Book captures lighter side in tearful business of raising a toddler

Curious joys of raising a toddler

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 7:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 7:42pm

Now and then every parent realises that if the world were watching them interact with their offspring through an invisible camera, it would be humbled by the sheer brilliance of their parenting.

Greg Pembroke, 33, of Rochester, New York, became smugly aware of such a picture-perfect moment. He and his two-year-old were laughingly play-wrestling on the floor, until his son noticed Pembroke's wrinkly knuckles, was repulsed, and started tugging at his skin, insisting he "take it off".

Failure to do so prompted a full-volume mini-Hulk-style toddler tantrum. Pembroke took a photo of this honest moment and shared it with the world.

It was posted to his blog, Reasons My Son is Crying. The blog's first photo was of his two-year old, mid-howl, plus the caption: "I broke his piece of cheese in half."

Within one month, it had received more than five million hits and is predicted to reach 14.5 million visits this year. Pembroke says the post attracted internet traffic from every country on the planet, except North Korea.

His posts also have wry explanations, including: "A fly landed near him", "I wouldn't let him play with the dead squirrel he found in the yard" and "I pretended my hand was a phone"

Now the slightly surprised author of a book, Reasons My Kid is Crying, Pembroke restricts himself to posting one photo of a bawling toddler each day out of the thousands he receives.

In a world full of self-help books reminding parents how they're doing it wrong, Pembroke provides relief. He cheerfully catalogues all failures, his bafflement at the sheer illogic of his children, aged two and four, and the myriad ways he has disappointed and distressed them.

Parents everywhere have grasped with joy the pictorial evidence that reveals, despite cultural differences, that the despotic nature of toddlers is universal. "I thought I was the only one. I thought only my child was poorly behaved" is the essence of many of the e-mails Pembroke receives.

The fierce conviction of a two-year-old's tears because (as one parent notes) "I wouldn't let him crawl into a 400-degree oven" might make parents doubt their own judgment. But Pembroke, a radio advertising copywriter, is not so much making fun of kids as tipping his hat to them.

"When you experience disappointment, you want to be able to lie down on the ground and scream, but you're not able to because you're an adult confined by the rules of society," he says. People are almost envious of children being able to fully express themselves the way they'd like to.

"I had a great photo shoot with my family. But there was one where no one was looking at the camera; a child was climbing over my shoulder trying to get away, the other one was crying. That was my favourite picture. To me, that's more representative than four smiling people looking at a camera."

The truth of his emotion has struck a chord. "You think you have it figured out, and then your second child comes along and they're completely different," he says.

"With my older boy, whenever he was getting really upset, I dipped him upside down. I called it The Baby Reset. It was hard for him to be angry when the whole world was upside down, and then he'd be super happy.

"My younger son … we had to find a different strategy. I tried The Baby Reset with him. It did not work."

Pembroke is clearly besotted with the powerful will of the toddler and fascinated that adults are often no match. When his wife went back to work, Pembroke's first stint caring for sons Charlie and William, then 21 months and newly born, was a shock. "Like an '80s comedy movie," he says.

"You leave hospital with this super-fragile, tiny, beautiful little creature. You don't know what to do. Is this allowed? How is it legal that I am in charge of this thing?"

His own upbringing, he says, was idyllic, growing up on his grandparents' farm. His mother stayed at home with Pembroke and his brother, and his father worked shifts in a factory for Eastman Kodak. Pembroke rode tractors and wagons across hundreds of hectares, explored pine forests and orchards, and built rafts out of tree branches at the pond.

"We were constantly covered in mud and left alone to learn about how to get along with our cousins and siblings, with just enough parental supervision so we didn't get hurt too badly."

His most treasured memories are of sitting on his grandmother's lap while steering the truck around the farm, and riding around town with his dad on his motorcycle, activities that would "probably get you thrown in jail as a parent in 2013".

Pembroke is touched that "people are sharing intimate slices of their life" and that they are getting joy from it. "We do worry too much and take child rearing a little too seriously.

"I think that if you're present, loving, and not a total push-over, your kids will turn out fine, whether or not you played Mozart for them while they were in the womb," he says.

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