maybe I should bring them brownies tomorrow and try to explain our kids are just weird… And, just how does one “forget” to put underwear on? The teenage years are going to be horrible. Oh shit, just thinking about it… Drink, please!

“If I give the dog a booger will she eat it? I mean, she eats her own poop. It has to taste better, right?”

Well, I mean, this is kind of profound, right? It’s most certainly it’s logical. She does eat her own poop, and I guess I’d venture anything tastes better than that, but, it still raises a few questions for me:  What’s the thought process here? How do you even arrive at this question? Do you have a booger right now?  (If you do, please don’t eat it.)  I don’t even know how to answer this question.  Why are kids so gross? Is this even normal?

“How about we were too pretty so the bad guys let us out?”

“Yeah! But first they cut off all of our hair!”

“OK! Don’t eat the sparkles!”

What. The. Crap. I have no idea what game this children are playing. Anti-reality, obviously.  Maybe I should have majored in child psychology.  Is my daughter going to think her looks get her out of troublesome situations?  I really hope they don’t actually have scissors… I’m completely at a loss here.  Why can’t we eat the sparkles? Sparkles are usually so tasty… Wait, maybe the sparkles are some dastardly drug and if we eat them… oh, wait I’m not playing this game.

And they wonder why parents are crazy? Have you heard the stuff children say? If you haven’t, you’re welcome to come spend a Saturday with these two…

No, You Can’t Do That: Being a Kid is Hard

As I get older, I forget things. This is true for everyone, of course. What I’m thinking about these days is how “parent” and “child” seem like two separate entities. I don’t remember, besides some specific memories, what it was like to be a child. There are things I enjoyed playing with, the friends I had, the holidays at various family houses. What I don’t remember are the feelings I had. What did it feel like, for me, to be a kid? Did I feel helpless? Did I feel misunderstood? How did I work through my anger or sadness?

These days I find myself getting exasperated with E, who is 5 years old, in some really minute moments. She got new superhero bedsheets this weekend, and I had put them through the washer. They were in the dryer when she went upstairs to pick out her pajamas. This was before dinner, before books, and before teeth brushing  She came downstairs to ask me to get them for her.

“They’re in the dryer. They’re still sort of damp. They’ll be dry by your bedtime, though.” I said.

“But I want them on my bed now!” She said in an instantly shrill voice, furrowing her brow.

“Well, your other sheets are dry. If you want sheets on your bed now, you can put those on. Or, you can wait for your Batman sheets, which will be dry by the time you go to bed.” Sometimes I think explaining things will help, but it usually doesn’t.

“No! I don’t want those sheets!” Now she was getting upset.

“Do you want me to go into the basement and get the Batman sheets for you so you can put wet sheets on your bed?” I try ridiculous logic. This is me, grasping at straws.

[She stomps back upstairs]

If an adult had reacted in this way, I would have unfriended them on Facebook. When does the logic development start, and more importantly, what does it feel like to not have a well-defined sense of logic at this age? What does it feel like to a young person to hear “You’ll still get [X, Y, or Z] if you can wait [2 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 weeks].” and not have a comprehensive sense of time?

When I wasn’t spending a lot of time with young children, I interpreted a lot of this behavior as disrespectful. I sometimes still have that knee-jerk sarcastic reaction of “Oh hey, you’re welcome for [washing your sheets/doing your dishes/cleaning your things].” when it happens, but now I don’t point it out. I’m understanding more and more that some of these things are developmental. It must be really hard to go through our world without the ability to connect A to B to C and make it to F where the solution may be. I can’t imagine what it feels like to a young person to be constantly relying on adults to provide everything for you, even as you are trying to build and own your power and agency in the world.

I wish I could remember how it felt to be on the other side of this equation. I guess I’ll have to rely on my own understanding of time to know that she will develop better logic and reasoning skills. It’s pretty clear that I don’t remember my emotional past. Is there a child version of ginko biloba? Maybe I could start E on them now, so she won’t go through this with her kid(s), if she ever has any.