On Parrots and Chimpanzees

You can learn a lot about your own parenting watching your kids play with their toys. Louisa’s favorite activity at the moment involves putting her dolls in the “naughty chair” (British Kate coined that one). She’ll stand there, stare at the doll menacingly and then blurt out something like, “how many times do I have to tell you?!” or “What’s wrong with you?” Sometimes she’ll just start counting. Sternly. I’m always curious what she’ll do when she reaches her designated limit number but she tends to lose her train of thought as she gets up into the teens. At that point she usually marches off, yelling back something like “Stay there.”

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that disciplining her dolls is far and away her favorite game. Nor had I thought much about the phrases she was parroting. Then this morning, after breakfast, Ty Bear did something horribly wrong and Louisa was beside herself. She stuffed him in the naughty chair and just stood there, fuming. After a good stare-down, she threw her hands out and said, “Jesus!”

For a second I told myself this was probably something she learned from Backyardigans or Wonder Pets –something Ming Ming might say—but then came her next outburst:

“What the hell!?” Which was followed by, “Goddamnit!”

Kids have a way of laying you bare. Even when they’re not trying to. They’re pretty good mirrors in that way. Like those fun-house mirrors that make you look a lot fatter and uglier. I’m sure I’ve strayed from my plan to be the strong, silent, in-control discipliner at times. I think I do actually say “What the hell?” quite a bit. And “Jesus”. (“Goddamnit” was all Winnie). But there are a lot of other things that I say that are really nice. Why don’t those ever get replayed?

(My sister-in-law has a funny story about her nearly pre-verbal daughter pretending to talk on the phone and her one-sided conversation going something like…”I’m ok. My feet hurt. I’m tired. When are you coming home?”)

Honestly, I’m not too worried about our language rubbing off on the kids. The whole concept of ‘bad’ words always struck me as strange anyway. It’s the mimicking of behaviors that I’m more concerned about. As a stay-at-home dad to two very capable, self-wiping children, I’ve recently hit that no-purpose zone that I think a lot of stay-at-home parents reach at some point. As a parent, you get used to feeling vital. Your kids would literally die if you weren’t there. And then suddenly, they’re off playing with each other somewhere in the house. You don’t even need to know where because you don’t need to worry about them anymore. It’s liberating. But somewhere in that freedom a sense of purpose is lost and you start to realize it was the main thing holding you up over the last few years. I think it’s pretty common for stay-at-home parents to get depressed at this stage. Suddenly all those “what should I do with my life” questions start to pop up again. And those questions suck and almost never lead you to what you should do with your life. But they nag you anyway. They recently drove me to apply for a part-time job at a hardware store because of it. That’s some strong shit.

So, I’ve tried to be aware of my slouching and moping of late. I’ve tried to appear chipper and engaged with the kids when I haven’t really felt it. Because the last thing I want is for my kids to think their dad is depressed. Maybe not the last thing but it’s up there.

The other night I was talking to my mom on the phone, telling her how I was feeling really down, didn’t know what to do with myself, etc. etc. Throughout the conversation, George kept bringing me things. First it was some pretzel chips. I took them without thinking. Then he brought over a pack of raisins. I took them and kept talking to my mom. George then brought me his remote-control helicopter. It occurred to me now that he was trying to make me feel better. Yes, this is behavior you might imagine a chimpanzee engaging in with a wounded member of the pack more than with a human. But it was touching nonetheless. After I hung up, I pulled George onto my lap and asked him if he listened to my phone conversation. He nodded ‘yes’. I asked him if he heard me tell Jane (my mom) that I was feeling sad. He nodded again. I told him he didn’t need to worry about me. I was fine, just feeling a little sad. I felt myself tearing up a little, just thinking about how such a sweet, little guy could process all this and how he thought to solve it. I told him again I was really fine and asked if he understood. He looked up at me, nodded and lovingly asked, “Are you going to eat those raisins?”

“Yes,” I said to him. “I’m going to eat the hell out of these goddamn raisins.”


  1. I love hardware stores. Is it a long commute?

  2. Nat Noone says

    Going a new direction with the blog are you…it’s like when I was a kid and flipped on Different Strokes to laugh and it was the one when Arnold and Dudley (yes, I just pulled that).befriended the bike shop owner.

    In fairness, you did strike a cord with me and that one was really deep and I enjoyed it, thank you. Great job, I will continue being a fan.

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