Next Stop, Naughty Town!
My mother called last night around 7:45 with the news: My youngest sister Rebecca had given birth to a 5-pound, 14-ounce baby girl. Mother and small but not premature child were tired but doing well in a hospital room in Portland, Oregon. I should have rejoiced; this was the very definition of good news. Unfortunately, the second I answered the phone, Elijah, who was having his daily wash, dropped a floater.
"You're Uncle Neal again," my mother said.
"I hope they enjoy themselves now," I said, "because in three years, they're going to be dealing with a roommate who craps in the bathtub!"
"I just thought I'd relay the joyous news."
"Now we have to drain the tub and bleach all his toys. Again! Arrrgh!"
"Why don't we talk later, dear?"
My mother is under the impression that my family exists in a state of constant chaotic crisis. While it's true that we're not silent about our emotions, Regina is, at heart, a Protestant girl, so she has enough stoic resistance to keep us from fully descending into the neurotic emotional goulash that, from my experience, consumes many a fine Jewish family. But my mom always seems to call at the exact moment that Elijah is pulling the cat around by the tail, or on a day, like today, which can only be described as Another Black Friday.
Elijah hasn't been sleeping enough. We put him down around 8 PM every night, sometimes a little earlier if he's sagging, or a little later if storytime runs long. But it usually takes him an hour and a half to get to sleep regardless. Usually during that pre-unconsciousness period, he requests two diaper changes, we grant one, he runs out into the living room giggling at least twice, and spends a lot of time shrieking stuff like "MY BOTTOM HURTS!" to try to lure us into his trap. This would all be fine except that he never wakes up after 7, and is usually up on the early side of 6:30. We can't stop him from waking up, and we can't get him to go to sleep any earlier. The kid is tired, and so are we.
We knew we were in for a long day when we dropped him off at school this morning. It was Shabbat, and, as usual, a band was playing. Parents hung around longer in the classroom, eating challah and chatting with other exhausted people who waited too long to have kids. I looked over. Eliljah was on the floor, bawling hysterically. He had accidentally bonked himself on the forehead with a bucket of plastic fish. We soothed him sympathetically. But we also felt dread. Goofy mishaps are almost always a sign of future trouble.
A little background now: The same girl who wanted to start a band with Elijah last week gave him a dandelion when he went to school yesterday. They stared at each other bashfully for a few seconds, and then started shooting imaginary fire out of their fingers. They are clearly in love.
Why, then, wasn't I surprised to have Regina call me at 3 PM to say that, in an argument with this girl, Elijah had grabbed her neck and scratched her? The director of the school was hanging around to let Regina know personally. We've been through this before. But when Elijah had his earlier problems, which I described at great length in a highly-controversial article for Salon.com, he was a lot younger, and also in a crappy, boring school. This school is neither crappy nor boring. In fact, he loves it there and has many friends.
So we're worried, but we hope that we have more mechanisms available this time. First, the punishment: No ice cream, no juice. The only things he can eat for the next 24 hours, as snacks, are fruit, vegetables, and cheese. This isn't a harsh punishment, but I would say that, until the offense is repeated, denial of pita chips is sufficient. Also, I called the girl's mother after school. Her reaction: "It's a love/hate thing. That's what three-year-old relationships are like."
"It's what a lot of adult relationships are like, too," I said.
She didn't seem particularly offended by that comment, so I proferred:
"We're going to the Tar Pits tomorrow. Do you all want to join us?"
The answer was no. Too much adventure for one day. But there will be a playdate, probably, tomorrow late afternoon. We've told Elijah he has to make something nice for his friend so she knows he loves her. He says he wants to make her a sea creature. I hope this doesn't require a run to the craft store.
Anyway, after I handled that particular situation as best I knew how, playtime was upon us. Elijah ran into his room. We heard cackling. And then some other stuff.
"Is that music?" Regina said.
"Ah ha ha!" shouted Elijah. "Rock and roll!"
He had finally figured out how to turn on his clock radio, which he'd randomly tuned to L.A.'s cheesiest classic-rock station. We went into his room. He was thrashing around madly to Blue Oyster Cult singing "I'm Burning For You." I suppose it could have worse. It could have been Foreigner.
Then he informed us it was time to play "Piggyback Shark." I had no idea what he meant, so I followed directions. I got down on all fours, and then Elijah laid on top of my back. Then he told Regina that she was to get on top of him. She said she didn't want to, because she would crush us. I told her that she didn't need to apply any actual pressure. So she did that and nibbled Elijah's neck, saying, "Ahm nam nam! The shark is going to eat you!" This made Elijah very happy.
He dismounted, went over to his toy kitchen, and announced that was going to make us soup. To the sound of Robert Plant screeching "hey hey mama like the way you move..." Regina got on top of me, started nibbling, and saying "ahm nam nam. Watch out for the shark!"
The gesture offered a lot of promise, assuming we could get the kid to fall asleep by nine.