I FINALLY got Stella napping, hoorah! Jeez. She wouldn't eat. She wouldn't nurse. She wouldn't let me put her down to play with toys, which she usually does because she's a modern independent woman. She's gotten to this age where if I try to sit her on the floor she'll protest by stiffening her torso so we just stand there, me hunched in pain and her giggling like she's mistress of the universe. Of course she's mistress of my universe. And her hair is getting long enough over her eyes that I might just have to buy baby barrettes. Whoa.
This morning in Hamish's room he was playing with his cars and talking to them with a stern brow. "You pushed my toys down. I don't like that," he said.
I asked him, "Who pushed your toys down?"
"You did, Mommy."
"I did? When did I do that?"
"Uh, Thursday." Whenever I ask him when something happened he always answers, Thursday. But when he's in a fun mood, he'll sometimes say, "Foursday." And we laugh.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push your toys down."
As Hamish continued scolding his cars I walked out of the room and Bryan walked in and Hamish gave his daddy the same piece of his mind. There is no point to this exchange. I just wanted to tell you about the Thursday/Foursday thing. I think it's cute.
So Hamish met a lizard in daycare the other day. I have a point now. I asked his teacher if Hamish touched the lizard and she said that he hadn't. I asked if he was the only child who opted out of lizard-petting and she said yes. Sigh. It's not news to Bryan and me that we have a cautious, even fearful child, but it's getting clearer the older he gets, because as we meet more kids his age, their personalities only come into sharper focus.
So I took the kids to the Brooklyn Museum of Art yesterday. I felt so badass with my two kids, out in the freezing cold, strapping the kids into the Phil & Ted's, and then once inside the glass lobby, wheeling them across the terrazzo floor, only to be greeted by multiple signs all reading, "No strollers allowed in the Ron Mueck and Annie Leibovitz exhibits." Uh, shit. I'd parked in the pay lot. Admission is eight bucks. Hamish and Stella had fallen asleep in the car on the way over and I was already thinking I was a little insane to actually wake them for something that I cared more about, namely my sanity to be out of the apartment let alone the cool artwork, and the hunch grew into a sure thing when Hamish said, wiping his eyes, "I don't want to go to the mizaam. I want to go to home," as if this excursion were a punishment.
At the admissions kiosk, the ticket seller was a mom herself and even though there were no exceptions, she told me she understood my aching back and said that I could at least take the stroller to the fifth floor and leave it right outside the exhibit.
The coat checkers glared at me when I told them I was keeping the stroller. It was a good thing for me that I didn't see a tip jar, because I wouldn't have to be embarrassed or worse, resentful, when picking up my coat later. I know that strollers are annoying, they get in the way, they're ubiquitous and all, but they're an essential part of city living and people are arguing with raindrops if they think strollers are going to go away. So I felt discriminated against, but still, the admissions lady was really understanding. A few more minutes with her and I'd have needed a hankie.
We get up to the fifth floor and I'm thinking that there will be a parking lot of strollers for Hamish to see, so that he knows there are kids all over the place estranged from their wheels. But there's not a one. After I unleash Stella from her five-point harness, Hamish and I spend the next five minutes quietly arguing because I have no bargaining chip with which to negotiate.
"See this sign, honey? It says no strollers."
"I wanna stay in the stroller!"
"Please get out honey and let's go see the art."
"I don't want to! I want to go on the elevator."
"Ooh look!" I wheel him backwards so he can look in the doorway at a giant man's head laying on its side. "Look at that head, Hamish. Isn't that neat? Don't you want to see more?"
"No, it's scary."
"It's scary, huh. Well what about the giant baby? Don't you want to see that?"
"No. I want to go home."
And on and on until finally, he relents and lets me pull him out so he can lay on the floor. Groups of people stream into and out of the elevator all around us.
"Good job, honey. I'm proud of you. Now are you going to crawl through the exibit like a cat? That's fine with me."
"Mommy, I want you."
"Mommy, I want you."
"I want you too. Let's go see the giant people!"
He finally takes my hand and we walk through the gallery. After the severed head, in a chair about ten feet high, is a man. The man is white and slim like Hamish's daddy but long-haired in a Jesus way, and naked. And hairy.
"It's scary," Hamish says. I check out the naked man's colossal penis. We move on. We see two hunched old ladies, dressed in overcoats and orthopedic shoes, shrunken to suitcase size and standing on a pedestal frozen in their gossipy immigrant misery. I identify with these yentas, but this realization is not as scary as the twenty-foot long woman laying in bed in a room all to herself, staring into space. Hamish clings to me, actually hides in the folds of my coat as we approach while Stella practically leaps out of my arms to get a closer look.
