The Story About the Toddler, Volume 15.

Our daughter Cordelia is 28 months old now, and I’m pretty much done. As I understand it, I still have 15 years and change to go before I can let her crawl into the underbrush and fend for herself. But I’m not sure I can make it. I’m getting really sleepy.

(My wife is similarly exhausted. She, unlike me, has the right to be. But she’s still perky. I think those mommy hormones are still messing with her perception of reality.)

All this is a shame, because Cordelia is just starting to get to that age where she can surprise us. She’ll start putting words together in unexpected formations of her own creation, doing things we never showed her how to do, and showing signs of actual creative thought.

That the appearance of signs of the most basic, simple levels of humanity is surprising and noteworthy says a lot about how dull children are for the first few years of life. I greet her graduating to childhood with great enthusiasm, because this parenthood thing is starting to wear me down to a nub. I’m still managing to be an adequate daddy, but only because I know, on some level, that jumping up and down and shouting, “Oh, just do something on your own for ten minutes!” is not quality parenting.

But she is making progress. She likes pretending to be a dragon. She paces around the house throwing her arms wide and shouting “Grrrrr!” Between that and this shirt we got her at a science fiction convention, I think we’ve laid solid groundwork for her first dozen playground ass-kickings. If my wife weren’t determined to take her to Tae Kwon Do lessons so that she can feed her tormentors a little bit of hate, we’d be the worst parents ever.

She doesn’t watch Teletubbies anymore. She is addicted to Barney instead. I am beyond caring.

Her final teeth, the big clumsy molars in the back, are slowly, painfully ripping their way into the world. Cordelia loves Baby Tylenol, and sucks it out of the dropper before I can squeeze it into her mouth. Good girl.

She jumps and runs and spins and climbs and goes down slides. She loves Thai and Indian food. And she’s happy. Constantly cheery and perky and excited, like I imagine I had the capability to be several decades ago, before I learned how to spell i-r-o-n-y and everything started going downhill. Since I have a healthy, happy child, I really shouldn’t complain about anything. So I’ll stop.

Instead, I’ll focus on the work ahead, like teaching her to piss in the toilet, instead of on my nice, white walls.

Never Wanted To Spend This Much Time Watching Someone Pee

There are different points of view about when a child should be potty trained. Some stern, upstanding, Christian sources believe that a child should be able to use the toilet on its own as soon as possible, preferably by its first birthday, because if you haven’t done it by then you are weak and a hippie and your child will grow up to be decadent and chinless.

Other, more relaxed parenting books point out that children will eventually sort of learn to use the toilet on their own. After their first few dates, at the very latest. So forcing them to conform to ageist standards of not soiling oneself is inhumane and you’re harshing your kid’s buzz. Man.

I am currently of the view that since all the local pre-pre-preschools require our daughter to be diaper-free before they’ll take her away and give us brief periods of peace, now is the time to cork Cordelia’s little fountain.

Unfortunately, I was an only child, and I never had any pet that needed to be house-trained. (All of my pets were of the easily flushable variety.) My entire knowledge of how to toilet train something is the phrase “Rub its nose in it,” which didn’t seem helpful. Fortunately, my wife Mariann took charge and outlined the necessary steps.

First, we bought Cordelia books on how to use the potty. Every parent is expected to buy at least one of these gruesome horrorshows, which consists of adorable drawings of smiling moppets grunting away on the toilet in return for unconditional love. If I’d seen one of these books three years ago, I would have given myself a vasectomy with a ballpoint pen right there on the spot.

Second, we started putting her on the toilet several times a day. We got this special seat you can put on top of the regular toilet seat to keep the baby from falling in. If babies fall in the toilet and get flushed, they breed in the sewers.

Then, when she is on the toilet, Mariann and I stare at her and helpfully say, “Pee? Poo? How about Pee?” If Cordelia urinates, she gets one chocolate chip. If she craps, she gets three. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t go out of my way to do anything unless I’m paid for it.

Also, sometimes, Cordelia only farts. When this happens, she smiles and brightly says, “Farrrrrrt! Chocolate?” This is the cutest thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.

Of course, none of these steps have succeeded is getting her to go to the bathroom on her own instead of soiling herself. But I’m sure, with 3 more years of hard work, we’ll make some progress.

Being Bored Silly In a New, More Colorful Place

I took Cordelia to Gymboree the other day.

Gymboree is sort of like day care, but the grown-ups can’t leave. It’s this well-padded, seething baby pit, where twitchy, yuppie parents pay a moderate fee to have their spawn entertained by supernaturally perky and sincere young men and women. It is not hugely expensive, as it’s not actual day care. You are expected to stay there and be involved, as the children gather around your feet like swarming vermin.

The first thing you learn upon encounter with the smiling, glassy-eyed employees is that Gymboree is not a good place to use phrases like “swarming vermin.”

The activities there take place in scheduled one-hour blocks. There is one hour for 2 year old, one hour for 4-5 year olds, and so on. There is, I swear to God, a class for 0-6 month olds. They told me that the purpose of that class was “sensory input.” I picture it as looking a lot like a mushroom farm.

