The Story About the Toddler, Volume 27.
Our daughter Cordelia is three years and four months old. Raising a three-year old is very educational. It is a chance to see what a human being is like in its pure natural state, unbent by the demands of societal restrictions. You can see our species in its raw form and learn, at a deep, innate level, how obnoxious and repellent we all are.
I mean, fuck. Every day, all day. “Mommy, give me milk.” “Daddy, come play with me.” “Mommy, buy me a thing!” “Daddy, stop breathing!” “Mommy, shovel some shit for me.” “Daddy, let me kick your knee.” “Mommy, where are you? Mommy? Mommy, come here? Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? Mommeeeeee!!!!!”
All this time I spent wishing Cordelia would learn how to talk, and, now that she can, she treats us like Martha Stewart treats the help.
Three year olds are the clay we mold into human beings. It is our job and sacred duty as parents to break Cordelia’s will so that other humans won’t have to put up with her in her current, intolerable state.
So my wife Mariann and I play good cop-bad cop with her. Mariann’s job, as the good cop, is to listen to Cordelia’s limitless requests and occasionally pretend that some of them are slightly reasonable. My job, as the bad cop, is to react to everything she says with mistrust and disapproval and, basically, tell her to be quiet whenever she opens her mouth.
It’s harsh, I know, but you have to have a bad cop. No policemen ever got anywhere by playing good cop-good cop. No suspect ever confessed when one detective said, “Can I get you a soda?” and then the other one said, “And can I get you a sandwich?”
And Cordelia better consider being a little more polite, because Mariann and I are getting pretty close to playing bad cop-bad cop.
It’s a sacred responsibility, raising a child, which leaves us with a choice. We can struggle mightily to get Cordelia to be polite for a few seconds a day. Or we could just dump her on someone who is inclined to tolerate her repellent behavior and then go out to dinner.
Fortunately, my parents came and stayed with us for a few weeks, which settled the issue for us. Their tolerance for Cordelia was limitless. My daughter could gut-shoot the pair of them and they would tell us how cute her smile was as she pulled the trigger. They took the brunt of the endless demands for a while. Mariann and I can parent next month. Or something.
One Way To Make Your Child Like You Again
Since I am the bad cop, Cordelia doesn’t like me. That’s all right. Lots of people don’t like me. I try to coast through life on my winning nature, rugged good looks, virility, and, of course, my highly above-average endowment, but, for some reason, people just can’t help noticing that I am a prick.
But oddly enough, while Cordelia dislikes me because of my efforts to control her behavior and keep her from eating sand, having my parents here is enough to get her to start liking me again.
When my parents are here, for Cordelia it’s like that Twilight Zone episode where this guy dies and thinks he’s gone to Heaven because everything goes right for him and everyone is nice to him and he never fails at anything but then he realizes that he has actually gone to Hell. (IRONY!!!!!) When my parents are here, Cordelia gets spoiled to a level so obscene that even her goofy three-year old brain realizes that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And after a week, when she’s trying to overcome the ennui by crushing my father’s feet with repeated blows of a hard maple baseball bat, she realizes that she actually needs some boundaries in her life.
Then she comes back to us, desperate for the love and guidance that a parent, even me, can give her. It’s truly a tender moment when your child expresses that you are the one she wants to be with, to protect her and to teach her.
Well tough shit, buttercup. Mommy and I still have two nights of babysitting left, and restaurant reservations have already been made. So go back to crushing my dad’s feet. We’ll be back to breaking your will in three days.
And my parents will happily endure my daughter, because they owe me. I recently got a book of my baby essays published, which gave them parental bragging rights beyond their wildest dreams. So they owe me big time.
And someday Cordelia will be old enough to read what I wrote, and then she’ll have a good reason to hate me.
“Father, I Shall be Avenged”
So here’s what happened. I impregnated my wife. A basically healthy child came out of her.
Now, I am a pessimistic person. My basic assumption was that I would not survive long enough for Cordelia to get to know me. I wasn’t sure precisely what would take me down. Brain tumor, car accident, eaten by wolves. I couldn’t be sure. But I didn’t want to die, so that meant I was going to. So I had to start writing this journal, so Cordelia could learn how wonderful I was and adore me posthumously.
And then I put the journal online, so my relatives could read it and not bug me for updates on her progress, forcing me to waste valuable time talking to them. And then I kept writing the journal entries, and they were funny, and then I tried to sell them as a book and, for some reason, someone bought them, and my book, “The Poo Bomb” was published, and I hope it completely disappears from the face of the Earth before Cordelia becomes old enough to read it, or I will have a serious problem.
I mean, just writing the journal in the first place was stupid enough. Leaving something behind so that Cordelia could read it post-mortem and find out what a great person I was? Yeah, right. The best I could hope for based on this crap is Cordelia asking Mariann exactly why she stayed married to me. (“Well, honey, you have to understand how much paperwork went into getting a divorce back then.”)
