When my sisters and I were young, like most children, we loved to watch the same television programs and movies over and over and over. We had them memorized. Some of our favorites were typical childhood fare: Pete’s Dragon, and bootleg copies of Snow White and Dumbo. Others were perhaps more unusual. Whoopi Goldberg’s Broadway stand-up show, History of the World Part I and Bill Cosby: Himself.
I have every word of Cosby’s stand-up special memorized, and over the past two years have had many occasions to think of it. His material for the special is mostly parenthood, and one part in particular keeps coming to my mind: “I later found out that mothers, all mothers, put a curse on their children. They say, ‘I hope, when you get married, you have some children who act exactly the same way that you act.’ And this curse works!”
The subtext is that all children drive their parents crazy in the same ways. There has to be commonality in humor or it isn’t funny. What we laugh at is the recognition of our shared misery. I know my mother put this curse on me. I remember it. She used more swear words, though. And, like Cosby, I can testify that the curse does indeed work.
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary/how does your garden grow?” she used to sing. This morning, while dragging my half-asleep toddler through her morning routine, I said to Odie, “Whatever yes or no question you ask her, the answer will be no.” And then, in as much of a flash of epiphany as one can have at 6:45 a.m., I said, “My God, she’s exactly like I was.”
I wasn’t contrary by nature. I worked hard at being contrary. Everybody loved it? I hated it. Everybody had to have it? I wanted nothing to do with it. Everybody cried over it? I laughed at it. Had to be different. Had to get noticed.
I particularly remembered going to see the film E.T. The Extra-terrestrial. I was exactly ten years-old. And I knew going into it that this was the most popular movie out. People raved about it. “You’re going to see E.T.?” They’d say, “Bring Kleenex!” Thus, when I went into that theater, I was determined. Not only was I going to HATE it, I was not going to cry. I can still feel the painful burning in my throat as I held in every tear – feeling that I would encounter again and again over a childhood determined not to have the same feelings as everyone else. I took huge delight in telling people I hated the movie. “How can you hate E.T.?” they cried, aghast. I shrugged. “It was stupid.”
My daughter V is only twenty-two and a half months, so the tears flow freely many times a day. But she never misses an opportunity to tell us “No.” Every night, she insists on hearing Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and on the page where it says, “Across ten cups, she spied a moth,” V says, unfailingly, “She didn’t spied a moth!” She just cannot let a simple declarative sentence go by without contradiction.
V, do you have poop? No.
V, are you hungry? No.
Do you want to watch The Wonder Pets? No.
It always has to be her idea. Because I can assure you that she DOES have poop, she IS hungry, and that kid can watch The Wonder Pets until her eyeballs fall out. I’m sewious.
Last night, for dinner, I made burritos. Odie came home defeated and deflated, muttering imagined confrontations to himself under his breath, and I knew it would be a good night for me to step up, cook dinner, and wash the dishes after. I sautéed some peppers and onions, opened a can of beans, warmed tortillas, grated cheese, and spooned sour cream and salsa on top of the whole concoction. That “Semi-Homemade” chick would have beamed with pride.
In an attempt to get V to actually eat something sitting at a table, I made her a little bean and cheese burrito and loaded her into her high chair. There was much throwing of tantrum. When I put the burrito on her tray, she went ape-shit.
“I DON’T WANT TO EAT A BURRITO! I DON’T WANT IT! I DON’T WANT IT! NO! NO! NO!” Not exactly the soundtrack I wanted for a peaceful dinner. So I took the burrito off her tray and said she didn’t have to eat it.
“WHERE’S MY BURRITO? GIVE IT BACK TO ME! GIVE IT BAAAAAACK!” I did. And this had predictable results. (Hint: she didn’t want the burrito.)
Eventually, she calmed down, saw the nearby box of Cheerios and asked for some. I obliged because it didn’t involve me getting up and making her something different. Someday, we will fight the “This is what is for dinner or you get no dinner” battle, but not at 22 months, and not last night.
When I eventually got her to sleep that night, I thought to myself, “Someday, she will get married and have a kid who acts just like this.” And the thought filled me with joy.
Because that curse WORKS.