Monday, April 18, 2011

Mongolian mad hatter

Mama arrived at the Mongolian head shaving ceremony just in time for the first shot of vodka. After that she, of course, needed a beer chaser, as she did after the second shot. After that we bowed out rather than join the tight circle that had formed.

This was in part due to Mama realizing that she was, in her words, "getting lit" and my absorption in being, as Mama describes it, the Mongolian mad hatter with the kids.

We had given the girl who was getting her head shaved a tea set, which she opened as soon as she tore the wrapping paper off. And tearing the paper off didn't take long, since Jewel had gotten it started for her.

Suddenly, all 65 children at the party--OK, maybe only 6, but they were coming at me from all sides--descended on the tea set, which was made for, apparently, one girl and half a doll. This meant that I had to suddenly switch into hostage negotiator mode, where the cups, saucers, creamer, plates, sugar bowl and a variety of lids were hostages and the 65 kids were the kidnappers.

While not all of us were using the same verbal language, we were all speaking the universal language of have-versus-have-not with the local dialect of gimme-that-now. I was improvising with the tools I had at hand, which fortunately included a half empty water bottle, that I could dole out sips of tea from...until someone poured most of it out onto the carpet.

I was feeling a bit like Jesus with the loaves and fishes but without the son-of-god powers. Let's just say that everyone survived, but maybe some kids had to drink tea out of the creamer.

Maybe because the drinks were finally doing their work, calming my nerves in the midst of the firefight, I somehow managed to keep my cool during the whole episode.

3B loved it, which is a good thing, since the girl whose party it was is a neighbor in our building and loves to play with 3B, so I'm sure we'll see the tea set again. While he was busy with that, Jewel was roaming the floor on the motorized car and pedal trike. She loved pushing both around, not wanting to use the motor on the former and being too short to reach the pedals on the latter.

She would let me push the motor button and steer her around, as she held her feet up in the air much like you'd throw your arms up on a roller coaster. But only for a minute, then it was back to the quiet, but resolute, "I'll do this myself" determination that marks just about everything Jewel does.

3B also loved the car and trike until it got too crowded to ride them. Then, other than the tea set and the meringues and sugar cubes he snacked on, there wasn't much to distract him. And there wasn't much for him to eat. Perhaps that's how he kept ending up in time out.

Or perhaps it was me and those shots of vodka and their chasers. Or perhaps sleeping in that morning, which was a beautiful gift from Mama, threw me off. Or perhaps it was just the end of a long day and I wasn't feeling it.

Whatever it was, it didn't end well.

I sent 3B out to the patio to sit in time out. I told him that if he couldn't hold it together, we were leaving the party and going straight upstairs. When I went out to get him, he couldn't hold it together. Maybe it was a reaction to something I said, maybe it was just time to go, but whatever it was, I told him we were going and he said that he was going to sit right there. I was already walking past him, so I grabbed his shirt sleeve and pulled him along with me. In the process, it knocked over the chair he was sitting on.

Now, I know that he doesn't like being pulled around like that. Who does? But I felt I'd given him enough chances to do it himself. When he refuses to go to time out, I always ask if he'd rather walk or have me carry him there, and this was no different. And yet, something was different.

We were leaving a happy celebration on a bad note, and it disturbs me to this minute. I'm sure it had an effect on him, but I doubt that he's replaying it endlessly as I am, wishing for a different ending each time. In fact, when we got upstairs, he was happier and easier to get along with for the rest of the night than the whole time at the party.

That's oblique proof that perhaps he wasn't that happy at the party. It was stressful, after all, even if he wasn't the Mongolian mad hatter. Or perhaps he was happy at the party, but just happier at home. As Mama reminded me, he puts himself in time out, we don't. In fact, our goal is to help him not behave in such a way that he ends up in time out.

Perhaps that's what bothers me so much: I know that I wasn't modeling that behavior at the end of the night. I know that no matter how often I play loaves and fishes with tea sets, I'll never be able to walk on water, but I'd still like to be as perfect as possible for my kids, and so I'm disappointed in myself. Angry at myself. And a little sad for 3B, although by the time the elevator hit our floor, he was skipping down the hall, laughing, so I don't think it really stayed with him that long.

But I'll take that disappointment and that anger and use them to fuel my drive to become a better dad, so hopefully some good will come of it. And I'll take that little sadness and listen to some deep blues today, which will hopefully wash me clean.

Papa Bradstein will not drink any tea, or vodka shots, in his 200-mile ride across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. But maybe some when he's done. Please support his ride.

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  1. It strikes me that you did kinda a neat thing here, although it might not exactly have felt that way.

    By the time you got back to your floor, 3B was skipping and laughing. In other words, he was there with you, his buddy, his dad, happy to be alive and together. You did what you had to do--you enforced some discipline, which just ain't fun, but you're trying to prepare him for the outside world. But even after time outs, he still knew you loved him and he loved you, which is huge. He didn't hate you. He wasn't sullen and resentful.

    Don't beat yourself up over it too bad. In your relationship with 3B, someone has to be the grownup. 99% of the time, that person is going to be, um . . . you.

    And you love each other, and he knows you're not withholding that.

    But do withhold the vodka shots until he gets a little older. Sounds as if the tea is quite enough already.

  2. He was curious about the vodka, so I let him smell it.

    "Smells like permanent marker!" was his resounding verdict, announced to much laughter.