This Old Mom rarely (if ever) feels like she’s figured out parenting (precisely when did parent become a verb?) — but for one night the taste of momhood was seriously super duper sweet. It was 9:00pm, I’d been trying to get her into bed for 2 hours and Grace’s attempts to stretch out her bedtime rivalled a Jerry Lewis telethon or hostage situation.
I was losing my mind when she ordered me to play ‘baby’ with her. I seriously HATE doing improvisation with toddlers. They always break the cardinal rule of improv- you can’t ever say no. You have to go with the reality that has been presented to you by the people who started the sketch. I did ‘Tony & Tina’s Wedding’- a three hour improv ‘wedding’ and there were 3 rules– no breaking character, you must go with the established reality and you can’t say NO, ever.
One time, a very nice if wildly drunk businessman, offered me a job in his carpet business. Somehow, he forgot he was at an improv show where I was playing the stripper girlfriend of the father of the groom. The cheap chianti convinced him it was his duty to save me and give me a chance to go legit. At the end of the night he picked me up and carried me out of the theater towards the parking lot.
Thank god for our off duty cop who was our security or I’d still be working in a carpet shop in Alhambra.
Long story short, I don’t want to improv for free with a 3.5 year old who not only doesn’t know the rules of improv, but is also tap-dancing on my last nerve because she won’t shut up and just go the FUCK to sleep.
GRACE: Mama- you be a baby. I’ll be the mama.
I stew for a moment because I hate saying no to her, especially when I’m furious with her.
ME: OK. I wanna go to bed. G’night Mama.
I roll over and pretend to go to sleep. Maybe I’ll bore her to sleep? Grace rolls her eyes and shakes my very flabby back. (Who knew a back could get flabby? This Old Mom does!)
GRACE: No, baby. No. You haven’t had your bottle, you haven’t brushed your teeth, I haven’t read to you and we need to put your diaper on.
ME: But I’m TIRED. As in really really REALLY tired. I wanna go to bed.
GRACE. No… drink your bottle first, and I read to you, okay baby?
Since this old mom is so old her lactose intolerance seems to be having a menopausal Renaissance, I grab the bottle and pretend to drink it. No one wants to be sharing a bed with This Old Mom’s lactose intolerance which spurs a methane output only rivaled by the most gluten intolerant and grain averse cow force fed a diet of wheat, oat and barley.
I pretend to suck on the bottle because the smell of aged warm cow’s milk on a silicone nipple is not my happy place smell. That and I have a very sensitive gag reflex. I can puke on a dime without warning if the smell is nasty enough. And I’m not just lactose intolerant, I’m lactose terrorist.
ME: I’m done, Mama.
Grace smiles and cups my face in her hands and does her best, condescending Mom voice. I kind of hate her right now. And since she’s impersonating me, I really hate myself right now too.
GRACE: No, lovely baby. Drink your bottle so I don’t have to wake up when you scream out hungry in the middle of the night.
(Which I say to her every night. Now she’s rubbing my face in it. Damn my toddler with all her stem cells, and really good memory. Damn her for not drinking diet coke for 30 years, which destroyed most of my memory, before becoming a mom destroyed what was left of it.) She jams the bottle in my mouth. Now I start whining. Just like her. And I get an idea.
ME: (whiniest voice ever) NOooooooooooooo. I don’t want a boooooottttttttle.
I push it away. She pushes it back, slightly astonished at my refusal to be a good baby.
GRACE: Take your bottle and drink it, or… I take away your tooth brushing time.
I throw the bottle across the room. It’s silicone so it just bounces like a breast implant tossed against a wall. If I’m playing baby, I’m going full baby. Full Bad Baby. She didn’t think I’d improv my face off, as her, the worst of her, to her. And I realize something awful. It’s fun to be a bad baby. It’s really fun to be a toddler. And even worse than that, I realize Grace thoroughly enjoys torturing us. So, I’m going deep full bad baby.
ME: NoooooooooOOOOOOOO. Bottle is coooollllddd. I want it warrrrrmmmmmmm.
Here’s the what on whining. It actually feels really, really good to whine. It’s got a strangely soothing musicality, it’s as soothing as humming, playing a harmonica but to others, it’s like an endless kazoo. It’s healing and energizing all at once. I’m getting to genuinely like whining, on the inside, where it counts.
To her credit Grace starts laughing once she’s finished gasping at what a bad her baby I am. She climbs out of bed much more even tempered than I would, and picks up the bottle.
GRACE: No throwing bottles baby girl. I warm it for you. Hold on. Can you hold on?
ME: NOooooOWOOOOOOOO. I want it NOOOOOOOOOOoooooWWWW!
GRACE: Hold your patience baby. Show me how you hold your patience.
Annoyed at how annoying I am as a parent, who she has been hearing to despite all appearances to the contrary, I huff and puff and put my hands into AllState position and I hold my patience.
She microwaved the bottle in a dresser drawer. When she gave me the bottle, it was sporting a persistent halo of dog hairs on the still damp nipple, due to me having winged it into the northwest corner of her room, where the most dog hair seems to collect, which is interesting… but irrelevant.
ME: Edie HAIR on My Bottle!!!!
I whined about Edie’s (our dog) hairs on the nipple, and throw the bottle again across the room. I SHOCKED my child with my incipient badass babyness. Grace howled with shock at how evil I was (disclaimer: she really isn’t bad, but since it was improvisation, I was doing a composite characterization of all of her crappy behaviors crammed into one twenty minute sketch.)
Andrew ducked a very confused head in Grace’s room- the baby monitor has been amplifying my performance as Gracenstein (the Monster) into our bedroom, where he was binge watching ‘The Wire”. If my improv chops distracted him from “The Wire”, I must be good. Or insane. Grace and I look up from our role reversal. I reach for him, upping my whine intake.
ME: Dada!! Dada!! Mama is being mean to me!! Make her stop YELLLLLLIIIINNGGG at MEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! Spank her!!
GRACE: (to me) Baby! Quiet, shhhhh. (to Andrew) Honey, it’s okay. It’s under control. Good night, honey.
(Okay, maybe she wasn’t that eloquent.)
As I howled and threw pillows and stuffed animals all over the room, Andrew gave a last worried (for himself, mostly) look, then left.
Hearing Grace act like me makes me really sad for anyone who has to endure me. Am I really that condescending?
I don’t even know if Grace recognized herself in my impersonation of her, but sorta like when I said shut up (link), if being bad was wrong, I didn’t want to be right. For one sweet shiny moment, with roles reversed, I got to be a kid again and it was deeply therapeutic. For me. I can’t speak for her, but she looked like she was thinking ‘Why have children when they so clearly suck at everything other than ruining your whole and entire life?’
What being Grace did was give me a little relief from her toddler badassness- and when she was trying to pretend-read Hop On Pop to me, I took the book from her
ME: No Hop on Pop!
Then I flung it to the floor. Grace gasped, her mouth and eyes huge and round.
GRACE: You are such a bad baby, Mama.
Then she bust out laughing. I cracked. We laughed and laughed together until tears rolled down our faces, lying side by side in her little bed- and we resumed being mother and child, completely in sync. Then Grace allowed me to read her a book before she relinquished her wild day for deeply vegetative sleep.
Of course Grace probably never realized I was giving her a taste of her own medicine– she went right back to being her badass self the next day. But for that one lovely night it was so satisfying and relaxing that I didn’t even need my nightly wine to erase a day of being the least fun family member– this Old Mom