The Baby Psychopath Test

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On days that are challenging with D, I try to take a breath before issuing another time out, to try and make a joke instead of glaring him into submission, to patiently redirect him instead of defaulting to a shouting match. You know, to be more mom and less Vince McMahon negotiating his WWE contract.

On days that I've screamed at my son for the 30th time before breakfast to not hit the dog in the face with Mr. Owl, to not run away while I'm trying to wrestle him into diapers/socks/shirts/shorts/pajamas, to not punch his sister/me/father/cereal, to not eat the battery/quarter/entirebananawhole, to not destroy the bill/artwork/receipt/vip paperwork that was supposed to be stacked in the one place he can't reach, to not rip/empty/destroy/inadvertently open the portal to hell out of pure, undiluted rage, I work on my agent query letter for The Baby Psychopath Test and revise some of the entries.

THE (BABY) PSYCHOPATH TEST

1. When you greet your child in the morning and lay him/her down on the changing table, your baby:

A) Gives you a playful smile. You are their world. 

B) Gives you a playful smile before punching you in the mouth. You were blocking their view of the overhead fan. Bonus points if they simultaneously kicked the diaper cream out of your hand with their (club)foot

C) Coos

2. It's breakfast time. He or she:

A) Beckons, points, signs or states that he/she would like food.

B) Grabs the refrigerator handles and trembles with Hulk-like rage as they have yet to possess the Hulk-strength to open them. They scream at you to open the door. Scream at you when you do open the door.  Scream at the unfairness of not being tall enough to reach the milk. Scream that the milk has not been placed into a cup and into their hand .08 seconds after they demanded.  And continue screaming.

C) Has fed themselves. They have to get back to their infant SAT prep. 

3. Lights out. It's bedtime. Your baby:

A) Goes to sleep.

B) Cries, stalls like a motherf*cker, but goes to sleep.

C) Goes to sleep. Then wakes back up and laughs manically at the ceiling for two hours straight, causing you to lurk outside their door with your smartphone trying to record audio. They stop laughing every time you hit record, because in addition to being in league with the devil, they generally just enjoy f*ing with you.  You regroup, looking through the baby monitor, scanning for the dead relative hovering over your baby's crib, cracking your baby's shit up. They finally go to sleep around midnight. Naturally they are up at 5:45 AM.


4)Your child hits your sister/mother/glass cabinet/dog/refrigerator/front door again, and when picked up and scolded, he or she:

A) Cries and apologizes. Even though the other guy deserved it.

B) Headbutts whoever was stupid enough to pick them up. I mean, did you not just see them punch a CABINET because they thought it was giving them attitude? They live with cretins.

C) Coos. En Espagnol.


5) You google "baby psychopath" and finding nothing, write a quiz based on your actual interactions. You are:

A) Ambivalent about putting this on the internet. Another quiz suggested he might just be a three year old boy. And he's totally sweet when not tearing apart the house with his bare hands.

B) Posting this shit. Because he might actually be the youngest candidate for boarding school in history, and who are you to stand in the way of your child getting a Guinness World record? Or moving to Latvia?

C) Cooing. 





He is 3

Monday, April 14, 2014

And today you are three. It seems just like yesterday that people would ask how old you were, and we would answer, quickly followed by, "and one day he will be four," because we clung to the notion that once we cleared the twos, the terrible, terrible, twos, followed by what parents of a second child know, that three is much, much worse, that one day you would be four.

But now you are three. It's kind of a relief as this was just yesterday.



So two years old ago.

Three. No more tantrums. Complete sentences. Pooping on the potty. Unicorns. It's gonna be epic.

In the meantime, there is Mr. Owl, Murphy your dog/snuggle buddy, a fascination with trucks and earth-moving equipment so intense it's borderline disturbing, daily dance-offs, and a sweet, goofy charm that goes a long way to offsetting those awesome meltdowns. Which aren't going to happen anymore because you are three.

Right?


