The Story About the Toddler, Volume 29.
As of this writing, our daughter Cordelia has just turned 45 months old. (A bit over three and a half years, for those who don’t care enough to work through the math.) She is just reaching the point where the exact number of months doesn’t make a big difference in her developmental state. Just like I have reached the point where my development is about the same as it was ten years ago. I’m basically the same person, just closer to death.
Cordelia hates me. Or, at least, she vastly prefers all of the other caregivers in her life to me, and takes pains to rub it in at every opportunity. This despite my reading to her several books of her choice (unfailingly the same goddamn books) every single night, and never having struck or physically abused her in any way, and never reacting to her repellant, nasty two year old behavior with more than a reasonable amount of contempt, and trying heroically to teach her to play Candyland, and all of the money I’ve put in her college fund.
The other morning, I walked out of the bedroom. Cordelia saw me, held out her hand, and said, “STOP, daddy! I REALLY love mommy!” This is definitely the sort of thing that would get to me, were I capable of normal human feelings.
Fortunately, she recently figured out how to say, “I hate you.” So she is now able to state her feelings with much more efficiency.
It doesn’t bug me, of course. My wife and I have fallen into our traditional female loving caregiver/ male cruel justice machine roles. And Cordelia’s behavior is entirely reasonable for someone who has just figured out that
i. There are other human beings in the world besides her,
ii. They have the power to compel you to act in ways that you would not otherwise choose to.
I have a job to do. And if trying to soldier on, day after day, in the face of withering and unwavering contempt ever got me down, I wouldn’t have been able to get married in the first place.
But I look forward to the day when Cordelia looks me in the eye and says, “Daddy, thank you for molding me from a screaming, retarded monkey into a sensible human being.” Of all the things that are never, ever going to happen, that is going to be my favorite.
Epilogue To the Opening Rant
I said the previous paragraph aloud to my wife. Cordelia overheard and said, “No way, daddy! No way.”
She is going to “Preschool” now, three afternoons a week. We call it “Preschool” because it sounds a little better than “Daycare,” and a lot better than, “Oh, God! Oh, GOD! Get this feral wolfchild out of my house before I go out of my fucking mind!”
So, three afternoons a week, we drop her off at this place. We pick her up three hours later, and she presents us with some artwork she made, a painting that could depict one of two things: either a pool of vomited seven-course Italian dinner, or a rainbow. Hint for parents of young children: it’s the second one.
Then, every month, we cut them a check. The barf paintings get a few hours of glory on the refrigerator. Late at night, they disappear deep into the recycling bin to make room for the next day’s barf paintings. And thus, the cycle of life continues.
Also, in addition to “I hate you,” Cordelia can now comfortably say “This sucks,” “You go away now,” and, whenever we ask her to do anything, “All right, all RIGHT!” Another excellent side effect of having children is that you get all of your verbal tics thrown back in your face. My God. I sound like a JACKASS.
Filling Her Empty Little Brain With Whatever I Choose
One of the best things about having a child is that you now have a defenseless target for whatever idiotic, oddball beliefs you want to bombard them with. Children are little sponges, and if you want to fill them with your favorite conspiracy theory, or lame hobby, or, you know, Jesus, they’ll pretty much eat up what you have to say with a spoon until they become teenagers.
Which brings us to spiders.
I have long had a thing for spiders. I think they’re really cool. And beneficial. I have a pet tarantula which I named, in a moment of extreme insightfulness and creativity, Spider. My business is called Spiderweb Software. It’s kind of like the thing teenage girls have for horses, without the creepy sexual overtones.
I think being really scared of spiders is dumb. Never before has good, honest fear been so wastefully misplaced. I mean, consider cars. Cars are far bigger, more powerful, and more lethal than spiders. Each of us has a mind-bogglingly higher chance of being injured by a car than a spider. And yet some people can walk down the sidewalk completely oblivious to the hunks of steel rocketing by them at high speed a few feet away (probably piloted by an alcoholic or crackhead or old person) and then stop, trembling with fear, because there is a spider on the ground in front of them.
Phobia schmobia. That’s just lame.
