Day: July 25, 2016

My Trashy Neighbors Part 1598

(Writing from September 12, 2010. The neighbor I wrote about giving the kids marshmallows as an after-school snack would later encourage her daughter, who was overweight, much taller, and a grade older than my son to bully him for being neurologically atypical. Try to act surprised.)

***

My weakest subject in the school of parenting is socialization. I’m shy, and this simply does not work when you have a very outgoing little boy.

My 4-year-old son is in kindergarten with other kids 8:30-2:30, five days a week, and still wants to play with someone when he gets home. I was a loner kid, and don’t understand this at all.

I am home alone during his schooling, and often feel I could use more alone time. I have almost always lived alone, since I moved out at 17, and in relationships, often stayed at my own place for space. I require a lot of silence, yoga, and long, centering walks, so as you can imagine, motherhood has turned me into a nervous, twitchy mess. It’s a living.

So here’s my neighborhood dynamic: we have a few nice moms with a 2-3 kids each on my street. We tried group play dates for awhile, but that petered out after a few months when one mom decided that we were close enough friends to start coming over to my house unannounced, which I find nervewracking and rude. Call me southern, but my mama taught me better than that.

I finally started completely avoiding her after she came by unannounced to leave her baby with me because her husband accidentally took the carseat to work with him, and she needed to shop for a birthday present for her mother. I’m not even kidding.

First of all, babies scare me. I know that now that I’ve had one, I’m supposed to be over my fear and grab any squirming infant that I stumble across, cooing with confident glee, but it didn’t happen. I have no baby experience other than my son, and was relieved when he came out of me weighing 9.5 pounds because it made him seem so much less fragile than other newborns. I’m not a baby person. I’ve accepted this.

Secondly, this particular baby was hugely attached to his mother and cried nonstop when anyone else tried to hold him – even his own father. And she knew this, because she’s the one who told me.

Thirdly, who does that? I don’t think she even knew my last name at this point. Who just leaves their kid with someone they don’t really know? Here, lady across the street with whom I’m on a first name basis, please unexpectedly take my child who will cry nonstop while I am gone and watch him for a few hours. Enjoy!

When I told my husband about it, he said, “Why couldn’t her husband just drive the car seat home during his lunch break? That’s what I would have done.”

Right?

Anyhow, that was the end for me. Plus, with my 1 kid to their 2-3 each, I was really never going to win at the trading babysitting services game, was I?

So I stopped answering the door when she would knock, and excused myself out of the playdates.

The part that makes me feel like a motherhood failure, though, is worrying that my son suffers because of my social weirdness. I don’t want to play nice with the neighborhood mommies, but these are the people with children, so he is deprived of playmates. All because I don’t want high-maintenance friendships with women that will eat into my precious alone time. And because I don’t want to watch other people’s screaming infants, with no notice, for free.

Can you blame me?

So with this in mind, a few evenings ago, when my son was begging me to play with the neighborhood kids across the street as they raced down the sidewalk on their bikes, I let him. I put on his helmet, helped him cross the street with his bike, and away he went.

I dragged a fold-up canvas sports chair into the front yard, stuck a beer in the cup holder (my husband was home – I don’t drink on the job otherwise), waved at the moms a few houses down across the street to whom the gaggle of children belonged, and tried to relax.

Within seconds, I noticed my son had stopped biking with the other kids. I stood up to see that he was hovering near the mothers, drinking something. Sighing, I walked down the street and crossed the road to see what he was holding.*

It was a Capri Sun. Which I never give him because it is high fructose corn syrup and water with a tiny splash of juice thrown in so they can very largely plaster WITH NATURAL JUICES on the front (http://www.cspinet.org/new/200701081.html). I was annoyed, but realized they were just trying to be nice, since the other kids had the drinks, so I thanked them. (Yes, I’m a non-confrontational pussy. I think we already covered this.)

I allow occasional treats, and don’t want him to grow up with a later-in-life addiction to sugar because he was deprived as a kid, but there is so much high fructose corn syrup in everything that I make a point of reading all labels and buying the versions of foods that don’t use it (HFCS-free peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, and juices, for example).

I don’t think they should have given my child something unhealthy without asking me. I would always make someone else’s child run and ask their mother. But then I was the socially-challenged weirdo sitting in my own yard rather than hanging out with them, so I wasn’t really there to be asked. Fair enough.

I told my son that I would keep the drink for him and he could come over to our house if he wanted to drink more so he could go back to playing. Because I am a very polite liar. I walked back to my house and threw the rest of the Capri Sun away. We were going to have dinner in a while and I didn’t want him to be full of corn syrup water.

I sat back down to observe. Within minutes, my son was missing from the bike gang again. I stood up and noticed he was holding a bag of something and eating from it. I figured it was potato chips or something. Again, not a food I keep around or give my kid, because at his age, they don’t eat much. When he does eat, I want it to be good quality food so his growing body gets the nutrition it needs.

(This seems blatantly obvious to me, by the way, and I am constantly shocked by the junk food I see people feeding young children. Gee, I wonder why health problems related to poor diet and obesity are such a growing problem in our country?)

I let it go on a few minutes, thinking he’d get bored and put the bag down any minute, but I soon realized he was just going to town on that bag of whatever. He was going to completely ruin his appetite for dinner, so I once again got up and ambled down the street to investigate.

It was a bag of marshmallows. Motherfucking marshmallows. My son was shoving mini-marshmallows into his mouth as fast as he could. When he saw me coming, he knew the jig was up and started cramming them in faster, until he could no longer talk without spitting marshmallows.

