Flags and Shit

Edith and I had another delightful weekend. She’s becoming ever more fun to hang out with, and I love rolling around town with her.

We took another trip to Target Saturday afternoon to return some of the stuff I’d bought the previous weekend and I got to experience what it’s like to have a tantruming child in public. Not great! I had somehow failed to connect the more frequent tantrums of late with the fact that she would also at some point be doing this in front of other people. She threw her first tantrum as we approached the returns counter — Edith wanted to run off into the wilds of the store, and I wanted her to hold my hand and stand next to me until I could accompany her, and as she registered her disagreement with this plan, the young woman being helped next to us looked at us the way that I used to look at screaming toddlers.

I had one of those existential shocks that are becoming very frequent in parenting. Like, I know I’m a mom, I’m mom-ming 24/7, but I don’t always really get that my position in life has permanently and fundamentally changed and then I’ll have a stark reminder that I have fully moved into a different bracket of humanity. I was “sneering pretty girl” and now I’m “hassled and mildly apologetic mom.” This change wasn’t fast or anything — it was incremental and ultimately took several years. But at moments like this, I feel like I’m suddenly looking back at my old world over a chasm. Going from alive to dead is a major life transition, certainly, and I feel like going from “non-parent” to “parent” is as vast! There are probably other transitions that feel as transformative and irreversible, but this is the only one I’ve gone through.

Anyway, it was a brief tantrum and then I wanted to let Edith exhaust herself by running around the store as much as she wanted (again, it was too hot for her to do this outside). In some areas of the store, Edith trotted along adorably, dangling my car keys from her hand, and people cooed at her and grinned at me and we were bathed in approval. In other areas of the store, Edith would take an interest in a stranger (usually one with kids) and follow them up and down the aisles, and when I pulled her away, she would have a meltdown and everyone would glare at us, and we were scalded by disapproval. My child was the cutest kid ever born in automotive, and a horrifying brat in housewares. Two minutes and three aisles and it was the opposite. One young woman was so taken by Edith that I heard her say to the guy with her “ooooh maybe we should have kids.” (I realize this sounds made up, but I promise she really did say this.) This was in office supplies and I wanted to say, “if you’d just been over in the freezer section, your original decision would have been reinforced.”

Having a kid makes it much easier to talk to people, and I am getting to the point where I think I might have an opening to make friends in a couple of these classes we go to. There’s one couple at baby gym especially who have a little girl Edith’s age and have been making a point to talk to me every week and say hi and bye and stuff. I don’t know how to make friends and have never been good at it, but there’s a certain level of attention between parents that seems to be an opening for more than a nodding acquaintance. I don’t know how to move it to the next step, though. I know I’ve missed the window a few times — a woman with a baby in Edith’s swim class brought Edith a little present for her birthday, which definitely seemed like an opening but I didn’t do anything and then they switched class days. I met a mom my age at the park one weekend and our kids were the same age and I liked her so much that I had to collect Edith and leave abruptly (this is an old habit from my younger days of social anxiety — if I like somebody and want to be their friend, I get so anxious about messing it up that I have to leave immediately). It’s been well over a decade since I made a friend, so I’m really using some atrophied muscles here. But I have to figure it out, because I want Edith to have friends!

My neighborhood has a Facebook page and after procrastinating about it for weeks, I finally posted saying that I had a one-year-old and would love to do a playdate with anyone else in the neighborhood who had kids the same age. I got one reply…from a lady with a bunch of “vaccines cause autism” and “COVID was a government lie” stuff all over her profile (I did not respond). I’m not sure how well I’ll fit in with people in this neighborhood. For example, on Thursday night upon rolling the trash bins out to the curb, I discovered that a small American flag had been placed in my front yard. There was one in every yard and it turns out that the neighborhood social committee does this for the fourth of July.

I am not a flag person (I know, you’re shocked). I have always been deeply creeped out by mandatory loyalty displays, particularly pledges of allegiance and saluting the flag and all that. It’s just gross and weird to me, and it always has been. I felt like a robot in school whenever we did the pledge. I don’t think this happens in other countries; I know Europeans find it very strange. Also, not for nothing, but our flag is ugly. I might feel differently about it if it were rad, like Seychelles or Bhutan, or at least inoffensively neutral like Hong Kong or Finland.

Even still, in past years, it’s possible I would have let this slide just to keep the peace. But for fuck’s sake, this country just overruled my legal right to make decisions about my own goddamned body! I am now only a free person insofar as I am not pregnant; otherwise, I’m owned by the state of Texas! I can’t even look at a flag right now!! I put it in the garage, and whatever, I’m sure no one will hassle me about it, but I feel like I’m surely not the only person who feels this way? And yet, I have not spotted a single other yard without a flag. It’s possible I will have to drive into Austin for friends.

Edith and I gave the 4th of July pool party a pass — not because of the flags but because there’s no shade at the pool. Swimming was canceled, also, and so I set Edith’s paddling pool up in the backyard under the trees, and after we’d invested the 30 necessary minutes of prep time to coat ourselves in zinc oxide and struggle into all our Coolibar layers, we had a lovely afternoon splashing in it. Edith enjoyed herself immensely, and I almost did. Our next door neighbors have a pool and they love playing the radio very loud — the actual radio of top 40s hits, with ads and everything — which makes me feel like I’m attending a junior high dance or shopping at a Kohl’s in my own backyard. It sets my teeth on edge. (I realize this post is making me sound like I might be a little hard to get along with.) But other than that, it was very pleasant.

When we went in, I took Edith into my shower to hose us both off. One aspect of parenting small children that nobody talks about and so I was really unprepared for is that toddlers don’t really digest a lot of foods, and so their poop is often just that food again. Edith had had wild rice for dinner the night before, and when I removed her swim diaper, I was surprised by wild rice suddenly being all over my shower like someone had just popped a piñata full of it. And if you think it would be difficult to clean up a bunch of wild rice poop from the floor of a large walk-in shower, imagine doing so with a 15-month-old who wants very much to involve herself in the proceedings. Cleaning all this up while also cleaning Edith up (repeatedly) took a sort of sequence of showers and baths, and in the end, involved multiple tubs and sinks and a succession of towels.

This was late Sunday afternoon and it thoroughly depleted my remaining patience and energy reserves for the weekend, so I am very happy to be at a global company with an open vacation policy where the place doesn’t shut down on stat holidays and so I was able to have a normal work day yesterday and hide from my child for eight hours.

7 Comments

  1. Zandy says:

    “Hi, it looks like Bettina and Edith get along (like the same toy/are the same age/etc), would you be interested in setting up a playdate at X park sometime? Here’s my number, text any time!”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Zandy says:

      Also, fuck having to pledge anything to a flag.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Elizabeth says:

      It sounds so easy when YOU say it.

      Like

      1. Zandy says:

        Because I had to do this 10 years ago, and then again 6 years ago. All adults feel weird about it, and everyone is SO relieved when someone else just does it! You’re a doer. Do it.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Elizabeth says:

          I’m a professional doer and a social avoider. But I can change! Your support is motivating.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Zandy says:

            Your job is Edith’s social development 😀

            Liked by 1 person

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