drwex (drwex) wrote,

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Parenting, in a nutshell

My friend aelf wrote, in an LJ entry that is unlocked so I hope I'm not violating anything by quoting it, the following about her daughter:
One of these days she's going to be better at expressing herself so we won't be stuck trying to hack a black box.

And my immediate response was "No, that's parenting in a nutshell." The following just sort of spilled out afterward so I put it here rather than in aelf's LJ. If I ever wrote a slam poem it would be something like this - it sounds better in my head read aloud with the right cadences.

Hacking the black box starts with them squalling and unable to do anything other than scream or cry. Maybe smile, which might be a sign we correctly hacked that black box or maybe it's just the pleasure of filling a diaper. It goes from there to pointing and grunting, with terrifying emotional waves when we misinterpret the grunts or get the thing not pointed to, or refuse the desired object. It goes from that into "everything is 'boid'" including cats, food, other people, and yes even birds and if we've done it right they make a proto-ASL sign that sort of hints at what it means. Sometimes "boid" means "My sippy cup is empty and I am still thirsty - fix it!"

From there it goes into the sprouting of words and the trying of sounds and word combinations and learning the exceedingly odd rules of English and how nouns may or may not be verbed and why past tense is so very confusing and if they say "I saw Daddy" sometimes that means "Why haven't I seen Daddy yet today?" and sometimes it just means "Look, I'm super-proud I can string three words together in a sentence that you'll respond to." Go ahead, hack that black box through its dual hair-trigger minefields of emotion and English grammar lessons.

And by "respond to" I mean "can use in my epic struggle for control" because whoever dubbed it the "Terrible Twos" has no fucking clue what three years old can be like. Because sometimes hacking the black box comes down to sheer exhaustion that we disguise for our own sanity as "choosing our battles" and we learn that part of hacking that black box is the child caring which toy is placed where and not caring that sharp things hurt bare feet because it's more important that they have control over what is or is not on the floor than whether you bleed actual blood. That's what Band-Aids are for.

It goes from there into fights with other kids and fights with teachers and sometimes even fights with you because although they can now say what they want they have no idea when it's useful or appropriate to say that and why can't you just understand that they need this thing or want that thing or simply will not do that other thing? And speaking of appropriate I'm not the first to notice that the black box is willing to say - in words you sometimes didn't know they knew - whatever is on the top of their minds. In public. About people you're trying to be nice to, or were friends with.

And if you have somehow made it this far, let me tell you it does not get any less black, that box. Because now they can see farther into the future than they have been alive, and think of things you would not expect like where is Grandma (she's dead, dear) and will I die now, too? Who built a universe so cruel as to require children to think about their own demise so soon after they've conquered the potty? Hacking that black box must be done oh-so-gently because I will not lie to them nor tell them things I do not believe, including where Grandma is now.

And when they've mastered what we'd consider reasonable vocabulary - or even demonstrated exception fluency for their age in reading the written word - you realize that this does not help you with that black box because they will use their command of language to tell you things that you could not have expected them to say, like how they remember burning themselves as a child. Or that they, too, miss Aries. And still they are not yet old enough that you require the help of more than a few extra fingers to count out their years.

The black box further confounds you by being an excellent mimic - picking up, adopting, and reusing heard phrases. Found-sound artistry at its most terrifying. You cannot tell whether the black box has found phrases that accurately describe things, or whether it is probing the meaning of these phrases in part by judging the reactions it gets to them. You are reminded of how the black box used to scrape its knees and then look at its parents for how they were reacting before deciding how to react. Parental expressions of panic or upset were always greeted with more tears and wails than parental expressions of concern and calm certitude. Sometimes hacking the black box requires hacking your own black box, applying the tightest controls to the output circuits. Sometimes in adult circles you end up saying not-wholly-appropriate things because you are just so very fucking relieved you don't have to guard yourself quite the same way. This, too, is hacking the black box.

And if you are not particularly lucky, you may find that somewhere in the black box is a code and that code involves screaming "NO" in your face, which actually means "help me please." Or perhaps there's a code for monosyllabic and it gets turned on when the hormone flood-gates open and the black box goes awash in short-circuiting liquids and somehow the short circuits always seem to lead to making bad choices, incomprehensibly bad choices. If you have somehow hacked the black box just a little bit correctly those bad choices only lead to having conversations about the FBI and not actual conversations with the FBI. You might find yourself surprised how close those two things can be.

So no, dearly beloved who have read this far, I do not ever expect to stop hacking that black box because that, in a nutshell, is parenting.
Tags: parenting, thinky stuff
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