Burnt Lattes

I have started to video tape my agreements with the boys and it’s worked a charm. Before the taping, we would agree to one more activity or a certain amount of time for an activity and when it came time for their exchange, I would invariably hear protestations of “but mama, just one more minute” or “just one more book (or episode, the boys love Story Bots and Octonauts to an almost indecent degree). This percolated me to a boil until I decided they needed to see their prior handshake. The first time I did it, I was looking forward to displaying to my three year old his pinky promise that we had agreed to only one minute more of trains before dinner while he was crying for JUST one more minute and was surprisingly a little disappointed I didn’t even have to show the video. All I had to do was point to it and the boys followed through on their end of the bargain. In fact, now my five year old polices my three year old on their trilateral agreements, counting down the number of books we have left to read or running to warn me that it’s nearing the end of the agreed final episode and I need to turn the TV off.

Despite having regained a hold of keeping the kids to their agreements, we’ve had some trouble with negotiating the deal in the first place with L. Recently he’s become rabidly rebellious at times, insisting that he doesn’t want to do what he doesn’t want to do. Join the club, kid. I explained to him that a large measure of our quotidian quests are unfortunately not to our liking. L quickly questioned this. “Why?” he asked. “Why does anybody have to do what they don’t want to do?” Perhaps this is the vocal process of the development of our social interpellation. First, we simply do as directed without questioning, next we question these directives and later we accept or rather succumb to the insidious social structure. I’m caught in the conundrum of on the one hand wanting to support this questioning of authority while on the other hand wanting my kid to just eat all his broccoli. How do you foster independent thinking while requiring obedience? Does one necessarily trench upon the other? I also understand that I’ve always had and continue to have a problem with authority to my detriment. I respected the teachers that earnt my respect and my report cards always noted this problem. Not playing the game has probably impeded me, so should I not guide them to a more practicable consensus with authority figures? Whether for good or ill, I viscerally cannot demand of my kids to do something without justifying the reason for it. You brush your teeth because otherwise you will have carious containments. You go to sleep to replenish, to repair and as a child, to grow and children thus require more sleep. In that sense, I want them to instill acceptance of authority without unquestioning deference.

“Why are you the boss?” L asked me once. It’s of course not as clearly delineated as L perceives it. As our time and money is mostly spent on our boys and they are our gravitational pull, one can easily argue that while we demand they, for instance brush their teeth twice daily and at times we request, constrain their movement by not allowing them to go out on their own and have instituted a curfew, it is they who really run this show and are our bosses.

As a parent rearing part of a new generation, I believe it is my duty to teach my children critical social and legal theory and for them to understand how society developed and to stand against injustice. I do not perceive our political foundations as natural and immutable states of existence (even what defines “political” after all is a political decision) or that “cultural” practices, which develop from power relations and serve to entrench them are somehow sacrosanct and worthy of deference.

I have not yet directed my kids on historical injustices albeit I have posited the question of “justice”.  I’ve read them a censored version of the Mahatma devoid of issues of race as my boys don’t yet perceive race and to teach about the injustice of racism necessarily involves teaching this social construction. Rather I distilled it to justice = respect for the universe inside the other as in you/ we’re all just a bunch of atoms. As for sexism, when my son pointed to a woman clad in a burqa in which the woman’s eyes peered through an imprisoned vision of the resplendent cobalt garment enveloping her entire form in a children’s book putatively celebrating the beautiful diversity across our world (failing to question the power relations entwined with “cultural” relations), and asked me what a ghost was doing amongst the people, I nearly cried. This was perhaps a poignant teachable moment and yet it escaped me, for I was not ready to discuss this with him. As to parent is to teach, whether we do it consciously or subconsciously by deflecting L’s question I failed him that time. I'll be ready next time we open the book. 

