Our daughter Cordelia is now three years and two months old. Her mental improvement, as measured by the number of TV shows she can ask to see in any given day, is shooting through the roof.
While her body has undergone no changes of note since she became potty trained, she is developing all signs of a mental inner life. She talks to her toys. And her shoes. And her spoon. She pretends to make mistakes when we ask her questions, so that she can say, “Oh! You’re right! I’m sorry!”
Based on my observation of humanity, she will lose her ability to ever admit that someone else can be right in the next few months, and never regain it again during her entire life.
When she isn’t pretending to be a fierce monster or dragon, she likes to be a pirate. This means that she runs around saying, “Arrr! I’m a pirate!” a lot. If it weren’t for her fear of water, it would be an uncanny imitation of these once-feared, foul, murderous rapists of the deep. I do enjoy how the passage of years makes it cute to adorably imitate those who were once justifiably hated and feared for their evil deeds. In a century, will parents say, “Oh, look, husband-unit! She’s being a little Nazi! Goose-step higher, honey!”
It helps that children don’t grasp reality. That is one of my favorite things about them. Until they reach the age of thirteen or so and their brains firm up, their brains are suspended halfway between the real world old people understand and this weird, cloud cuckoo, South Park-esque fantasy space.
Hell, when I was thirteen, I wouldn’t drink tap water for a while because I was afraid it would contain hemlock and I would die. No shit. At summer camp one year, I drank water out of the lake to keep from drinking tap water. I probably still have millions of parasites living in my urethra from that. But it made absolute sense at the time. And I consider myself to be reasonably well-adjusted.
Cordelia, on the other hand, is still three. Her brain is even more pixilated. Why, the other night, she asked us for a piece of cake, and we kept her happy by making her a drawing of a cake. The recovered memory of that won’t be any help to us when she tries to have us jailed under the Offspring Retaliation Act of 2017.
Now that her brain has developed, it is like this lump of clay, waiting to be molded into a person. And even if I had time to do it, I’m not sure I’d trust myself. And even if I did trust myself, I forgot how to do long division, so I can’t teach her. So she has to go to school.
“Ok, Honey. Time To Be Another Brick In the Wall. Put On Your Shoes.”
We have started shopping for a preschool for Cordelia.
Preschool is great. It’s basically day care, in that you give someone money to get the kid out of your house. But the word “Preschool” doesn’t have the sort of child-neglecty feel that “day care” does. It has the word “School” in it, which helps.
But it’s basically the same thing. I take the kid to a building and drop her off. They throw her and a bunch of similarly sized monkeys in a pit and they all throw crap at each other for three hours.
There are organized activities, which teach her to sit still in one spot for ten seconds. There are arts and crafts, which teach her to do something besides destroy. There is a snack time, which introduces her to the unpleasant fact that vegetarians exist. The class raises bunnies, which enables me to outsource the filthy, thankless job of having pets.
Then, after three hours of that, we take her home. She is basically unchanged by this experience, except that she is slightly more used to being around her peer group, and she now has three different colds.
After visiting a few preschools, we finally picked one with afternoon classes and a pretty nice feel to it. The children were very well behaved and mostly clothed and being really nice to each other. So you know what that must mean. The teachers beat them.
A sign on the wall said, “There is no good reason for you to hit a child.” But, you know. Wink, wink.
(Later, Mariann pointed out that I was reading the sign wrong. What they meant was, “There is no good reason for YOU to hit a child.” But them, they’re trained professionals.)
Being A Smartass Makes Everything Worse
I hope nobody working at the school ever reads the above, because they will hate me. And take it out on my child, who will then be forced to live with reduced snacktime rations of juice and sweetened tofu snacks.
It’s gotten better, though. At least now my repellent personality is limited to this online journal. Before, when representatives from the schools called us and listened to our answering message, what they heard was, “Oh, and if you are a telemarketer, we hope that you suffer a permanent, debilitating knee injury.” Which can’t have made them want to be exposed to that much more of me.
Soon, out of a vague sense of respect for my child’s privacy, I will have to stop putting this stuff online. I’ll stop when I genuinely feel that I can cause her harm by my writing. Or when I have enough material for a second book. Whichever comes second.
Health, At Last
For the last two months, Cordelia had this lingering, hacking cough, which only struck at night and which was often intense enough to cause vomiting. This cough finally started to go away this month, although it left her terrified to go to sleep at night.
