Tag Archives: parenting fail

Toddler Life, Chapter 329: Washing Machines Are Surprisingly Effective at Destroying Books


You’re a dad. You’re forgetful. It’s only natural. Your spawn deprives you of years’ worth of sleep with their abject refusal to recognize and observe an reasonable bedtime. Dehumanizes you through endless cleaning of their bodily fluids. Abuses you with an interminable barrage of questions and demands and gibberish statements. If you didn’t love them, it could reasonably be called torture.

So you can be cut some slack when you forget what day it is, or fail to turn in that permission slip, or leave the extra change of clothes at home. And it’s probably no big deal if you don’t notice things that the sharper members of the species might pick up on: the expired milk lurking in the back of the fridge, the due date for your next oil change, the fact that your kids’ clothes don’t match. You’re a dad. You’ve got a lot going on. I feel you.

But I also have you beat.

Through absolutely no fault of my own*, I put my daughter’s favorite book through the washing machine the other day.

In a fit of cleaning house, I spirited the laundry basket downstairs, dumped it in the machine, and shuffled back upstairs to lay down in the bed for thirty seconds pretending I’m the sort of guy who can lay down for a nap in the middle of a Saturday.

Have you ever done that? You haven’t, because even if you’re a sleep-deprived, tantrum-weary guy like me, you at least know to check what’s in the laundry hamper before you dump it in the wash.

Not me.

Advance the tape an hour.

Wife: Hey, did you mean to put a book through the laundry?

Me: What? I didn’t put a book through the laundry.

Wife: Yeah, you did.

Me: I’m sure I wouldn’t.

Wife: Well, I didn’t do it. Did you put this load of clothes in?

She holds up a wad of laundry. It looks like a toddler’s papier-mache project, if the toddler chewed up the papier-mache and spit it out again before starting to sculpt it.

Me: (thinking long and hard about what I could possibly say that isn’t “yes” because I obviously did) (replaying dumping the laundry into the washing machine in my head) (seeming to recall that there may have been a “clunk” that I didn’t bother to investigate) (recalling watching my daughter drop the book into the laundry basket earlier in the day and not doing anything about it right then because for god’s sake, it’s Saturday and I just can’t) …yeah.

Wife: (nodding in a way that’s not entirely sympathetic) …So.

Me: (nodding for lack of anything useful to say) …yep.

Wife: You know that’s her favorite book, right?

Me: I did not know that.

Wife: Uh-huh.

Me: In my defense —

Wife: No.

Me: Sorry?

Wife: You’re about to say, “in my defense, what’s a book doing in the laundry basket?”

Me: Yeah, obviously.

Wife: So it’s the book’s fault?

Me: …Kind of?

Wife: Just clean it up.

When a book gets wet, it goes all soggy and wobbly and wavy as the pages try to expand but can’t, really, as they get in each other’s way. Then when it dries out, it stays kind of wobbly and wavy and, strangely, brittle, forever bearing the mark of whatever negligence caused it to become wet in the first place.

When a book goes through the washing machine, it basically explodes. Half the book — the bit nearest the binding, including much (but not all) of the cover — was intact and in soggy-book state. The rest of it looked like it had been shredded for confetti and fired out of a high pressure cannon into the washing machine at close range. Bits of pulpy paper were stuck to the inside of the basin. The clothes were saturated with the stuff, soggy paper gluing the load of clothes together like a giant, nasty hairball. Fragments of the illustrations glared at me with disembodied eyes and wings and feet. (How they stared with wings and feet isn’t my problem — I felt thoroughly glared at. Though that may have just been my wife.)

Point is, dads, we have it rough. We catch a lot of blame for things that aren’t our fault.

But at least you didn’t wash your daughter’s favorite book.

*may have been entirely my fault

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Toddler Life, Chapter 117 – Parenting Win


Parenting is a zero-sum game, most of the time.  I mean, it’s an upward trend, but that trend is only measurable if you zoom in real close and look at it over a scale of several months.  On the day-to-day stuff, you’re lucky to break even.  To be more specific:

One day you’re up because the kid takes his first step.  Next day you’re down because he blows out a diaper and floods his bed with liquid poop.  One day you’re up because the kid says “bye, daddy, I love you”, and the next day you’re down because you’re trying to put the kid to bed and he says “I don’t want daddy, want mommy to read.”  One day you’re up because you manage to put the infant to bed by yourself without the help of her mom for the first time literally ever, and then three hours later you’re down again because you’re up (awake) with the infant screaming because you screwed up putting her to bed.