But, with my luck, I’m not going to die soon. And that means that someday Cordelia is going to read what I wrote. And we are going to have this conversation:
And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just throw my arms wide and say, “OK, fine. You get three punches. Don’t hit the nuts.”
But this should be avoidable. Once nobody buys the book and it goes out of print, I can destroy all of the copies I own and just pretend that it never existed. And, after I’m dead, Mariann can describe me to Cordelia using a script I am creating. I basically steal the story of Lorenzo’s Oil. It’s a touching story of Cordelia’s rare, supposedly incurable disease and my successful efforts to cure it with nothing but love, persistence, and my resemblance to Nick Nolte. I come off great this time.
In the Child’s Defense
When she isn’t demanding Mariann’s and my constant attention and affection, she can carry on something resembling a conversation, reliably count up to 15 objects, draw a few letters, and put on her pajamas unaided. I say these things to be fair to her. I give all credit for these advances to all of the TV we’ve been showing her.
My Indian Name Is Speaks-With-Children-But-Not-Well
Raising a second child will be easier than raising first in one very important way. I won’t waste time trying to teach it things it is completely unable to learn. I was reading Cordelia books and trying to get her to talk at the age of three months. If she was biologically capable of speaking, she would have said, “Dad, will you chill out already? I’m trying to breathe here! JESUS!”
Being the parent of an infant is awful enough without having extra expectations arbitrarily heaped onto your head. And that is why I have a problem with the movement to teach your kid sign language.
Sure, on the surface, the theory seems reasonable. Children can use their hand muscles much sooner than they can use their mouth muscles, so making up a sign language they can use to tell you they are hungry or tired enables them to learn to communicate earlier. Which gives them a head start on all those brain-dead snot fountains they’ll be competing with in second grade.
But I ain’t buying it. It seems a lot more like a way to enable a parent to burn a lot of precious time deluding him or herself than anything else.
Pre-verbal children have fuzzy brains and no comprehension of even slightly abstract concepts (like “hungry” or “tired”). Parents have fuzzy brains too, and an almost supernatural ability to convince themselves their child is communicating when it’s really just flopping around. My daughter can use actual words and understand some concepts, and we still have countless conversations like this ...
Me: “Cordelia, what’s wrong?”
If my three year old can’t properly communicate what she wants with actual English, I seriously doubt that your two year old is doing any better with some piece of shit made-up language you ginned up.
But sure, you might say. “I taught my one year old sign language, and when he was hungry he could always make a hand gesture.” Lady, one year olds are ALWAYS hungry. You want to know how you can tell he wants to eat? His eyes are open!
American parents. I swear. Fifty thousand years of raising human children, and people were happy if the thing survived with all limbs intact. Now that’s not enough. Now the kid has to learn sign language while listening to Mozart with calculus flash cards jammed into its diaper. No wonder it takes forever to get our kids potty-trained. They’re wetting themselves from stress.
“What ... Is ... That ... Thing?”
My family lives in Seattle. A recent study revealed that Seattle is one of the two cities with far and away the smallest percentage of the population under the age of eighteen (San Francisco is the other).
It’s depressing. I love Seattle, and I don’t like the idea of it becoming one giant, overcaffienated retirement community. But that’s not the main reason this makes me so unhappy. I shall explain.
The other night, Mariann and I took the girl to Fremont, a neighborhood in Seattle. Every city has several areas like this one. Once, Fremont was a funky place, where people with strong personalities but not much money created an area with style and character. And then the rich people saw it and said, “That place is funky. I’m going to pay any amount to live in such a funky, funky place, driving up real estate prices there with my evilness.”
And, faster than you can say “Thai restaurant,” the neighborhood was crushed by insanely expensive condos, occupied by young, up-and-coming assholes.
We took our daughter there the other night, to take refuge in one of the few remaining outposts of coolness. And, as we maneuvered our daughter among the young, snappily dressed yuppies on the sidewalk, I observed a strange thing. They kept giving Cordelia these looks.
Not happy looks, like, “Oh. Cute child. How nice.” And not disapproving looks, like, “How dare you bring that noisy creature into our enclave?” They were looks of incomprehension. Looks that plainly said, “What is that ... thing? It looks like me, but it is much smaller. And faster. Perhaps, if I remain very still, it will not bite me.”
I can deal with people who hate kids. It’s a perfectly rational reaction to them. I just didn’t expect parenting to make me a mutant, one of the eccentric few who put my wang into a place with a receptive egg waiting for it. Having a kid is enough of a pain without making you a WEIRDO.
Or maybe I was misreading them. Maybe the yuppies were looking at her and thinking, “We’re counting on getting our Social Security money from THAT!?!?” I can sympathize with their shock. Either way, they need to go out and start makin’ some babies. Something just isn’t right here.
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