Our daughter Cordelia is 32 months old. I’ve gotten through almost two and three quarter years of doing whatever it is I’ve been doing.
Writing a monthly journal is a useful focusing exercise. It forces me to look down and squint and analyze the child, trying to see how it has changed. If I didn’t do that, life would devolve into a featureless expanse of trivial crises, housecleaning, playground visits, and bitterly reading the new movie listings. I’d float along, oblivious to the fact that things are actually happening.
It is easy to notice when babies change and develop. The changes are huge, and they happen quickly. Toddlers are different. They change much more gradually, and over a much longer period of time. It is only when something unusual and drastic happens that you blink, look at this little creature who is looking at you, actually looking back at you, and go, “Holy shit! I’m making progress.”
Cordelia will now often request to be taken to the toilet. Generally only for urination, though. She seems to crave the feeling of comfort and security that only comes from hauling around a pile of lukewarm crap in one’s pants. She will flip through books on her own. She can use more abstract words, like “you” and “want”;. She can draw a triangle and reliably count up to 6 objects. She likes to pretend to cook and eat her little Lego people.She also likes licking things. She will run up and lick my pantleg, or the wall, or my wife’s back. When she does something well, I will reward her by letting her lick my wrist. Which, if you look at it in a certain way, is a little weird.
She also licks the bedpost. Now, as I understand it, when the human body lacks a certain vitamin or nutrient, it will develop cravings for foods containing that nutrient. So Cordelia is probably short of some mineral that is found on our bed. Maybe the question is not, “Why is that kid licking the bed?” but, “Why am I not?”
The house was infested with Cordelia’s grandparents again this month.
First, my parents came over and plopped their RV on our driveway for several weeks. Though it wasn’t just a friendly visit. Funny story.
My mom got breast cancer earlier this year. Long story short … It seems to be better. What this dreadful illness did mean, though, is that instead of my parents slowly traveling around North America like they were planning, they hung out here and got Mom chemo and radiation therapy. Which meant they got much more time around Cordelia. Truly, there is nothing they will not do for more time around my child.
But then my mom got a hernia in her spine. Which meant surgery. So they were in the front yard again. And I think it is an excellent summary of the year my mom has been having that, when she found that the reason for the horrible crippling pain she was experiencing was a herniated disc, that was the GOOD news.
Fortunately, she got lots of baby therapy. She lay helpless on her back, and Cordelia bounced on the bed near her. The rest of us stood nearby while this was happening, ready to leap forward and keep the toddler from jumping on my mom and snapping her spine like the stem of a crystal wineglass.
And then my wife Mariann’s mother, Ilona, arrived for a pre-scheduled visit. She was eager to take lots of care of Cordelia and dispense an endless stream of randomly generated parenting advice. Ilona worked as a nanny for a long time, is an immigrant from Hungary, and has a lot of energy. The combination of these factors creates a situation of delightful unpredictability.
Fortunately, we could play the grandmothers off against each other. Since my mother was bed-ridden and immobile, she was a perfect sounding board for Ilona’s opinions. Meanwhile, Cordelia ran around, ate whipped cream out of the aerosol can, and became insanely spoiled. Literally insanely.
So with all these parents around (who struggled to raise us properly and who the Bible allegedly says we should honor) and one of them horribly ill, Mariann and I did the only sensible thing. We fled the country. Hey, bad spine or not, babysitting is babysitting.
We went up to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It’s a great city. It’s so wildly hip and decadent that drug dealers even try to sell drugs to me. When we got back, everyone was still alive. If our parents felt betrayed by our two days’ absence, I couldn’t see it in their eyes. I had learned by that point to avoid making eye contact.
Then Mom got surgery on her spine to correct the herniated disc. The operation took less than an hour, and she was out of the hospital, up, and walking by the end of the day. That seems like cheating somehow. If you are going to get surgery on your spine, the least you should do is go through years of painful convalescence and physical therapy. But my mom was energized, I think, by the need to resume the battle with Ilona for time with my daughter.
And then my mom got better, and my parents left. And Ilona left. And, once again, we were left with a toddler who would never go to bed and would only eat whipped cream.