Try

Tuesday, April 1, 2014



I don't remember what the tears were about. There was an art project, a misspelled word or wrong color choice that had "RUINED THE ENTIRE THING!!!" Or maybe it was her trying to play the melody she had just learned on the piano by ear and it wasn't flowing instantly, perfect. There was mom's assurances that it was just FINE. She just needed to try. And try some more. She was given praise for trying, not, heaven forbid, because she was good or gifted, because if you read the internet these days, we are failing as a nation by telling our children that they are special and have god-given talent. Experts point to studies and depressed adult children who can't get out of their own way, waiting for their dreams to come true from all this magical, sparkly inherent talent while their Chinese counterparts are taking over the economic world through the simple act trying. So I praised her effort and ran upstairs, unnerved by the frustrated screams and tears and she tracked me down minutes later, bearing an index card with a drawing of an angry face, sad slash of a mouth, and these words:

I failed.

It is so hard not to project a 38 year old's lifetime of insecurity and perfectionism and doubt onto this sweet, sad now seven (seven!) year old soul, but my heart sank at these words. Because I wear that little index card like a badge pinned to my chest everyday. Most of my twenties spent on a therapist's couch, reeling with first world guilt over being so fortunate and yet always so paralyzed with indecision and fear. And now this same anxiety expressing itself so fully in someone so tiny and new. So I immediately launched into a laundry list of all the things I had failed at, because I thought it might be helpful for comparison's sake for her to see her mother as the deeply flawed person she is, but as I was reeling off the list: my stained manila enveloped packed with rejection letters from publishing houses, smelly laundry, my inability to finish anything, we both knew it was bullshit. I drive the car and keep the schedule and the passwords to the internet. Mom might be a bit fragile in her soul, but she can hear a tune on the radio and transfer it onto the keyboard in under 60 seconds because I've just got that many more years on my would-be piano prodigy seven year old. I've just lived, and while I tell her this, it does nothing to curb her self-disgust at not mastering a melody in seconds.

But then just a few weeks ago, she was asked to audition for a cabaret in a local production that would be featuring children and adults alike. She didn't have time or the foreshadowing to be afraid. She just did it. And she was cast! Now that she has taken that stage in the empty auditorium in front of the strange, friendly judges, she has been marveled over by all the adults in her life, told how brave she was, how it took such courage to do what she did, when I'm not even sure it occurred to her that she was supposed to be afraid. I can't help but assume that if and when she dares to step onto another stage and take such a risk, she will now be doing so with the very real knowledge that she can fail. That failure is eminent. But my hope is that even though she will likely be dogged by that specter her entire life, she won't be the angry face on the index card, but will continue to try, plinking out one note at a time.

The Memphis Flyer

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Today is the last day you will improbably see my very serious mug on the cover of The Memphis Flyer.


I was extremely flattered to be asked to participate in a conversation about being an indie filmmaker in Memphis, and it was really fun to show up at Black Lodge for a photo shoot with 30+ folks who were just a mere cross section of the people making it happen locally. So it was rather jarring to find my solo self on the cover. Understandably, my mother was perplexed as to why the whole article wasn't about my scarf-wearing self. While I wish the cover had been an image that better represented the story as a whole, I was happy for John's Farm to receive a fresh wave of publicity. And to give my daughter yet another opportunity to embellish a portrait of her mother.

The Hunt

Monday, January 27, 2014

The knock comes at 5:30. I'm already awake, as I've been tossing and turning since midnight. The coyotes woke me around 2, but the rest of the sleepless night I chalk up to nerves. In less than an hour, I will be standing knee deep in a frozen Arkansas swamp with a shotgun, the goal to shoot a moving, living target out of the sky. I have never fired a gun in my life. In truth, I am terrified of guns. While I think that is the natural, proper response, I also think it's time I gain a little perspective. I come from a long line of hunters on both sides of my family. I think hunting in order to eat is an honorable tradition. I also think duck is delicious.  When my duck hunting cousins heard me announce over drinks that I had never hunted in my life, they looked as if I had announced that despite all the oxygen in the room, I'd never gotten around to breathing. It was simply inconceivable. We accepted their invitation to join them at their Arkansas camp in a month's time. Our only instruction was to purchase a hunting license for the weekend; they would take care of the rest. After a brief phone chat with a pleasant woman at the Arkansas Game and Wildlife Dept, and the inevitable hunting "accident" joke at my husband's expense, I had a license to kill. I just hoped the target would be a duck, and not, say, my host for the weekend. See: never fired a gun

