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Mini

The Water Table

by anna on November 3, 2010

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One of the big draws in the Big Boy Yard, I might have mentioned, is [cough] “waterplay.” The other day, when I came to get Mini from school in the afternoon, he was situated with several other kids around a “water table” (basically a giant water-filled tub on legs). The kids were systematically filling unused turkey basters and non-surgical syringes with water and squirting each other with delight.

[I will pause here so that, in a dungeon-like university office somewhere, Judith Butler can catch up with her furious note-taking and diagram-drawing.]

The rule for squirting is, basically, you can squirt other kids (or adults) with water as much as you want, provided the other person says it’s OK. But the catch is, because of the general Bedlam-like environment of the Water Table, the onus is often on the squirtee to say it’s not OK, either by literally telling another child to stop squirting them, or by crying or throwing a fit, or by fetching a teacher.

Since there is water involved, and because it’s a preschool, there is always at least one or two teachers in the vicinity of the water table supervising the waterplay. But they are usually pretty busy, and things get a little hairy. Often, it’s tough to sort through exactly when there has been a violation of the rules of OK and not-OK squirting.

When I get there Mini’s having a great old time. I have noted that unsurprisingly, Mini is the one doing the squirting — onto the ground, back into the water table, into cups, and onto one of his buddies, Andrew, who for some reason thinks it’s hysterically funny to be squirted on the back with a turkey baster. I’m laughing, Mini’s laughing, Andrew’s laughing. It’s all very funny in a kind of three year old version of Benny Hill kind of way. Until a third kid, Merridew, decides to take a non-surgical syringe full of water and squirt Mini full on the face with it when he’s not even looking at him.

Merridew is so nicknamed because of the warpaint he was wearing on the first day I met him, and the fact that I always expect him to be carrying a sharpened stick and leading a boar hunting expedition like his namesake from Lord of The Flies. Today, though, Merridew is wearing a shirt that says “Canada,” because when they say that truth is stranger than fiction, what they really mean is that you cannot really capture how strange life really is until you start writing creative non-fiction.

Now Mini is standing in front of me in tears, looking for solutions, because even though there are teachers and there are boundaries to be set, there is Mommy and she is the great solution maker, and her presence here has made everything that much more complicated.

“Buddy,” I say, “Did that boy squirt you in the face?”
“Yes! Him did,” he sobs.
“You don’t like that, do you, sweetheart?”
“No, I don’t,” he says, and tears are falling down his face.
“You have to go tell him that, bud. I will come with you. But you have to tell him.”
“NO! YOU! I WANT YOU TO DO IT.”

He is pleading with me, and tears are falling down his face. I am pretty sure my heart is going to break, if I don’t snap Merridew’s neck in half first, but instead of going with that impulse, I take Mini by the hand and lead him up to the punk in the Canadian t-shirt.

“Tell him, Mini. Tell him that you don’t like to be squirted in the face with water.”
“I don’t like it.”
“What don’t you like?”
“No, Mamma –” he protests
“I know,” I say, “It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to say it, but you have to.”

I wish I could say the episode ended with Mini directly addressing Merridew and telling him not to squirt him in the face with water. But this is life — preschool — not a sitcom, and what really happened was that Mini fixated on a kid who was in his way to get back in front of the Water Table, saying, “I want him to get out of my way,” and I wiped his tears away and went back to watching them play from afar. Merridew continued to play at the Water Table, with a slightly more sheepish expression on his face this time, until later, when Mini started squirting me with the non-surgical syringe, and things got more interesting.

“Don’t do it again,” I told him. He did it again, immediately, because I am Mommy and pretty much everything is negotiable with Mommy in Mini’s mind.

“Listen, dude, what did I just say? Didn’t I just tell you not to do it again?”
“Yes.”
“Why did you do it, then?”
“I like to squirt you.”
“Did you like it when he [pointing at Merridew] squirted you in the face without your permission?”
“Uh-uh.”
“Then why would you do it to me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to do it again?”
“No.”

That was the last of the rules violations I witnessed that day at The Water Table, though I’m sure there were more as the day went on. Boundaries are weird, and I don’t know how much three-year-olds can learn about them, but they are pretty strict at Mini’s school about how they are to be dealt with: the kid doing the violating of the boundary is to be admonished and the kid whose boundary has been violated is asked to formally assert the boundary. Sometimes it seems foolish and overly formal, but then again maybe that’s only because somewhere along the line we stopped doing enough of this in our daily lives. Maybe at some point we started relying too much on things being “common sense” that clearly are not common sense for everyone. Sometimes you do just have to come out and say, “Look, asshole, I don’t want to be squirted in the face with a non-surgical syringe full of water, OK?”

It reminds me a lot of when I first got sober and I had been complaining, day after day, about students who would waste my time constantly, and my sponsor stepped closer and closer to me until finally she was standing on top of my foot. I looked at her like she was insane, but she didn’t say anything, so finally I said, “Umm, are you going to get off my foot?” Thinking, surely this doesn’t need to be said, right?

She said, “Well, you never asked me to.”

Sometimes you do just have to say it, I think. And not to invite a reflection on the rightness or wrongness of the action itself, either — but because even if some of us think that these things should be common sense, maybe they just aren’t.

Perfectionism

by anna on October 28, 2010

Mini does this thing where he goes through the basket of cars at school and looks on the bottom of each car to determine whether or not they are branded with the Hot Wheels logo or not. I have decided that this is more evidence of his genius because I did not show him that there was branding on the bottom of the cars for Hot Wheels, it’s something he figured out on his own.