Thus, whenever we left her to go to sleep at night, she would beg for more and more books to be read to her, as a way of holding off the coming darkness. Then my wife and I would attempt to leave the room, prompting a nightly display that would be heart-wrenching, were I still capable of human emotions.
One night, she went to sleep with a Dr. Seuss book clenched to her chest like a teddy bear. It was heartbreaking. Not enough to keep me from leaving the room to live my own life, but still.
My wife and I are addicted to a computer game called World of Warcraft. Basically, it is this fantasy world on the Internet. There, you create this online persona which runs around, murders orcs and other people who are bad, and steals their money. You can tell that something is bad because it looks different than you. This level of racial sensitivity is not unusual in the computer gaming world.
It is possible to spend many, many hours in these games. God knows we do. They are very popular among parents, as few people need to escape into a fantasy world more than the guardians of small children. That dragon over there may be scary and want to kill my little online person, but at least I won’t have to buy it orthodontic care.
Unfortunately, like every other single thing we do, playing World of Warcraft has backfired. Cordelia loves the game. She begs us to play it so she can watch. She wants to run our little people around. It took her an amazingly small amount of time for her to master the controls enough to, while I was in the bathroom, pick a fight with the city guard in my hometown.
Now she wants to pretend to fight monsters in real life. She will say, “Fight monsters now?” and hand me one of her shoes. This is my weapon. Then we will run around the house and fight imaginary dragons and wild boars. She swings a remote control at empty space and shouts, “Piggy! I kill you!” like an extra in a community theatre production of Lord of the Flies.
Cute story. Mariann and I are lying in bed reading. Cordelia climbs onto the bed, solemnly pronounces, “I am killed.” and flops face first onto the blanket. It was the most adorable thing I have ever seen.
So forget those lame scare tactic TV news stories about the horrors of Internet addiction. This game has brought us all closer together. The only side effect of this is that it has introduced Cordelia to pretend fighting. Which is terrible because, as we all know, small children NEVER pretended to fight before the Internet was invented.
Nerd Original Sin
Cordelia has become enthusiastically, fearlessly friendly and social. Mariann and I watch this with confusion. We have no idea where she got it from. In a public place with lots of kids, she will walk up strangers, even cutesy, cliquish girly girls, and say, “Hi! I’m Cordelia! Let’s play!” And when she gets shunned, which often happens, she just walks up to the next kid down the line and tries again. It makes me kind of sad to see it.
She’s going to get eaten alive in grade school.
At this point, I can say with some confidence that Cordelia is going to be a bright girl. Not necessarily a super genius or the creator of the Cure For Cancer, but she is going to have a brain in her head. And she will probably end up a nerd. The fantasy games and science fiction that have surrounded her pretty much from birth are going to sink in at least a little bit.
And that means Mariann and I know exactly what fate awaits her. The same one we experienced. A childhood of being shunned, of having life made a daily, lonely misery by the countless multitudes of mean, stupid people who hate nothing more than someone unusual.
I agonize about it. I wonder what I’m going to say to her when she comes home crying. I go through all of the useless fucking speeches that my useless adult wisdom will produce to try to make her feel better. I get pissed at myself for giving her a geek name like “Cordelia.”
But it doesn’t matter if we named her Cordelia, or Jennifer, or Peggy Sue, or Hildegarde. It won’t make a difference if we dress her in overalls or pink, frilly dresses or if we send her to school with Barbies hanging from around her neck like talismans. You can’t disguise having a brain. Or perhaps you can, but it means giving it up, which is even worse.
All of my years from six to eighteen were made a misery by mean, stupid people. Same for Mariann. And, most likely, it will be the same for Cordelia. And, even if I could do something about it, I wouldn’t, because anything I could do to make her more palatable to the conformist little monsters that will torment her would hobble her, as surely as if I broke her legs.
I’m happy with my life. The qualities that made me a misfit as a child have given me a pretty good adulthood. But first, I had to be hazed. Cordelia will, too. All I can do is try to teach her not to give a shit what other people think. It totally won’t work, not even a little bit, but it’s what I can do.
Oh, and Mariann will force her to take Tae Kwan Do lessons, so that the more obnoxious playground bullies can get at least a little crap beaten out of them. If we can’t protect Cordelia from what awaits her, we can at least hope that a few pink, frilly dresses get blood splattered onto them along the way.