Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Lunch With Carly Elizabeth


Parenting, Playful Advice

Carly and I (and of course Z, mother and wife) landed in a hip, crowded and loud bistro in Laguna Beach the day after Christmas along with my brother Mark. The waitress removed one of the chairs and slipped in a wooded highchair. In three days Carly Elizabeth will be five months young. As the early morning sun danced across the hotel sheets Carly was balancing, arms stretched, almost sitting up by herself, but not quite. Even so, the wooden highchair was too low and too far away. I pushed a dish aside and sat Carly on the table with my arm around her.

It never ceases to amaze me how unnecessarily loud most places are, music pounding, voices trying to talk over the buzz. When Carly is near I sync with her experience without trying. The clamor, music and all the mumbo-jumbo voices banging together represented a great deal of mostly incoherent stimulation we tune out, but not she. I asked the waitress to turn down the music. Of course, she said.

There wasn’t much for her to explore sitting there on the table except the knife and fork. No. She did not poke her eye out. Like Jean Leidloff and her Continuum Concept we assume competence and that is what we get. Let me say that Carly was the only infant sitting on a table, the only infant in the place. Had there been others they most likely would have been strangely separate, reclining in one of those plastic car seat carriers complete with a matching plastic bottle. Carly was upright, near cheek to cheek with me, deciding which end of the dinner knife would fit in her mouth first. I helped.

Sparkling water was poured in three tall wine glasses. We travel often and Carly does too so hotel rooms and restaurants are no big deal. Carly began eating small portions of rice cereal three weeks ago, sitting in a tiny red chair that rests on top of our table at home. When we eat, she sits at the table with us and enjoys a squirt or two of rice cereal, sometimes spiked with home spun apple-beet juice or butternut squash soup. Somehow, she seemed perfectly natural in that crowded bistro reaching for the tall sparkling wine glass, just like my brother Mark and Z. This moment represented three firsts: sitting on a crowded restaurant table, reaching for a wine glass large enough to cover her face and sipping (with my support) sparkling water. She was having the time of her tiny life.

Just before lunch was served I pushed aside a plate and slid Carly across the table. Z tucked her arm around her. Three different dishes were arranged on the table, but alas, no rice cereal, and all the while three adults discussed very adult things, and simultaneously, met Carly’s need for sips of sparkling water while she juggled two forks, that shiny dinner knife and a large wooden pepper grinder that kept tipping over, without a peep, other than an occasional giggle. I finished my lunch and refilled our wine glass with a tad more sparkling water. Back Carly slid across the table next to me. The luncheon lasted a little over an hour, no fuss, no muss, nothing broken, spilled or mashed. Carly wasn’t even wearing a bib.

Leaving the bistro it dawned on me how natural and yet how very strange and uncommon this dance had been. First, Carly was included. She was close, eye level and upright where everyone could see and respond to her. Being close we could meet and even anticipate her needs instead of her getting frustrated before we responded. I did not push the knife and fork away, rather I handed them to her with minimal interference and ease, keeping her safe. The new experience of tasting sparkling water out of a glass and later trying to get a taste through the side of that tall cold bottle was completely engaging. Over an hour is a long time for an almost five month young infant to sit on a table and not make a fuss, to be engaged, experience new things, learn and explore with ease, joy and no mess. Wow. That was so easy, so natural and so rare.

Later I imagined another infant at the same table with three very adults, the car seat tucked low, almost under the table, babe reclining more or less alone with his or her plastic bottle, bored stiff. Wouldn’t you fuss and fuss louder, fighting for some recognition and inclusion or slip quietly comatose, neither of which are a plus?

In Magical Parent – Magical Child Joseph Chilton Pearce and I discussed how the kind of natural attunement that occurred over lunch eliminates nearly all the conflicts most parents experience and complain about, most of the time. Most conflicts simply don’t happen. When my now twenty-eight year old son John-Michael was about eighteen, I asked if he could remember me ever telling him NO in a punitive or restrictive way. He could not and neither could I. In his third book, Magical Child, Joe noted that, ‘a child never restrained will never need restraint.’ Even as this very early age attuned attention, trust and respect are reciprocal. If we want our children to trust, appreciate and respect our needs we must trust, appreciate and respect theirs. There is that darn golden rule again.

This level of attuned shared meaning is very different from distraction and what we often hope is sustained entertainment; the phone, tablet or other screen based pacifier or the oversized kid stuffed in the stroller, slouching with that blank stare in his or her vacant eyes. What goes around comes around. Trust and respect lost is very hard to regain. The goose is pretty well cooked when attuned shared meaning drifts into chronic idle nagging. Sure, you have all seen it. That’s when our little darling interrupts us in order to be included and often. There is another way, treating our children with the same appreciation, respect and trust we expect from each other. They may be smaller, but in this regard Carly Elizabeth is every bit our equal. Treat her that way and that’s the way she will treat the world.