Point is, parenting is hard work: thankless and grueling and pushing you to the limits of your sanity and patience just about every day, and somehow — somehow — you learn to temper the good with the bad.  You learn to rein in your elation at a breakthrough because you know the monsters will cut you off at the knees when you least expect it.  You learn never to sink into the depths of despair because the little blessings will be lighting up your life again with some adorable bit of cuteness or some flash of brilliance you could never anticipate.  In other words, you become very, very adept at taking what you can get when the good stuff rolls along.  You become an optimist out of necessity.  The alternative is too horrible to ponder.

So you chart your victories and you squeeze all the enjoyment out of them because you know that that joy can be snatched away from you at any moment.  The big stuff, you don’t have to worry about.  The light goes on for the kid and suddenly he wants to use the potty fifteen times in an hour — you don’t have to milk that victory, that one’s going to burn bright for a while.  He suddenly makes the connection that you’re not leaving forever when you leave for work and begins happily waving good-bye in the morning and giving you big squeezing bear hugs when you return… that’s not going anywhere.  No, to stay ahead of the curve of frustration because he still wants to grab the dog and yank its fur out, or because he still wants to stack a roomful of toys on top of the sleeping cat, or because he still wants to wake up at 5 AM for some goldfingered reason despite the fact that he gets frustrated that there’s nothing to do at that hour, you have to grab hold of the little victories and suck them dry like a wanderer in the desert sucking the sweat out of his headband.

There are little victories everywhere, if you know where to look for them.  But the ones worth the most points are the ones disguised as failures.  Case in point: Sprout #1 loves the movie Cars.  Loves it so much it’s wrong.  He’ll watch it twice in a day if we’re not careful.  As a result, he’s memorized bits and pieces of it, and he peppers his primeval dialogue with it, sometimes in an appropriate way, sometimes not so much.  There’s one line that he loves toward the beginning of the film:  “Lightning’s not going into the pits!” which basically never makes sense outside of the context of the movie, and which I only grasp at vaguely even during the film.  That one, then, is essentially harmless.  Then, toward the middle of the film, Lightning, voiced by Owen Wilson, is driving on a dirt road, trying to absorb a bit of driving wisdom from another talking car (what else would cars talk about, anyway?), when he realizes that the advice he’s received makes no sense, and he discounts it at once with a brilliantly-inflected “What an idiot!” which the sprout can recreate perfectly, right down to the intonation and the roll of the eyes.

So we’re driving.  And it’s Sunday in Greater Atlanta, which to be brief means that the rules of the road are out the window and the only thing you can count on other drivers to do is anything they’re not meant to do (U-turns in the middle of a road, suddenly slipping into reverse at a stop light, stopping on a green light and putting a blinker on to try to cross three lanes of traffic to make the right turn they didn’t realize was coming up, burning the tires out to zoom past you in the turn lane while you’re stopped at a red light) and the tension is mounting in the car and in a moment of great frustration, I finally let fly with an epithet.  Now, because I know the sponge is in the backseat soaking up everything I say, I quickly start babbling a lot of nonsense in the hopes that the floodwater of extra information will wash away the profanity like a rushing river.  But the boy cuts me off, shouting, a la Owen Wilson, “What an idiot!”

And it’s brilliant and funny and appropriate and all of those things but my wife and I share a mortified look because as brilliant and funny and appropriate as it is, we know that if he can let fly with it in the car, he can let fly with it when he gets to preschool, or he can let fly when he’s playing with some kid on the playground, and that’s a situation none of us want to deal with.  So we start to correct him, but then we realize that he’s certainly heard worse, and in fact just heard worse, and my wife whispers to me, “at least he didn’t say ‘fargoing idiot’.”  And in my mind, I think, or a goldfingered ratbastard, or a motherless piece of sharknado, or afargoing psychopath, or any of a number of other things I may or may not have said in his presence when I forget for an instant that the kid is there and the real world breaks through and you just have to swear.

I nod.  We shrug at each other.  It’s a little victory.  High-fives all around.  “He was an idiot, sprout.”  And life is good.

Then we get home and he pours apple juice on the dog.

Picture taken moments before he faceplants and tears his lip open, leaving him with a scar on his face for weeks.

Picture taken moments before he faceplants and tears his lip open, leaving him with a scar on his face for weeks.


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