As my little toddler girl Cordelia has grown older, I have charted her progress by determining the animal she was most similar to. First, it was limpet. Then turtle. Then puppy. Now that she is 18 months old, she has entered a new phase: Roman Emperor.
She now has three ways of interacting with us. First, she approaches and tugs on our clothes. This is a command to be picked up. It is ignored at your peril.
Second, once picked up, she points at things. This is a request to be brought within arm’s reach of the piece of chocolate/crayons/dividing line of the road, accompanied by an “Unnnhhhhaaarrrrr” sound.
Third, when her crazy request is denied, she is filled with rage. She looks around the room, selects an object, walks over to it, carefully picks it up, and furiously flings it away.
This angry display would, if carried out by a larger person, be calculated and terrifying. However, because Cordelia is only two feet tall, it is ADORABLE.
Because of the cuteness of little children, it is easy to forget their mercurial moods and capability for launching into fits of violence with all the energy their tiny frames can muster. I’m not saying Cordelia isn’t adorable. But, at the same time, I know that, if she was a bit bigger and I was a bit smaller, she would gladly pick me up and shake me and shake me just to hear the funny snap snap noises.
Other Animals She Is Similar To
Her nightmarish dining habits, language of grunts and squeals, and total lack of moral sense make her essentially indistinguishable from a goblin. When parents refer to their children as “little monsters”, they are only being scrupulously honest.
Throw the Kids In the Firing Line and See What Happens
This section is not about Cordelia. This is about the environment into which she was born. Nature provides children with adversity, so that they can grow up strong and broken. Every child should have trials in their youth, to be faced and overcome, so that they can grow up to be the best, bravest, middle managers they can be.
For Cordelia, the trial she will face, the fire that will forge her into unbreakable steel, is the Fourth of July with my family.
On the Fourth, the whole family gets together at grandma and grandpa’s house on the beach. We eye each others’ fresh offspring with practiced eyes and eat ribs which have been cooked in some manner. And then, while the grownups relax in the house, all of the children run down to the beach with armloads of fireworks bought at the Indian reservation.
In my family, life proceeds as followed. You are born. You get fed a lot of fluids. You are annually thrown onto a beach with a dozen hyperactive prepubescents, minimal supervision, and an essentially limitless supply of bottle rockets. If you get through your childhood with both eyes intact, you are a member of the family.
(A bottle rocket, by the way, is a self-propelled firecracker. You light it, it flies about fifty feet, and goes bang. They are actually incredibly boring. But children are very innovative when it comes to ways to make them interesting. Horrible ways.)
I watched the festivities for as long as I could stand them, wincing at every near miss, experiment gone awry, and innocent crab who suddenly found itself launched high into the air and exploding. I only saw one small boy almost get hit by stray ordinance That bottle rocket was launched by my wife. She had been deprived of fireworks as a child, and thus was not as experienced with them as the average local seven-year-old. That was the point where I went and hid. She can deal with her conscience in her own time.
In my family’s defense, decades of this practice have not resulted in any injuries of note. Apart from minor sparkler burns and unimportant scorching, the ordeal left our young with nothing but happy memories and respect for things that explode. Oh, and a huge lack of respect for Chinese craftsmanship.
The true peak of our traditional family festivities happens after dark. That is when the piddly little crackers and smoke bombs are put away, the adults pull out their lighters, and the big guns come out. One or two of the men (and a selected handful of lucky children) take the big rockets and spark-flingers down to the beach and set them off, one by one, as everyone else sits back, drinks, and makes ironic “Oooh. Aaah.” noises.
My family has sort of a Puritan, frugal, “When I was a child, we ate straw and loved it, why can’t today’s children eat straw?” sort of background. Thus, listening to them mutter during the show, as they watch the fireworks bought on the Indian Reservation at the last minute in spasms of furious bargaining, is always more entertaining than the actual show:
(Sssss … Whoosh! Pop!)
(Sssss … Whiz! Whiz! Whiz! Bang.)
“That was four dollars.”
(Sssss … Zip! Pow!)
“Ahhhh.” (Sip. Sip. Sip.)
