Thursday, September 20, 2007

One Day You're Going to Have a Child Just Like You

“And then you’ll know what I went through,” our mother used to say, repeatedly, usually when she was mopping up a lavish landscape we’d lovingly painted with peas, or when surveying the new haircut we’d slyly given our youngest sister while she slept.

It’s freaky how that works. I, and each of my siblings, DO have children just like us, but only in those “interesting” ways our mother cursed/prophesied about.

My daughter makes herself gag and throw up if I try to give her something she has already decided she doesn’t like. But I’ve not yet had to resort to placing newspaper under her chair, as my mother apparently did for me. Can’t she just refuse to open her mouth and turn her head away, like a normal kid?

My oldest little brother had a diabolical mechanical genius. He couldn’t have been more than 3 years old one morning when I watched him select a screwdriver from under the seat of the car and coolly take apart the radio in the 2-minute absence of our dad (this was before seatbelt laws). He also took apart two television sets as calmly if he were unwrapping a popsicle, and, on a regular basis, his toys.

Our mother referred to this as “breaking” or “destroying,” but he honestly did it out of scientific curiosity. (He’s now a nuclear physicist). Mama was convinced that he did it to make her angry, but he actually never thought about her at all.

A phone call to my sister-in-law about three years ago, when they only had three children (now they’re expecting their sixth and we email) went something like this.

Me: so I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the birthday party, I…

She: I’m sorry, just a minute. The children have smeared toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror and now they’re pressing themselves against it…okay. I’m back.

Me: I’ve got my dissertation defense coming up and…

She: Excuse me….kids! Give me those scissors!…Okay, I’m back. I’m sorry. They’ve just starting cutting out all the pictures from their books and sticking them on the mirror.

Me: Anyway, I’d like to make the party but…

She: Oh for crying out loud! Get out of the refrigerator and put that box of baking soda down RIGHT NOW! No, don’t blow it! No, that’s NOT what snow looks like. I’m sorry, what were you saying?

My sister-in- law has three sisters, and their father called them little princesses and brought them coffee in bed. When she complains that it’s not fair that her kids are like my brother, I say she should have been more selective in her choice of mate.

I do admire her calm. She has the poison hotline memorized, and is very casual about it.

My sister and her daughter—Well, here is a conversation I once had with my niece on Super-bowl Sunday in Texas, after remarking to my sister on the courtesy of the people in the grocery store, since the game was about to start. No one was trampling anyone to get home and heat up the chile con queso. I should add my niece was 3 1/2.

Niece: Well, they nice to me because I’m so pwetty.

Me: It’s nice you’re pretty, but it’s far more important to be smart, and also kind.”

Niece: wou just saying that, Aunt M., because I’m a wot pwettier than wou when wou was my age.

Of course, this often means that I treat my nieces and nephews as I used to my siblings.

Me: That may be true, my dear, but I was a lot smarter and articulate than you.

(Yes, my sister was our mother’s favorite. Though she didn’t often try that smug stuff on my brother and me, since we were older and had bigger vocabularies).

Of course, our second little brother was perfect and so are his children. So he deserves all his happiness.

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