Oh, and I stole some of the morphine mom was taking for her back pain. Cordelia is a bother, but a little bit of Daddy’s Little Helper turns her angry demands into a soft, gentle sound that fades happily into the background.
Total Empathy Failure In Sector Seven!
Cordelia, like all toddlers (and children in general), doesn’t quite get Reality. Her behavior is, by grown-up standards, insane, and only my ability to instantly physically overpower her and compel her to do what I want makes her an acceptable living partner.
Latest development in the insanity area. When Mariann or I leave the house (to shop, or work out, or taste freedom), she goes mad with fear. She even does this when I leave, which is very heartening because it is actual tangible evidence that she loves me. Granted, that love is displayed in the form of a screaming tantrum. But after almost three years of crushing indifference, her despair over my absence feels pretty sweet.
It’s her freaking out when Mariann leaves that bugs me. I mean, come on. Past experience has given Cordelia every reason to believe that when her mother leaves, she will come back alive. So why all the drama? And why must it be inflicted on me?
I haven’t yet developed the ability to force myself to care when Cordelia is upset for a reason I feel is dumb. If she falls and bonks her head, I can pat her back and hug her and do the whole “Awwwww.” routine real well. But when she’s just being crazy? Even her most piercing cries of anguish fail to pierce my withered, lizardlike soul. Don’t get me wrong. I still try to comfort her. I hug her and say reassuring things in a performance that she must find highly unconvincing. But while this is going on, I’m thinking that she’s a dope.
Fortunately, I am not totally cold and emotionless. When Cordelia freaks out because it’s me that’s leaving, it does give me a pretty warm feeling.
Another Step In the Learning Process
For several weeks, Cordelia was waking up screaming multiple times a night, keeping my wife from getting a good night’s sleep and leaving her bitchy and embittered. Sometimes I took point on the baby comfort sessions, and I found Cordelia sitting up in her crib in the darkness, looking miserable, muttering “Bottle milk? Bottle milk?”
We haven’t been leaving bottles of milk in her crib. The books say you shouldn’t do this. Of course. Parenting book authors are only happy when they’re playing children and parents against each other and maximizing the misery of both.
But we’ve switched to giving Cordelia more milk when she goes to bed, and now she sleeps soundly through the night. So I have learned something new about parenting. Tactically, giving your child something to drink when she is thirsty and something to eat when she is hungry is pretty strong.
And while it means that Mariann has to clean up a lot more leaked urine, I feel that cleaning up urine is a valuable way to build character and resourcefulness, especially when done by other people.
The Pride Of Parenthood
Parenthood has been a very trying and time-consuming experience, and I have been trying to figure out what I am most proud of about my actions so far.
I have realized that the thing I am most proud of is that, as of this writing, I weigh about the same as I did when my daughter was born.
Parenthood has a strange effect on its victims. It’s as if it creates a gravity vortex in your mouth that sucks in doughnuts. It’s like the Freshman Fifteen, the 15 pounds kids pack on the first year of college. It’s the Fathering Forty. It’s a good thing I didn’t get anyone pregnant my first year of college, or I’d be an orb.
I’ve been trying to figure out why parenting makes people get all chubbed out. Sure, I could say that people eat more when under stress, and the need to spend all one’s time parenting prevents a solid exercise regimen, but I think that this explanation is a bit too glib and obvious. Nothing so clearly true can be true. If we have learned anything from Science, it is that.
No, to find out the reason for this weight gain, we must look instead at the reason people exercise in the first place. We exercise so that other people will continue to want to fuck us. When I reach for my lady wife late at night, I do not want her to shrink away because she is scared of becoming lost in one of my folds.
But when you have a child, your marriage becomes secure. Sharing the experience of parenthood cements an unbreakable love-bond, and nothing can split you apart. That means that you are able to let pretty much everything slide.
Mariann has to keep having sex with me, because she is stuck with me for life. Which does make me wonder why I spend all this time exercising like a sucker. I sense that, at any moment, I am going to relax, open my mouth, and let the doughnuts slowly float in.