(Sssss … Fizzle.)
“That was three dollars.”
“Hey! It’s the grand finale!”
(Ssss … Whoosh! Bang! Whoosh! Bang! Whoosh! Bang!)
“That was ten dollars.”
The best part is always the duds. Every time the fuse is lit and nothing happens, someone says the price of the failed firework in an offended, hurt voice, as if to say “But … but … but the one-eyed Indian in the wooden shack by the Cash ’n’ Carry gave me his sacred word of honor that this one would be really neat!”
But all this is only to describe the world Cordelia has been born into. She didn’t take part. Her specific Fourth of July experience was screaming a lot.
You don’t give fireworks to a one-year-old. That’s what two-year-olds are for.
What a Smartass
I am a smartass. I do not, for a second, pretend that it is an attractive quality. That is why I present these repellent exchanges only in the name of documentation and full disclosure.
Little Girl’s Mother: Now don’t take that teddy bear. The baby is playing with it.
Little Girl: But she is drooling on it!
Me: That’s OK. Teddy bears are made soft so they can absorb the drool. If they weren’t meant to be drooled on, they would be made out of brick.
Well-meaning Aunt: Cordelia is so big! They grow up so fast.
Me: When they’re someone else’s, they grow up fast. When they’re yours, they grow up slooooooooow.
Efficient Parenting Tips For the Ambivalent Parent
Everyone knows that the parenting game is about one thing: dumping as much child-care time on your spouse as possible. There will be a time when you will enjoy playing with and taking care of an infant. That is when you are a “grandparent”.
That is why, in the sake of efficiency, I advocate changing the child’s diaper as much as possible, especially if it’s really shitty and noxious. This enables you to get the most child-care credit with a minimal time investment.
One minute of chasing fecal particles with a moist towelette counts as much as fifteen minutes playing with the child and reading it books. Fifteen minutes that you could be spending on the Playstation. So, if you’re trying to pull some me-time back out of the temporal black hole your existence has become, you could do worse than to pinch your nose, dive in there, and start wiping.
The Art of Deflecting the Blame
Toddlers injure themselves almost constantly. It is how they teach themselves not to throw themselves head-first into wooden furniture. I’m not sure how animals, with their inferior brains, learn not to do this. I think that this is why they don’t build furniture.
Since the bumps and bruises are inevitable, I have turned my mental focus to a more important issue: making sure the injuries aren’t my fault. If Cordelia bonks her head and cries, well, I guess that’s sad. But if it’s my fault too, then I’m also an asshole. I don’t want that.
Fortunately, my wife and I know how to determine whose fault any accident is. Blame goes to the parent that was closest to the baby when the incident occurs. However, when the baby trips, this has the unfortunate side effect of making us jump away, both trying to be farther away at the moment of impact.
By the way, in case you were wondering, there is a reason why you should never leave the baby alone in the house. Not being able to see the child makes it impossible to assign blame for anything that happens.
The Basic Unit For Measurement of Parenting
The unit for measuring parenting is the “Walk.” The main change parenthood brings into your life is that you take walks. Constantly.
The reason for this is simple. Every parent of a toddler, despite any claims to the contrary wants nothing more than to strap their child down for a while. And, sadly, the only way the child will tolerate this is in the “walk” context.
Fortunately, walks also count as exercise. And, as any doctor will tell you, there is one good reason to exercise: so your partner will continue to want to fuck you.
The Words She Knows
Cordelia is learning words. Here is what we have determined she knows, based on repeated use in similar circumstances, and how she pronounces them:
Cordelia speaks a language only her parents understand. Before, I could never see how it was possible for a child to go “Ga nah babababa rrrrr fwah! Vava aaaaa.” and the parent says “Oh, that means she wants juice. And she thinks your need to be the center of attention betrays profound self-esteem issues.”
Once, I thought that these parents were deluded. Now I know that they just had lots of practice deciphering their child’s ramblings. Lord knows, no other mental stimulation was available.
Now, translating for Cordelia, it is my childfree friends who think I am deluded. Unfortunate. Given the choice between thinking others are idiots and being thought an idiot myself, I prefer the first one.