Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Control Top

I don’t have control issues, you can ask anyone. In fact, let me print out a list of the people you can call, the best times to reach them, and what you should say once you get them on the phone.

I’ve never had control issues. I just know quite a bit about how certain things would go best. It’s not as if I’m irrational about this. If you drive across town, I might suggest the best short-cut. If you have an appendectomy, I probably won’t scrub up and give pointers to the surgeon. Unless, of course, you’re a very good friend and I think I might have seen the surgeon on Dateline for some reason that might possibly have had something to do with malpractice. And then it’s really about your needs and not mine, right?

But parenthood seems to take the least-attractive aspects of your personality -- the parts you’ve spent years shoving into a lead-lined vault in the deepest recess of your brain -- and shines a klieg light on them. My desire for control doesn’t show up all the time in my mothering. Anyone who has seen the inside of my car can testify to this. I went from a policy of “No food in my car, ever” to “Please don’t spear your ravioli until we’re at a stoplight”.

Still, there are certain things I simply cannot let go of.

Play-Doh breaks my heart. It really does. It arrives in the house in its neat little cylinder; lid forced on so securely it takes both hands and sometimes my teeth to open it for the first time. Once inside, I slide out the perfect, untouched fat little tube of color, the nothing-else-like-it smell redolent of my own childhood, the sheer neatness of it a marvel of engineering.

I hand it to Daughter, asking plaintively “Please don’t mix it with another color, and please put it back into the cylinder when you’re done so it doesn’t dry out.”

I might as well be a field mouse asking a Red-tailed hawk to keep an eye on my kids while I get some seeds. We all know what’s going to happen. I walk out of the room, and come back minutes later to find Daughter making flattened circles out of several colors. I ask tightly “Hey, whatcha doing?”, and she answers “Making pancakes for the fairies”. I cannot help but smile at the sweetness of it, and the fact that if she keeps the pancakes separated I can return each color to its own cylinder. She stacks each color carefully on top of another and just as I am about to suggest, “Now, don’t press down too hard on those, so we can…”, her fist comes down on the fairy breakfast, mooshing all the colors together at the molecular level.

“Uh, honey. What was that about?” I moan.

She answers vaguely, “The fairies said they wanted stew instead”.

She feeds the invisible fairies their Goulash of Many Colors while I find some occupational therapy picking tiny bits of Play-Doh off of the kitchen table. I am comforted, however forlornly, that these gnat-sized flecks are untainted by another color. When the time comes to put everything away, she divides the now swirled-mud Play-Doh into four or five cylinders, replacing the color-coded lids randomly. I clamp the lids down airtight but I also know with dull certainty that unless Daughter wants her pretend fairies to eat Louisiana bayou sludge, she’s never going to play with this stuff again.

And then there is me at her Gymnastics class. Why am I the only mother there who is assiduously reading a book? Do I care so little for my only child? Or it is because I care too much? Let’s just say I have a hunch that screaming at her across the gym floor would, over time, be detrimental to her emotional well-being. The way I see it, she’ll either complain to the therapist about how I never paid any attention to her in class, or she’ll relate through chattering teeth about the time I shrieked, in front of seventy-five people, “Would you stop tugging at your leotard like that! Do you have to pee?”

Between the potentially limb-splintering activities Daughter is practicing on the mat, the girl doing back flips next to Daughter (missing her sweet little skull by microns), and Daughter’s constant removal of wedgies, there is no benefit to me looking up at all. I can only watch the class if I pretend that by some strange occurrence, Daughter has cloned a doppelganger who happens to take the same class Daughter does.

Finally, there is Lite-Brite. Hours of fun! Days of cleaning! After creating a picture I named “Possibly Boat or Maybe Clown”, Daughter and I hand-swept the floor, put the pegs away, closed up the box, and put the box away. An hour later, I stepped on an orange peg which had secreted itself in the floorboards. I unscrewed it from my foot and put it away. Five o’clock in the morning, the cat found a lavender one and swatted it around the house until I couldn’t stand it any more. I got up, removed the peg from the cat, snuck into Daughter’s room, pulled out the box, and put it away. The following morning, while squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush, I found a clear peg nestled in the bristles. Daughter and I shared a bonding experience putting this one in the box together. While searching for a parking stub in my car the next day, I found a red peg in the ashtray. This is one of those times when the Control Freak leg-wrestled with the Good-Enough Mother. The Control Freak put up a fight but eventually admitted defeat and, even though we would no longer have an equal inventory of every color, I threw it away.

Yeah, I’m out of control.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I swear, as these essays are posted online, they should be digitally transferred straight into the Simon & Schuster printing presses for this year's most popular parent book, sure to be #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List! Loved this post and it was a relief to learn that I wasn't the only parent who was heartbroken every time my child "ruined" her beautiful Play-Doh colors by actually playing with them!

10:27 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is high praise coming from someone who is generating such fine words as yourself ( Perhaps we can go to Toys R Hateful together and stare at unopened cans of Play-Doh and sigh wistfully.

11:28 AM  

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