During this last month, my kid has discovered television. He was completely oblivious to it before; we couldn’t convince him to watch it even if we tried. Somehow or other, he’s now developed a serious penchant for Pingu. That lovable little penguin is the only thing that has (somewhat) managed to tame his obsession for button-pushing, and it stays on the TV or laptop pretty much all day long, although every now and again compulsion highjacks the kid’s little baby brain and he shuts it off. Then there are tears until he realizes that he knows how to turn it on again. Then off. Then on. Then offthenon.
Initially I was ashamed that I was finding myself caving to his obsession day in and day out so that I could move freely around the house. Then I became a little worried. Then I figured that he’d just burn himself out if he watched it enough. Then he decided that I had to watch it with him, so I lost my guilty independence anyway. After about four crazy, blurry days of Pingu marathons (did you know that Netflix only has like, 6 or 10 episodes of that crap? And now they are permanently burned into my brain, every one) he started to pry himself away from the TV for play breaks. Eventually the play breaks got longer and by about the tenth day, he was mostly acting normal, so long as Pingu was playing in the background. By the time he discovered Blue’s Clues, which has infinitely more episodes, he had learned how to coexist with the television without it taking over his life. And since Blue’s Clues uses real words, Mommy can watch it with him when forced without eventually breaking down in tears.
Now, I’m sure I’m not the only stay-at-home parent out there who spends the day muttering to herself out loud, and to the dog and the baby and to inanimate objects too (because they’d feel left out if I didn’t). They are all lousy conversationalists (myself included; she’s always bitching) but somehow I constantly forget myself and start having elaborate, one-sided conversations with them anyway. I’ve become that crazy lady who walks down the street talking to her dog about what’s happening at home and what our plans will be for the day. He is generally very non-judgmental.
All of this has had an interesting side-effect in that it’s broken down the last threads of relationship that I had with the English language. After a year of babbling with a baby and now living in Pingu’s world of intonations and flipper-slapping, I’ve reductively forgotten a good 50% of the words I used to know and can’t string the remaining ones into sentences that actually mean anything. I make regular attempts at reading, but the kiddo just yanks the book away and hands me “Blue Hat, Green Hat”. No matter—I’m starting to think that most language is unnecessary. My kid has taught me just how much you can say with mime, finger-pointing and sound effects. The only things he says are “no”, “yeah”, “ball” and “djeyjah”, and he still manages to have all of his needs met WHILE keeping an iron grip on the activities of our household.
I’m trying not to let it get me too paranoid, but things are starting to look a little murderous around here. And I’m proposing that POSSIBLY, aside from just being a brat, my kid my be trying to kill us. Some details:
Exhibit A: He most certainly knows more than he lets on. You know all those times that you tell your kid to do something, and he knew EXACTLY what you were talking about yesterday but now plays the old “I’m only one and I don’t speak English” card? Total crap. Where did those words go, droolface? You know exactly what “bedtime” means!
He stores his pointiest and most crippling toys on the stairs or in front of my bed. The soft stuffies are never anywhere where a foot will go. How many plastic farm animals need to get lodged in my heel before I can proclaim that this is no accident?
Exhibit C: He’s a master with electronic devices. Yesterday he Googled phosphorescence. Today he put in a call to what appears to be Bangladesh.
Is that a ninja-booted unitard? He’s got a whole drawer full of these things! Our friends and family give them to him by the bucketload, which to me suggests that they’re probably also in on the job. Good thing he sleeps in what is basically a wooden cage.
We decided to set up a fish tank in my kid’s room. He loves the tank at the library, and we figured that he’d enjoy having his own little aqua city to gurgle him to sleep each night. So we got eight little tetras and a couple of lovely guppies and a cute little catfish and all the hundreds of dollars of bullshit that goes with them.
It was worth it—the kid does love the tank. He says goodnight to it and points at it and makes “ooh” noises. But the tank is mostly empty now, after less than two weeks in operation, because almost as soon as we got them in, those little fishies were dying to get out. Like, literally. They all freaking died.
He totally didn’t notice. My kid obviously needs to spend less time sleeping and more watching The Count, because apparently numbers still mean nothing to him.
BUT I NOTICED. Every morning, mommy was in there, netting tiny fish carcasses and flushing them into the Afterlife. Each evening, I’d guiltily turn off the tank light and say a blessing to the ones that would obviously be dead by morning. One was even still moving when I flushed him; his tail was kind of dissolved-looking. He totally was not coming back from that.
When the population dwindled to half, we went back to the pet shop to ask for advice and were sold chemicals to treat the water for parasites. By this point I was frustrated and cursing and nursing a universal grudge, as is my usual way. On a whim, just before I went in to dump chemical crap into the tank of nearly-deads, I sat down and Googled “I have a new tank why the hell are all my fish dying”. I got several excellent results. Apparently people Google that phrase quite a lot.
I found a very resourceful blog that explained to me that there is a biological system (or lack thereof) called “New Tank Syndrome”. Basically, since fish are essentially swimming around in their own toilet, their water is full of ammonia and nitrates/nitrites (one or the other, maybe both—I’m no scientist). In an established tank, there are plentiful colonies of bacteria to break down the ammonia so that the fish can breathe happily. In a new tank, where these colonies haven’t built up, the ammonia levels continue to rise until the fish’s gills burn, and they suffocate. So my little friends were peeing their way into their own little fishy gas chamber. The only thing to do is stop feeding them (rotting food releases more ammonia), and pray.
I feel like this is information that the pet shop employees could have easily doled out.
Anyway, the misery continued until we were down to just two tetras and the noble catfish who, red-gilled, sat motionless on the bottom for days, stoically wiggling his moustache and praying for death. One tetra seemed almost unphased.
It’s the OTHER tetra who’s the real hero of this story. About six days ago, after witnessing the brutal deaths of nearly all his kin, he started swimming around in limp little circles, half of his body paralyzed like he’d had a a stroke. The next day he was sitting tail-up, with just his nose on the bottom of the tank. Hardly moving, he got stuck against the filter a couple of times, just clinging to life. Each time I’d assume he was dead and go in there with the net, he’d pop up like a zombie and stroke-swim away. Soon he was laying on his side on the tank floor, completely motionless except for his gasping little gills. I felt dreadful for him. I felt cruel. I knew I should just put him out of his awful tiny misery—he wasn’t coming back. But watching how he’d use all his remaining strength to get away when I tried to Grim Reaper him, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pull the plug.
For those of you who endured the ramble and stuck with me, A MIRACLE! The next day, THERE HE WAS, swimming alongside his bizarrely resilient buddy. He was a little weak, but mostly going just like a fish should. I’d name him Terry Fox or something, except that now he’s so completely better that both of the tetras’ incredible accomplishments have faded into obscurity because I can’t tell them apart. The catfish looks exactly the same, but a little less red around the gills. He never blinked in the face of all that pain. Basically, he is Buddha. These fish are my new spiritual leaders.