I went back and looked at a post I first wrote on September 22, 2008, six years ago almost to the day, just to see what I'd been up to back then. This is that post, titled This Wouldn't Have Happened To Me If Men Were Able To Become Pregnant.
This was written before the boys were diagnosed as autistic. I'm surprised at just how naive I sound about it, given that now, all these years later, I can see the clues all over this post.
I'm not a bad person and I'm not a bad parent. It looks that way sometimes, but really, before you judge me, you should get to know all the facts.
I took the Babies!, Mr F and Mr Bunches, with me to the store on Saturday right after their nap. I did that to give Sweetie a break. Sweetie is a stay-at-home mom, which means she has 168 hours per week in the company of the Babies!, and almost that much in the company of The Boy and Middle. If Oldest were to drop by, Sweetie might need intensive therapy, but Oldest doesn't drop by all that much. In fact, now, she actively resists dropping by, even when there might be something in it for her, like this week when I told her that because we had a little extra money, we were going to give each of the kids $50.
"Do I have to come over to pick it up?" she asked me.
"No," I said. "I'll bring it with me to work." There was a pause, and then Oldest sighed and said:
"Well, okay then."
We had that discussion in the office; Oldest has been helping out around my office a little lately, and she was in the office yesterday. Helping around the office should be something Oldest likes doing; not only does she get paid pretty well for doing it, but she gets paid to spend time working on her own legal problems -- so when her apartment doesn't have hot water, not only does she have access to a lawyer (me!) to get advice from, she then gets to come into our office and use some of her time drafting up a letter to her landlord demanding a break on her rent. How many people get paid to work on their own problems? Besides me, I mean?
Oldest gets paid to do that, plus when she comes in, I bring her a lunch. True, the lunch I bring her usually has the Reject Snacks for dessert, but that's because someone has to eat the Reject Snacks and I don't actually eat that many snacks, so they're all going to go bad if Oldest doesn't help out by letting me unload some of the Reject Snacks on her.
The Reject Snacks are the snacks and desserts that Sweetie or I bought which will never actually be eaten by Sweetie, Middle, or The Boy. I will eat them, because that is what Dads do. Dads get very little credit simply because we don't have the ability to get pregnant and so we have to spend our whole lives hearing if men could get pregnant you wouldn't say that -- about everything, it seems. No matter what a Dad says, somewhere there is a woman who feels that if men could get pregnant, the Dad would change his story pretty quickly. I like this song, a Dad might say, and some woman somewhere in the world is ready to fire back You wouldn't if men were the ones who got pregnant, that's for sure.
But Dads deserve a little credit, because we're the ones who drop everyone off at the mall door and then go park in the next county and walk in and spend the next hour wandering with the family through stores that don't interest us, and with wet feet, only to at the end of the shopping trip have to go back out into the blizzard and pull the car up to the door again. And we eat the Reject Snacks. One major job for all Dads in life is to eat those things that will otherwise get thrown out, sometimes combined into dishes that are edible only if you're a Dad.
We end up with Reject Snacks in one of three ways: the first way is that the kids go grocery shopping with us when they're hungry, and through the process of wearing us down they eventually get us to buy something we otherwise wouldn't-- and they otherwise wouldn't. Middle uses this tactic a lot. Take her grocery shopping and she begins almost as soon as you walk through the door: can we get this, can we get this, can we get this. The answer is no, no, no, no because Sweetie and I use a grocery shopping list and get only those things that are on the list, or, if I'm the grocery shopper, which cost a buck. Regardless of what it is, if it costs a dollar, I will put it in the cart, because you can't go wrong for a dollar.
Middle keeps up, though, becoming more and more desperate throughout the store, picking up things at random: dishwashing gloves, weird oriental food, a little kid in a cart, asking each time can we get this, until finally I cave in and say "yes," at which point Middle, who is likely holding lingonberry marmalade at that point, realizes her error but doesn't want to back down, and so we go home with lingonberry marmalade that will not get eaten.
