Adam Quacks

By Cathy Marciniak

Home > Links

Adam quacks.

He is busy, pounding the cheerios on his high chair tray into dust. "Quack!" he exclaims.

Well, this is unexpected. None of the baby books mention quacking. None of the Sears kids or the Brazelton grandkids ever quacked. Penelope Leach hasn't researched quacking and there are no quack debates on the online parenting boards.

Adam wrinkles up his tiny face, pondering some unknown problem. "Duck!" he announces, when he's solved it. "Quack! Quackquackquackquack!"

Where did this come from? He's never seen a duck and he's too young to have learned about them from Big Bird or Mr Greenjeans. (Is Mr Greenjeans even on, anymore? Was there ever a Mrs Greenjeans? Why can't I quit asking myself things like this?) Unless this is some cute baby mispronunciation of the f-word, I certainly don't quack. We don't own barnyard sound toys. I gave all of those instruments of the devil away as soon as their batteries died or they began to make my head vibrate whichever came first.

"Quack," Adam says again, and I don't think this is quite normal. I've seen normal. Thomas Michael and Diana Rose, for example, both of whom were breastfed for longer and birthed more naturally than my son, both of whom sleep through the night and don't quack, are amazingly, admirably normal. 50th percentiles all around. I hate their mothers. They're my best friends. I'll think that through, later.

I eye my nine-year-old suspiciously. "Kim," I ask, "Have you been teaching Adam to quack?"

She shrugs. "He just does that. All the time. Meredith and Katie and me have been calling him Duckman from the planet Barthgenol."

"Meredith and Katie and I," my husband corrects from behind his newspaper. "Tell your friends it isn't nice to call your baby brother a Barthgenolian."

"Duck quack, quack duck, quack," Adam tells me, leaning forward as if he is divulging some important secret.

Oh, face it, I think: he is a Barthgenolian. Or at least some kind of alien. It's a little unreasonable for me to have expected otherwise. I'm not precisely from the center of the distribution, and I'm married to a person who right now is reading the science section of the paper and no doubt mentally composing his grant proposal while wearing a Snoopy necktie. What made me think either of our kids would be strictly planet Earth?

Not that this mutation is necessarily bad, as these things go. I have worse ones, myself. It's kind of cute, actually. Just ... not what I expected.

Not what I expected. That, again. If there is any one phrase that describes the parenting of children like mine, wouldn't that be just it.

It is too early in the day, too early with this child, for me to be confronting the weight and the tangles of my own expectations again. Maybe I should have some chocolate.

Maybe I should cut myself some slack. Parenting any child is not what we expected. The sentiment is so common and so devastating to the uninitiated that a popular, seminal work on the subject of postpartum depression is entitled, "This Isn't What I Expected."

Which really means, doesn't it, that I am not what I expected, not the person I believed motherhood would magically transform me into. I'm just as sensitive to criticism, just as sarcastic, just as quick to anger over perceived injustices that do not directly affect me, just as prone to daydreams and the telling of pointless lies called poetry, as I was before my children were born. I'm not the unexcitable, objective, commercially and socially acceptable cross between Mother Theresa and Martha Stewart that my kids deserve. I'm still me, only ten pounds heavier and bone-tired. If I ever met the person I thought having children would make me, I'd probably run over her with my car.

"Duck, Quack," Adam tells me, his face covered with cheerio goo, and that finalizes it. There is, definitely, a one of a kind "Adam" inside that outwardly normal brand-x baby, and it is asserting itself for the first time. Nothing for it but to brace myself and welcome the challenge. I run my hand over his smooth, bald head (and that's another thing. Where are those golden ringlets I imagined?) and wonder, what else is in there? What else will you teach me that I don't imagine, because I don't know that it can be imagined? What else do you have for me, what marvels and frustrations, that my vision is too limited to anticipate?

This was supposed to be easier the second time around. Normal mothers of normal children know what to expect, more or less, with their second child. They don't wonder which new curve will be thrown at them, or which heretofore incomprehensible events they will encounter along with the hand-me-downs and the sibling rivalry. They don't have to make it up as they go along, all over again. They may wonder what the first word, when the first steps, will be, but they do not look into the future and see only the unknowable. There is no page in the second child's baby album for "first completely inexplicable expression of personhood."

