My daughter Cordelia is thirty-four months old, and she has finally decided, after a long period of adorable pleasantness, to empower herself. She has finally realized that, when her mother and I try to influence her behavior in any way, she can actually fight back.
This resistance usually takes the form of massive tantrums in public places, at the rate of two or three an evening, combined with a seizure of kicking and flailing that makes me think she’s going to swallow her tongue.
Meanwhile, any lucky, lucky childfree people in the vicinity give me disapproving little “Why can’t you control your child?” shakes of the head. And young men get this strange look of concentration on their faces, as if they are trying to cause their sperm to disintegrate in their testicles through sheer force of will.
It is depressing. I didn’t want to be the stupid parent with the awful child. I managed to go a long distance without becoming the stupid parent. And yet, here I am now.
It’s not all bad, though. When she has tantrums, she often throws herself at the floor. When this hurts her, the punishment is self-inflicted, so I am in the clear. It’s like her psychosis is self-correcting.
In the development area, things are really picking up. She can open doors now. She can turn the lights on and off. Right now, her fear of climbing out of her crib is the only thing that enables us to control her at all.
This installment is more bleak and whiny than the previous seventy or so. If you have parented a two-year old, I think you’ll understand. If you are lucky enough to have no children and become irritated by my whinging, well, you should take issue with whoever is standing behind you with a baseball bat forcing you to read this shit.
Dealing With the Unfortunate
During the month, my grandfather died. I feel pretty bad about this.
My grandfather and I were on completely different worlds. I was this bespectacled, nerdy, liberal, computer geek, in this family of hunters and fisherman and Eagle scouts and guys who could gut and skin an elk with nothing but a oyster shell and his own bare hands. Or repair a poorly behaving car engine with duct tape. You know. Real things, in reality. Not like what I do.
I don’t think grandpa ever really comprehended the bookworm at the young end of the family. So he tried to be nice to me in every way he could. When he found out that I liked bread machine bread with chocolate chips in it, then, by damn, he was going to make as much of that bread for me as anyone could possibly stand. He never passed up on an opportunity to be kind to me, and I always appreciated it.
So we took the family to his funeral. And the family included Cordelia. This was my daughter’s very first time in a church. It is entirely possible that all of her formal religious instruction will be received at funerals.
I learned a few things about taking children to funerals.
First, don’t make funerals open casket. My grandfather’s funeral, mercifully, wasn’t. I was dreading an hour of Cordelia poking him and telling him to “Wake up!” Open casket funerals are a relic from a past in which we were all much more familiar with death than we are now. I think that loss of this familiarity is one of the best things about living in the modern age, and I am not eager to lose it. With any luck, the first slowly dying person I ever see will be me.
Second, well, just don’t take children to funerals at all. Cordelia started to make noise, disrupting everyone else’s mourning, almost instantly. My wife was kind enough to spend all of the time out in the lobby with her, while I stayed inside. Hopefully, I will not have to return the favor to her at a later funeral.
If you can avoid taking children to funerals, do so. Sure, it is sad to have family members left out. But be realistic. For Cordelia, who is two, my grandfather, as much as I wish it isn’t so, is going to merge into that amorphous cloud of poorly defined ancestors, who hang over her head her entire life without ever really intruding on her consciousness. A few times, I will tell her about her great-grandfather, and she will nod, and, being a child, in five minutes all of it will have fallen out of her head.
Funerals are for the living. The living who can understand, that is. Toddlers, not so much.
Children are for the reception afterwards. That’s when they can be enjoyed. In our case, after the funeral, we went to grandpa’s house, watched the kids yell at each other, and drank a large portion of the considerable amount of booze he had stockpiled in the house. We are absolutely, 100% sure he would have wanted it that way.
The Main Risk Of Family Reunions
Three years of hard work producing a single basically healthy, adorable child to bear the family name is no longer enough. The hints that it is time for me to impregnate my wife are getting less subtle. All of my cousins who came to the funeral, laden with babies, ratcheted up the pressure.
My wife and I are getting a lot less of the relatively subtle, “Oh, it’s so nice when siblings are born close together. Then they can be friends,” or, “Cordelia is getting to the age where she can keep a new baby amused. Isn’t that nice?”
Now, we’re getting, “Did you hear that? That rattling noise? It sounds like your wife’s eggs are drying up.” Or, “So. Why aren’t you having another kid yet?” Or, “Hmm. You’re still here. Shouldn’t you two be off fucking?”
Despite being older than all of them, I am behind most of my cousins in the breeding race. They’re all working on seconds and thirds, and I’m still getting a grip on the first. It has always been thus. At the same time those guys were sailing through high school up to their necks in hot and cold running trim, I was only just starting to realize that some of the girls on Doctor Who were giving me a funny feeling “down there.”
In my defense, they all grew up in a small farming town. Most of the available entertainment there was genitalia-related. This was before satellite dishes.
I suppose all the nagging is having an effect. Mariann and I have started to discuss when to try for a matched pair. When she has her black belt, and when I’ve had at least a few days knowing what it’s like to have a child (as opposed to a baby). Or we may just start using condoms, see if a spermatozoa gets lucky, and let God decide.
So When Can I Start Punishing Her?
It has become impossible to take Cordelia out with us to dinner. We have lost one of the few things enabling us to make contact with the outside world, with its people and its excitement and its sunlight.