We also end up with Reject Snacks when I buy something I think the kids will like, only to learn that either (a) they don't think something is great simply because it cost a dollar, or (b) their tastes have changed and they no longer like it. That latter one happens a lot, because their tastes change by the microsecond. Sometimes, their tastes change mid-chew. They'll put something in their mouth and then decide, just before swallowing, that they no longer like it. I know that I'm not too far from hearing them say When I started swallowing it I liked it but now I don't.
The final way we get Reject Snacks is -- and I'm totally serious about this -- to take them out of the box and put them in a bowl. The kids will not eat anything that they did not get out of a box. Homemade desserts are out entirely; I think they assume that it makes them look poor; we live in a very affluent community where people simply don't home-make desserts. We home-make desserts because I like to cook and Sweetie likes to cook and because we're on the lower 1/2 of that community, but nobody else does and the kids abhor homemade desserts. The closest they'll allow to a homemade dessert is those cookies that come from a tube, which are "home-made" but still look storebought.
I learned about the out-of-the-box rule inadvertently; one day, I was cleaning out the cupboards because I had gone looking for something and realized that we had, by my count, a hundred jillion boxes, each of which had exactly one snack in it. I'm very familiar with that technique: If you don't eat the last snack, you don't have to throw away the box, so nobody ever eats the last snack.
Rather than let that go on, I took a bowl and emptied all of the snacks into it, and threw away the boxes, and put the bowl back into the snack cupboard.
That bowl, which was filled with the same Little Debbies and Twinkies and granola bars and candy that had only moments before been in boxes and had only moments before been beloved by the kids, sat there for months untouched. When we got new groceries, the kids ate those instead of the snacks in the bowl. I slowly realized that they weren't eating the snacks from the bowl because they were in the bowl.
I've tested that theory, because that's what parenting is all about: doing secret psychological experiments on your kids and then blogging about them. I've taken snacks that they love, and opened the box and poured them into the bowl and put the bowl out. The snacks are untouched. They stay untouched forever. The Boy and Middle won't eat a snack that is not in its original box.
I was not, though, performing any kind of psychological experiment when I was wandering around a store with Mr F and Mr Bunches on Saturday night, giving Sweetie a bit of a break. With Middle and The Boy off at their own jobs, and Oldest off somewhere grudgingly accepting money for nothing or whatever it is she does, that left Sweetie and me and the twins around the house, and I could tell Sweetie needed a break through a sixth sense I have for that sort of thing. I picked up on subtle clues that Sweetie was giving me, subtle clues like when she said "I need a break." I'm very good that way.
So I got the twins up promptly at four p.m. to take them somewhere and give them a break. This did not go over real well with Mr F and Mr Bunches, since they hadn't actually fallen asleep in their nap until about 2:30 p.m., but Sweetie and I are adamant these days that the Babies! stay on a schedule. We put them on this schedule the day after they turned two: they get up at 7 a.m. They take a nap from 1-4. And they go to bed at 9 p.m. We had to put them on that schedule because they were killing us. They'd get up at 8:30 or 9 or 10, whenever they felt like it, and then nap from 4 p.m. to 6, and then when we put them to bed at 9, they'd talk and play and jump in their cribs until after midnight.
So now we adhere to the schedule, and if they fall asleep at 3:50 p.m., well, tough: They're still woken up at 4. This makes them, as you might guess, angry. Angry two-year-olds can't tell you they're angry. Mr F and Mr Bunches, between them, have a vocabulary of about 6 words, and that's counting "yah-do" as a word.
I don't worry about their vocabulary, or their talking, even though apparently they're supposed to have a vocabulary of 7-20 words so far, judging by what was asked at their two-year checkup. The nurse said to us at the checkup: "Do they have a vocabulary of 7 to 20 words?" to which Sweetie and I unhesitatingly lied and said Yes because if you say no then your child is in special-ed or on medication or something, and probably taken away from you. So we lied and then justified it by counting things as words that might not really be -- or, in Sweetie's case, counting word groups. Mr Bunches says "No," and "Oh," and sometimes he says "Oh no," which Sweetie counts as a whole separate word.
