Saturday, February 26, 2005

Perchance to Dream.

My lifelong responsibility as a mother is to create an environment where my daughter has a chance to learn, to play, to love and be loved, and to see people treating each other fairly and well. My daily priority is to make her tired enough to sleep that night. At any given moment, I am far more aware of the second sentence than the first.

Today we went to the Getty Museum, a place dedicated to beauty, inside and out, modern and historic. And they have wonderful programs for children. We arrived early and while waiting for friends I suddenly realized that “Daughter hasn’t panted yet today”. The travertine marble Arrival Plaza made an excellent venue for wind sprints. Having to dodge around other visitors was good for her lateral equilibrium. Because, really, if it’s a choice between a few more minutes with art or her going to sleep before Saturday Night Live, there is no choice. Of course, some callous non-parent is saying, “okay, so you make her run. Whatever. How hard is that?”

You amateur.

All parents are constantly calibrating The Zone -- the area between tired and over-tired. I fear my Daughter’s state of over-tired in the same part of my brain that fears my own death. Not quite to the same extent, but I am willing to go to great lengths to make sure that neither event happens today. And since in the case of my child at least, over-tired initially reads as “Slightly more cheerful than appropriate”, I become Cassandra, the Greek seer who spoke only the truth, but was fated never to be believed. I have said “Yes, she’s happy, but it’s the bad happy” at more events than I could count. Ten minutes later, she’s spinning in circles making dolphin noises, and it is too late. The entire trip home will be an ordeal of tears, poorly-articulated threats and seat kicking. And that’s just from the driver’s seat.

And God help us if she falls asleep in the car. Some parents swear that their children can be removed from the car seat and put to bed without waking up. No offense meant, but these parents are stinking liars who drink straight gin before noon. For my kid, a twenty-minute nap in the car, her head bent in a way that would have a chiropractor dreaming of a weekend house, has the same effect as a full night’s sleep and a day at a spa. She must not be allowed to sleep. So when she is over-tired, I am in the counter-intuitive position of trying to engage my daughter with banter while her mood can be best described by the phrase “spitting cobra with PMS”.

SOBBING CHILD: Take me back to see Nana RIGHT NOW!

ME: I know, sweetie, you love Nana very much. Please stop kicking the seat. How was school today, did you do any painting?

SOBBING CHILD: I’m a cat who is biting you!

ME: Who did you sit with at lunch?

SOBBING CHILD: I want cake!

You know that we hit traffic on the way home at this point, right? This is why there are fingernail indentations in my steering wheel.

There are a lot of situations where two parents are better than one. Sadly, having both parents there to appreciate Overtired Flame-throwing Child actually makes it worse. Child lashes out at Parent #1. Parent #2 comes to the defense of Parent #1, which makes Parent #1 turn on #2 in defense of their child who now starts singing a loud tuneless song about how she wants to live with Kaitlin’s family. It’s like a segment of “Cops”, only everyone is sober and wearing clothes.

We finally get home, and enjoy the unique experience of brushing the teeth of someone who is about to start screaming “I am the Lizard King!” Finally, using our combined weight, we wrestle her into bed. It’s a long progression down to sleep from hysteria, but I am patient and implacable. I would die for my daughter without thinking twice, but that doesn’t mean that I want to talk to her after 9:00pm. I need at least eleven hours where my main conversation isn’t:

ME: Yes, it would be nice to have a big enough house for 75 kittens, but we don’t…No, we don’t…No, we don’t…I am counting the garage, we don’t.

So, you can see where the perfectly tired, but not over-tired, child is far more compelling to me than a well-rounded child. I live in Los Angeles; I can always find a recital of traditional Javanese Monkey Chant another day.


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