Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"I Just"

Sometime ago, when my oldest was probably 2 or so I had a realization about the phrase, "I just...". For me this thing frequently comes to pass in the context of parenting but it is just as likely to happen in any of life's more complicated tasks. To cut to the chase, "I just" can be quite inane and is also frequently rude.
I first noticed it when I was bemoaning some aspect of parenting, mainly discipline related. For example:
Me: I can't keep Anthony in his bed, he comes out of his room like 39 times a night!
Other mother: Oh, I just have a rule that they are not allowed out. (inane)
Me: Yes, so do I. But how do you get them to ACTUALLY stay in bed?
Other mother: Well, we just tell them that if they get up then (fill in the blank) will happen to them. (inane squared)
Me: Yes, as do we (now speaking louder slower like a tourist in Paris hoping that I will break through the wall of inanity that is building up). But HOW do you get them to stay in the bed?
Other mother: Well, my kids just wouldn't dream of coming out. (inane cubed + rude)

If your child actually stays in bed then you don't know what my problem is!

It is so easy to respond to inquiry's about our parenting methods (or prayer methods, or exercise methods, or cleaning methods) with an, "I just..." but remember that there is another person on the other end of that conversation who can't "just" - that is the point of their asking for help. If they could "just" do something then why would they bring it up? Using the phrase, "I just" runs two risks - my sample conversation (which may or may not be an exact duplication) demonstrates both.
1. It shows the person you are talking to that you do not struggle with that particular dilemma which in turn makes you look inane for offering any advice at all instead of just commiserating. You have now been inane.
2. Or worse - it shows the person you are talking to that not only do you not struggle with this dilemma yet are offering advice anyway but it also reveals that deep down you are just condescending. Now you have been inane AND rude.

I sometimes still use the phrase, "I just..." because it's just such a simple way to start a response to a question but as soon as it slips out I try to couch it in lots and lots of disclaimers. "My kid is so different then yours; it was just luck; I have no idea if this would work; everyone is so different; that's just anecdotal, etc."
But these days, more often then not I am saved from the phrase, "I just" because the truth is that I don't "just". There's nothing in parenting (or any part of living a good, worthy life) that is simple. Human beings complicate everything to an infinite degree, in spite of our finiteness.
Now, I love talking and sharing stories and ideas and dilemmas but even when I have a response (and the vast majority of the time commiseration is all that I can offer) if, in the end, my answer to someone's question was, "I just..." then I know I have missed the mark. That is something that I just know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


My kids are not the most mild-mannered, even-keeled kids out there (I know, I know: “I can’t imagine where they get that from, blah blah blah”). And now that Cecilia is two I have been subject to seeing our least intense child join in the willful protests. It got me thinking about teenagers and their similar penchant for protest and of how my kid’s most memorable protest-moves will look if they re-manifest themselves in adolescence.

Cecilia: Currently, she will be throwing a fit about who-knows-what and you pick up her thrashing body to help calm her down and gain access to her red, blotchy, snot-encased face. You grab a tissue and start wiping - plaintively asking her to “blow” to which she screams “NOOOOOO!!!!!!”. As soon as you take the tissue from her face and throw it in the trash she blows her nose as hard as she can sending snot hurtling in all directions while she lunges to wipe it on your face, shirt or hair. Really very mean.

Thomas: This is a recent protest move that has lead to him passing on a pair of jeans to Cecilia - it is a pair that has snaps all up and down the mid-seam. When he is mortally-offended by being refused something (anything) he will start to throw fits and overturn furniture, dump the trash can, hurl food at you, etc. But when he is wearing those pants his first retaliation is to “rend his garments” by reaching down to his toes, grabbing the cuffs of the pants and then yanking up as all the snaps pop open and he yells, “I ripped my pants!!!!” glaring at me with a definite, “SO-THERE!” look in his eye. So-there indeed. I do my best to let him think this is striking a painful blow to my heart and then he wanders around looking like The Little Prince so it’s a win-win.

Rosie: She doesn’t usually have the same passionate outbursts as the others. Her general approach has been to melt-down and become a dead-weight on society. She used to be an actual dead-weight – just going limp when you tried to get her to do something. Nowadays she usually moves but so slowly that you almost wish you could count her out altogether, throw her over your shoulder and move on. But frankly, I’ll take her protests over all the others…especially Anthony’s.

Anthony: There was an occasion a few years ago when he and Rosie were still sharing a room that definitely makes the protest annals. My whole family was staying with us for Christmas and we were all gathered together in the living room enjoying some adult conversation after the kids had been put to bed. We heard the sounds of an argument, a scuffle and a wail - shortly followed by Rosie tearfully entering the room. “Anferny peed on me”. What? Were you in the bathroom with him?! “No. I wouldn’t stop singing and so he just came over and stood on my bed and peed on me.” I’m so glad that everyone was there for that…what a proud moment.

Now, as a teenager I can imagine that CeCe’s protest-move will be something to do with emotional outbursts at inappropriate moments. Thomas I’m thinking will protest with some sort of exhibitionist behavior. Rosie will be passive aggressive and will quietly set herself up to live on welfare by not living up to her potential. Anthony…let’s just agree to not go there, alright?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Party Animal

Did you hear about the 2012 Wardrobe Malfunction? I was a witness to it at the big seminary Super Bowl party. When you crowd 160 young men, dozens of priests and several families with small ones into a room and feed them chili and pigs in a blanket you must be ready for the expected. At these functions I try to keep an eye on everyone and I did a decent job this time: keeping Thomas from pushing the big screen tv from behind it, pulling him down from sliding off the slanted windows, and regularly putting his shoes and socks back on. I did not, however, stop him from dumping popcorn all over the place, kiss/licking another kid or staring at the Madonna halftime show like a cat watching a bird.  Hey, it is hard to keep track of ALL the kids at the same time, especially when the opportunity for adult conversation is just staring you in the face.  At one point, just before half-time while I was turned to someone else, I heard laughter spreading across the room and then clapping and a few hoots and hollers. I turned to see what hilarious commercial was on and instead saw Thomas standing on his seat at the very front of the room, looking down over the crowd - shirtless. He just stood there, taking it all in, smiling and looking like he wanted to enjoy the joke too so he looked at John and said, "all those people waffin' daddy. Why all doze people waffin'?  And that is what you have to love the most about Thomas...he's always, ALWAYS, the life of the party but he doesn't know it. He's a universal favorite but he's completely unaware of his own entertainment value.  It takes a special kind of person to get more laughs then the E-Trade baby and more attention then Madonna on Super Bowl Sunday but for Thomas it's just who he is. Life of the party, baby, life of the party. I fear for his adolescent years...