Friday, July 28, 2006

Independence Day

OK. I know I’m late for an Independence Day post. I missed July 4th, both blog-wise as well as culturally. But I figure I can get a little slack here, since Korea’s Independence Day is August 15th so I can pick and choose my holidays at my convenience. Kind of like how I excuse being late with my New Year’s cards because Chinese New Year is in January or February. (Though I’m usually late for that one too... around St. Patrick’s Day I give up.)

This year the idea of independence is bittersweet. Not only am I missing the fireworks for at least the third year in the row, but I have also lately begun to morn the independence which is coming, slowly, like the drips of mustard off a hot dog, from Aiden.

We’ve been having our share of struggles lately, Aiden and I. He is very much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes -- wrapped up in his own little world of battles with bad guys and the constant threat of monsters or dramatic death. His concept of death, though, is not so threatening -- he thinks it is easy to slip into death, but that the good guys will somehow come back to life. I’m always answering questions like, “Mommy, of I drink the bathwater will I die? Mommy, if it rains too much I’ll die, right?” His world doesn’t have many shades of gray.

He is a social kid, with a great imagination and an ability to play by himself that I’m always grateful for when he pops out of bed at 5am. But when it comes to accomplishing tasks in an orderly and efficient fashion he is, shall we say, out to lunch. This morning he was running late for the bus, particularly because he needed to have a last minute poop. “Don’t forget to wash your hands!” I yell at him. The bathroom is suspiciously quiet -- no noise of running water. “Aiden, are you washing your hands?” “Yes, Mommy, I’m shooting my hands with water from the water gun.”

Ah, Foucault, when did I become the instrument of discipline and punishment? I used to be such a good postmodern disobedient, throwing about terms like “deconstruction” and “reading against the grain.” Suddenly I am The Man, armed with my Skinner Boxes of Positive Reinforcement: charts and checklists of Aiden’s duties so he can check them off, a sticker chart where he gets a sticker every time he does something the first time I ask, etc. I deliver long lectures (actually, having Max has been really helpful, because Aiden gets to experience how it feels when someone doesn’t listen to him...) where I implore him to listen better. I have replaced my over-the-shoulder commands with the power of the Gaze: kneeling in front of him and making him look me in the eye. Here I am, promoting modernity, with its rigid schedules and sense of time and attention to productive efficiency.

I am the source of any and all efficiency in the day. I am a streamlined, multi-tasking machine. I can carry on this dialogue with Aiden while conducting delicate negotiations with Max over changing his diaper (“Do you want Mommy to change your diaper or Daddy to change your diaper? Do you want to change your diaper now or in two minutes?” Gotta give choices. Otherwise I have to chase him around and deal with “No” and kicking and crying.) And do the dishes and laundry and everything else.

Aiden, on the other hand, will always take the most indirect method to do something. Brushing his teeth involves light saber battles and a tour of the apartment (“how many times do I have to tell you to brush at the sink?”). Putting on his clothes involves throwing the articles up in the air or at Max, or putting them on in different ways so that he has more than two arms, etc. (“Aiden where do your clothes go? Fold up your pajamas!”) And he always has to ask me where his clothes are, even though he knows perfectly well where they are. (“Mommy, where are my clothes?” “Where do you THINK your clothes are?” “Oh, that’s right.”)

So there’s actually a kind of double disciplining going on here: I am disciplining and training myself as much as I am him. Gone are the halcyon days of solitaire, grande lattes, and reading in bed until noon. Gone are the days of writing e-mails to professors in limerick. Gone are the days of 20 minute showers and performing experiments on font size. Now the only surreptitious pleasures I allow myself are applying wrinkle cream and reading The Jennifer who used to paint and spend hours rewriting papers has been replaced by a robot who tracks her kid’s progress in his math workbooks with Tayloristic zeal.

And yet, at night I take out those Calvin and Hobbes comics and laugh, and write about those little Aiden moments -- not the big talks about sex or life or drugs, not the moment he wins the PGA tour (KC is planning that moment as we speak), not his first step (already forgotten) or first word (ditto). Rather, I cradle in my memory those moments when he’s sitting upside-down on the sofa, bottom in the air, staring into space. Or when he tells me he likes the song Bang-a-Gong by T. Rex but he doesn’t know what it means. I love the fact that he can make sense of the world in his odd way, with no pressure to sum everything up, with no pressure to define who he is. He can gain a morning’s pleasure from a pair of chopsticks, or by becoming a Blob under the blanket and just moving threateningly around the apartment. He just is, butt in the air, focused on the next moment’s adventure, excited to wake up in the morning and surrendering so completely to sleep at night.

And having reached such a high level of training and efficiency, this is the world I have lost irrevocably. I can no longer hear Santa’s bells ring or go into Narnia. My world’s lurking dangers and secret places provide me little pleasure, and my imaginary friends have all become investment bankers. After 28 years of suburban life, my way of dealing with the bustle and competitive pressures of city life is to buckle and strain and transmit these pressures downward, to Aiden, rather than protect him from them.

It is getting late, and Aiden should be in bed, and I have asked him 5 times to put his pajamas on. But he and Max have hidden naked under the covers, giggling and shaking with anticipation for the moment when they are discovered (even though their feet have poked through the other side). I bite my tongue and stand back for a minute, letting the anticipation build. “Where are Aiden and Max? I can’t find them anywhere! Did they go for a ride? Did they hop on a space shuttle?” Suddenly they pop out, shrieking and squealing, Aiden with his skinny, muscular little boy body, hair about two months past needing to be cut, and Max with his protruding belly and his huge dimples. Bedtime can wait a few minutes. Although I can’t give up the training, I need to figure how to how to train both him and myself to keep the world of schedules and efficiency in the background of life, without dismantling the serendipitous daydreams that come to us, moment by moment.

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