M has picked up some more colourful language from his grandmother, albeit unfortunately this time in English. Asking whether the next day was a “stay” day one night, I told him it was a “go” day instead. He rolled his eyes and laid his head back, “oh, fuuuuuck.” I erupted in laughter, which was probably not a sage response. Later, we were at swim lesson and the boys had been running around in the field before, when I noticed M was doing the stereotypical needing-to-pee dance and before I asked him to go to bathroom, he rushed straight to it, exclaiming “I need to pee”  - alas, it was too late. M looked down at his wet pants, embarrassed, not having had an accident during the day for longer than I could remember (more than 16 months at least), “fucking idiot” he said, shaking his head. The mothers in the dressing room, their ears pricked, cast me disapproving looks as their children’s mouth opened agape in horror. I wanted to burrow into the ground. I told M it was OK, but he was pretty upset. M does not like not achieving what he wants to achieve. For instance, we have fought over wearing a diaper at night. When in deep sleep, M has accidents. M does not want to wear a diaper and we don’t want to keep doing laundry (just think of the environment!). So we battle every few nights with M insisting that he is a grown up boy and doesn’t need a diaper. And every so often I relent- and his bedding ends up in the laundry.

M is an avid “night walker” and repeatedly requests to venture forth on them and as we adventure to shout at people excitedly “have a nice night walk!” to which they confusedly mumbling and indecipherable response or outright laugh, which doesn’t faze M one pinch. There is something enchanting about the night for M, particularly under the glisten of the moon. No one in our family has any hint of selenophobia. L loves to see the moonlight also as well as reminding all and sundry that the light does not emanate from the moon and that it is safe to directly stare at it.

’Tis the season of giving and viruses are not immune to it. A bronchial infection went round as did a rather disturbing stomach flu which resulted in me, while my husband was expiring his stomach lining in the bathroom and our febrile kids were passed out, washing the wall off my kids’ vomit that had streamed down and ruined their prized solar system poster. Fun times. When L gets sick, M also wants to get sick. He expertly performed a coughing fit and gargled out that he was too sick to go to school, needed to see a doctor and to stay home. He also requested L’s cough medicine. I told him L’s cough medicine would make him throw up. M thought this over. “but mama, I need to get the germies out, so that’s good, I need to throw up” he opined. For all his thespian abilities in emulating L’s cough or his sophistry, we held firm. He was not sick. He went to school. M notched up the stakes and deliberately drank from L’s water. “Now I’ve got my brother’s germs” he proudly announced his victory, “and you can’t send me to school or I’ll infect everyone”.

I’m used to now being called “L’s mum” or “M’s mum” and referred to as their appendage/chaperone. I noticed my kids doing this with their friends’ mothers and fathers and informed them that if they didn’t know someone’s name that they should ask them what it is so that they can call them by their name. I didn’t expect, however, to be thrown so early into quasi-romantic relations. A girl at school whom L favoured, decided that L could only speak to her and no other girl. This bothered L and before he divulged his distress, I understood he was in a brood going to school and was concerned that he didn’t want to tell me what was going on. I decided to not pry or rather realized he was getting more annoyed the more I tried to extract information from him, so I told him he was always welcome to share what went on with me, but didn’t have to. The next day, L told me that V didn’t want him playing with any other girl and that this upset him because he wanted to be friends with everyone, including other girls and that therefore he wasn’t playing with any of his other girlfriends. He also decided to draw a beautiful rainbow for V and wrote “love you forever” on it with some help from me. He asked me to put it in her cubby. I said, “why don’t we wait a day or two and then you can give it to you herself?” and hid it, deciding that this was not a wise move for my son. I also told him that he should play with everyone and tell V that he was her friend and that their friendship was not lessened by his other friendships. Perhaps I shouldn’t meddle so much. However, L seemed happier. Perhaps this did the trick. A week or so later, I came to pick L up and V came up to me, visibly distressed. “L’s mum” she tugged at my shirt. “L really, really hurt my feelings today” she blurted out close to tears. I was shocked. “What did he do?” I asked concerned. “Well, he played with me 1, 2, 3 times but he played with A 1, 2 {proceeding to count through }11 times and H 1, 2 {proceeding to count through} 7 times. That’s more times than he played with me. That really hurt my feelings.” I was immensely relieved but didn’t want to show this to the clearly distressed soul in front of me as L came back from his cubby with his jacket and backpack and looked at V in fright. “I’m telling your mum you hurt my feelings” V said. L looked at me aghast. “Now” I said, trying to pacify them, “it’s not the number of times you play with anyone, it’s how you play with them” I blathered, not even sure I what I was trying to get at. “L’s friends with everyone.” V had her own agenda. “I want a playdate with just L” she demanded. L nodded. “Yes! Wonderful idea” I exclaimed. “And I want us to have a hot chocolate bath” she requested. L and V, who are both quite expressive, sharp kids, continue to have a strong if a little tumultuous infinity and I wonder whether it’s some negotiation in their psyche of how to handle romantic feelings at such an early age. When I picked up L recently from school and he was lugubrious, I knew it had something to do with V. What happened? “V said she’d only play with me after I count to infinity!” he exclaimed. “And you know I’m never going to get there!”

