I’d like to start out your weekend with two emails my brother Sean sent to the family over the last two days. We all send each other missives that range from the mundane to the sublime, but every so often one of us releases a cri de coeur built to last. Sean has topped himself again, on his birthday, no less.
All you need to know is that Barnaby is Sean & Jordi’s 4-year-old boy, and Marlena is their baby girl about to turn one.
From: Sean Williams
Date: May 11, 2011 12:27:52 PM PDT
It’s all very nice, being a father and all, but sometimes I just want to get the car going downhill and then run and lie down in front of it.
Barnaby is really lovely, except for the vast amount of time that he’s just insufferable. It’s really cute that he thinks he draws L’s correctly, and that everyone else in the world draws them wrong – except it isn’t, it’s just awful. Once a day for the last three days, I’ve thought to myself, “I have to pull his pants down and spank him,” and when the thought occurs to me, I start to walk away, it’s all I can do.
One time we were at a park five blocks from the house, and I just thought, “well, everyone in the neighborhood knows him, he knows how to get home, and if I stay here, I’m gonna spank him. So I’m leaving”, and I did. About two minutes later he came running up next to me, screaming at me for being mean, crying at the top of his lungs, passing other women I know who were staring at me like I’m the biggest asshole in the world.
Right now, Marlena is on her second nap of the day. The first nap was EXACTLY an hour and forty minutes of her screaming at the top of her lungs, followed by an hour and ten minutes of nap. As I type this, she’s screaming at the top of her lungs, almost horse, standing up in her crib, because I put her down. Last night, she screamed for less than half an hour, so if the pattern continues, I’m in for another hour at least.
And she’s so physical, so determined, that she’s standing up in her crib before I can leave the room. I’m doing the Ferber method, one minute, two minutes, three minutes, five, seven, eight, ten, ten, ten, ten, ten… and on and on. So, every ten minutes I go in there and calm her down, and then, before I can get out of the room, she standing up and screaming, choking, breath-catching screaming that fills my entire head.
Barnaby was running around with other kids, and I told him not to grab Augie. And then he grabbed him, and Augie came and told on him, and I told them to work it out, and I told Barnaby to stop. Then he did it again, then it happened again, then I told him again. Then he did it again, then it happened again, then I told him again. I grabbed his arm and told him he was going home, and he crumpled to the sidewalk and started screaming at the top of his lungs, trying so hard to cry that he eventually cried. In front of school, surrounded by three moms I know, six moms who know me and eight moms who think I’m the father who doesn’t know how to raise children.
And the thing is I DON’T FUCKING CARE. I don’t fucking care if he gives Augie Indian Burns, Augie should learn how to fucking deal with it. I don’t care if Barnaby goes to school at all, I don’t care if Marlena never sleeps. Am I under the impression that if she sleeps now, somehow things will be better later? They’re just gonna be this fucking bad, I’ve got a four year old that PROVES it doesn’t matter how hard I try to do all of this utterly inorganic nonsense, I’m still gonna have a kid that everyone else thinks doesn’t measure up.
I just have this police state voice going on in my head all the time about how I haven’t done enough, haven’t been enough of a father, aren’t teaching them, watching too much TV, not forcing them to eat. If I have one more motherfucking parent tell me “well, I just MAKE him eat what I put in front of him”, as I silently seethe and think, “yes, and I’m sure you don’t have a kid who will vomit the entire contents of his stomach on the table just to prove a point,” I’m gonna fucking explode.
For some reason, I’m trying to FORCE Barnaby to eat his hot dog before he gets any fruit, because… I DON’T KNOW. I DON’T KNOW WHY. Isn’t a hot dog made from the sluicings off the killing floor?
Anyway, my ten minutes are up. I’m gonna go lay her down again.
From: Sean Williams
Date: May 12, 2011 7:43:43 AM PDT
Subject: RE: Endless
Going back and reading what I wrote just now… I’m amazed there’s noun-verb agreement. Really, I don’t think the tires were quite out of the mud when I started typing.
I think one of the things that I was feeling so lost about is that there’s simply nothing that works for one kid that also works for the other. There is a particular strain of single-mindedness in our family that is remarkable mostly because it only shows up in a handful of us, so it’s really easy to spot. Sometimes it’s seen as a virtue, and sometimes it’s mocked (mostly because it’s a virtue the rest of us wish we could summon).
So, Marlena is hellbent, utterly. She’s been furious for three days because she’s pretty close to walking, except SHE’S NOWHERE NEAR WALKING. So she pulls herself up on stuff, starts shuffling her feet, takes a nosedive, and then screams as she pulls herself up again. Endlessly. She can’t believe she isn’t walking yet. This morning she pulled herself up on a bench, leaned her head back and screamed at the ceiling. Because she wants to let go of the bench, walk to the door, go to the subway and ride the N to the UN building where she’s pretty sure she’s the Secretary General.
And on the other side, Barnaby is completely amorphous. His understanding of what’s happening, what he’s capable of, what the world is, is totally fluid, and based wholly on assumption rather than evidence. This morning he started yelling at me because I told him he had to pee and change his clothes before we go downstairs, and he started insisting that he NEVER pees in the morning. Meanwhile, not only does he pee every morning, but every single person on the planet pees every morning, barring serious illness.
His letter L’s are just one example of his relentless absurdity, and all of it is pure contrarianism. His “3” is not only the least efficient way to write a 3, in the end, it actually looks NOTHING like a three. It looks like a dead bush with six branches.
And I get it, it’s developmental, he’s going to say no to everything, because he’s feeling socially and intellectually blind, so he’s putting up his hands to feel where the walls are, and the only way to feel for the walls is to push.
But I simply don’t know how to confront him when he insists that I have baby teeth and he has grown up teeth – an argument so insane that I simply stopped having my half of it right away, which led to him yelling about how I wasn’t answering him. He has gotten more time outs for being rude than he has for being insane… I mean, I don’t even care if he’s insane, that’s fine, if he wants to insist that his remote control car is also a stegosaurus, I’m not even gonna correct him, it’s just difficult to know how to deal with him screaming rudely about it.
Marlena’s relentless need to perfect things, and Barnaby’s complete acceptance of himself make things dizzying to police. When Barnaby was a baby, we could say “Don’t grab the wires” and he’d be all, “Oh. Okay. I’ll play with this empty bottle and pretend it’s a wire!”
But with Marlena, you could pull her away twenty times, she’ll dig her feet in and scramble right back, until you put the wires out of reach, at which point she’ll scramble, look up and HOLLER, fist in the air, purple. And when Marlena points at the puffs, and I give her puffs, she then eats puffs. If Barnaby asks for a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s a complete crapshoot as to whether or not he’ll eat it, because he might look at it and decide that it’s yucky.
So… anyway. As I told Michelle, you get to the end of your rope as a parent, only to discover that you’ve got more rope than you ever imagined. The real problem is that yesterday was my birthday, and even at 41, you kinda think “well, today will at least be average, or maybe slightly better!” so when it’s a day riddled with time outs and screaming babies taking nose-dives out of the crib, it becomes a tough pill to swallow. But I think I was just wallowing a little bit, and I appreciate being able to do so here.
the cousins, Easter 2011: Andrew, Lucy, Barnaby, Marlena