“OK, buddy. What do you want to watch?”
“Care Bears movie!” he said.
“You sure you want to watch Care Bears?” I was hoping he’d change his mind to something less adorable.
“Yes, Daddy, Carebears.”
“Ok, but since it’s 68 minutes long, it’ll count as your two shows for the morning.”
I navigated the Netflix menus and chose the pinkest, most diamond adorned icon. Care Bears. Whatever, I shouldn’t care. All fetuses start as female, right?
ERROR: Netflix cannot play selected content.
Fuck. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m terrified of my 4 year-old son. I scrambled like a salesman trying to save his job. “Would you like to watch a movie on regular TV?” I asked, panicked. He seems to always be teetering on the edge of losing his mind. I have no idea where he gets it. His mother and father are SUPER STABLE. I can’t start the day with a freak-out, especially one caused by technology’s temporary inability to stream a movie about pastel bears that shoot colorful love beams from their tummies (is that even what they do? I can’t pay attention to it.)
The whining started. It was soft at first, like someone warming up a car in the winter. “No, I want to watch Care Bears.”
I knew my cable provider didn’t offer it so I really had only one chance to save the morning. I had to reboot the AppleTV.
“Why isn’t it working, Daddy?”
“Not sure. I think if I restart it, it might work.”
“Will that take a second, a minute or an hour?”
“A couple minutes maybe.”
The whining became a little stronger. Exhaust was billowing from his tailpipe.
“I want it to only take a second,” he said
“I’m sorry bud, I can’t control that. I’ll unplug it and plug it back in and go make coffee. When I come back it should be ready, OK?”
My non-negotiable offer was tacitly accepted by his pregnant silence. In the kitchen, I took a deep breath and braced myself on the counter – that was a close one.
Huh? What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I fear the wrath of my kid?
My wife and I started fearing Silas the moment we brought him home from the hospital. He wouldn’t nurse and he wouldn’t stop crying. In anger (we thought), he would stop breathing until his face turned red and steam shot from his ears. It happened enough that we invented a verb: “Tomato facing.”
He would tomato face for what seemed like no reason at all. People told us it was gas, so we tried Mylanta and various holistic wastes of money like “Gripe Water.” Nothing seemed to help his fussiness. Visitors were sometimes shocked by the depth of our struggle. They tried to help, but never made suggestions we hadn’t already tried.
I think 4 years later, both Lindsay and I still experience some PTSD from the tomato face days. He’s grown into an incredibly charismatic and kind-hearted but mercurial little boy. In retrospect his behavior as a baby makes sense. It was just his personality. His propensity for flying off the handle is still there, but he’s able to express his frustations a little better. At least now we usually know why he’s upset, but surprisingly that only makes it slightly easier to deal with.
When Netflix doesn’t load his show and his whine engine starts to rev, my subconscious prepares for a full-on tomato face. Sure, he throws tantrums like any 4 year-old, and they’re usually caused by simple miscommunications, hunger, or fatigue. Maybe they’re also sometimes caused by me tip toeing around his feelings which have matured beyond flipping-out because he has to wait a minute instead of a second for Care Bears.
I got Netflix to work, but I forgot to feed him. Silas was in the middle of a little freaky time when Lindsay came downstairs with Arlo.
“What’s wrong with Silas?” she asked.
“No, idea. He was totally fine a minute ago.”
“Well, did you feed him?”
“No, I forgot to because Netflix said it couldn’t play the Care Bears movie and then I went to make coffee and, and … nevermind.”
“Oh geez. OK, you watch both kids, and I’ll go cut up some pear or something.”
Sweet sweet failure and a perfect reminder to make sure I stress about the right thing.