Friday, April 08, 2005

Private Eyes, They're Watching You

A while back, Daughter announced: “Daddy says f**k, but you don’t say f**k, so I don’t say f**k”.

My only inner response was, of course, “f**k”.

Consort is a superb father but he never really got the idea that you shouldn’t paint murals with obscenities in front of your kid, not even when the person in front of you in the fast lane is doing fifteen miles an hour with his left-turn signal on. But, I thought optimistically, at least she thinks that swearing is a gender-based issue. As long as she identifies with being female, Daddy’s words are just scatological background music. I just can never swear in front of her. How hard can that be? Not a week later, I found out. I was grabbing something from a lower shelf and stood up without noticing the upper cabinet door had swung open, and it put a divot in my skull. Thanks to Daughter and her observational skills being in the kitchen with me, my only response was:

“Heavens, that’s uncomfortable. Oh my…goodness, that’s painful. I’ll…be…darned…I think I’m bleeding. Sweetheart, could you please hold up some fingers and let’s see if Mommy can figure out how many there are.”

The ringing in my ears stopped after a day or so, and the double vision wasn’t noticeable at all after a week. Most important, during a completely unplanned painful experience, I kept it G-rated. I was smugly thinking how I was short-listed for the Alfred Nobel Mother of the Year Clean Vocabulary prize when I cleaned out the fridge a few days later. Staring in dismay at the green slimy soup in the vegetable crisper, I murmured “What the hell is that?” Daughter, in the farthest reaches of the house heard that, and has been working it into her daily interactions every since:

“Mommy, what the hell is that?”

“It’s your lunchbox, sweetie, and please don’t use that phrase”

“But I don’t know what the hell it is”

“I think you enjoy saying that phrase, but I don’t want to hear it coming from you”

“What the hell are you saying?”

What the hell am I saying? Is this about swearing? Not as much as it is about scrutiny. If someone told you that you were going to be under near-constant surveillance for ten years or so, wouldn’t it make you a touch…antsy? That’s what having a child in your house means; someone who is constantly monitoring your actions for discrepancies and weakness. I understood I needed to model good behavior. I just didn’t understand that if I modeled bad behavior once, it would neatly undo months of good behavior. If you work very hard teaching your daughter not to scream at people when she gets frustrated, it sets your work back a touch if -- and I am not saying this happened -- while waiting for your gas tank to fill, you notice a woman at the next car smoking a cigarette while topping-off her tank so you leap out of your car shrieking “I don’t actually care whether you blow yourself up, but you’re not taking my kid with you!”

Daughter remembers nothing of the thousands of courteous small interactions she has seen me have with people, but she would remember that incident if -- and I am not saying this happened -- I were so low-class as to do something like that.

Table manners are another animal entirely. It takes Daughter about a week of reminding to get the basic idea, followed by two months of her being the vigilant Manners Police. Witness last night’s dinner:

QUINN: How did your meeting go?

CONSORT: I was pleasantly surprised. He was…

DAUGHTER: Daddy, your elbow is on the table.

CONSORT: …He was…What?

QUINN: She learned this week that you’re not supposed to have your elbows on the table when you’re eating. But, sweetheart, Daddy isn’t eating yet.

DAUGHTER: He’s having a drink.

CONSORT: But I’m not eating yet.

DAUGHTER: (Dissolving into tears)

QUINN: What’s the matter?

DAUGHTER: (Sobbing) He interrupted me! I want him to have a time out!

Between flogging her parents with dinner table manners and waiting breathlessly to see if her parents break some rule of conduct in day-to-day activities, Daughter has turned etiquette into an extreme sport. I guess I should be grateful she finds us so fascinating. I am horribly self-absorbed and completely mad for her father, but I wouldn’t watch either one of us with the focus she does. Mind you, she’s looking for flaws, but we do have her attention.

I didn’t get into the Mothering business because I looked in the mirror one day and thought, “you know, perfection like this has to be replicated”. Let me be honest here. I understand that I am a work in progress. I also understand that making mistakes and having the awareness to correct them in front of my daughter is among the best things I can do for her.

But f**k, I’d like to go one whole day being Gallant instead of Goofus.


Blogger Wally Bangs said...

When my daughter was around 3, she went with her Grammy to some fast food place's drive through window. When the line didn't move for several minutes, her Grammy was treated to my girl going, "Move dumbass!" much to my later chagrin since she had to have learned it from me.

The wife and I took her to the circus around that same time frame and on the way to the show I told my wife about my eternal fear of clowns and the fact that they "suck" so sure enough when her Grammy asked her how she liked the clown, my 3 year old cutie pie had to tell her, "the clowns sucked!" Which they did, of course. They scared the crap out of all the littler kids there.
Us consorts just need to watch our mouths sometime.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consort here:
I agree. Sadly, that boat sailed for me the last year I worked on a construction crew in college. I hope as long as I can steer Daughter away from becoming a professional roofer, there's hope for her social language skills.

2:35 PM  

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