Sunday, August 13, 2006

A lesson in Middle Eastern politics learned from parenting

Recently, Mark regaled us with a tale about the challenges of traveling with tots in tow. (Be sure to read the comments, while you’re there). His story reminded me of a challenge that the Punster and I faced when our twenty-three-year-old was a tot, himself.

I wish I could make a long story short, but I can’t. So this is your official warning: Either bail out now—you might want to read some of my Friday posts, instead—or park a pillow on your computer chair and make yourself comfortable, because this is going be a long and bumpy read.

When we first moved to our current apartment, our future Physics major was all of 17 months old.

He spent much of his time tearing around the apartment yelling at the top of his lungs because:

(a) he was 17 months old,

(b) he was a vilteh kindt/wild child, bordering on hyperactive, and

(c) he was hard of hearing, and had no idea how much noise he was making. It would be another two years before Dummy Mummy and Dumb Dad finally had his hearing tested, got him into speech therapy, and bought him his first set of hearing aids. It was amazing how much quieter (relatively speaking) he got, once he could, quite literally, hear how loud he was.

Ahem—where was I before I so rudely interruped myself?

Ah, yes.

The family downstairs was composed of:

(a) the head of household,

(b) her teenage daughter, and

(c) her aging mother—who couldn’t tolerate any noise of any kind at any time.

As you can well imagine, the contrast between our two families was a recipe for disaster.

They thought we were the neighbors from hell.

And we thought the same of them.

Almost every day, and often more than once a day, at just about any hour, they would bang on their ceiling/our floor with a broomstick to try to get us to stop our son from running and/or otherwise making noise.

Have you ever tried to stop a toddler from making noise?

Good luck.

In an attempt to accommodate our downstairs neighbors’ needs, we redoubled our efforts to get our son to bed at an early hour.

That didn’t help.

The neighbors' biggest complaint was that, every time our son ran across the "dining area" (which my husband was using as his office space), he made their chandelier shake.

So we jerry-rigged (spelling?) two baby gates together across the entire width of the livingroom to keep junior out of the “dining area,” covering the gates with sheets to keep our son from getting his head caught between the slats. (This was before the development of safety gates with narrower gaps between slats, or cloth or plastic mesh.) In effect, we created a giant “playpen.”

Even that wasn’t enough.

So we lined the “playpen” with old quilts to muffle the noise of running feet and falling block-towers.

No, I’m not kidding—so help me, we really did line the livingroom floor with quilts.

In other words, we “imprisoned” our own son in the functional equivalent of a padded cell in order to try to make peace with the downstairs neighbors.

And even that wasn’t enough.

One fine day, I must have just gotten home from a grocery-shopping trip and been too distracted by the necessity of putting the perishables into the ‘fridge, because I neglected to put my son into his “prison.”

Needless to say, he took advantage of his freedom to run through the dining area.

And he fell.

And they banged with the broomstick.

Then he started to cry . . .

And they banged with the broomstick again.

My son had just hurt himself falling, and he wasn’t allowed to cry?!

Did I mention that this happened at roughly 3:30 in the afternoon?!

At that point, I snapped.

Grabbing the wailing boy in one arm and an umbrella in my free hand, I marched downstairs and started pounding on our downstairs neighbors' door with the umbrella, screaming, at the top of my lungs, “You’ve got a broom, I’ve got a broom! Open this door! I want to talk to you!!!!!!!!”

After several minutes of futile yelling, I finally calmed down enough to realize that my neighbors weren’t stupid enough to open the door to someone who was threatening to break it down. So I went back upstairs, put some dirty clothes into the shopping cart, and took the cart and my boy to the basement laundry room.

Not five minutes later, I heard a siren. Sure enough, a police car had just pulled up in front of our building.

Toddler still in tow, I went back upstairs to my neighbors’ floor and pleaded my case to the cops.

“No matter what we do, no matter what time it is, it’s never enough for these people. If they take me to court for disturbing the peace, I’ll counter-charge them with harassment. We bought this place. We own it. It’s our home, and we have a right to actually live there!”

I was never charged, nor did my neighbors ever take me to court.

But the long-term results of my brief bout of temporary insanity were most interesting.

That particular family continued to live downstairs from us for roughly a decade following that incident. But, in all that time, they complained to us about noise only about two-four times per year.

American legend has it that that President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

But if you can’t walk softly—because we bought this place,* we own it,** it’s our home,*** and we have a right to actually live there—that’s all the more reason to carry a big stick!

*with the money that we donated to our land-purchasing agent, the Jewish National Fund, and/or with the blood of Jewish soldiers
**even the unfriendly United Nations doesn’t deny that—yet
***and our hope for the past 2,000 years.


Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Here's the story as my mother tells it:

I was apparently a loud crybaby. I would get up in the middle of the night and cry and scream my head off.

Apparently my crying was so loud that our neighbors, the Zuckerman's, who lived in an unattached house next door across the driveway, could hear me.

One day Mr. Zuckerman saw my mother and told her that he was going to call the police on her, because the amount of screaming emanating from our house could only be the result of severe child abuse.

My mother said that nothing of the sort was going on. I was just a crybaby.

Mr. Zuckerman didn't believe her. He was going to call the cops.

My mother said if the Zuckermans (Zuckermen?) didn't believe her, then they could take me for a night and see for themselves.

Mr. Zuckerman was taken aback. He couldn't believe that my mother was offering to let a stranger keep her son for a night.

But my mother persisted and apparently I spent the night next door.

The next day, Mr. Zuckerman brought me back, all remorseful and full of sympathy for my mother.

"You poor poor woman," he told her. "I don't know how you do it."

I don't remember much about the Zuckermen. Except that they had a Mustang.

Mon Aug 14, 03:00:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark, one of my best friends, a mother of two, once said that babies were born cute as a survival mechanism--with all the trouble they give us, if they *weren't* cute, we'd be of half a mind to toss them out a window! Obviously, that survival mechanism has worked fairly well, since 99.9% of all kids manage to survive their parents' bad moments long enough to reach adulthood. Somehow, parents manage, through diaper-changes, crying jags, and temper tantrums, to raise kids in one piece. Our reward is to see them grow into decent kids, and, later, adults, who make us "schep nachas" (er, rough translation, bring us pride and joy).

Tue Aug 15, 07:30:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

All-points bulletin: How do I get rid of these "spam links" and block them in the future?

Tue Aug 15, 07:35:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Kiwi the Geek said...

Spam links? Where? I can probably help you if I know what you're talking about.

Sat Aug 19, 12:02:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Kiwi, the spam links seem to have disappeared, for the time being. (They've disappeared and reappeared previously.) But thanks for the offer of assistance. I'll keep that in mind if this happens again.

Sun Aug 20, 10:45:00 AM 2006  

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