This was the first year the boys discovered Santa due to the influence of their friends and their school. I’ve related before that I am not keen on Santa - an intellectual property pirate, with apparently unlimited surveillance of young children that abuses numerous labor laws in his treatment of elves- is not my idea of someone to emulate. After an internal crisis, I decided it was best to let them have their Santa fantasy. My husband, unlike my tacit tolerance, encouraged it. He baked cookies and left out a plate and a glass of milk for Santa on Christmas eve.

What did M want from Santa? Car to rocket transformers (the elf factory apparently does not produce these but he was ebullient when he received transformer toys). What did L write to Santa as his wish for Christmas? A “daddy” stuffed orca, as we have a mama and two youths, which I thought quite sweet that he wanted our whole family represented in his stuffed orca collection. L also wanted the Saturn V rocket. Instead, we bought him the Saturn V Lego kit (which comes in 1969 pieces of course). The problem with getting your kid something that you want to do for Christmas, of course, is that you gave it to your kid. My husband and I had quite a few marital squabbles over who was going to do which part of the rocket with L, even though he now does 97% of it, following the instructions without our guidance (the downside of fostering independence). Even M was getting into it by the end, displaying an increased dexterity. 

L has recently taken to playing chess. It is the one app I allow him to play as we found one that has aided his ability to understand how the pieces move and the intent of the game. My father trained him well while he was here over Christmas and from only being able to set the board last July, L now can play! I’m thrilled. We have played a few games, albeit I’ve realized that having L win to encourage his confidence has some drawbacks as now L thinks I’m terrible at chess and has advised me to practice more.

My husband has finally turned the boys to jeans. Their entire lives, they refused to wear them and wanted “soft” pants but my husband came up with the idea of “rough and tough” jeans. This concept won them over like wildfire. Now all they want to wear is “rough and tough” jeans.

The boys love going to their dentist. Firstly, they have a fabulous dentist. Secondly, the boys love being taken care of. Our three-year-old had his teeth scraped for plaque and all it took was for the dentist to show the "germies" and M insisted she continue "thank you for taking the germies off" he said as she gushed. Little does she know they don’t behave like that in their domestic environment (kids save the best of themselves for parents). M was told he has a gap which works as a food trap and now avidly flosses nightly telling his brother, “I have a food trap so I have to be really careful”.

The other day I made M cry. M had been in an irascible mood that evening and anything I did was wrong. I knew to tread carefully and was increasingly worn thin by his attack on every occurrence. It was bath time and “wash” hair day and M and I had a tortured exchange over washing his hair. The boys regularly make me “lattes” in the bath, filling their cups with bubbles (I do enjoy a latte in the mornings). They are my brilliant baristas. M, for the first time, during his tirade against everything and everyone after I had washed his hair with some exertion of force, scowled as he thrust a "burnt latte" before me. I understood this as an intentional insult and told him I didn’t like burnt lattes and put it down. M began to cry and was disconsolate. I was crushed. I just made my kid cry because I thought he was somehow trying to insult me by providing me bad coffee (the parodies of my failure are endless). I vehemently apologized to M that night but the next morning M told me at breakfast that I really hurt his feelings by refusing his latte and I decided I was one of the worst mothers in the world. I again apologized and we made peace. That night, M made me another bath latte and exclaimed, with the most serious tone "and this time it's not burnt mama"... 


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