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The Story About the Toddler, Volume 28.

Our daughter Cordelia is three and a half years old. She is more human all the time. And I mean that, of course, in the bad way. We can have unending conversations that take this form:

"Daddy, give me that."
"No."
"Daddy, give me THAT."
"No."
"Daddy, give me ... that."
"No."

And so on. Indefinitely. Our entire relationship is a battle, in which we try to impose our wills on the other. I am starting to feel that affection for your child not only doesn't help raise it but it may, in fact, be a detriment.

Mariann has the affection for the child. It makes her weak. It creates chinks in her armor, and Cordelia takes advantage. Cordelia will say, "Mommy, can I eat more chocolate? And set the couch on fire?" And my wife will say "No," and Cordelia will cry, and Mariann will get this pained look on her face, as if she is trying to look at the situation from an angle that makes it reasonable for Cordelia to set the couch on fire, and I have to step in and deny Cordelia in an official manner and stoke that hatred that burns ever hotter in her tiny, evil chest.

So to work things out, Mariann is always nice to Cordelia and I am always mean. And we're just killing time until Cordelia goes to preschool and they straighten her out for us.

In other news, Cordelia is becoming more of a regular human child in many ways. She like soy sauce, even licking big pools of it off of her plate. She enjoys trying to stomp on bees with bare feet. She can hop and paint happy faces. She still uses a pacifier, but fuck it. Soon she'll be in school and the other kids will shame her until she stops.

Fourteen and a half years to go.

Explosions. Fourth Attempt.

For the fourth time, We took Cordelia to partake in my family's annual tradition: the Fourth of July barbecue and explosion-fest. Once again, everyone who wasn't in the hospital gathered to consume pork and alcohol, while the unsupervised children ran around on the beach and threw lit firecrackers at each other.

To bring a little handmade love to the proceedings, Mariann brought a Sour Cherry Pie. She made it from scratch. Her brother, skeptical about any dessert with the word "Sour" in the name, asked her what it was like. She replied that Sour Cherry Pie is an "acquired taste." I love it when people say something is an "acquired taste." What this means is, "If you don't like it, the problem is YOU. You just need to eat it more, in the hope that you become BETTER."

Then we drive to my grandmother's house, on Puget Sound. We pass through the Suquamish Indian reservation on the way, and that is where we buy the fireworks. Sure, it's not technically legal to take them off of the reservation, but it's not technically legal for me to find the Olsen twins sexy either, and you can guess how far I got with that.

Fireworks are a very informal cash business, and haggling is expected. I've always had a hard time bargaining with the Indians, what with them being poor and my people wiping out their people and all. But a lot of the fireworks are duds, and they just got a shiny new casino, so fuck them. Now I bargain.

However, I have a very pitiful, passive-aggressive form of bargaining. What I do is say what I want. Then they tell me how much it costs. Then I just stare at them and get really nervous and twitchy. Then, after a long enough awkward silence, they get uncomfortable and give me a small discount to make me go away. And it works out for everyone.

Then we get to grandma's house, and we find out that Cordelia is STILL afraid of fireworks. After three and a half years of life. I mean, seriously. She won't even use those harmless little popping things. You know, those little wads of white paper that make a "pop" noise when you throw them at the ground. Shit, I don't think those things would hurt you if you chewed on them.

But Cordelia won't even touch them. She is running out of time to be considered an actual part of this family.

Then all of the kids (but mine) got lit sparklers. They ran around in tight circles waving their wands of burning magnesium, screaming, and burning each other. The last uninjured child was then rewarded with a piece of sour cherry pie.

Then, when it gets dark and all of the grownups are good and fed and anesthetized, the main fireworks show begins.

This means that cheapo me and all my cheapo relatives bring down to the beach the big, impressive fireworks we brought. Which is always a pretty unimpressive display, especially when compared to what the rich psychopaths down the beach come up with. We watch the show and make little, ironic "Ooooh" sounds, while casting covetous looks at the pyrotechnics of our neighbors.

This year, I made a suggestion. What I wanted to do was put all of our fireworks into a steel barrel, douse them with kerosene, and throw in a few cans of sterno for bonus fun. The entire family stands in a circle around the barrel, all of us about ten feet away. Then we set the whole lot off at once, and we all run around screaming. The last person to flee the barrel in terror is rewarded with a piece of sour cherry pie.

Instead, we set them off in the traditional, tedious way.

Then we went home.

By the way, the sour cherry pie wasn't bad. It helped that it has a half an inch thick layer of sugar cinnamon crumb topping on top. My wife has an idea for a new recipe: Giant Bowl Of Crumb Topping.

Every Parent Gets One Paranoia

It is well-understood that becoming a parent is to invite unending terror into your life. Once you have a child, one of two things will likely happen:

i. Your kid will bury you.
ii. You will bury your kid.

So becoming a parent is to take part in the Great Game. Here are the rules:

If you die before your child, you win.

If your child dies before you, you lose.

In this situation, a valuable survival skill, I have found, is to develop one paranoia. Find one irrational worry about the health of your child, and fixate on it to a ridiculous extent. This will distract you from the countless ways your offspring can be offed without there being a damn thing you can do about it.

