The introduction to this column, and its first episode, can be read here.
I expected freaky racial—and class—‘episodes’, which are inevitably intertwined, when Brookti touched down. I knew the most common ones to expect and assumed I’d easily brush them off. What I didn’t expect: how intricate the race/class hiearchys are (I did expect the level of hostility on both sides), how fiercely protective I would be of Brookti (I knew I would be fierce, but not that fierce) or how insanely defensive, or how ridiculously paranoid. Or probably I know all of the above, but when these ‘episodes’ actually happen to you it’s a different feeling altogether.
The first indications of ‘it’s a comically cruel world’ out there in upper middle class parentland became quickly apparent in gymnastics class. As everyone knows, NY parents schedule 2 year old children for an inordinate amount of activities, which I, in pre-parent days scoffed at, thinking, can’t they just let the children entertain themselves? Three weeks after ‘entertaining’ Brookti, primarily at the park, I was entertaining thoughts of homicide (against who I was undecided) , not because I didn’t enjoy Brookti’s company or the company of the lovely man who ran the park, Brookti’s first and best friend, or his 10 year old son, Brookti’s first crush, but because I did not enjoy the company of the (mostly but not all) prissy humourless judgemental parents who at the first sign of a toddler scuffle or theft will dive in and cause fullscale warfare. The more sensible babysitters of course do no such thing; they sit back and wait until necessary, ie when fisticuffs occur. And, as intimated earlier, Brookti initiated many a scuffle and commited many a theft, that is, after her early mute period wore off.
Instead of committing homicide (against who I had finally decided: the next smarmy parent who lectured a wailing two year old on ‘sharing’, specifically my two year old) I enrolled Brookti in a ‘gymnastics’ class called bouncing babies or trouncing toddlers or something like that. I could hardly wait, and arrived at our first class all go-team-go, attempting to buddy-buddy up with my fellow students (ie parents/‘caretakers’ who are mandatory participants in all scheduled toddler activities, shows you how high the desperation factor is), hauling Brookti, who was still tottering but tottering valiantly, along with me. No luck with the buddying-up tactics, which included conspiratorial giggles, eye rolls and generally making an utter fool out of myself— nor with trying to force Brookti’s peers to buddy up with her, which involved more foolishness.
Among the races represented were two asian parent/daughter teams, a black babysitter with one of the dime-a-dozen little blond boys and a ‘caretaker’? parent? /little boy team, both of indeterminate race. The teacher was a determinedly bright and cheerful gal with an ominous steely look in her eye—whose welcome to Brookti was not nearly as effusive as it should have been. However, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt—for Brookti’s sake.
Oh yes, Brookti. Who had arrived pissed off that I’d rushed her out of the house too quickly after her nap, and who refused to take off her shoes as instructed (she has had a severe shoe attachment from day one, not exactly discouraged by her psycho mother). That was a big no-no. I had to wrench them off her feet which only made her more pissed off as we bounded onto the mats (a wailing Brookti, needless to say, was nowhere near bounding). I looked to my fellow mothers/caretakers for sympathy but they remained stonyfaced, particularly the older black babysitter clutching her precious charge closely to her breast like he was a Kennedy, glaring at Brookti as though she was going to infect Blondie.
Our next no no occurred as the various teams gathered in a circle to do our ‘stretching.’ (Show me a toddler who needs to stretch and I’ll show you someone over forty without backpain). Since I was wearing a sundress in the 100 degree heat, I couldn’t stretch without the possibility of being arrested for public indecency (by the parental police force not the other one, again my fellow comrades were not having any sympathy) and Brookti couldn’t begin to follow the rapid movements. For that matter, barely any one could follow since the teacher was moving as rapidly as Amtrak on a good day. Again I looked around eagerly for some conspiratorial smirks…or something. The black babysitter avoided my goofy grin assiduously, cheering on Blondie, who, wouldn’t you know it, was the only child able to follow the teacher (and as quickly became clear, the teacher’s pet). The asians were too busy trying to pry their children’s recalcitrant limbs apart. The indeterminate caretaker or parent was too busy running after her child who wanted no part of the circle, which to me seemed promising, as far as potential friendship for either Brookti or me, since Brookti was trying her best to get the hell out of there too.
It was downhill from there. When the teacher asked me if I was Brookti’s mother during the third class, I wanted to reply who the fuck else do you think would go through this charade? (another thought running through my mind was: I’m paying $35 a class for this benign neglect/abuse?) Neither did it help that Brookti started each class so pissed that she had to take her shoes off that trying to tumble or walk on a balance beam at 90 miles per hour when when she was bemoaning her forsaken red shoes was the last thing on her mind. On the brighter side I had learned my lesson and begun dressing like a good mommy should. I was also ready for an oxygen tank from trying to tail Brookti to each station, simultaneously trying to force her through. However I was still giving it my all, ie no one else crawled through the goddamn tube in order to get her balking child through.
As for friendship, still no acknowledgement from the Asians, who were moving grimly yet successfully from station to station. And certainly none from the black babysitter who had eyes only for her beloved—and who I had targeted for my first murder victim the day she would not help Brookti onto some idiotic apparatus, refusing to give even an encouraging smile, even when Brookti collapsed and fell. (I couldn’t get there fast enough probably because I was too busy seething at the teacher who I now actively despised for not giving Brookti extra help, muttering $35. under my breath like whatever the opposite of a mantra is). Meanwhile Blondie/Teachers Pet was getting wet kisses and hugs from not only his keeper, but the the aforementioned despicable teacher who I now referred to as Little Miss Hitler to Brookti and myself.( I think Amowei and I had one of our first ‘bonding’ moments after I relayed the black babysitter story to her; she was as defensive as me, muttering ‘she’s just old school.’ ) However, we’d made great strides with the indeterminate pair since the little boy was almost as bored and uncooperative as Brookti and the parent/caretaker was despairing/giggling along with me.
By the fourth class everyone (except Brookti) even the indeterminate little boy, were moving from station to station at a relatively reasonable clip. It also seemed to me the indeterminate pair were trying to disassociate themselves from us…ok, maybe I was being a little oversensitive. And maybe I was asking too much but couldn’t Little Miss Hitler give Brookti a little extra attention? Just a little? By the fifth class Brookti refused to venture on to the mats entirely—after we’d successfully engaged in the usual battle to wrench her shoes off, to put the icing on the cake, in turn, leading to another battle 45 excrutiating minutes later when she refused to put them back on. Which to my mind was two extra very unnecessary battles I was paying for, mind you, in an average battle-strewn day.
The next class, I said fuck the $35 and we didn’t attend. And when we arrived (guiltily) for the next class there was a new group of teams in place, the semester was over, and we were sent home.