But I don't worry about their talking, because I can see that they're smart, even if they don't talk much yet -- or talk in a way I can understand. For all I know, they've invented a language that's more sophisticated than English. They could do that, because, like I said, these Babies! are smart. I know they're smart because they outsmart me routinely and because they know when I'm paying attention and when I'm not.
Like last week, when I was "watching" them while doing a little writing. They were running around and playing and the newspaper was on the table. At one point, Mr Bunches grabbed the newspaper, and I looked around when I heard the rustle and saw he was grabbing part of the paper. He looked at me, and I said "Go ahead," because it wasn't a part of the paper I read, and because I like to encourage them to read, or at least to play with the newspaper because when they're playing with the newspaper they're not throwing heavy things at the television.
A few minutes later, I heard more rustling, and paid no attention because I assumed they were getting more of the newspaper. Then there was more rustling, which I continued to ignore.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes, I finished up what I was doing, and heard some more rustling, and went to see what was going on.
What was going on was that the boys had taken the giant box of Lucky Charms off the table and were dumping that at various spots on the carpeting, and then throwing them and walking through them. The Lucky Charms box, in dumping out, made exactly the same kind of rustling as a newspaper -- try it yourself and see.
Did you know that Lucky Charms' marshmallows stain carpeting when ground in? Pink hearts, yellow moons, blue clovers-- all there on our dining room floor.
Another way I know the Babies! are smart is through what they did Saturday night. They were very very crabby, so I decided the best way to give Sweetie a break was to get the boys out of the house, and I decided to take them to pick up their movie that we were getting Mr Bunches as a reward for using his potty chair. When we began potty-training them, I told them that the first time they used the potty chair successfully, I'd get them a movie.
"Yah-do," they told me, which probably translates as "My feet still have smushed up Lucky Charms marshmallows on them."
Mr Bunches had successfully used the potty chair earlier that day, although he didn't seem to know that he'd done that. He'd sat on the chair for a few minutes, then got very upset because Mr F was, you know, touching the wall, and Mr Bunches had to do that, too, so he got up and ran over there, and after I separated them I noticed that he'd used the chair, and so I cheered him and said "Yay!" and told him I was proud of him, and in response he poked his whole entire hand into my mouth and tried to grab my molars.
Regardless, he was entitled to a movie, so I loaded up him and Mr F in the car after their nap, both of them yelling at me and crying because they didn't want to be awake and they didn't want to get into the car and they certainly didn't want the glass of milk and S'more crackers I'd given them for a snack (they caved on that last one) and we waved good-bye to Sweetie, who looked far more relieved than a mother probably should as we backed out, and I took them to the store -- stopping first at a different store because I wanted to look for hanging lamps to put up downstairs, because our house is gloomy downstairs and needs more than the two lamps we have.
We got to that store, and I loaded the boys into the stroller to take them in. When you've got twins, you have to shop using the double stroller because nobody has double-seat carts to use, and if they do, then you've got two crabby twins sitting next to each other and it's only a matter of time before the shoving match starts. Shopping with the stroller is better, because they sit one behind the other, so only one can start something-- that one is usually Mr F, who likes the back seat. I hope he doesn't like it just because it gives him the ability to lean forward and squeeze his brother's head for no reason, like he did on Saturday as we were shopping, but I fear that's his only reason.
Shopping with a stroller also gives you the appearance of a shoplifter-- I get to take stuff off the shelf and put it in the basket underneath the stroller, where I also have two plastic balls, a tiny construction worker, two sippy cups, a piece of my travel mug that the boys like to play with, and a sweatshirt. I always feel guilty as I put things from the shelf down into the basket, because I assume it looks like I'm shoplifting. So I cover my tracks and point out to hidden security cameras or other shoppers that I'm not stealing anything. I'll pick up, as I did Saturday, a wooden wall hanging with a barometer and thermometer, and put that in the stroller's bottom basket, and I loudly tell the Babies! what I'm doing.
"I'm going to buy this," I tell the Babies! (and security). "We'll just put that down here until we get to the cash register, where I'll take it out again and pay for it," I mention to them.
