Cordelia, the nineteen month old toddler to which I provide moderate-quality parenting care, continues to learn to think.
For example, the other day, she got the Teletubbies DVD out of the case and into the DVD player all by herself. I had to hit Play for her, but she’ll figure that out soon enough. Once she has that down, she will basically be able to raise herself.
She is figuring out 50% of how everything works. She understands 50% of how keys work, so she likes to try to unlock the car door with a piece of gravel. She understands 50% of what a trash can is for, so she gathers random objects around the house and throws them away. She understands 50% of the concept of socks. When her feet are cold, she grabs a sock, holds it next to her foot, and waits for it to magically come to life and climb on.
She can almost climb down stairs, an achievement which, on the list of things I look forward to, is up there with toilet-training, learning to read, and leaving for college. The sooner she can handle stairs, the sooner we can get rid of our baby gates. I swear, those gates are going to make me break my fucking skull open any day now.
Then My Wife Threw Me To the Wolves
At the beginning of the month, I went to New York for a week to see old friends. It was the very best sort of trip: the baby stayed behind. Mariann looked after her.
After I got back, to make up for my absence, I tried helping out extra around the house, watching the baby more, and so on. Unfortunately, there is only one thing that can pay back for a week of baby-sitting: a week of baby-sitting. So Mariann went away and I got left looking after the baby for a week. For the first time, just me. And her.
The first thing this experience taught me is that Cordelia is a pragmatic little girl. When mommy is around, I am beneath notice. But the moment mommy left, her beloved daughter whimpered for about ten seconds and then instantly transferred all affection to me. The moment mommy was back, I was a giant craplog again.
From an infant psychology perspective, this behavior makes sense. Cordelia has not yet attained what is called “ego differentiation”. In other words, she doesn’t yet know that all those big pink or brown things moving around her are also people, sort of like her. To Cordelia, Mariann and I are basically tools, like a hammer or a wheelbarrow, but operated by shouting.
So I got to spend a week as her favored tool. When she wanted something, she would run up to me, fling her arms around my legs, and look up at me pleadingly. It gave me that head rush of pure, Godlike power that is one of the best reasons to become a parent. It was enough to make up for my stumbling through the week like a tired, dazed and confused, freshly castrated half-man.
And Yet, Sadly, I Lived
The other thing I learned is that being the single parent of a toddler desperately limits your activities. I found out about this when I tried to get some porn.
I know, I know. I could easily have gotten some on the Internet. But I just can’t get my head around that. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy, and I want my adult entertainment the way they got it in the good old days: on DVD.
And yet, renting porn with a baby is impossible. I can’t leave her sitting alone in the video store while I slink into the little, curtained back room, and if I haul her in there with me I’m going to get arrested. Order by mail was out, because some things just can’t wait 4-6 weeks for delivery.
I suppose I could have asked people passing on the street to go in and pick something for me. It would be an interesting way to make friends. However, my tastes in these matters are somewhat unique and particular, and they might be horrifying to the average person on the street.
Eventually, I found a DVD store with a friendly setup. The adult DVDs were in the corner, placed in such a way that I could turn Cordelia to face some cartoons and other things that wouldn’t scar her for life. So far, so good.
But of course, when I took my selection to the counter, the cashier was this nice woman who refused to help me until she’d had a nice quality moment with my daughter. Waving. Giggling. “Oh, she’s so cute.”All that shit. Then she looked at what I was buying, and she gave The Look.
There are times in life when you wish that the Earth would just open up under you, so that you would fall into the molten center of the planet and instantly be ground into a red mist by massive shards of red-hot rock. Alas, this never happens. And I couldn’t even wish for that because, if I did, who would look after Cordelia? Miss DVD saleswoman tight-ass? I think not.
The simple truth is this: nobody in this life needs porn more than Fathers. Porn is the only thing that makes Daddyhood work. Men shouldn’t get ties on Father’s Day, they should get Hustler. When I walked into that DVD store with my kid, I shouldn’t have had to go searching. That saleswoman should have looked at me, instantly appraised my situation, and offered me a little video something “to take the edge off.”
Other Events That Took Place While Parenting Without a Net
I put Cordelia in a stroller on a slight incline. She managed to tip the thing over. The resulting ugly scabs on her cheek kept any of my friends from ever asking me how things were going without my wife.
One afternoon, I found Cordelia carefully gathering up the dust on a shelf and eating it. I tried offering her food, but she wasn’t hungry. She just wanted to eat the dust. Sometimes I think watching toddlers do incomprehensible shit like this is the only pleasure in raising them.
I gave Cordelia a bath for the first time. I wouldn’t have handled pure uranium more awkwardly.
Taking her for a walk every day, I finally found the local park where the hot moms hang out. This is the place where the moms lounge around pleasingly in bikinis while their kids run in circles and eat sand. I’m not sure if they want dads to bring their kids there. If I had any soul left at all, I might give a shit.
I was truly surprised by how exhausting a week looking after a toddler is. It really made me jealous of women, who are genetically gifted with the ability to tirelessly spend countless hours raising small children without complaint. I am not sure how they do it. I imagine the womb secretes some sort of strengthening chemical. I feel that the right to vote is too small a price to pay for their invaluable assistance in this regard.
When I expressed these sentiments to my wife, however, she used her Tae Kwon Do training to do something to my wrist which was actually quite painful. I am not sure why she did this. I believe that her natural womanly modesty made her uncomfortable to be complimented in such a way. From now on, I will be sure to admire her silently, trying to keep at least a yard between me and her at all times.
Our Little Darling’s First Kill
It took some work, but Mariann managed to teach Cordelia to stomp on ants. I saw my little girl’s first attempt. She jabbed her foot at it again and again, delivering dozens of poorly aimed, ineffectual blows. I am sure that no ant was ever so slow in dying. Cordelia didn’t even kill it. She just crushed it and left it for dead, twitching feebly, ant juices slowly running out of its shattered carapace.
I imagine I’ve just pissed off some vegan, PETA sob-sister reading this, mourning the horrible demise of that poor ant. Well, let me tell you something. This family is strictly, totally anti-ant. Ants are the enemy. They are slain without mercy. I would use them for medical experiments. I would test shampoo and mascara on their little antennae if I could. You got a problem with that? You gonna’ bring me down for my anti-ant stance? BRING IT ON, BITCH!!!
This country is trying, in fits and starts, to get an Empire together. Eventually, we’re going to need to harvest huge numbers of our young and send them to hot, sandy places to direct traffic and dodge prepubescents with dynamite strapped to their chests. We need to toughen our kids the fuck up. And, until Cordelia is old enough to eat veal and really appreciate what that means, ants will have to do.
Respecting Toddler Privacy
I am often asked if I think writing this somehow violates Cordelia’s privacy. The answer is no. I don’t say anything about her that is not true for pretty much every child. All children cry, all children squish bugs, and all children SHOULD squish bugs. There are some things she has done that I feel could be considered private, and I have not written about them, even when they were funny.
For example, while I was changing her diaper the other day, she did this thing. Because it is personal and private, I will not describe what she did. But, suffice it to say, it was horrible. No, beyond horrible. It was ghastly enough to bring one’s own view of life into question, to make one question not just one’s desire to become a parent, but one’s desire to continue to exist in a world where that sort of thing could happen.
The next time I changed her, she did it again.
But I won’t say what it is, not only out of respect for Cordelia’s privacy and your sanity, but because I believe that describing certain acts gives them power over me. I will deal with this the same way I dealt with the bulk of my adolescence: by pretending it is not happening.