Child Rearin'

Published on June 3rd, 2015 | by Richard Black


Turning Toddlers Into Teens: The Parenting Change and Pimping Yourself Out for the Sake of Your Child’s Social Life

UF_Pimp_060315If you’re looking for advice, this is not one of those posts. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got advice by the truckload, I just don’t have any wisdom to impart on this particular subject. I’m almost five years into the game and I am just beginning to understand what it means to be a parent. I’m not a particularly bright man, but I have my moments, and it has recently occurred to me that raising my daughter isn’t going to get much easier as she ages.

I didn’t expect that rearing a child would be a cakewalk, but raising an infant is exhausting, despite the lack of brain power. It’s more about living with a routine, getting no more than two hours of sleep at a stretch, and avoiding stationary objects while in a sleep deprived state on your third trip to the grocery store.

Taking care of toddlers is a different ballgame because they are the personification of stupid. I’m not mentioning that to be funny —it’s true. Most two-year-olds have the survival instincts of brain damaged lemmings. Even when they’re not throwing themselves off of beds or running into heavy traffic, the looming specter of death is an ever-present concern. My daughter Darcy used to choke regularly on solid food, which isn’t at all unusual, but the fact that she would still try to shovel in a handful of peas while doing so was a bit… disturbing.Disease also begins to raise its ugly head when it comes to toddlers. When Darcy was enrolled at a local daycare, I could count on her coming down with something that usually involved a lot of phlegm or vomit at least once a month. If memory serves, I contracted strep throat twice in one year. The same year that Darcy and I both came down with something called Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, a condition I wasn’t aware of. For those who have yet to enjoy this microbial delight, Hand Foot and Mouth Disease graces its host with little weeping sores on the (you guessed it) hands, feet and mouth. I was told not to worry about catching it. “Adults rarely get Hand Foot and Mouth,” our pediatrician said, “and only then if their immune system is compromised.” Three days later the palms of my hands and soles of my feet felt like a hundred little soldering irons were burning their way through to my skin. I caught a few sores in my throat, but was really fortunate to have over a hundred pop up on my face. Concerned that I may have HIV, I made a meticulous list of the people I’d slept with before meeting my wife. There were two: one of which was me. The other had moved to Siberia to place as many miles between the two of us that she could, and was…unavailable for questioning. Fortunately, my concern was all for naught. I did not have HIV. Unfortunately, the number of weeping sores on my face didn’t heal for a good two weeks, and I spent the time looking like I’d been on the wrong end of a biblical plague.Aside from disease and self-injury, toddlers will begin to test limits and show defiance by doing many things. They may choose to stop eating entirely or feast on all of the wrong things (i.e., a book of stamps, pennies, dead roaches on the porch). And who doesn’t love ripping off a fully loaded diaper in the kitchen? It’s a fun time and one I wouldn’t trade for another toddler —or even two.Preschool presented its own challenges for me as a child. My first experience occurred when my mother attempted to drop me off at the front door. I clung to her leg like a barnacle for a good five minutes, wailing like I’d had a limb ripped off. Until I was pried away and used as a canvas by a bunch of two-year-olds with finger paints. My daughter, however, has been blessed with a temperament more like her mothers. At the age of two, she cheerfully waved me goodbye and ran into her classroom. My daughter’s experience, as well as my own, has been decidedly mixed. While Darcy generally enjoyed herself with the other children, I was able to avoid contact with their parents, which I thought was all for the best. It turns out I was wrong. I should have been more on the ball and engaged in my daughter’s social life at the age of two, or three, or four: a phrase I still find myself amazed by. Darcy was toilet trained two years ago and half the time she still calls me in to perform an extra wipe. Hell, she didn’t even really start actively playing with children her age until last year. Every play date we had (until she turned four) involved Darcy doing her own thing while the other kid did theirs. And while she played alone, I made awkward conversation with a woman I barely knew; wondering all the while if she wanted to have sex when she showed me her bedroom.

Despite my negligence, Darcy made a few friends. But a month or two into our second year, she came home complaining that no one would play with her. I can’t say that there aren’t worse things to happen to a child, but learning that one’s daughter feels alienated at the age of three is fairly upsetting. My wife and I brought the matter up with her teachers and discovered that all of the other girls in the class had paired up, except Darcy. She was the odd girl out. The problem was quickly rectified by splitting up the girls for activities, and for a short time I was grateful. And then I discovered that the mothers of my daughter’s classmates had been scheduling play dates amongst themselves for months without including Darcy. It’s not often one feels disenfranchised as a middle-class white male in this day and age but I was. My stunning good looks and raw sexual magnetism had finally backfired. Then again, I’ve always thought of pick up time as the time to pick my daughter up from school, not an opportunity to network with other moms and schedule play dates. I also may have been busted a few times while looking at someone’s breasts. But in all honesty, that should have been taken as a compliment (Claire, if you didn’t want me to look, you shouldn’t have worn that halter top three days in a row). In my defense, I did catch some of them looking at my package, which may or may not have been stuffed with a tube sock in the interest of science, but you don’t see me complaining.

It turns out that preschool children and their parents are remarkably cliquish. Granted, I could have made myself more approachable, but that really just feels like I’m whoring myself out for the sake of my daughter’s social life, something I was hoping to avoid until middle school. I wasn’t particularly adept at negotiating the social quagmire that was adolescence when I was going through the experience. And I look forward to navigating my daughter through that emotional minefield with the same amount of enthusiasm I’d reserve for a vasectomy without anesthesia because I generally hate mingling with people. Quite frankly, if I enjoyed that sort of thing I would have had a more successful career or gone into politics. I’m sure that these are “good” people, but our commonalities pretty much begin and end with the fact that we both have a child of the same age. Plus, everyone knows that good is just a euphemism for boring, and I’m really not into that. I’m not saying that I want to hang out with parents who are into sport sex or ritual killings. But give me a pleasant medium between that and a couple who only talks about hockey or what they’d just heard on NPR.

My wife, on the other hand, is social by nature and possesses a temperament more appropriate for this particular aspect of child rearing. Not only can she talk to a brick wall; she can get it to talk back. Being more introverted in nature, I prefer to sit in front of the brick wall while drinking a six pack and wait for it to speak to me. But then, I’m just Zen like that.

This is my plight and my daughters as well. Being her primary caretaker, we both get the shaft in this regard. With kindergarten on the horizon and a fresh start for both of us, I will attempt to ingratiate myself with the mothers of her potential friends. I’ll even attempt to do so without mentioning that nipple rings are the new black or some other comment that I find to be absolutely hilarious. At some point, however, I’ll screw something up and mention the time my mother told me that I had “sexy” feet. Or that I’ve got hemorrhoids (the result of an illicit drug incident in college rather than childbirth, but we’ve both got them right? RIGHT?). Or any number of other “unsuitable” topics of conversation.

These sorts of engagements will be easy in comparison to the role I foresee in my future. Instead of simply caring for my daughter’s basic needs as an infant… Or keeping her from launching herself headfirst down a set of stairs as a toddler… Or even schmoozing up the good people in the PTA, my task is much more intimidating. I will have to have faith in my own abilities as a parent and in hers as a young adult. I will have to trust that I have taught her well. And perhaps, most importantly, we will both have to understand the duplicitous nature of my instruction when I ask her to think for herself while following my every piece of advice.

I know I’m not alone… Share some of your trials and tribulations below!

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