When Laszlo was a baby, I couldn’t deal with his crying. Cassandra wasn’t nearly as bothered, probably because she dealt with his screaming far more than I did and had her nipples bitten far more than I did, despite the many times I asked her to bite my nipples. But I was always a sucker, picking Laszlo up at the first tear, running into his room as soon as I heard him whimper, doing desperate, frantic routines to make him laugh that, if I were the least bit ethnic, could have gotten me booked on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Cassandra still doesn’t have patience for Laszlo’s cries when he’s cranky or throwing a tantrum. Which is great. But when he’s sick or hurts himself, she turns soft, attentive and affectionate. Which I know is great maternal child rearing.
But I fear it’s turning him into a wimp.
I worry that pity is being equated with love. That if he plays up his sniffle or his cuts, he knows he’ll get more attention. That the best way to get people to care about you is to be helpless. I am well aware that this paragraph makes me sound like a dick. I am also well aware that every paragraph I have ever written makes me sound like a dick. And, yes, I’m well aware than I’m a dick.
But one of the many badass traits my dad tried to impart upon me, the only one I finally got was blissful ignorance of discomfort. The only way I notice I have a cold is when Cassandra asks me if I have a cold. I never feel tired regardless of how little I slept except for the first 30 minutes after I wake up and anytime I have no external stimulation, which is when my eyes automatically close. I’m not at all tough. I’ve just learned to be distracted. Which actually probably has less to do with my dad then the six hours of TV I clocked in every day as a kid. I also know a lot about how to handle being on a deserted tropical island, how to negotiate in a large blended family with a live-in maid and how to handle race and class issues when a neighbor with back problems requests that I step on him.
Now, however, I notice that when I say I’m tired or overworked or sick or injured, I get Cassandra’s love too. So I wind up reporting those feelings to her, since she does to me. And I find that just complaining makes me less productive, less happy, less optimistic. Sure, there’s no better show of love than someone who takes care of their partner when they’re unable to take care of themselves. But maybe we should also celebrate the couple who is just as empathetic to each others’ triumphs.
So when Laszlo and I were hiking last weekend (which was actually less “hiking” and more “carrying a three-year-old uphill”) and he started to cry because sweat from one of us (probably the one who was actually moving) was making his suntan lotion drip and burn his eyes, I didn’t get too sympathetic. I told him to accept that this was how his eye was going to feel for a while. And to focus instead of the dogs and trees and the view. I may have overestimated how much three-year olds appreciate a view.
Randy Couture, a UFC fighter who also writes poetry and paints, told me this: “My dad has this philosophy where if we wrestled or roughhoused, he’d always make sure I got a little bit hurt. So I knew that someone always got hurt in a fight.” A Jewish guy I met who does public relations for a luxury hotel told me he teases his son about his big ears and nose so that he’s ready for those taunts from other kids. At which point in the conversation I was confused if I was supposed to make fun of the p.r. guy for his massively receding hairline. And for being a p.r. guy.
My dad teased me a lot. One of the very few times he yelled at me was after I got in my first car accident and was whimpering about it to him on the phone instead of dealing with it myself. Also, when he found out that at 16 I still didn’t know how to handle swallowing a pill.
But he always hugged me a lot and says “I love you!” so loudly, so often and so marred by a Bronx accent that my college roommate would humiliate me whenever he saw me on campus by screaming at a great distance, “Joh-Wuhl! I luv ya!” You need a lot of teasing in your youth to be able to take that.
So I find myself saying things like “toughen up” when he wants a Band-Aid for his non-bleeding scratch. And when he’s sick, I give him cuddly blankets and soup, but I don’t change my tone or level of affection. I want him to know I’m taking care of him, but that my love for him doesn’t correspond to his need for it. Because soon enough he’ll be a teenager and not need my affection. And he need to know he’s going to get it anyway. Probably loudly, in front of his dormmates.
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