Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

toddler

Some Half-Baked Class I Took With My Kid

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

As a mom looking for shit to do with a toddler, I’ve kissed some frogs, and not just the kind at the zoo’s house of amphibians.

I try stuff. You never know what your kid might go for. And that’s how I came to visit the private home of a woman offering a bread baking class for kids. I made a reservation for the class online, paid via PayPal, and received an email with the super secret location of this teacher’s home up in the hills somewhere above Hollywood. I would be enlarging my son’s brain by exposing him to measuring cups, sensory experiences, dough, flour and the majesty of baking. After class, we would pack up our delicious handmade bread and I would drop him off at daycare — his frontal cortex enriched — just in time for his lunch and nap.

This is the stuff working mom fantasies are made of: the scent of bread baking, being with your kid on a weekday, maybe a gingham apron, maybe make it all up to him, a child rolling out dough, beaming up at you.

Like I said, I try stuff.

Because like most moms, I want my child to have delightful experiences, and of course to end up brilliant and well adjusted because of all my efforts. And that’s how we ended up at some lady’s dark, cramped house one Tuesday morning. There were no other students, just me and my two year-old and this lady’s fluffy black cat with big, topaz, saucer eyes looking at us like, “What the fuck are you losers doing here?”

The detailed email I got after signing up said to be early, so there we were, awkwardly standing around as she set up her kitchen for class.

“Play with blocks?” asked my son.

“Well,” said the baker lady in the sing-song voice of someone who has, perhaps, a little too much information about hippy dippy early childhood development methods, “We don’t normally take out the blocks, but since you came so early, here you go.”

She trudged to the back of the small house and emerged with some wooden blocks stored in an old FedEx box. We unpacked the blocks and played, but only after a stern (but pleasantly sing-songy) warning that the blocks MUST be put away.

Amusing a toddler in a dingy living room with a dozen wooden blocks and a suspicious cat works only for so long.

“When do you think you might start class?” I asked. No one else had arrived, and she wanted to wait.

“It’s just that you guys were soooo early. The moms get here pretty late.”

Okay. I can go with the flow for a while, but I had to get this kid to daycare before lunch or the whole day would crumble like a dry scone. And I wasn’t early because I was rude; I was early because that was the deal. Her informational email said so.

“Okay, I guess out of respect for how early you were, we can start,” she said. It was already 20 minutes after the official start time.

Again, a small thing that wouldn’t matter were I not plotting the day of one working mom and one antsy toddler who likes change in his routine about as much as Rain Man.

We commenced to a very lonely Welcome Song, during which there was only my son to welcome. We struck a metal triangle a few times with a mallet. Finally, it was time to bake.

There was no measuring, just some pre-made dough that we decorated with chocolate chips and jam. And it was kind of fun. Another mom eventually showed up with her toddler, and the kids were encouraged to play with a few dress-up items in a straw basket as the dough went into the oven. Trying to make conversation, I looked at my son in a pirate scarf and Snow White dress and mentioned he hadn’t played much dress up.

“You don’t have a box of dress-up clothes at your house?” the baker, also a mother of two, asked me.

“No,” I answered, thinking that would be the end of a not very rich conversation.

“Why not?” she countered, incredulous.

She wasn’t being judgmental as much as she was genuinely puzzled by my lack of parenting skills. It was almost as if I had admitted not owning a car seat. I thought about it, and tried to answer honestly, but wasn’t sure if I had walked into some weird attachment parenting thing about gender or imaginative play or something. Why didn’t I have a box of dress up clothes? Why didn’t I?

“I don’t know. Because I’m not a Montesorri teacher?” I answered, innocently, as the other mom turned to stare at me, dazed by my idiocy. Time stood still. The cat licked itself. Both women regarded me, and after sizing me up, decided in an instant I was probably more lazy and clueless than venal and closed-minded. We tacitly agreed to drop the subject.

We baked our dough, took it out of the oven and had a little tea party on the weedy lawn while the teacher gamely tried reflecting back every emotion the kids expressed. You want juice. You want to see the cat. You’re saying you want his cookie. You’re ready to go. And you might think the moral of the story is that I ended up at the home of some woman whose quasi-home-business of teaching kids to bake isn’t quite taking off and isn’t quite organized and lesson learned. But I might go back. For all I know, I should have my own dress up clothes. And a tea party on a lady’s lawn never hurt a lonely mom trying to find her identity in a box of make believe costumes and flour dust.

On Second Thought

General StuffTeresa Strasser3 Comments

Even after 19 months as a mother, it’s not unusual for me to notice the car seat in my rearview mirror and for just a second think what is that doing there and whose car am I driving?

The gauzy vision of giving birth and instantaneously becoming a heavenly, patient, luminescent creature who instinctively knows what to do with her child? Wipe that from the cosmic Etch A Sketch.

I’ve been a second-guesser since way back. Let me tell you, it’s not one of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and it most certainly doesn’t make parenting a nonstop joy. Just when I think I have an excellent idea about childrearing, it isn’t long before I send it back to my frontal cortex for a thorough and punishing review.

Gymnastics seemed like a great idea, for example. Build muscle, coordination and social skills, kill a couple of hours and come out with the ability to do a “front roll.” The place even has a coffee machine. I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about my find, until my son’s feet broke out in a rash accompanied by a fever and followed by vomiting.

Rinse, and repeat four times since we began gymnastics. Yeah, I’m like the Dr. House of moms. It took me a mere six months to realize that my child climbing on the same foam mats as 17,000 other toddlers in the greater Los Angeles area wasn’t such a good fit for his immune system.

Bela Karolyi would have been gentler on my child than pediatric drool. That was a landing I did not stick.

Really, I’m not sure how long I can play the new-mom card or when I’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

When choosing my pediatrician, I waited for that this is the one feeling, but settled for, “I like Canadian people.” And I loved her, mostly because she was a young mom with a child about the same age as mine. As it happens, she missed the viral infection and gave me some ineffective skin cream. And let’s face it, anyone with a toddler is hard to reach by phone, my doctor being no exception.

I know I didn’t know, but what do I know? I faltered on the beam big time.

Showing him an Elmo video on my phone seemed a brilliant distraction once when he was sick in the middle of the night. Now, every time he sees my phone, he freaks out and screams for “Elmo’s Song.” Don’t open Pandora’s box, because it’s filled with technology and Sesame Street characters.

Almost every bad idea could have been a great idea. If I hadn’t been up the past three nights tending to a kid with a fever, I could see that better.

That’s the paradox about new parenthood. Much like Navy SEAL training, we are expected to learn fast, under pressure, without sleep, and it’s life or death. Except you can’t ring the bell and bail (at least that’s how they did it in “G.I. Jane”). You can’t give up. So that leaves trying and failing, second-guessing, feeding him apples only to learn they make him choke, choosing a sitter only to find out she likes beer and hates clean dishes, buying generic diaper cream only to realize you never, ever go generic below the waist.

When the baby is well and we’re all rested and rash-free, I can embrace the trial and error nature of the whole endeavor. The rest of the time, I still can’t believe I’m actually behind the wheel. And as has always been true of my non-metaphorical driving, I’m not much for orienteering. I get there, but not without lots of backtracking and some dodgy U-turns. The best I can do is endure the scenic route.