The class began with a young, female Gymborette (or whatever the hell they’re called) marching out, banging on a tambourine and singing some special Gymboree song. Some toddlers gamely gathered around. Some ran in fear. The hour was then spent with a series of organized activities, involving songs and blowing bubbles and putting beanbags into a box. The toddlers, much to their credit, ignored these games as much as possible.

I spent the hour avoiding eye contact with anyone and pacing after my daughter. My goal was simply to avoid, through action or inaction, causing any injuries. Cordelia spent the hour following around the other kids and picking up messes they left behind. I swear to God. I’m afraid that my daughter is going to grow up to be one of those people who marks each of the day’s events by washing her hands 15 times.

And then we left. If you are a parent, and you can, you should go to Gymboree. It makes stumbling around behind your psycho two year old less painful for an hour, and people are friendly and will smile at you, though somehow I sensed that something horribly creepy was going on. I bet if I went there and slipped someone fifty bucks, they would let me take a free kid from a lost and found bin in the back room. I am sure of it.

Cordelia Among the Dead

The days are longer and the sun is out, so I am constantly taking Cordelia out for walks. A walk is a simple exchange where I give her an hour of physical exertion in return for an hour of blissful silence. Lately, since I’m sick of all the other possible routes, I’ve been taking Cordelia to a quiet, run-down cemetery not far from our house.

Cordelia loves the cemetery. She can run freely, and jump off the headstones, and scrape bird crap off of the tombs with a stick. I suppose letting her play on top of dead people might be seen by some to be disrespectful. But, in the highly unlikely event that there is life after death, and if the restless souls of the undead are silently haunting that graveyard, letting them spend some of their eternal vigil staring at someone as relentlessly cute as my daughter can only do them good.

Tonight, however, I had a problem. Some still-alive mourning person had left a balloon at one of the graves. (Who leaves a balloon at a grave?) Cordelia really, really wanted it. She went mad with greed. This left me with a moral quandary. On one hand, stealing from the dead is, I suppose, sort of, if you look at it a certain way, wrong. On the other hand, Cordelia would get a lot more use out of the balloon than the dead woman would.

It was a Mother’s Day Balloon for an 80 year old dead woman. How many 80 year old women do you know who like to play with balloons? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Wouldn’t I be doing her a favor by restoring her dignity and letting my daughter have the balloon instead?

Anyway, I made Cordelia leave the balloon behind. I suppose that it’s a good idea to teach her not to just grab every single thing she wants. But I feel I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s the new big trend to put the dead person’s picture in his or her headstone. It’s morbid and depressing, especially with dead kids. I prefer my graveyards to be pleasant, relaxing places, that I can go to to unwind without being troubled with unpleasant thoughts. I have decided that, when I die, my headstone will be placid, inspiring, and dignified, without spoiling anyone’s day. It will say, simply, “Here Lies Jeff Vogel. Inventor Of the Robot.”

The Parental Loser Radius

I take Cordelia to the playground a lot. I hope that encouraging her to run around a lot all the time will reduce the chance that she’ll end up a gigantic fatass like her father. Also, when she’s playing, it gives me a chance to sit quietly off to the side and read the newspaper. I don’t watch her every single second while she plays. I figure, if something goes wrong, she’ll get out at least one good scream before it’s too late.

(Also, I have to preserve my own safety. If I don’t, how will I be able to have a second child to send out to avenge the first one?)

Anyway, at playgrounds, I let my child run free for a little while. Which distinguishes me from most of the other toddler parents I see out there. They constantly lurk one arm’s length from their little treasures, hovering like starving vultures, reach to lurch forward at the slightest sign of a misstep. I mean, Christ, get a grip people. If there’s a fence between the kid and traffic and the ground is covered with wood shavings, give him some goddamn space.

That is why I, in a moment of extreme mathematicalness, invented the PLR, or Parental Loser Radius. This is defined as the maximum distance you let your kid get from you, in yards (or meters, if you suck), divided by the kid’s age. So if your kid is 2, and you never let it get more than three feet from you, your PLR is 1/2

Why is this important? Because, if your PLR ever falls below two, you are being a freak, and your child resents you.

If you have a one-year old and your PLR is 2, that means that you never let the child get more than 6 feet from you. This is reasonable. After all, at that age, a bird of prey might swoop down and carry the kid off, leaving you with nothing to show for your parenting experience but a funny story. But if you never let your child get six feet from you, you really need to get a grip.

If you have a two-year old and your PLR is 2, you never let the kid get more than 12 feet away. This is still worryingly wussy behavior, but at least you’re far away enough for the kid to fall down a few times. Better the kid learns to take a fall at the playground then on the concrete stairs in the basement.

If you have a three-year old and your PLR is 2, you let the kid get 18 feet away. This means that your son will have the time to land 2 or 3 good punches on any little shit who tries to take his toy away before you can get there to stop him. This delay provides you with “plausible deniability” when the sob-sister parent of the punchee gets all pissy with you.

If you have a four-year old and you’re still hovering near your kid at the playground, you need to work out your issues in therapy. Anyway, shouldn’t you be concentrating on having another kid by now? In sum, I feel that the PLR is a fascinating and useful concept, in that it allows me to belittle your behavior while enabling me to feel superior. And, in the end, isn’t that what mathematics is for?