Our daughter Cordelia just passed through the last month of her third year of life. She spent a lot of that time having all-night coughing fits. Every night. I have started to believe that she has intentionally willed her immune system to stop working. And the reason she has done this, (and bear in mind that this is just a guess, and I give it only a ninety percent chance of being correct), is that she is trying to murder us.
Cordelia is a vivacious, energetic, extremely cute almost-three year old. Or, as close to that as she can be given that she is trying to murder us. She is spending much more time doing child things, like riding a tricycle, kicking a ball, and making little buildings out of blocks (which she then destroys, while making Godzilla noises). It is only at night, a time when many mammals traditionally try to sleep, that her homicidal tendencies emerge.
She also likes to climb into the washing machine.
She has become very talkative. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, even the odd gerund, they are not strangers to her. Pronouns, however, are still a mystery. She uses the words “me” and “you” interchangeably, and it is very difficult to correct this without instantly devolving into a “Who’s On First” routine. (“Give you ice cream, please!” “No, honey, say, ‘give me ice cream’.” Cordelia nods. “Give you ice cream!” Repeat for five hours.)
But, apart from Christmas, the most noteworthy feature of this December was her cold. Oh, God. Her cold.
“No! Don’t Hug Me! … Arrgh! My Nice Shirt!”
Though her actual cold has been gone for over a month, Cordelia persisted in having a bad cough, which only tormented her at night when she was supposed to be sleeping. So severe was this cough that she frequently vomited. Sometimes, for several nights in a row. Usually in the middle of the night.
When the vomit appeared, my wife and I had our division of labor. She comforted the child. I took all of the garments and bathroom rugs that had been sprayed with spew and put them in the washing machine. Before they could be washed, however, I had to pick all of the chunky bits of food off first. I have become a master in the art of selecting foods that are easier to get off of a throw rug after a tour through a two year-old’s digestive system.
(Not that you asked, but Swedish meatballs make things the easiest for all concerned. These are the sort of things I’d rather not have to think about at 3 AM, but here we are.)
The main thing Cordelia learned from all of this was how to barf like a grown-up. In the beginning, when she was about to vomit, it would upset her, and she would wrap her arms around one of us for a big, reassuring hug. Then she would soil us point-blank. I can’t wait to give her an allowance so I can take it back to pay us for those shirts.
Eventually, however, she was vomiting like an old pro. Standing with her hands on the toilet seat, bent over at the waist. As if she had taken a night school class in barfing, or had been an alcoholic for years and years. Watching her there, refraining from assaulting me with curdled milk and underchewed beans, I felt so proud.
However, during one of her late-night coughing fits, she started making a weird, gasping noise. Sort of like a “Whoop.” And my wife and I were, like, “Here we go.”
Let Me Hear a “Whoop! Whoop!”
Because Cordelia was showing the symptoms, we took her to the doctor, who ordered a test for whooping cough. Before you ask, of course, she had been vaccinated against whooping cough. What sort of granola-head douchebags do you take us for?
But whooping cough is a genuinely clever and insidious little bug. The protection from vaccination fades relatively quickly. Also, during its time of great contagiousness, it is indistinguishable from a minor cold. It only becomes awful after that. And to top it off, the test to determine if Cordelia had whooping cough took a whole two whole weeks to give a definitive answer. All in all, it is a bug designed to be a great pain in the ass for our species.
The test came back negative, of course, but those two weeks of undetermined infection status gave us a chance to never leave the house. During that time, Cordelia stopped coughing so much, and her food decided to remain in the warm, acidic embrace of her stomach.
We were pleased to be back up to sleeping our normal, respectable seven hours a night. And Cordelia was able to build up her strength to open all the useless crap our relatives bought her for Christmas.
Working Up Some Happy Memories Under a Tree Corpse
For the third time since she was born, Cordelia experienced Christmas. This is a gift-giving occasion that, as I understand it, also has some religious significance.
Over the years, I’ve sort of lost my enchantment with Christmas. It means I have to go out and buy a dead tree and hang stuff on it, which is a pain in the ass. I get given, as gifts, items I didn’t want enough to buy on my own. There is the constant risk that someone will go and get all Jesusy at me. And, on top of that, I am aware that I could be having a marvelous time, if I just wasn’t so stupid.
But this year, for the first time, Cordelia really GETS Christmas. She sees that now we have a tree growing in the house, and that is cool. She got so many presents she had to unwrap them in three shifts, and while most of them were stupid or lame (Cordelia isn’t old enough to get offended at receiving socks as a gift, so I am annoyed on her behalf), she still likes tearing the wrapping paper.
She hung up ornaments. She sang the songs. She wanted to go to the mall and buy things. She ate holiday beef. She really understands the season in the best spirit it can be understood. And it was made all the better by the fact that there were very few family members around to spoil it.
And while the memories of Cordelia yakking up on us every night are still too fresh in my head for me to be able to say that parenthood is worth it, the ability to vicariously enjoy Christmas again through Cordelia was a definite plus. At any rate, I am no longer bitterly regretting each of those days in my young adulthood when I could have gotten a vasectomy and didn’t.
A Holiday Letter. Please Feel Free To Send It To Your Relatives, Too.
Dear Relative/Friend/Well Meaning Ne’er-Do-Well/Clueless Stranger,
As this season of cheer and good tidings draws to a close, I want to thank you for the generous spirit that caused you to give a gift to our child. Please rest assured that she greatly enjoyed rending the wrapping paper that surrounded it into 97 tiny, hard-to-gather pieces.
As much as I hate seeming ungrateful in the face of your generosity, I would ask a small favor from you. Please bear in mind that, in future Christmas seasons, my wife and I would prefer that you did not buy our child a present with any of the following elements:
i. A pin.
ii. Anything that can be used as a drum. Like, say, a drum.
iii. A cucumber that wants to teach her about Jesus.
iv. A pin. Serious. Especially a pin meant to attach something to her clothes, an action that, to a two year old, is easily confused with an attempt to jab an inch of steel into her lung.
v. Any gift whose minimum recommended age is 4 or more years more than the child’s age. Though storing that piece of molded plastic in our insufficiently large home for those years will cause to think of you many, many times.
vi. Anything bought in a second-hand store. Or, at least, before you give it to us, first wipe off the grimy fingerprints of the heroin addict who stole it out of our neighbor’s house.
In closing, we hope that this letter finds you well, and we hope that you will forgive our ingratitude in the face of your act of generosity, which must have been dreamed up in some bizarre, mushroom-fueled, hallucinogenic haze.
P.S. OH, MY FUCKING GOD! WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING!
Cordelia watches a lot of the TV show Futurama on DVD. In that humorous and recommended animated series, Santa Claus is actually a gigantic, murderous robot. Cordelia is bright enough, sadly, to realize that that is not the real Santa Claus, who is a generally benevolent figure. Which led to this conversation.
Child: “Where is Santa Claus?”
Me: “Oh, honey, he’s up in his Death Fortress on Neptune.”
Wife: “Please stop trying to turn her into a freak before she even goes to school.”
I Do Not Like That Sam-I-Am
Green Eggs and Ham is starting to piss me off. If I don’t want to eat green eggs and ham, I feel that this is my perfectly reasonable lifestyle choice. I think Sam-I-Am is a vicious, nosy little fascist. And, if you think about it, possibly Anti-Semitic.
It is also responsible for teaching generations of future frat boys that No means Yes.
And that is completely putting aside the fact that non-green food turning green is Nature’s way of saying, “Don’t eat this.”