Normal parents of normal first children do not wonder when, or why, they first will see that look from other adults, with their second child. They've never seen it at all, that annoyed, helpless expression of disapproval and confusion that is so familiar to me now that I can hardly pinpoint the first time it was aimed in my direction. I believe it was on kindergarten's "D Day," when every other kid in the class took in a toy d rum or a plastic d oggie or a rubber d uck to illustrate an understanding of the fourth letter of the alphabet, and my child ambled in fifteen minutes late with her frantically late-for-work mother in tow, to explain that "D is for d awdle." I'm pretty sure that normal mothers of normal kids wouldn't understand what a harrying, fun-filled reaction we got to that.

My life is full of things that other parents can't relate to. No normal mother of normal kids has ever ended an administrative conference with the straightfaced conclusion, "The worksheet was ambiguous and the answer is correct. Both of those words do start with M. And anyway, a mandrill is a monkey, you can look it up." Normal moms of normal kids just don't say things like that to other grownups. They don't have to. They don't have to grit their teeth through discussions with indifferent parochial school teachers or scream at uncompassionate pediatricians. They don't have to go through the theological adventures of determining how prayer resembles the Vulcan mind meld, whether the devil ever has to go the bathroom, and whether roadkill goes to heaven so the pet dogs up there can have fun chasing it.

Normal mothers of normal kids can make vague threats without being asked for specifics. They can make promises like, "If you clean your room I'll take you for ice cream," and not be asked to sign a contract more complicated than the Marshall Plan: ("Clause Three: Six or more of pieces of dirt and/or articles of clothing on the dresser and under the bed combined preclude the chocolate sprinkles.") Normal moms yell things like, "If I have to get off this phone and come in there, it isn't going to be pretty!" all the time. I bet that never once, in the history of momdom, has one of those mothers heard in response, "No offense, Mom, but you're not exactly Mary Poppins now ."

The only thing normal mothers have to do with their kid's beanie baby collection is keep the dust-collecting nuisance off the family room carpet. When they tell a seven year old to pick the darned things up and put them in order, past experience does not cause them to automatically add, "Sequential, chronological or alphabetical; it doesn't matter -- to me!" Normal mothers don't keep every single one of fifty beanie babies' names, personalities, and food preferences straight in their heads, or know how beanie babies demonstrate the economic principles of supply, demand, and monopoly power. Normal moms may even think beanie babies are cute .

On the other hand, normal kids are missing a lot that I don't really want my children to miss. Normal kids don't know what a thrill it is to do an imitation of an adult's mother-in-law that is so funny, so wittily perfect, that it causes the adult in question to urinate on herself. They will never have that kind of power. They will never experience the willing distraction, the fierce protectiveness, the deliberate patience and forethought, the flights of fancy and enquiry, the precision of thought, that I've developed in self-defense with Adam's sister, and that he's now claiming as his own birthright. Normal kids don't realize how far a mother's love can take an otherwise sane and rational person. How could they? I can barely believe it myself sometimes.

Maybe other mothers would, if necessary, quash their almost overwhelming natural impulses and Not, Not, NOT Strangle The Nun!, or spend two hours re-analyzing the Cobb-Douglas production function as it relates to Stripes and Freckles. But how many children have seen their very own personal mothers actually do those things, just for them? If my children have a gift, it is the privilege of knowing how uniquely appreciated they are, how special and worthwhile, that they can completely derange me and drive me to such weird heroics.

"Aaaaaadam," my daughter singsongs. "Adam. Lookit me. Yo, Adam, what's a duck say?"

He glances at his father, at me, and grins. "MOOOO!" he shouts, and they both dissolve into peals of laughter.

If I had normal children, I wouldn't know why that is so funny. I wouldn't get to witness or feel the passions and rages and joys that these children, these particular people with their own oddities and peculiar needs, inspire on such a regular basis.

My own mother, who loves me deeply and has given up hope of ever being able to understand me, lamented once that she had too many generic, personality-lacking photographs of her decidedly non-generic children. "All those stupid blue Sears backgrounds and Christmas trees," she sniffed. "What I ought to have, is a picture of that time you told your grandmother you were changing your religion. That cowboy hat you wore to Sunday School every single week for a year. That time you clanked your sister with the pipe to the vacuum cleaner and she flew six feet. Now that, was the damnedest thing I ever saw. That kid was airborne . Shoot , everybody's kids lose teeth and get haircuts and have Christmases."

"What are you doing now?" My husband has put his newspaper down. "Don't tell me you're looking for chocolate already?"

"Getting out the camcorder," I tell him. "I want to get some footage of the Duckman's first quacks."

Hang what the baby album pages say. I'll call the Kodak moments as I see 'em.