“See, Mama, it says, “HOT WHEELS!”
“Yeah, it does, buddy.
“This one is not Hot Wheels, though.”
“No.”
“But this one is.”

It is important to note here that Mini will play with the non-Hot Wheels cars, but he prefers the Hot Wheels ones. More important than anything, of course, is just the identification of which ones are Hot Wheels and which ones aren’t, and actually if you look at the cars carefully, you can start to identify differences between them even before you look on the bottom to see if they are Hot Wheels or not. [Now might be a good time to pause and point out, again, that this is not a sponsored post, it just so happens that my kid has become fixated on the Hot Wheels brand. Sue me, FTC.]

People are never as impressed by Mini’s genius for noticing detail as I am. Though by now I’m used to people failing to be as impressed by my child as I am, it still seems like this is an unusual attention to detail for a three year old. Sure, Mini is a child of consumer culture, as we all are, but the branding is pretty obscure on these cars: you have to be looking pretty closely to see this logo. I remember discussing something like this with one of the grandparents and having them say, “Well, if something is important to him, then he is going to pay close attention,” a comment that I felt betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the common male preschooler’s psyche. When I arrive to pick up Mini at preschool, many of the boys are attempting to bludgeon each other with large sticks and Mini is identifying tiny logos on the bottoms of small cars! Surely he is destined to be a rocket scientist! Why is nobody backing me up on this?

Why is it so important to me that everyone recognizes Mini is a genius the way that I do? Why is it so important to Mini to figure out which cars are Hot Wheels and which cars are not? I don’t know. We like to have things the way we like them. We have that in common.

+++++++++++++++

I don’t know how exactly, but I feel like this is somehow related to that stupid Marie Claire article that everyone is all up in arms about, and that I can’t get upset about, no matter how hard I try. I really want to be upset about it. I do. I’m trying really hard to be upset about it, but I’m not. (If you haven’t heard about the article, it’s here, and responses are everywhere, but I found Deb’s to be particularly insightful.) I’m not a fan of any kind of writing that makes innocent people feel bad about themselves, and this post did that, but so does writing of all kinds, every day. It is not something I like, but it happens all of the time, to all kinds of people. It has been argued that overweight people are among the last groups of people against whom it is still socially “acceptable” to discriminate and I do think there is some truth to that, though I might add Southerners to that list as well if we are talking about making jokes or writing hateful things on the internet.

So, while I don’t like the article, and agree that it’s remarkably out of touch and tone deaf, I just cannot get into the outrage mode that so much of the internet seems to be into this week over the article, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. The easiest explanation is that I live in Los Angeles and I’ve heard that kind of thinking articulated for the better part of my life and it’s almost second nature to me now, but I’m not sure that this is the problem. As I’ve written here before, I have issues with my own body and struggle with my own body acceptance constantly; though I do not think about other overweight people in the manner they are discussed in that post, I do think about myself that way, and I think that may be the problem. I don’t know that this is the problem that the writer has, given that she is a thin person writing about people she sees as morbidly obese, but as a person who is unhappy in their own body and has been for the whole of their life, I can say that I think about my own body in the terms that she used to describe the bodies of other people, and perhaps that is why I’m not so outraged. Those words sounded normal to me, because they are the words I use to talk to myself.

Now, using them on somebody else is a whole other thing entirely. I know that somebody is going to say, “But if you use them on yourself, and you ‘only’ weigh X, then that means,” BUT we are not talking about reality here. We are talking about the messed up mind of a perfectionist and what happens with body dysmorphia. I don’t know that this has anything to do with what that writer was thinking at all, because I don’t know her, and I do know I’d never write anything like what she wrote. But reading it and thinking about why I couldn’t react, when so many other people felt they needed to, was illuminating.

Nothing To See Here

by anna on September 29, 2010

Man, it seems like there’s a whole lot of shit going down in people’s lives on the interwebs View definition in a new window this week, doesn’t it?

African HIV babies, cancer, bankruptcy, pedophiles — jesus fuck, internet. Way to shoot your wad all at once. Maybe spread it out over a couple weeks next time, OK?

Look, I got nothing, people. We’re just hanging over here. Mini’s adjusting to preschool. We are still doing the resistant to transitions thing: he doesn’t want to go in the mornings, he doesn’t want to come home in the afternoons. We are thinking about swimming lessons. A new kid moved in next door and Mini likes him a lot. His name is, let’s say, Nicholas, but Mini can never remember Nicholas, so he starts calling him Ryan whenever he wants to tell him something.

“Hey, Ryan, look at this dinosaur!”
No response.
“Ryan, did you see this dinosaur?”
No response
“Mini, his name is Nicholas.”
“Ryan, I also have this train set.”
“Mini, his name is Nicholas.”
“Ryan’s Dad, how come him doesn’t want to play with my dinosaur or my train set?”

In other disturbing news, and thanks to Mr. Right-Click’s iPad, Mini has discovered YouTube. And along with it, the disturbing world of subversive Thomas The Tank Engine videos. (Yes. There is such a thing. See below, or click here.)

Mini was telling his teachers at school yesterday about “the angry Thomas video” that we were going to watch when we got home, and then I had to apologetically explain that he was watching YouTube, and that it was all Steve Jobs’ fault, because he made it so easy for Mini to run the damn thing by himself, so now I have to watch him like a hawk, and hope that there’s nothing on there that’s too dreadfully violent, or pornographic, or that will cause him to have to have therapy later in life, and that my only hope is that the battery will run out so he will stop playing with it.

I just hope that he’s at least fifteen before he knows how to code stuff better than I can. It seems unlikely, though.