Monday, October 16, 2006

The Unfair Why's (2006 Edition)

My first-year Psych prof once advanced the theory that flies do not possess volition: they buzz around randomly and ricochet off various objects, but they are incapable of forming plans or executing motivated actions. At best, they might land on a particularly fragrant pile of dog poop and stay there for awhile. It struck me at once that this theory could be applied to the otherwise inexplicable behaviour of men.

Keep in mind that I was 19 years old; along with all of my friends, I was constantly embroiled in the always-puzzling task of decoding the strange, contradictory behaviour of men. They ask you out for coffee, climb on top of you in the passenger seat of the car, and then they don’t call. They hold your hand romantically as you walk through the autumn leaves, but then claim that you’re just friends. They call every day for a week and even throw out the l-word, and then they lose interest. They flirt madly whenever you meet at a party, but then never follow through. Like most 19-year-olds, I was devoting much of my time to deciphering these behaviours, trying to patch together a meaningful pattern that would reveal the feelings and intentions of the man in question.

And then, that afternoon in the lecture theatre, it all became clear. Men were not giving out mixed signals; they simply were not giving out signals at all. For women, almost every interaction with the opposite sex has a coded message: a compliment signals romantic interest, a kiss irrevocably transforms the nature of a friendship, and an unnecessarily early departure from a social gathering means that the guy I was chatting with before I left has no more than friend-potential. This was the fundamental mistake that we had all been making, my girlfriends and I: we assumed that men were communicating something through their actions rather than simply reacting to the impulse of the moment; we assumed they were capable of volition, of motivated action as opposed to pure stimulus-response. When a guy lurches across the gear shift into your lap, he’s not trying to convey a message about the future of the relationship: to him, you’re just a particularly fragrant pile of dog poop.

Over the years, some have found my "Fly Theory" to be brilliantly insightful, while others have dismissed it as offensive, sexist, and absurd. The theory does not necessarily have to be true to be useful, however, and its primary use has always been to curtail the endless and fruitless asking of "Why?" Far better, always, to assume that there is no why.

If that is true of men, it’s even more true of babies. Nothing frustrated me more, when Bub was a newborn, than the confident proclamation, "Babies cry for a reason." In his case, we learned to look for a reason if he wasn’t crying. What had stopped him? Could we patent the manoeuvre and sell it on the black market? Crying was his default setting – there was no motivation for it, no goal to it, no reason behind it, and our job as parents was to fine-tune the tactics required to put the crying on pause – just the right jiggle, to just the right song ("Baby Beluga"), with just the right assortment of colourful toys to look at. When the correct balance was achieved, the crying would halt, but it always remained crouched in the corner of the room, waiting to leap out as soon as our efforts flagged.

The first survival strategy I learned as a parent was never to ask why Bub was crying. Somehow, though, I’ve never been able to apply that lesson to sleep. Why did he wake up at 5:00 this morning? Was he too hot? Was he too cold? Is he scared of the dark? Is he testing boundaries? Is his bedtime too early? Is his bedtime too late? Hubby and I have been batting this conversational ball back and forth for two weeks now, and no matter how monotonous and pointless the conversation becomes, we just can’t seem to drop it.

One thing this conversation reminds me of is the picture book Go, Dog, Go! ("They’re all going up to the top of that tree! Why? Will they work there? Will they play there? What is up there on top of that tree?") The other thing it reminds me of is a list I compiled nineteen Octobers ago of the "Unfair Why’s." I was sixteen years old, I had no boyfriend, and I distilled my whole life into thirteen questions. Not all of them began with the word "why" (there are some whens and whats and hows in there too), but all of them are variations on the theme of question #10: "Why me??" How do I know I won’t end up as an old maid? Why are the only boys who like me the nerdy ones I wouldn’t consider liking? What if everyone thinks of me as one of the nerdy ones they wouldn’t consider liking? The list culminated in item #13: "Why are there so many unfair why’s?" (I was really fun to hang around with when I was sixteen. You would’ve liked me.)

So in the spirit of recapturing my lost youth and flagrantly disregarding the wisdom of the Fly Theory (as applied to toddlers), here is my updated list of the Unfair Why’s:

1. Why did the Pie wake up early this morning even though she had a late bedtime last night? (I know, I know, fellow Weissbluth readers, sleep begets sleep. Read on.)
2. Why did the Pie wake up early yesterday morning even though she had an early bedtime the night before?
3. Why is the Bub screaming like a banshee in the middle of the night? (factors considered and eliminated: too cold, too hot, too dark, too hungry; possible factors remaining: nightmares, separation anxiety, wilfulness, pure native cussedness)
4. Why does Bub settle down happily and obediently when Grandpa puts him to bed, only to shriek, cry, and run from the room when mummy or daddy try to do so?
5. Why does Bub eagerly wolf down lima beans and chick peas, but fix us with a suspicious glare and push away our proffered spoonfuls of apple crisp?
6. "Why do I say bub? Why do I love pie?" (That one’s not actually about my children; it’s a summary of Wolverine’s existential crisis in an X-Men comic. I found it after doing a Google search on my blog title and I’ve been looking for a chance to use it ever since.)
7. Why does the Pie always turn away from the camera one nano-second before the flash goes off?
8. Why is Bub’s hair always at its wildest when it’s been freshly washed?
9. Why am I blogging right now instead of taking a nap?
10. Why can hubby return to sleep within seconds of Bub’s nighttime banshee-screaming, while I lie awake for hours, flinching at every noise?
11. Why is there no new episode of House tomorrow night?
12. Why does my tummy still look exactly the same as it did when I was twelve weeks pregnant?
13. Why are there so many unfair why’s?


nomotherearth said...

Thank you, thank you (!) for saying what I have always believed post baby, babies cry for no reason. I was going to add that item in a recent list I have on my blog about things I've learnt so far. So true.

If I did a list of Unfair Why's it would look a lot like yours, only I would ask why the Husband can never hear and sleep throught the nighttime banshee screaming, and why my tummy looks like I'm 3 months pregnant almost two years after the Boy was born.

edj said...

I love the Fly theory and agree with your applications to guys and babies, but I disagree that it applies to flies themselves. No, they have a reason--to drive me crazy. Why else would they insist on trying to crawl on my lips, when I have made it very clear they're not welcome?

cinnamon gurl said...

Yeah. I'm totally going through House withdrawal... it's been like two weeks already.

Sleep is such a hard thing to do without, especially when we aren't choosing to do without it in favour of something fun like I used to do when I was 19.

I hope it gets better for you.

PeanutButtersMum said...

I love your list and I LOVE your theory, but I have to say that WHY's 8 thru 10 are my fave's 'cause I could have written them myself, simply substituting the name of my kid/hubby. ;-)

Beck said...

Great post. Babies just plain old cry. My grandmother's theory is that it works out their lungs. Some particularily fragrant old sadist suggested to me that I should get my infant all comfortable in its wee tub, and then pour some cold water on its tiny belly.
You know, to work out its lungs. Poor babies.

bihari said...

This is brilliant. I wish I'd read it before I had my first baby, so I would have known to just flipping relax already about the sleep. Because, as you point out, it's a clusterfuck for the first two years, and ours is not to reason why, ours is to nurse and (feel like we're about to) die.

Also, the men-and-flies analogy? Perfect.

mad_hatter said...

I think that "native cussedness" accounts for much in my life and my daughter's.

Why does my daughter cry out for her blankie when she is clearly holding it?

Why does she call out for me even as she is pushing me out of my own bed at 3am?

Why does she end up in my bed every single night despite my best efforts to keep her out?

Why does she hate all vegetables but love soap?

Oh the wherefores and the whys!!

Piece of Work said...

I love the Fly Theory, as applied to men. And you are right, it is best applied to sleep trouble with children, too.
The only other option is to answer: they are trying to fuck with you.

Eric said...

I like your theory, but I suppose I can understand why women might find it offensive to be referred to as "a particularly fragrant pile of dog poop."

Lady M said...

This is brilliant. Sometimes tantrums aren't resolvable and don't have a reason either. The tantrum simply is, and we'll have to wait for it to pass like the fly zipping away. Sigh.

Em said...

I remember being told, by a wise old woman, that the response to the question "Why is the baby crying?" is simply "Babies cry". That is what they do. No more, no less. Believe it or not I've found this sage advice to be helpful over the years - when I've searched in vain for a "reason" for the tears.

Mayberry said...

Why did my son sleep for 12 hours straight two nights in a row when I wasn't home to enjoy it, and revert to his usual 2-3 wakings per night when I returned?

I think your Fly Theory is spot on.

julia said...

Bihari - "it's a clusterfuck for the first two years, and ours is not to reason why, ours is to nurse and (feel like we're about to) die."
That is perfection. I may have to quote you at some point.

I like the fly theory. I wish I'd had that theory years ago - it would have saved me a pile of headaches.

T. said...

Love the Fly theory. Also works for ten and nine year old children.

As for the list, I'm with you. Especially #12. Why God? Why?

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh Jeez. Apparently it's contagious. I was all cool with our 3-ish wakings per night of recent days. But last night Swee'pea woke about 8 kazillion times. Arrrggh!

Christina said...

Oy. That's quite a list of whys, and I would love to know the answer to many of them, as they apply to Cordy as well.

Why is Cordy happy to be left with nearly anyone, but screams when we leave her with her grandpa?

Why does she refuse a food, only to demand it three seconds later?

Why did nature design us to feel so crappy during the first trimester of pregnancy?

I'd better stop - I could do these all day.

