The Story About the Toddler, Volume 32.

Our daughter Cordelia is four now, and I’m just about through with writing about her.

She just had her birthday party. It was a regular kid party, with her friends and cake and the parents of her friends sitting around and making awkward conversation. No fights. Nobody secretly boning anyone in the back room. Just suburban normality. Jesus. Who cares?

Cordelia does regular, boring kids things. Playing with water in the sink while making up a song about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Counting the dots on dominos. Watching insanely irritating kiddie shows on PBS, any one of which is the Gayest Thing in the Gayodrome. Asking us for cute, cuddly pets (as if my pet tarantula Spider isn’t enough for a young girl).

There is nothing else to say or do. Cordelia spends lots of time playing by herself. And, honestly, I think that’s all any parent ever wants from their child. That, and not soiling herself.

Cordelia’s Fear of Goblins, Part I

Our house got robbed. It’s one of incidental risks of living in a big city, I guess. We go out to dinner, come back two hours later, and everything we have of value that could fit into a backpack is gone.

Not a huge trauma. Nobody hurt. Homeowner’s insurance took care of the bulk of the losses. And we got rid of our Nintendo Gamecube. Honestly, soon you won’t be able to pay someone to take your Gamecube away.

We called the police. While they were inspecting the house, Cordelia said, “Who took our things? Was it goblins?”

So, of course, we said that it was, in fact, goblins. I guess that “goblin” is four-year-old-speak for “meth addict”.

Cordelia’s Fear of Goblins, Part II

We’ve been buying a lot of Maurice Sendak books. Maurice Sendak is this septuagenarian, childless near-hermit who drew some of the coolest, most disturbing books for kids ever.

Since Cordelia is a little girl who is about to have a little sister and who is aware that goblins occasionally come into her house and take things, I bought her a copy of “Outside Over There”. It’s an insanely creepy Sendak book about a little girl who has a little sister until goblins come and steal her away. I figured that Cordelia would love it, if it didn’t instantly and permanently traumatize her.

She loves it. It’s her new favorite book. I am gratified that four years of living with her has given me some crude understanding of how her mind works.

Preparing For Offspring

Cordelia understands that she will have a younger sibling soon. Or, at least, she sort of understands it.

She comprehends that there will be a baby in the house, but she seems to feel that it will be a happy, friendly, cartoon baby. It will smile and dance and play with her, like the animal sidekick in a Disney movie. She will sing songs with it. She will share her chocolate with it. Or so she claims.

When Cordelia asked me and her mother to give her a sister AND a brother, I realized that our daughter has no comprehension of what a sibling means.

For starters, it means that Cordelia will have someone she can beat up. I think this will be a big relief for her, as most of her peer group experiences so far end in her getting smacked. Every time there is trouble at preschool, she is the one who got slapped/bit/whacked with a shovel.

It’s going to be my childhood, all over again. I kinda would have preferred that my child was the one giving the killer wedgies, instead of vise versa. It would have been a nice change of pace. But at least it’s nice that my daughter will have someone weaker she can use to take out her frustrations.

Second, Mariann and I will be distracted and cranky and neglectful. I’m not even going to pretend that I’m going to be giving Cordelia the same quality of parenting I’ve been giving (which, let’s be honest, was already not so great). Sure, I’ll try to buy her off with gifts of money and chocolate. But that is only about 80% as good as love.

The New Cold War

But at least I’m not going into this deluded. I’m not even going to pretend that I’ll raise children who have this surreal, hug-heavy love bond. Siblings torment each other. I’m pretty much ready for that.

My only plan, at this point, is this. Whenever one of my children complains to me about a slight received at the hands of the other, I will swiftly, firmly punish both of them, equally.

As long as nobody needs a trip to the emergency room or therapist or cosmetic surgeon, I want my children to understand that, in this house, there is only one real crime: wasting daddy’s time.

Love Is Available To Be Bought

Also, I am considering playing the kids off against each other. They won’t have the energy to misbehave if they’re spending all of their time currying my favor. I can’t be sure, but I think that a simple, “Oh nooooo! I only brought home from the store enough ice cream for one daughter! Now who wants to go outside and prune the rhododendron?” will work wonders.

Conversation That Started In Reality and Ended In My MindMe: Cordelia, you always have to look both ways for cars before you cross the street.
Cordelia: Why?
Me: Because otherwise a car will hit you, and it would really hurt.
Mariann: And probably kill you.
Me: Yeah. Mariann: And that would make us very sad.
Me: And I’d have to get mommy pregnant all over again.
Cordelia: Why?
Me: So that we could replace you.
Mariann: We can never replace you.
Me: Well, honestly, it is possible to replace you. But it would be very, very inconvenient. So don’t play in traffic.

A Final Thought

And that’s about all I have to say about Cordelia. Now she is not a baby, and not a toddler. She is a person, and thus boring. She behaves herself in restaurants. Which is pretty much the definition of a good child. My wife is more likely to spill her drink than my child is. So I think my work is pretty much done.

So one more thought for the road …

The Purpose of Parents

When I got comments on these journals (which were usually, in general, positive), I occasionally received an angry complaint about people who “can’t control their kids.” This phrase generally comes from a person really in love with the idea of his or her own intelligence.

I still can’t get over this phrase. I dwell on it a lot. So I will write about it only one more time, and then shut the fuck up about it.

You CANNOT CONTROL your kids. You can influence their behavior. You can shape it, slowly, over a period of years, to make a sensible, bearable human being. But you CANNOT CONTROL your child.

Why? Well, I will answer that reasonable question with another of my own. What would it take for ME to control YOU?

What would it take for me to control you? To jump at the sound of my voice, to obey my whims? Suppose I walk into the room and start barking orders at you. What would it take to make you obey them?

My guess, if you are a sensible human being, is this. For you to utterly submit to my control, I would have to tie you to a chair, and I would have to start torturing you. I would have to make you undergo so much fear and pain that your sense of humanity snaps. That you will do anything, say anything, shrink yourself into a tiny ball of former humanity, to keep my rage from lashing out.

That is what it would take for me to control you. And do not think, for a second, that a small child is any less a human, any less independent at the start of the process, than you.

I sometimes read about people who try to control their children. About the series of increasingly extreme steps they take. After reading these stories in the paper, people usually say, “And where the fuck was protective services while that was happening?”

I’m not controlling my child. I’m molding her. It takes time, and it involves going out in public. I never take her to nice restaurants, just pizza places, BBQ joints, and the like. And sometimes, during this process, she will annoy you. God knows she is annoying me. But the way you learn to do something is by trying to do it. Sometimes you fail, but you get better next time.

But she is better with every passing month, and soon she will be a pleasant human. And if you have a problem with it and can’t cut us any slack, then please give me the honor of being the first to invite you to go fuck yourself.

In a quiet, private place, please. I’m trying to parent here.