I took Cordelia out for barbeque last night. On the scale of eateries, from formal to non-formal, BBQ joints are pretty much as casual as you can get. However, Cordelia has figured out that, once she is bored and ready to go home, all she has to do is start shouting. Or, better, jumping away from the table, running to the center of the restaurant, flopping down on the floor, and then shouting.
Then I have to pick up my stuff, wrestle her off the floor, sling her over my shoulder, and do a perp walk out of the restaurant, fully aware that even the people who are completely ignoring me must, in some remote corner of their subconscious, be thinking what an idiotic, terrible parent I am.
So, you might think, why don’t I punish her? Why can’t I control my child? Well, she’s two. It’s hard to punish someone who ’s two. Her brain isn’t quite capable of grasping the subtleties of a time-out. I can’t take anything she likes away to punish her, because she doesn’t really like anything but lying down and screaming. And I can’t hit her, for three reasons:
i. Beating on a two year old is really kind of mean.
ii. If my main goal is getting the people in the BBQ place to not think I’m a terrible parent, beating on a two year old is probably not the best route.
iii. I’m trying to get her to quiet down. You can’t hit someone quiet. Well, OK. You can hit someone quiet, but that’s taking things way too far.
You might also be thinking, “Well, why don’t you reason with the child? Explain to her what she is doing wrong, in a calm, ration voice.” If this is what you’re thinking, I would love to visit your planet. I bet it’s lovely there.
So the only solution: become a shut-in. Give up. Wait until her psyche develops enough that I can shame, coerce, and extort her into behaving in a way that doesn’t embarrass me.
And, in the meantime, I’m taking her to spend lots of time playing with this other two year old we know. One who is in a real hitting phase, and goes after Cordelia all the time. The way I figure out, it is immoral for me to hit Cordelia, but nothing is preventing me from outsourcing the job to another toddler.
Interlude With a Genius
Brief anecdote. I’m sitting on the train in New York last year, alone. To pass the time, I’m listening to this undergrad in the row behind me talk on her cell phone. She is describing her weekend, including this funny story about how at one point she realized she wasn’t having sex with the person she thought she was having sex with. For me, the minutes were flying by.
During this, two kids, around four to six, run past us down the aisle. Not screaming, not breaking things, just running. A few minutes later, they run back the other way. Not screaming. Just running.
The future hope of America behind me lets out a sigh to communicate how put-upon she was, and said, “I hate people who can’t control their kids.”
Now, I suppose I should be grateful that she was able to take time out from her steady diet of cock to share her wisdom. But I am curious what sort of “control” she thought should be exercised. I wouldn’t give it much thought, except that she is far from the first person I’ve heard to express such a sentiment.
Kids are kids. They are very enthusiastic, very energetic creatures. This is, believe it or not, one of their selling points. To make a child perfectly docile, perfectly obedient, would require a bloodcurdling regimen of punishment and terror. What sort of “control” do people want? Duct tape? Never leaving the house? Jab the kid with a stick when it speaks above a whisper? What?
If a kid is being rowdy in a nice restaurant or concert or the opera, you get to be all huffy and full of yourself. Anywhere else, and I think you should just get a grip.
More Parental Pissing and Moaning
Sometimes, I get so tired. Every few nights, Cordelia gets me so exhausted that not only do I not want another child, and not be sure whether I’m glad I had a first child, but I’m not entirely sure whether I’m happy that I was born. It’s pitiful that such a small, helpless creature could reduce me to being a whiny bitch whose chest hurts from the effort of breathing, but here we are.
Maybe I need to eat more fiber.
Anyway, the other night, I was in one of my states. I get them sometimes, where I’m so exhausted that it tires me out just stretching out my chest muscles to expand my lungs. So, as we always do in the middle of such a crisis, Mariann and I grabbed the baby and went to REI. (REI is a store that sells high-quality clothes to yuppies and high-quality mountain climbing gear to suicidal maniacs.)
Mariann went to shop for a shirt. I took Cordelia to the playground area and let her run around. I sat there, pitiful and slumped over, and watched her to make sure she didn’t revert to a completely feral form.
After a half hour of that, I roused myself from my daze and looked up. And I saw something that heartened my spirit. There were two other dads there, sitting with the same boneless slouch and dead eyes as me. It was like being in an AA meeting for reluctant parents of toddlers. Though I didn’t talk to them, of course, because that would be making an effort.
But one of those poor bastards had it far worse than me. I only have one kid. That slack-jawed victim, sitting on the bench next to me, had … well, I’m not sure. They move so fast. I counted at least six.
As far as I could tell, the unfortunate guy had no actual, independent consciousness left. His brain contained nothing but a parenting artificial intelligence. He responded to stimulus from his children with a robotic monotone. “I’m watching you. That was very good. … Don’t do that. … Give that back … I’m watching you. Don’t do that.” He was no longer fully human. It was so unfair. It was a completely excessive punishment for a crime as benign as nailing his lady wife to the mattress, night after night after night.
It was so sad. It made me wish there were something I could do to help him. Some way I could use my last remaining reserves of strength to free him somehow. And then, as luck would have it, the mother took all the kids away for something, leaving me alone with him. And this is the great thing about REI … there is always a pickaxe nearby.
It’s heartening. You know, in this cold, cynical world, it’s so hard to find a way to help someone out, even if he didn’t realize that it’s what he wanted. And, if he was still capable of walking or forming words longer than one syllable, I think he’d thank me.