Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The cheese stands alone.

When I was in junior high, I had a friend. She was a Mormon and had many brothers and sisters. Five, if I remember correctly, which I probably don't. Her father was a local newscaster. He was robust and cheerful and excessively smiley while reading the reports.

This friend invited me over after school one day, and from her description, they lived the fancy life in a big house. Made sense, her dad was famous. When we got there, though, imagine my surprise when I met her large, braless, angry, shouty, sweaty mother, who laid on the couch for the duration of my visit, screaming at her grubby brood to bring her more diet coke while she watched Wheel of Fortune and bellowed incorrect answers at the screen.

When we went into the kitchen to get a snack before returning to the friend's room (which we had to enter by climbing over every toy owned by the sibling who had the lower bunk), we found nothing in the fridge, possibly because all of the cheese in the house had been grated onto the linoleum. A whole block of mild cheddar in a huge, greasy, crunchy, glistening pile, lying in a defeated heap on the curling floor.

I've never been able to escape that image. I can still see the one working bulb dimly casting its meager light over the filthy countertops and sink filled with cold, scummy water and rusting pans. So, whenever, while making dinner, shredded cheese escapes the grater to lay on the floor, wormlike and shiny, I must vacuum. To leave it there would be the first step down a road which can only end with Pat Sajak.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The best baby, empirically speaking.

I'm an extremely competitive person. I really have to be, as a singer, as there are too many of us who all want the same thing, and competition forces me to improve myself or fail, pretty much. I now find that I'm also incredibly competitive about Viv. What is there to be competitive about, you may wonder, if you have no children of your own. Oh, so very much.

It starts simply, early on. "Is your child letting you sleep?", other parents ask. It seems innocent enough, but what this question really means is, "Does your baby sleep through the night, like mine does/did from the time she emerged, composed and transcendent, from my womb?" Every question is from a mental checklist being ticked off by a parent wondering if her child is ahead or behind. Is another baby still not able to sit up at three months? The parent of the child who sat at 2.5 months knows that her child is better, more special than the slug who still can only lie there and drool.

It gets worse, though, as the baby gets older. Crawling is a huge indicator of a child's ability to win one for the parents. If you chance to meet a parent of a child who is the same age as yours and, by seven or so months, one child can crawl and the other can't, the crawler's parent leaves the room (field, mall, playground, etc) victorious, smug in her knowledge that the other baby, poor thing, will cost his parents thousands in physical therapy but that her child will continue to excel in such a dramatic manner as to leave other parents agape and despairing when they witness the genius of the early crawler's future accomplishments.

I have two friends with children who walked at nine or so months. This troubled me. Viv could pull herself up and cruise (move from furniture to furniture) without our help by about then, but she couldn't walk, dammit. When she finally did take her first solo steps at about ten and a half months, I was jubilant, but also a little disappointed. I mean, yes, how exciting, she took her first steps, and yes, I told everyone and was genuinely happy, but what did this mean? Was she muscularly challenged? Was she not very smart? Was she merely...average? God forbid.

At her one year appointment, I filled out one of the usual developmental questionnaires, but this was the first one where I couldn't answer yes to every question. No, Viv hadn't taken off an article of clothing (other than socks, shoes and hats), she couldn't eat independently with a spoon very well and she couldn't scribble. When the pediatrician reviewed the form, I asked her if it was a problem if Viv couldn't do everything on the checklist. She gave me that look, you know the one. The one that says, "Oh shit, you're going to ask me if there are any flash cards you should be using, aren't you?" I said that Viv couldn't scribble, to which she replied, "I wouldn't give a one year old anything to scribble with, much less expect her to scribble." I asked why it was on the questionnaire, then, and she said that the questions pertained to children up to two. She turned over the paper to read our replies to the questions on the second page, the ones geared towards developmental milestones of two year olds, and she asked me, disbelievingly, if Viv actually had more than four intelligible words she could use in context. I thought about it, and came up with about a dozen words Viv uses on a daily basis. When we (Christian was there, too) started telling the doctor which words Viv could use, she was surprised. She looked at Viv who was looking back at her, and said that she was considerably ahead of the curve.

It was better than any trophy.