Best part: the woman who apparently gives her children marshmallows as a snack was just telling me a few minutes before about how her husband is having heart trouble and diabetes-related issues. This woman has a college degree, so I was blown away that she couldn’t see the connection between her horrifyingly unhealthy snack selection and poor familial health.

So my son had high fructose corn syrup water and marshmallows for dinner that night because he wasn’t hungry anymore when we got home. Gross.

And I decided that, mommy guilt be damned, that is the last time I’m going to let him hang out with the neighbor kids.

Yes, because I am flawed and psychologically uncomfortable hanging out with people I don’t know simply because we have procreation in common.

But also because I love my son, and I want him to grow up knowing how to eat healthfully and take good care of his body so he won’t have weight issues, heart problems and type 2 diabetes.

It has finally sunk into my thick skull that no socialization is better than negative socialization. I’m not failing at motherhood, as I feared. Not at all. Because every decision I make is based on what’s best for my kid.

And also, these are not my people. These are my trashy neighbors, and I don’t have to hang out with them simply because we bought homes near each other. I can choose my friends based on who they are, not their location.
Eat yer vegetables, kids.

xoxo.

 

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24 Crayons

I had finally moved up to the bigger box. The coveted 24 pack of Crayola Crayons. I had colored my 5-year-old way through the 8 pack and the 16, and had graduated to 24. I was so excited to have so many more options, so many more of the bright, happy colors I adored. My coloring books would never be the same.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and it was 1976, so coloring was one of my favorite forms of entertainment. Things were slower back then, and without television networks devoted to endless cartoons, video games and the internet to entertain us, we had to find things to do on our own. Free from the psychological constraints having an incredibly talented sister would later place on me, I still fancied myself quite the artist.

I’d gotten in trouble before for leaving my crayons on the floor of the living room, and had been instructed, as usual, to go get my father’s belt for a beating. I was a precocious, stubborn, strong-willed little girl, but I lived in fear of the belt. When the belt entered the picture, my red curls snapped to attention, and my blue eyes widened in fear. I had the task of picking up my crayons permanently seared into my memory with every lash of leather on my young skin. From that point on, I always picked up my crayons when I was done coloring. Always.

My sister was a few years younger than me, and I never wanted to play with her. She was a great kid, but I was an odd child, and preferred to play alone. She followed me around and wanted to do everything I did, to my annoyance, and I was required to share my things with her, which is a nice lesson. But she was younger than me and didn’t quite have the house rules committed to memory. I should have seen it coming.

When I let my little sister borrow the glorious 24 pack of crayons, I was probably relieved that she’d found something to do besides emulate me. I had been busy playing with toys in my orange shag-carpeted bedroom, probably listening to the Mickey Mouse record player I loved so much, when my dad got home from work.

My dad really liked to take out his bad days on his wife and two daughters when he got home, and because he was an unhappy person in an unhappy marriage working a job he didn’t like, most of his days were bad. Much of my early childhood was spent avoiding the man, because being within his physical or mental reach never yielded anything particularly pleasant. He had proven himself easily capable of hitting my mom and me, so I kept my distance from the junkyard dog of his psyche.

He yelled my name, and I froze in terror. He sounded mad, and that never meant anything good. But I knew that hiding would only make the punishment worse when he found me. And he always found me. Full of dread, I walked down the hallway from my room, toward the living room where he stood.

Where he stood over my crayons.

My sister had left them out. She was younger. She didn’t know. She didn’t realize the enormity of what she’d done. And I would love to say that I was a brave girl and took the fall for her, but instead I ratted her out immediately. It wasn’t noble of me, but I knew she wouldn’t be punished as harshly. I thought that maybe if he knew I hadn’t done it, that I’d respected the rules written on my bare ass by the stinging belt, he might calm down and understand this time. Just this time, maybe it could be different.

I apologized again and again, repeated that I’d lent my crayons to my little sister, that I never would have left them out. When he didn’t send me to go get the belt, I thought that maybe my begging had worked.

He bent down and started to gather up the crayons into his hands. I was confused. Surely he wasn’t picking them up for me? Shouldn’t he be making my sister pick them up, the way I’d had to pick them up before, limping from the spanking, with snot and tears crusting my face, gathering them into my shaking toddler hands?

He walked into the kitchen with my 24 crayons. My mom was cooking dinner and turned around to watch as he started snapping them in half, slowly, individually, while he laughed at my growing hysterics. He dropped the broken pieces into the open garbage can while I sobbed in horror.

I was screaming for my mom to stop him, that my sister had left them out, not me, while she screamed at him to stop. But no matter how hard I cried and apologized for what I hadn’t even done, no matter how my mom pleaded, he just kept snapping them.

Red, snap! Dandelion, snap! Violet, snap! Orange, snap! Green-yellow, snap! Yellow-orange, snap! Violet-red, snap! Yellow-green, snap! Yellow, snap! Blue-green, snap! Scarlet, snap! Cerulean, snap! Apricot, snap! Red-violet, snap! Indigo, snap! White, snap! Brown, snap! Black, snap! Carnation pink, snap! Red-orange, snap! Green, snap! Blue, snap! Blue-violet, snap! And gray, snap! So much gray.

Until all of my beautiful colors were ruined.

He grabbed a beer and left the kitchen to sit in his chair in front of the television until my mom finished cooking dinner.

I think the worst part of all was how my father destroyed my brand new crayons with a smile on his face. This was no “it hurts me more than it hurts you” parental lesson, he clearly relished the pain he was causing me; I have no doubt. I am not one of those people with an amazing brain that can recall many clear moments from childhood, but the traumatizing ones have always stayed with me. This was one of my first lessons about the great cruelty of which humans are capable, and I’ll never forget it.