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The Story About the Toddler, Volume 14.

Our daughter Cordelia is now 25 months old. This is, in theory, a marvelous time, because it’s when toddlers are starting to want to become independent human beings. They are realizing that everything, from putting on their clothes to wiping up their crap, is being done for them. And this starts to bother them, as much as it would bother you if someone tried to wipe up and dress you (diaper fetishists aside).

So they start trying to express their independence. Which, of course, means expressing their incompetence in equal measure.

So a large part of Cordelia’s day is failing to put her shirt on, and failing to put her train set together, and helping me change her by rubbing diaper cream on her knee and face. Now it is not enough that mommy and daddy give her a bar of soy ice cream at dinner, completely free of charge. Now, if we don’t also let her unwrap it, she will explode into psychotic wrath.

(I am not sure why Mariann only gives Cordelia ice cream made with soy milk. I haven’t asked, however, as I don’t care.)

Cordelia has also had a lot of time to work on her psychotic wrath. That’s the one thing toddlers are really good at.

She is now proficient with the use of words like “more” (“More ice cream!”, “More Elmo!”) and “mine” (“Bottle mine!”, “Mommy mine!”). She can both demand things and make damn sure that you know who they belong to after she has them. And, if she doesn’t get them, her ability to accurately fling something at my head has increased dramatically.

Of course, this behavior is only displayed when she is only around her parents. When anyone else is there, she hides shyly behind our legs in her adorable way. This leads the strangers to smile and ask the dreaded question, “Are you going to have another one?”

People think they’re being nice by waiting to ask this question until after the child is no longer an infant and the mommy’s memories of the thing squeezing out of her are starting to fade a little. But you should never ask parents of toddlers whether they want more kids. Because I have to bite my lip to keep from saying, “Shit. I’m not even sure I want to keep this one yet.”

But it’s not enough to complain about bad behavior. As I understand it, being the parent, my job is to cure it ...

Baby’s First Punishment

Cordelia has reached the stage of life where she launches into horrible, screaming tantrums in order to get what she wants. And not reasonable desires, like TV or chocolate. Stupid, pointless things, like having mommy take her out of her high chair instead of daddy. Or having mommy change her diaper, instead of daddy. Or having daddy never even make physical contact with mommy, let alone cop a quick mid-day feel to get him through the afternoon.

Now that her brain is developed enough to understand screaming can get what she wants, it is developed enough that I can use carefully directed punishments to dissuade her from those tactics. But how do I best punish her?

In Days of Olde, when your child was being a little shit, you went out, got a hickory switch, and laid into her. This resulted in unending generations of fucked up people who burned witches and started World War I.

Some people believe that it’s good to inflict some harsh corporal punishment on children, to “toughen them up”, and make them strong, self-assured adults. Of course, this doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense. Consider this. It is well understood among criminal investigators that abused children become abusers. People who beat their kids were beaten as kids. People who are molesters were molested.

So, if having a person twice your height and eight times your weight whale on you when you’re little makes you emotionally stronger, it seems reasonable to wonder if being treated badly A LOT makes you REALLY strong. But it doesn’t. It makes you broken.

So I’m pretty down on spanking. Partly for the namby pamby bleeding heart reasons outlined above, but mostly because it also takes up my time. Corporal punishment requires actual involvement on my part. Get the paddle. Use the paddle. Return the paddle to its proper place. God knows I already have enough to do. That is why, for my toddler discipline needs, I prefer the burst of controlled, time-saving neglect that is the Time Out.

To inflict a Time Out on your child, wait until it is righteously freaking out. Then sweep it up, dump it in its crib or bedroom, and wait for the tantrum to end. Use this time to get the dishes done, watch a little TV, cop a feel. Time Outs enable you to simultaneously be a good, virtuous parent and grab a little free time. Heck, if you’re like me, you’ll start trying to provoke your child into tantrums, just to get a little break.

Of course, Cordelia is only two. Her brain is insufficiently developed to understand the chain of cause and effect which leads from her bad behavior to her punishment. Also, she likes jumping around in her crib. So giving her Time Outs is probably only serving as a reward for her bad behavior.

Fortunately, the power rush of being able to punish someone at will is doing a world of good for my self-esteem, so I’ll just stick with the current course.

Having a Baby Really Does Change You

It’s true. When you have a child, it changes everything. It totally alters the way you interact with the world.

For example, school busses. Before Cordelia came along, when I was driving somewhere and a school bus stopped and put its flashing stop sign out, I would totally blast by it. Actually, that’s not true. I’d drive by pretty slowly, but only so that the kids could see me giving them the finger.

These days, though, I know how valuable and delicate children are, and how each one is a special treasure. I don’t drive past stopped school busses anymore. I still flip them off, of course, but my car remains firmly immobile. After all, children are our future.

Troubleshooting

Cordelia started getting these nasty red scratches on her ass. Observation revealed why. She was constantly scratching herself down there.

We immediately set to troubleshooting the problem. We went through various combinations of better diapers, soothing creams, and different brands of baby wipes. But then, experimenting by myself, I discovered something. The reason she scratches her ass a lot is because it feels gooooooood.

So our solution to the problem is, currently, to keep her fingernails really short and let her go to town. Everyone’s a winner.

Clearing Things With the Wife

I am often asked what my wife, Mariann, thinks of this journal. Does she know about it? Does she approve?

Well, duh. Of course she knows. Every completed article is instantly submitted to her for her review. Part of this is to see how funny it is. I watch as she reads it and, if something is truly hilarious, I will be able to tell because she will smile very, very slightly for a tiny fraction of a moment.

Second, I let her see the column first so that she can exercise her inviolable veto power over any of its contents. This is all part of my life’s carefully designed “Minimize the amount of shit that rains down upon my head” policy.

Mariann will generally veto things because they reveal too many personal, private details of our lives. For example, she might say, “Jeff, I see you wrote here that I feel you are an awesome sexual powerhouse, with insane stamina and a prick as large as those of any three other men I have known, laid end to end. And you also mention that your personal odor is not in any way objectionable. All of these things are true. However, I don’t think I want your aunt to read about it.”

And I’ll say “Sure,” and remove the offending passage. Because that’s just the sort of terrific guy I am.

Clearing Things With the Baby

Cordelia, on the other hand, may be a tougher case. After all, she won’t be able to object until years after this crap hits the Cyberinterweb. But when she does find this stuff, I expect we will have a conversation much like this:

Her: “Father, I found the things you wrote about me. I do not feel that you were within your rights to release these stories, being as I was extremely young and therefore incapable of giving any meaningful consent. Furthermore, ...”

Me: “Here’s your pony.”

Her: “Thanks.”

But the problem with this scenario is that I can’t be sure exactly when she’ll find these writings. Therefore, I will have to always have a pony around, so I can repair the damage the instant she become upset ...

Her: “Father, I found the things you wrote about me. I do not feel ...”

Me: “Before you go any farther, I think you should look around the house. I think you’ll find a little surprise.”

Her: “What? You mean the dead pony in the garage?”

Me: “Ah. Yes. I ... I got that pony as food for the live pony we’re about to get for you.”

Her: “Hooray!”

And everything will be better.


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