We were midway through the store where I was looking for hanging lamps when the crabbiness overtook the twins. First to go was Mr Bunches, who got upset about something, maybe the atmospheric pressure. It doesn't take much just after their nap. He began to grouse and complain, and that's a chain reaction moment, because whichever twin starts up first, the other one isn't far behind. They don't even have to know what is wrong -- just the fact that the brother is crying means something is wrong, and gets the second one upset.
That's what happened Saturday. Mr Bunches began complaining and fussing, and Mr F picked up on that and astutely realized that something must be horribly awry or Mr Bunches wouldn't be fussing. So Mr F began crying.
At that, Mr Bunches turned around, startled, and I could almost see what was going through his mind: What's upset Mr F so much? It must be terrible! So he began crying, harder, which then convinced Mr F that something terrible really was happening, and he began trying to get out of the stroller to take evasive action. When upset, Mr F has two options he pursues. The most common is that he heads for a secluded corner, where he will hunch over, yell at you, and sometimes turn upside down.
So I was in the middle of the store, with two screaming 2-year-olds, one of whom was trying desperately to extricate himself from the stroller through ever-more-elaborate contortions, and I did exactly what I always secretly wished other parents would do when that happens. I left.
Or I almost left. I was prevented from leaving because as I headed out of the store, as I was only ten feet from the front door, I looked down and saw that Mr F had only one shoe on.
That's his other option when upset. If he can't make it to a corner, Mr F throws his shoe.
That's the other way I know they're smart. Mr F didn't want to be shopping for hanging lamps just after getting up from his nap. So he taught me a lesson, throwing his shoe when I wasn't looking.
"Where's your shoe?" I whispered. God forbid I attract any attention at that point.
He just kept crying and trying to escape. I checked the stroller bottom, but it wasn't there. I scanned the immediate area, but it wasn't around there.
I seriously considered just heading out without the shoe. I gave serious thought, for 0.1 seconds, to just going home with only one shoe, but I didn't know what I'd tell Sweetie, who is still a little suspicious about those marshmallow stains. Sweetie would point out to me that she'd never had them lose a shoe on her watch, and that would put me behind in parenting.
So I began to roam around the store, retracing my steps, and scanning the floors and the racks and the shelves for a shoe, trying to figure out where Mr F had taken it off. I thought back in my mind: when was the last time I noticed him having a shoe on? The answer, truthfully, was never; I couldn't even recall putting his shoes on him before we left; up until I noticed the missing shoe I'd given no thought to his shoes.
I kept looking, and tried to ignore the stares around me while using various calming techniques. I gave them my keys to play with -- hoping to God that I didn't find the shoe and lose the car keys, but it was a risk I had to take. I kept saying "Shhh... It's all right. We're almost done." I interspersed that with "Where is your shoe?" in case maybe they could talk, and they'd suddenly decide to just answer me.
I also resorted again to mock conversation designed to be overheard by store workers, fellow shoppers, and any child welfare authorities who would take a dim view of a dad deciding to go on shopping -- and shopping in an unusually attentive way, getting down to look under shelves -- while his children shrieked as though they were being electrocuted.
"We're almost done," I told everyone, in a calm whisper. "We'll just get your shoe and go. Daddy's not shopping anymore. We're just looking for your shoe. Daddy's all done with his stuff. We just need your shoe."
On the second lap through the store, I found the shoe wedged under a rack of women's slacks. When I found it, they stopped crying. They became good enough for me to calmly go up to the register, acting like I didn't have a couple of twins sniffling hoarsely in the stroller, and like I hadn't just spent fifteen minutes frantically pushing aside merchandise and getting down on my hands and knees while pushing those Babies! around the store, and calmly pay for the barometer/thermometer -- while also holding both of Mr F's shoes, which I didn't let go of until we were in the car.
So you see? I'm not a bad person and I'm not a bad parent. If you were in that store, you no doubt assumed that I was a horrible person, but maybe you shouldn't just jump to assumptions and judge books by their covers and all that. After reading all this, I hope that the next time you see someone pushing some screaming kids around a store, you stop them and ask if they need a little help.
Because I do. I really do.