Thursday, July 19, 2012

The myth of normalcy

I instinctively want to lead off this post by observing that things got a little off-track this week, schedule-wise, but seriously, when was the last time that an entire week went along like clockwork in our happy but reliably chaotic little home? The inciting incident this time round was a multi-component vaccine shot that the little girl received on Monday at her fifteen-month checkup. A good dose of infant-strength acetaminophen set her to rights for the night, but there were side-effects the following day which were close enough to sickness symptoms that daycare called my wife and politely requested that someone pick up our daughter early. My wife happened to be in my neck of the woods and on her way from her new job to her old one, so she sidetripped over to my office, I bailed on work early, we rode together to her clinic so she could clock in, and from there I proceeded to daycare and grabbed both kids and took them home. (In case it isn’t obviously clear, this was actually the most expedient way to do things since the next train I could possibly have taken home was yet hours away, the fatal flaw of the current commuting arrangement.) So that was Tuesday, and on Wednesday my wife only had to work in the afternoon/evening, while the little girl was not yet 24 hours’ cleared to return to daycare, so I got up early and Metro’d in to work, stayed for a little more than half a day, then headed home to tag in on child-minding while my wife headed in for her shift. Everything worked out timing-wise, more or less, but I can decisively confirm that the following remains true to this day: both the Orange Line and 66 West at any time of day are inhumanely dreadful.

Fortunately the little girl did in fact rally yesterday and was able to go back to daycare today with her brother (who was given the choice and opted to stay home yesterday as well), although today required another slight schedule shifting as my wife had to go in extra-early for the new job and thus I dropped the kids off and came in about an hour later than usual, and will stay an hour or so later as well. The kids will have a short day when my wife picks them up after her class, as it’s her day off at the clinic. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow, and maybe even the majority of next week, will hew closer to what we think of as normal operating procedure.

And all for the sake of minimizing the risk of certain childhood diseases. I’m entirely pro-vaccination for everyone’s children (and yes, it is my business if your kid gets vaccinated or not, since my kid has to go out there in the same world as yours) but my geek-dad thought for the week was how you could make a sci-fi allegory out of the whole thing that would seem shockingly barbaric and insanely cruel. We deliberately expose the youngest members of the tribe to native pathogens, and our offspring must either fight off the pathogens or succumb to them. But in the end the young ones are made stronger for the experience, and the tribe is stronger as well. Except for the rare cases of bad reactions and undesirable consequences. If I were describing lizard-men who raise their hatchlings among venomous centipedes to toughen them up to be warriors, clearly they would be the villain species in my space opera. But when it’s all done by hypodermic-wielding doctors, it seems perfect reasonable.

I should also point out that, symptoms and side-effects and all, the little girl was in fine fettle all week. She runs around like crazy and wants to get into everything and is getting closer and closer to differentiating her babytalk sounds into recognizably wordlike sounds. She’s fun.

Her brother … is also fun, of course. This past weekend, during one of his sister’s naptimes, he watched Disney’s Jungle Book for the first time, with me and his mother right there on the couch to intervene if necessary should things get too scary. Yes, on the one hand, it’s Disney, and 1960’s Disney to boot, but on the other hand the little guy has gotten freaked out by the almost imperceptible frisson of dramatic tension in an episode of Mickey’s Clubhouse, so better safe than sorry. He made it through the Jungle Book like a champ, though, and has been subsequently obsessed with renaming all of his family members and pets after the characters. (I am apparently Baloo, which at first I thought must have something to do with my sloth bear belly, until the little guy informed me it was because I’m “so hairy” … there you are, then.)

The little guy has been challenging a lot lately, too, though. My wife and I prepared ourselves so rigorously for sibling rivalry and resentment just before the little girl was born, and we were pleasantly surprised by how little the reality of the situation resembled our worst fears. What I’ve subsequently learned, and would pass on to any parents expecting their second child, is that it can take a year or more for some of those things to start rearing up. I think the novelty of having a little sister/being a big brother, and of course the conscious efforts my wife and I made to fuss over the little guy and let him know he was still loved and still special, did a great deal to ameliorate any potential problems. But as the months and moths go by, every time the baby unavoidably gets special treatment it sinks into the little guy’s craw with a cumulative effect, the end result being that he engages in much more regressive behavior now than he did when the little girl was born.

One of his new favorite tricks is rejecting either/or questions, and I don’t quite know whether to be annoyed or impressed. (Probably a bit of both.) My wife and I figured out the perils and pitfalls of creating the illusion of control for him, as per all the parenting handbook suggestions, e.g. getting him dressed in the morning by saying “Do you want to wear the baseball shirt or the motorcycle shirt?” when we really don’t care what shirt he picks as long as he gets dressed so we can get out the door. But he’s on to us! And now when we pose a choice like that, he sighs piteously and insists “I can’t decide …” He doesn’t want us to decide for him, of course, but he strategically employs his indecision to bottleneck whatever we’re trying to hurry up and get done. Awful in its ingeniousness, really.

It’s hard to deal with, since it feels so very much like a step backwards, but it’s hard to get too mad at him, either. He’s almost four years old, but that’s still incredibly young to expect him to be rational, reasonable and well-behaved even part of the time, let alone most or all. I just have to keep telling myself that nothing really ever goes exactly as planned.

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