It’s Not You, It’s Me
Day one, I started Noodle on a sonic diet of Motörhead. In the time leading up to his birth, I learned quickly that jingle-jangly kids’ music drives me nuts. We’ll compromise, I figured: I choose the tunes, he chooses when to pee on me.
Turns out that in the throes of pure exhaustion, fuzz-tone and a perky beat fairly accurately recreate the in utero environment of heartbeat and whoosh. Noodle took to my homemade punk noise machine and I led my nemesis, the Sleep Sheep, out to slaughter. (I used to not-so-affectionately refer to that bleating contraption as “the wake-up timer.” It has a preset shut-off, and when it stopped gurgling, he’d wake up grumbling as if a minute hadn’t lapsed.)
What I’m talking about here is frustration. But you can’t talk about frustration without talking about rules and expertise and a bunch of other abstractions that finagle their ways into actuality at the least convenient times.
My first effort to avoid parental frustration was to introduce Rock ‘n’ Roll, because I knew that without it, I’d go mad. At the same time, by many accounts, it’s a bad idea to expose kids to that kind of noise — or so an expert or two might tell us. Kids need the joyful, delicate Casio-tones of Barney sing-alongs, right? Surely the purple dinosaur creators did their research and the bourbon-soaked growl of Lemmy & co. didn’t make the cut for good reason. Doubtful. I’ve been accused of academic subversion in the past, so it didn’t come as a surprise to me that I ditched cartoon expertise for my own iconoclastic version of getting the job done. Noodle smiles when he’s dealt an Ace of Spades; mission accomplished.
I’m not one to rule with an iron fist. In fact, I’m not much of a rule follower at all, especially when it comes to what I should say or how I should behave (for example when considering the limits of my language.) The more I learn in this parenting gig, the more it occurs to me that a lot of Noodle’s poor behavior is really a reflection of my own frustrations. Specifically, I’m always asking Noodle to follow this or that rule, but then not following the rule myself, or only following it out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of right. As far as I can tell, duty follows right; there ain’t no doing what you have to until you know what’s right to do. And there’s a big step between the two.
A squizillion years ago, I was inspired to question “expert” authority and rules by a philosophy book called Against Method. The title says a lot. More recently, a few days ago, one of my favorite bloggers made mention of the fact that we’re all just trying to figure it out as best we can. It doesn’t always work; there’s no sure-fire way to do it, whatever it might be. The expert isn’t someone who has it all figured out; the expert is someone who sees that there’s always more figuring to do. The world doesn’t sit still for expertise; professions of infallible competence are just vanity.
In my experience, rule-breakers aren’t too hung up on themselves, which might seem contrary to common sense. We don’t particularly care how we look; we care about what we do. Most the time, what I think is the right thing to do coincides with what the rules-at-large suggest. That’s a harmonious convenience.
But out in the world, when my little guy pushes the rolling cart of toys this way and that, stirring up a ruckus at the library and laughing all the way, to me that’s healthy boundary pushing. It’s the kids’ corner; deal with it. And hey you over there glaring at me: thanks for confirming that I’m doing something right. Carry on.
The point is this: far too often when Noodle’s behavior frustrates me, when I find myself needing to take a step back before I bark at him, it’s not really about what he’s doing. It’s not you, I have to remember. It’s me. It’s frustration that I haven’t dealt with. The problem is that I rarely get to pick Motörhead over the Wiggles anymore. My world is Noodle’s, and sometimes I just want to see myself like I used to. But I can’t. When that giggling little rule-breaker isn’t acting how I want him to act, my frustration isn’t really about him; it’s just vanity.