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The Story About the Toddler, Volume 17.

Our daughter Cordelia is two and a half years old. This is a major milestone. Though, at this point, every day we get through without shutting her in the closet is a milestone. As I understand it, when you put your kid in the closet, the shouting can get really irritating after the first fifteen minutes or so. I hope Cordelia isn’t about to make us find out.

Since I don’t want to be a big old negative Nancy, I will focus instead on Cordelia’s positive accomplishments for the month. She can sing a song all the way through. Again and again. Her slurred, off-tempo rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider is adorable. She can use plurals and short sentences. She just referred to one of her toys as “cool".

She can say “I don’t know" and, when we ask her a question she has to think about, she will indicate that she is thinking about it by saying “Ummmmm." Turns out this is something you have to learn.

She can scream. It is said (incorrectly, it turns out) that Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. Cordelia has a hundred screams. Harsh barks. Low, grating squeals. Sharp, startling howls. Almost none of them reflect actual emotion. Each is just a tool in her toolbox, used in sequence in order to pry concessions out of her clueless parents.

We usually don’t give in. We’re bigger than her, and we find her frustration and anger to be funny. And if she keeps this screaming up, we’ll explore the closet option. I bet, when filtered through the door, all of her distinct screams are muted into an easily ignored murmur.

That doesn’t mean Cordelia isn’t spoiled. She’s insanely spoiled. But it’s not my fault.

Our House Is Infested With Family

The last month has been grandparent-heavy. First, my parents parked the RV they live in in our driveway. After they were here a couple weeks, they left and my wife’s mother showed up. Cordelia is now bloated like a tick with ice cream and a sense of her own importance.

Our toddler daughter, already difficult to handle, has become pretty much impossible. A month of non-stop indulgence has left her with an unquenchable sense of entitlement. Denial of her whims will only be answered with violent retribution from her cute, chubby little hands.

Of course, she’s been doing this for a while, but it’s different now. She doesn’t impulsively and quickly lash out anymore. Instead, she cocks her fist back and calmly holds it there for a second, making sure I take the full measure of her contempt, before she lets the blow fly. And then I firmly grab her and tell her “No!" and her personality completely disintegrates in a fit of horrified tears. Then she calms down and, five minutes later, the process starts again. We can spend whole merry evenings this way.

I present myself as a pitiful cautionary tale for anyone on the fence about breeding.

Fortunately, I don’t have to put up with this much, because the presence of all of the family has put me very low on the roster for access to my daughter. And when I do get put in charge of her and she sees her mommy and grandparents go away, her wailing, hysterical reaction to being left alone with me is enough to make a neutral observer think that I spend my alone-time with my daughter putting her in the washing machine or hanging her in the closet like a slab of bacon. And don’t get me wrong. That’s what I WANT to do. But I don’t.

More About the Abuse Of Me By Her

So she hits me, and I firmly grab her hand and tell her no, and then she melts down. Then she throws herself in my arms and gives me a big hug.

As I understand it, this is the common pattern in abusive relationships. That hug is the toddler equivalent of saying, “I’m sorry, baby. I just don’t know what came over me. I swear it’ll never happen again. ... But why can’t you learn to LISTEN?"

Critical Grandparent Overload

The spoiling of my daughter reached its purest form at her great-grandparents’ house on the 4th of July. This is an annual get-together of long standing, made exciting by heaps of illegal fireworks bought on the nearby Indian Reservation. Combine a pile of young kids with explosives made according to the quality control standards of Chinese laborers working for a dime a day, and you got some serious entertainment.

Decades of repetition have solidified the family routine. The children take the fireworks down to the beach and set them off with intermittent adult supervision. Sea creatures endure the slow death of a thousand firecrackers. Kids light firecrackers in their fingers and throw them around. Sometimes they throw them too slowly, resulting in lovely blood blisters (or, as we call them in my family, “learning bumps"). Meanwhile, all the adults sit around in the house above, eating microwaved chicken and offering to make each other drinks.

Meanwhile, Cordelia’s grandparents dueled over her. The house we were at had a beach, a stream, a lot of really steep stairways, and multitudes of paths along steep drops. None of them wanted to be the one who was least indulgent of Cordelia’s self-destructive whims, so no matter where she wanted to go or what she wanted to fall off of, someone would let her roam free.

Me, I just watched them as much as I could stand, jittered nervously, and had a thoroughly awful time.

Oh, and one of my cousins, a girl in her early teens, had this sort of long-range walkie talkie thing that could tune into CB frequencies. She spent the whole day taunting truckers on the nearby freeway as they came in and out of range. I expected one of them to walk in and kick my ass at any moment. Children are GREAT.

The Other Effect of Having Grandparents Around

A sharp increase in the number of cheap toys cluttering my house. I don’t think that there are three pieces of brightly colored, molded plastic on this planet that aren’t owned by my daughter.

Giving a Caffeine Contact High

I read somewhere that, in cultures where people eat really hot food, it is an occasional practice to put little bits of hot pepper in a baby’s mouth. That acclimates them to the hot food so that, when they get older, they don’t, like, starve.

Not sure if I believe this or not. Sometimes, at an Indian or Thai restaurant, Cordelia will get a few molecules of hot food on her lip, and she will wail and drool and try to claw her face off in the most adorable way. I think that if I put actual pepper in her mouth, her head would explode, leaving nothing but a smoking neck stump. Maybe kids in the Third World come out of the womb a hardier lot.

However, while I’m not working to get Cordelia accustomed to hot food, since we live in Seattle, instinctive home of both the world-weary poseur and the espresso addict, I do feel a need to help Cordelia come out of childhood with at least a little bit of caffeine resistance.

I don’t want Cordelia to be a caffeine pussy. I don’t want her to be one of those people who acts all tough and daring because they sometimes make a cup of tea EXTRA-STRONG! (Wow! Sure, on average, drip coffee has over twice the caffeine of tea. But leaving the bag in those extra five seconds makes all the difference. Dude, you’re HARDCORE!)

And while I want Cordelia to end up like her mother in all other regards, I don’t want her to inherit her mother’s mincing, twitchy delicacy when it comes to caffeine. Sometimes, I’ll look at Mariann and see that she looks really tired and I’ll ask her why and she’ll say, “I had a Coke yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t sleep all night.” And I will express sadness and sympathy to her in the most contemptuous way I possibly can.

Nobody wants that for their child.

Caffeine is a miracle drug. It reduces sleep and, therefore, extends life. It is also, once your taste buds have been sufficiently battered, yummy.

So whenever I get a latte (or whatever weenie, overpriced, city-boy coffee drink I’m imbibing that day), I will give Cordelia a sip. Not a lot, just enough to waken her body to the expanded possibilities and extended lifetime that the caffeine Jesus provided for us can give.

Oh, and she also likes bourbon.

Dreaming Of the Future

It is customary for parents to watch trivial activities of their children and imagine, based on this, glorious futures for them. If the kid stacks blocks, he’s going to grow up to be an architect. If the little monkey bangs on a toy piano, she’s going to be a concert pianist.

Cordelia is constantly taking off her clothes. When she sees a pole, she loves to spin around it or hang off it.

Hmm.


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