For example, once, years ago, I heard a story about a kid who was wearing a chain around his neck, and he slid out of the top bunk of his bunkbed, and the necklace caught on the bedpost, and he hung himself. This story wedged in my brain, like a bit of pork rib between my teeth, and I can't get it out.

Now I don't let Cordelia wear, or even be in the same room with, necklaces. It's completely idiotic. But I feel that every parent is entitled to one paranoia. Every moment I spend hiding her necklaces is a moment not spent thinking about leukemia. Or deciding that she can never get in the car.

Eating Around the Moister Parts

There are several parental bad habits I swore that I would never pick up. In most cases, I failed. I blame myself. But, more importantly, I blame Cordelia.

Before she was born, I swore that I would never graze off of her plate. There is no sight more pitiful and disgusting than that of a parent picking the partially chewed remnants of a child's meal and consuming them.

And yet, I have submitted to this horrible practice. Why? Because sometimes, I just want the food. And, since Cordelia's saliva is already on it, breaking down her food's starches with its enzymes, eating her food instead of mine is a good effort saver. And heck, since Cordelia is my child, that spit is basically half-mine anyway.

Where I am trying to draw the line, however, is grabbing the food off of her plate while she is still trying to eat it. I only rarely do this. Only when I really, really want it.

And Yet, It Could Always Be Worse

The other day, Cordelia was eating grapes with whipped cream. Some cream got on her chin. My wife wiped off that cream with her finger and ate it.

While I was trying to avoid scavenging off of Cordelia's plate, Mariann is perfectly content eating off of our daughter's actual face. Soon, she's going to teach Cordelia to chew with her mouth open. Then my wife and I can just stick our fingers in there and grab any food that still looks useful.

"Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers" - Unknown

The insanely aggravating thing about the whole world of Parenting is that everyone believes things that are stupid, and the new inductees into the cult have to adopt those beliefs. To do otherwise is to be thought an asshole, and nobody wants that.

So here's a history lesson.

Back in the days of darkness, when a woman had just given birth, she got to (had to) spend a few minutes with the baby. And then the nurses whisked it away to a room called a "Nursery." This was basically a baby warehouse, where all of the newborns were stored. The baby was occasionally brought to the mother for feeding and comfort and parental poking, and then taken away again.

Meanwhile, the parents would sit alone in the hospital room, bereft and sad. Without the child around, with all that time on their hands, they could only spend it in foolish pointless pursuits. Like SLEEP.

Every single book I read tells of this past with barely controlled horror, telling of a dark time when bathrooms were segregated, velociraptors roamed the Earth, and parents were given some time to rest and catch their breath after the exhausting ordeal of childbirth before beginning the exhausting ordeal of raising an infant.

But now things are so much better. After Mariann gave birth, the baby was left in our room. In the modern, proper 24/7 style. No nursery option was given. In fact, though we were in a building constructed by our HMO specifically for birthing, there didn't seem to be a nursery at all. (Cynical comments about how much money they must be saving but not building and staffing nurseries will be left out.)

So, in this enlightened world, at the beginning of our daughter's life, when she was at her most delicate, she was being watched over by two people who'd had so little sleep that they were hallucinating additional children. Believe me, there was no sacred bonding between parent and child going on. Though I think, at one point, I began to speak in tongues.

The only reason we got through it was, at one point, the nurses came in and took the child from us. While they propped Cordelia up in the corner of the Nurse's Station (because, as I mentioned, there was no Nursery), we grabbed a few hours of actual sleep. Which is why I was able to keep the car from plowing into an embankment on the drive home.

Am I the only one who is bothered by this state of affairs? They are saving money and trouble by offloading more work onto the parents, and we are supposed to be grateful for it? We're supposed to go, "Oh, thank you for not caring for our newborn, so that I ... I ... zzzzzzz. (Sound of child striking floor after being dropped by unconscious parent.)"

And why are we being told that this for our benefit? Because we are losing time bonding with our precious newborn! Oh, no! We'll lose those precious two or three days! Because the following eighteen YEARS of parenting won't be enough time to bond properly.

And that's as if it's even possible to bond with a 12 hour old child. It doesn't know how to see, its hearing hasn't adjusted to the outside world, its brain hasn't yet developed into something resembling full human, and it's kind of dazed by the birth experience too. Its behavior can be broken down to about a dozen reflex actions. You may be bonding with it, but it sure isn't bonding with you.

But I've learned. If we have another child, I'm going to start correcting old mistakes from the start. Once the child is out and we're completely exhausted, we're going to start outsourcing right away. When it gets dark, we're going to hand the kid to a nurse and get some sleep. And if the nurse won't take it, then a grandparent. And if that doesn't work, a passing homeless person. Whatever it takes to get a few hours of quiet.

We all want to be good, caring parents. And you know what helps with that? Being just maybe a tiny bit rested. Maybe someday there will be a book that takes a break from applauding ourselves for not helping new parents more and mentions that fact.


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