Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Number One and Number Two: Revisited

Posted By on July 1, 2009

Number One and Number Two, Revisited
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

My oldest son was an easy baby. He slept through the night, and napped every day for 2-3 hours, deeply and soundly, anywhere we happened to be. He played at my feet during political meetings, and sang during long car rides. He ate everything I gave him, preferring healthy veggies and tofu, to cakes and chips. Not that he didn’t have bad days, or temper tantrums, but day-to-day, he moved through the rhythm of our lives with pleasure and ease. I thought I was an excellent mom.

When other parents told me that their two-year olds wouldn’t "eat anything but hotdogs" I thought, "Well, you’re the one feeding them. Give them healthier choices." When moms told me that they had to be home by noon, because their daughter had to be in her bed, with certain music playing, "or else she wouldn’t nap", I thought, "Wow, have you spoiled that child." I couldn’t understand when other people had children running all over the grocery store. "Why don’t they just tell their child to hold hands, or sit quietly in the grocery cart, "I said to myself.

Then I had baby number two. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was three years old. He screamed for hours on end if you laid him down in a crib. He insisted on being held. He never napped. Perhaps he would close his eyes while swinging in his baby swing for twenty minutes, but it was not a twenty minutes you could count on. He had colic for nine months and screamed about twenty hours a day. His first four months of life he slept on his belly, laying face down on my partner’s body, with his head near her heart. She lay like this despite it nearly crippling her back, because at least he would sleep. I had written that he would wake up if you flicked a light switch 3 rooms away, and of course, everyone thought this was creative license, but it was actually factual data. At 18 months old, when my partner picked him up to lay him down for his nap, he punched her in the head with a right fist, causing her to see stars. He didn’t like riding in the car and there was no way I could take him to a political meeting; I could barely take him to the grocery store.

By two, he was mobile, running through the supermarket, zipping in and out of isles, grapping food from the shelves — I always wind up finding a few items while unpacking that he added to the shopping cart. Yes, I tried strapping him in; it’s a bit like trying to contain a tornado. His notes from day care every day came home saying, "Today your son had trouble listening." "Today your son bit his friends." "Today your son threw his lunch on the floor." His most recent adventure was to eat a pound of chocolate I brought back from Belgium to give my friends as gifts. He found it in its secret hiding place (where I was nibbling on it), and gobbled it all up in the time it took me to move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. He wasn’t guilty at all. "It was very good," he said, looking directly at me. His reasoning was clear and solid, when I told him that it was mine, and he shouldn’t have done it. (I was not as calm as that sentence sounds.) "Mom," he said. "You wouldn’t have let me have it, so I took it."

I was afraid I was raising a two-year-old juvenile delinquent. I went from being a confident new mother, to being an incompetent and worn out mother. The tools I used to socialize baby number one, was totally inadequate for baby number two. With baby number one, I would say things like, "DO you want to clean your room before lunch or after?" and he would think about and decide, and then follow through with a bit of prompting. With baby number two, I had to learn to say very definitive and strong sentences, with clear guidelines and expectations. I had to insist on follow through, and develop consequences he didn’t cooperate. In other words, I had to change my parenting strategies. When I took to my second child, I talk like this, "Now we are going to clean your room. If you cooperate with Momma, when we are done, we can play in the backyard. If you do not cooperate, you will not have any snack today. If you throw a fit, you will not watch a video tonight."

He pretends he doesn’t care about the consequence… "Didn’t wanna watch the movie anyway"….but I am not so easily fooled. The truth is that he is not a juvenile delinquent; he is a scientist. He needs to explore his environment, to test boundaries, and to see exactly what will happen if doesn’t follow the rules. He has learned that stoves really are hot, that knives really are sharp, and that Mommies really do put you to bed without reading time.

We’ve had to slowly do this with every unsocialized behavior. He had to learn to sit at the table and not throw food; he had to learn not to bite his friends when angry; he definitely had to learn to not hit his parents, opened handed or close-fisted. He had to learn to walk with me in the supermarket, and he most assuredly needed to learn to not eat my chocolate. ("Momma, you really like chocolate, don’t’cha?")

We are still working on it, but at 3 1/2 he is mostly socialized. In case it is not clear, he is a very bright and sweet child. He has a killer sense of humor, quite sophisticated and capable of getting the most furious grown-up to crack up laughing. Like the time he was acting out at the table, and I, at the end of my rope, looked at my partner, and as I was about to say something to her, he said (imitating my voice), "Honey, would you please give him a consequence."

My mother’s curse has come true — I have a child just like me. Defiant, opinionated, head-strong, and who doesn’t sit quietly through political meetings. My friend Tree (yes, that’s her name; I was a 70’s dyke) sent him a blessing for his naming ceremony. She said, "Just as you howled non-stop for the first months of your life, howl for us in the years to come. Howl for justice, howl for peace, howl for equality, for tolerance, for our survival as a people." I am glad to be the mother of two sons; one who eats his veggies, sleeps soundly at night, and sings to us on long car rides, spreading peace with his warm, loving smile, and one who is a whirlwind, able to turn any situation into a knock-knock joke, who knows how to stand firm and strong, like a power ranger, and howl.