Caleb and I dress in the dark: wool socks, long underwear, then jeans, then some borrowed camo fleece pants that make me look like I should be an extra in an MC Hammer video. My head hurts, likely from the copious wine and Sweet Lucy that flowed during the profane game of Card Against Humanity the night before. Tommy and Lauren hand out Advil along with thermoses of coffee for each couple.  Breakfast will come much later we're told. Hunt first, buttered biscuits and sweet rolls as our reward after. We step into our waders, suits that weigh as much as fifteen pounds with heavy, rubber soled boots attached. With our neck warmers and hats and long johns and jackets, we look like sumo wrestlers in layers of camo.  I'm not sure how I'm supposed to shoot a duck if I can't move my arms to lift a gun. The women place their hands into heated muffs that attach by velro to our suits - a joke that clearly will not get old as the weekend unfolds. I will be thanking god for my heated muff as within minutes we are racing toward the woods in open air jeeps, 30 degree winds whipping past us. We unload the ATVs, Tommy's sleek black lab Scout anxiously whimpering and ready to get to work. Finally, the guns. Mine is a 20 gauge Beretta, black with a gold trigger. I practiced shouldering it the night before, touching the safety like a Catholic rubbing the worry beads. Red equals dead, I'm told. The safety on this Beretta has a little hint of red peaking out, even when pushed all the way in. It's effectively terrifying. I can't stop checking it, even when I know the safety is pushed all the way in.  I sling it over my shoulder, feeling simultaneously badass and ridiculous, like a child soldier posing with his rifle.



 In the dark, we slog. I suddenly know why the word was invented. We drag our heavy boots through water so cold it has a frozen crust. Tommy repeats for good measure that we always lift one foot up and place it down before picking up the next. There are holes in the swamp floor. The best way to end up in one is by shuffling your feet and inadvertently disappearing inside.  This nightmare happened to an acquaintance of mine, a man well over six feet who took a wrong step and found himself underwater - and his loaded gun sucked from his hands. It's all I can think about as we march in silence, the trees rustling in the wind, the light of the moon reflecting off the frozen water. And finally we are there, in a setting that matches  my preconceived notion of our hunt so specifically that it gives me goosebumps. The six of us fan out among flooded timber, oak trees jutting out of the water to form a sanctuary that is apparently irresistible to hungry ducks. Tommy's decoys dot the surface of the water, and he turns on the Mojo, a battery operated, creepy-anyway-you-slice it headless torso of a duck that permanently flaps its "wings." This is supposed to entice the ducks flying in overhead to join the party in progress. Ducks are delicious, and apparently not at all bright.



It is 6:20. It is 9 minutes before sunrise, official time to begin the hunt. We stand with our rifles at the ready, Tommy calling to the ducks with wooden calls slung around his neck. Scout intently studies the sky. Tommy kicks at the water to to create the ripple pattern from ducks landing, his calls alternating between the bright, classic quack and a huskier, trilled pattern that, roughly translated, means Come on in, the water's fine! Tommy's working hard, but the ducks aren't buying it. After a couple of hours of shooting the sunrise with a camera and not much else, we move to an adjacent flooded rice field where we're afforded a better view of incoming ducks. It's not long before Tommy calls out "Get ready!" Three Gadwalls flutter into range. Safetys are clicked off. The rifles are shouldered. My heart thuds through my ten pound suit.

SHOOT IT SHOOT IT SHOOT IT

BAM

The recoil goes right into my bicep, not my shoulder where the gun was supposed to be nestled. Because, see, your FACE is supposed to be pressed cheek to cheek with the rifle when it goes off. And while my brain can understand this concept, there is no way I am getting my face anywhere near that steel. By the end of the weekend I will have an Arkansas-shaped bruise stamped across my arm, because I am nothing if not stubborn and terrified of blowing my face off in some odds-defying accident. We take down three ducks, an extremely modest haul as thousands of ducks had been spotted in the same location the weekend before. But the ducks are rather beside the point. The scenery is gorgeous, the company hilarious, and there's still the promise of that big breakfast.