Why does this woman have to have long brown hair like me? Why does she have to look so depressed and exhausted like I do too often? I wonder again where the newborn sculpture is and decide it must be with this tired thirty-something woman, on her left side where I can't see from my vantage point. Why else would she look so weary and spent? But when I ask a nice living lady, she tells me that there's no baby in bed with the giant sculpture woman, which is good to know since Hamish won't let us get any closer and I know I'll never see the other side of this piece. The nice living lady comments on Stella's enthusiasm.
"Yeah, but he's a little scared," I say, gesturing at Hamish, my glass half-empty attitude oozing from my pores.
"He's older. He gets it. It is a little scary," she says, wise as Yoda.
"Yeah, this'll probably be his first long-term memory and he'll be in therapy for years," I say, ever the comedian, but she doesn't hear and asks me to repeat myself so I do, only to be met with a blank stare. We bid each other farewell and she's off to call social services.
"Where's the stroller?" Hamish says, pulling on my arm.
"Let's go look for it," I say, and direct us into the Annie Leibovitz exhibit, thinking that we'll circle back to it. There's Bill Clinton. Grrr. Tasty. There's Mick Jagger. So skinny and creased and effeminate. There's someone I think is Andy Warhol but it's someone I don't know and now I am convinced that I am offically out of the art and culture loop. Hamish is still scared. These portaits are not as benign as I thought they'd be, with their nudity and confrontational haughtiness.
"Where's the stroller, Mommy?"
"I know where it is. Come on." As I drag Hamish through the maze of grown-ups I remember that my admissions savior said that the fourth floor watercolor exhibit is not to be missed, so I decide to take the kids there next, to squeeze at least six-fifty from my eight-dollar donation.
Hamish climbs dutifully into the stroller. Meanwhile, don't most moms have the opposite problem? Their kids don't want to be strapped in? Maybe my kid is special after all...
On the fourth floor, we're free to roll around and Hamish settles in like royalty. I stash Stella in her seat just in time to discover that she is suddenly entranced by the stroller's back tires which means I have to call the company to complain about her (potential) bloody injuries and score a free set of fenders.
Oh look. There's a giant painting of a steer raping a leopard.
"Wow Hamish, what's that?" I ask, pointing at a painting of a lion covered in flies.
"I don-no-know. A dinosaur."
"A dinosaur? Hm." I don't want to start out criticizing but I can't resist. He knows his animals. "Is that a lion?"
"Yeah it is," he allows. He's not even trying.
It turns out that Hamish thinks every painting is scary, even the one of the starling. The only paintings that aren't scary to him are the typically-sized portraits of parrots. I can tell he likes the wall-sized elephant, made up of interlocking body sections, each in its own frame. He says, "Look! An elephant! Like a puzzle!" and I wheel us around to see if anyone else has caught this brilliant commentary. Instead, people are more impressed with the stroller. "Oh look! There's two of them in there!" They point and stare and I curtsy, making sure Stella's not causing herself bodily harm.
After discovering that the elephant is sporting a wet pink erection the length of a table leg, I have a pleasant conversation with a female security guard who, upon finding out my kids' names, pronounces the first syllable of Hamish like the meat you'd find in a non-kosher sandwich. I correct her. It's a long 'A'. Rhymes with "name." Variations of this conversation happen about once a week. It's just another way to be exhausted.
Back downstairs I retrieve my coat from the coat-check trolls in their dark coat cave and can't even muster a thank-you their vibes are so hostile. I'm so glad I'm not them.
On our way to the exit door, I see it.
"Look, Hamish! We found it! The giant baby!" I wheel the kids into a slice of walled-off museum and there, lying naked and slimy on a white platform is a womb-fresh baby the size of a delivery truck.
"I don't want to see it. Too scary," Hamish says.
I am determined, however and resort to potty humor. "Don't you want to see its pink and shiny?"
To our left, a little blond girl and her babysitter circle the sculpture. The babysitter wheels a single version of our same Phil & Ted's stroller, in gray. It's covered with coats. The girl is on her feet. I crouch to her eye-level. "Do you think this is scary?" I ask, taking a poll.
"No," she says, with a bored attitude that reminds me of the uber-priveleged high school students I used to work with in Brooklyn Heights.
"How old are you?"
She holds up two fingers in a jaded victory salute. "Two."
I turn to Hamish, panicking. "I think it's a little scary, too." I pray I have not scarred him for life. I ask the girl's babysitter when she'll turn three because now I am "in it," as Natalie Portman says in Garden State, and it turns out that Hamish is older by eight days. A silent scream fills my heart. We look at the baby's pink and shiny. Hamish smiles. I laugh. We discover that the baby is a girl. I tell Hamish that he and his sister looked like this when they were born and he nods like he understands everything.
Even though the toenails look too thick, everything else is spot-on and it's undeniable, the power of this piece and the talent of Ron Mueck, who, it turns out used to make puppets for childrens' television. If this guy doesn't have kids of his own, it's clear he knows this: while they may not look it, babies everywhere are born the size of a delivery truck. Bigger, really.