Terri B. said...

Your mention of the list you wrote when you were sixteen made me think back to when I was that age. Shudder. Don't get me wrong. I loved (actually, "loved" may be an overstatement) being sixteen when I was sixteen, but you couldn't get me to go back for all the money in the world! I find myself thinking, "Who was that little girl?" And I find it rather embarassing to read some of my writings from that time. Oh well, maybe when I'm 80 I'll think back to that 40-something whippersnapper and blush.

something blue said...

I love your fly theory in regards to men. To further prove your theory I've had to explain to various men that women have ulterior motives on many occasions. Said men didn't even recognize the classic touch a desired man's elbow to signal interest. What is basic human language is given no thought to some men.

I appreciate your current unfair why's. I ask myself many of the same questions.

To make this an even longer comment... Did you see this week's episode of Studio 60? Harriet explains that she doesn't question why the bad things happen because she had never questioned why the good things happened.

Oh, The Joys said...

Great post...and I love the fly / boy theory. I could've really used that at 19.

kittenpie said...

Why is it that pumpkinpie wanted to sleep in today when I neede to roust her from her comfy crib so I could get to work, but on my days off and late shifts over the last two weeks, she's been up half an hour before the early wakeup time? (and no doubt again tomorrow - Grrr!)

Can't believe no House again tonight for the fricking sports. Pooh.

Lisa b said...

When confronted with questions such as #1 and #2 I would devour weissbluth yet again searching for answers. Obsessively, compulsively searching.... the only thing that cured me was more sleep - mine and hers. It always seems a miracle to me why they sleep or don't.

OddMix said...

I have found the answer to #7 to be...
The little red light on the front of the camera warns them the flashy-thing is about to get very bright.

And you were at least close to correct when you reallized men do not communicate in signals or hints - take us at face value and we will happily reciprocate.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Parents always get themselves into trouble when they try to "fix" their kids. She won't sleep, I must fix that. She is crying, I must keep her from being sad. She is whining, I must make it stop.

I have stopped believing that I can fix my kids. At this point I'm just trying to survive them.

Her Bad Mother said...

I can probably just ditto you on all of these, simply by substituting WonderBaby for Bub and/or Pie.

So, um, DITTO.

Denguy said...

Hmm... flies.

And, hey, I was a total nerd in high school. I marked essays for my English teacher. I tutored the quarterback of the football team for crying out loud.

I'm fine, I'm fine. Go on with your story.

Tina C said...

Your Fly Theory is not a theory -- I'd say it's a proven fact. it also explains why very few guys want to "talk about the relationship" as gurls love to do.

Regarding sleep, I feel your pain, or i would if i weren't also sleep deprived. On a local list-serv I recently asked for some advice on getting my guy to sleep later in the morning. So many helpful people suggested room-darkening shades, which would be a wonderfully easy solution if he weren't already waking up when it's still pitch black out. I have never liked watching the sunrise and still don't!!!! i have no idea why he wakes up at different times despite going to sleep at the same GD time. he must be a fly too.

Kristen said...

Why does Quinn scream and cry when we give him the scratched CD he demands AND ALSO if we turn it off because he hates the skipping? Why do I expect anything different from him? Why does my head not explode as a result of the back and forth in and out of his room over this stupid, stupid issue?

(Uh, I shouldn't have written this comment after drinking a glass of wine, specifically poured to cope with the blood pressure rise resulting from the very scenario described above. Sorry, B&P.)

Catherine said...

I've come and read here a few times, always feeling terribly inadequate in the commenting department. But I just HAVE to say that applying the Fly theory to men and babies is absolutely brilliant. Makes perfect sense.

nonlineargirl said...

Your words ring true with my experience - "Crying was his default setting..."

The first four months of Ada's life were just as you describe. Ada crying, Ada being soothed, or Ada's parents waiting for her to start crying again.

We are human and seek order in the universe. Even when there is no order, we look for it.

sunshine scribe said...

SO many unfair whys.

But really, WHY didn't I know you when I was 19 to have you explain that brilliant fly-theory to me about men ... it would have saved me so. much. time. And agony.

TB said...

Oh shit, you mean this is what I'm going to look like AFTER this whole pregnancy thing too?

Rock the Cradle said...

Oh how I can relate to this. All throughout those 5 months of colic, over and over, even though we knew there was no answer, we asked that question.

I ask myself #9 and #10 on an almost daily/nightly basis. My insomniac introspection usually happens closer to 4 now, though for a while I was waking up at 3:30 on the dot.

We're Netflixing House, so I have to wait a bit for my next fix as well. My Hub LOVES House. He gets this special little grin on his face whenever House visits the clinic. He knows.

allrileyedup said...

Love your Fly Theory. Might have to use that sometime in the future. And now, I feel a dire urge to Drink Bud Dry. And they say commercials don't hit us subconsciously...