Our biscuits and sweet rolls demolished, we take a trip to the venerable Macs Prairie Wings, a store that I was told provided hunting licenses along with what I imagined as hot wings smothered in sauce from a kitchen somewhere in the back. Macs is massive, more like a high end Lowe's - no hot wings, but row after row of camo pants and nightgowns and lingerie sets and boots and seriously adorable trench coats and blouses and clothes that I would happily buy if not for the shockingly high price tag. I have mad respect for the buyers after spotting gorgeous knee high cowboy boots and super cute clutches and jewelry. Who knew there were that many rich people in this poor county willing to shell out $80 for a sweatshirt that reads You are my Deer? A virtual sea of men in camo and black greasepaint swirl around rifles for sale, testing out duck calls and buying waders. We leave empty-handed, with the exception of Tommy who happily supplies us with more hot muffs for our waders.



The blessed nap, then an afternoon hunting the flooded rice field. The sun is high and warm. The jokes fly fast. But the word must have been spread among the ducks as very few venture into our hiding spot. Always looking to be of service, Caleb does a solo march through the swamp, arriving at the field just over the levy where he startles nearly 200 resting ducks into the air. But not into our pocket.  Finally, some stragglers. I fire the gun once more, my bicep burning under the recoil, the duck a safe dot in the sky. Neil brings down another. The count is six - just enough for each of us to have our own for dinner.



We join Lauren's sister at their family's private hunting club just up the road. Rebecca is in town with three of her friends from Denver, making this their fourth annual girls' hunting trip, the coolest annual gathering I'd ever heard of and naturally, the subject of my next screenplay, The Whole Shebang. We stay long enough for a tour and some cocktails and then happily retreat back to Lauren and Tommy's place, eager to tuck into our jalapeƱo duck and homemade pecan pie. We rally for a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity, but sleep takes us soon. More ducks to shoot come zero dark thirty.






The moon is low but bright as the ATV speeds toward the flooded rice field. We weren't going back to the same wooded hideout as before; this time, we are headed for the pit, a 3x10 hole dug into the field that serves as a kind of jack in the box surprise for any duck foolish enough to fly into range. A lattice with fake foliage flanks either side of the pit to help camouflage us. Tommy explains that ducks land like airplanes - into the wind. The box was positioned to take advantage of that phenomenon, so we crouch down with our guns and our pop tarts, waiting for the ducks to come in for breakfast. Packed in shoulder to shoulder, water pooling around our ankles, the effect could be, should be claustrophobic. But with my heart pounding at the call of "Get ready!," Scout constantly looking camera ready as she scans the sky, and Tommy cracking our shit up with jokes about his guide skills, I'm having too much fun to worry. Caleb and Neil each take a duck. I bruise my bicep once again, doing my part to  ensure the safety of the ducks in the sky.  I'm a terrible shot. I'm still terrified of guns. But I hear myself mentioning the "next time" we do this, and I mean it whole heartedly. I'm gonna need a bigger lens, some bigger balls, and most definitely round two of Cards Against Humanity.




Lean in

Monday, January 6, 2014

"I'm not afraid of swimming pools anymore, Mommy. Or no training wheels. The only thing I'm scared of is Declan." - Harlow

We're all scared of him, sweetie.

But because we were largely trapped indoors together for 2+ weeks fighting various illnesses and each other, we did our best to manage the blonde beast. Like Sheryl Sandberg recommended to Lean In to work, I decided that I would lean in to parenting a toddler version of Zeus: lean, powerful, and largely indiscriminate as to who would be on the receiving end of his destructive, Hulk-smashy rages. I'm happy to report that there is a lot less RAGE behind the rages. Now that he can say more than "wheels" and "moak" (milk) - the two things that keep his heart beating - our little tyrant has been revealed to be quite the snuggly lover. Seriously. He wants to hug EVERYTHING. Dogs, pictures of dogs, stuffed animals, pictures of plants (?), finger puppets that say his name. Socks.  Everything but his sister who falls into a pre-emo funk when he spurns her advances. So she doesn't mind it so much when he tackles her. And knocks her down. And jumps on her. I see this boding well for her teenaged years. It's when the hair pulling and biting and dragging commence that we 1) yell at her to stand up and 2) put them in separate corners and wait for the inevitable next round of bloodshed.

It's really our fault that it's taken this long for us to reconcile that we have an honest to god boy in our house. So I decided he needed to have his own photo shoot, one that shows off his crazy, wild heart. He may fight hard, but he loves his family and Mr. Owl all the harder.

* featuring a special cameo by Harlow and Beary White at the end

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Happy 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wishing you pure joy in 2014!

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