(Of course, spiders should be treated with respect. I don’t go jabbing my finger at my tarantula’s fangs. But I don’t dance in traffic either.)
So one of the things I have done in the process of interacting with Cordelia is try to get her to like spiders. Or at least not be a total girl around them.
From an early age, I showed her spider webs. I read her books that showed spiders in a positive light. I let her spray the plant mister onto the tarantula. I played a game where I pretended my hand was a spider and had it run around her saying friendly things in a chirpy, high-pitched voice. This last one was a big hit.
And yet, when she sees a big, fat mommy spider sitting lazily in its web ten feet away, she totally freaks out. And I don’t think she yet understands that bugs can bite or sting you. If she did, she wouldn’t be running around trying to stomp on bees with bare feet.
So I’ve given up on this battle. Maybe fear of spiders is an innate gift given us by evolution because all the dumb cavemen got their faces eaten off by black widows the size of watermelons.
Filling Her Brain, Part Two
For years, I’ve collected classic video games. Atari. Intellivision. That sort of thing. Got an old video game you have fond memories of? I can set it up and let you play it so you can see how lame it truly was.
Cordelia has reached the perfect age. She’s old enough to play those old games, but not old enough to realize how much they suck.
Been playing a lot of Atari with her. It makes me weep with happiness.
Something I Will Suffer For Telling You, But So Be It
My wife got beat at Atari by our daughter. (A game of Air-Sea Battle, for what it’s worth.) Beat. In a fair one-on-one game. By a three year old.
Isn’t that funny? HAW! HAW! HAW!
Signs Of Strength and Resilience
Though Cordelia tends to give up easily when faced with challenging tasks like putting on her own socks or identifying the letter “H”, she is indomitable when it comes to pooing. Even when she’s constipated, she will grunt and strain, her face a fiery red, for as long as it takes to wrestle the offending material to the ground. So to speak.
In this area, she’s like a little Lance Armstrong.
If Her Name Is Her Destiny, Are We Totally Screwed?
Only now are Mariann and I coming fully to terms with what we have done to our daughter by naming her Cordelia. We’re running a serious risk of scarring her for life by giving her that archaic, ye olde English name, suitable only for budding, tight-assed yuppies and ye Renaissance Faire.
We met some other parents on the playground who had a Cordelia. It was a profound relief to all of us, to know that we weren’t the only idiots on planet Earth. Our Cordelia and their Cordelia, on the other hand, were both profoundly disturbed to find that there was another one of them.
This actually made me feel a bit better. This is what I realized. I’ve met people who were angry about their names. They were all people who had been given painfully common names. If you scratch the surface of a Jennifer or an Elisabeth, you’ll find an angry, angry person.
The Candyland IQ Score
I have managed to find a way to reliably measure the intelligence of a small child. The measure is the percentage of a game of Candyland she is capable of focusing and getting through in a proper, rules-oriented way without losing focus and deciding that she wants to use a pacifier for her piece and skip all the way to the end of the board on one turn and then go off the game track and bounce up and down in the Gumdrop Forest while enacting some complicated internal toddler drama while daddy stares on uncomprehendingly.
Cordelia’s Candyland IQ Score is about 20 percent. That was her personal best, before she started bouncing her little plastic man up and down on the board and saying, “He’s jumping rope!”
This was just her way of using cuteness to try to distract me from the fact that I was totally kicking her ass. My early gumdrop draw gave me some SERIOUS board position.
For the uninitiated, Candyland is this very simple boardgame. There is a track whose spaces have six different colors. You draw a card, and it’ll have a color on it. You move to that next space of that color. First to the end wins. I’ve left some details out, but who gives a shit?
What fascinates me is that there are three penalty spaces on the board. When you land on one, you can’t move until you draw a card with a specific color. The odds of drawing that color on any turn are about 1 in 6, so the space might as well say, “Lose, on average, SIX TURNS.” Or, at the rate that children play this game, the space should say, “Sit still and do nothing while everyone else bounces around and runs past you and has fun for like fifteen minutes, as your face burns hotter and hotter and a fiery coal of bile builds up inside your little ribcage.”
Speaking as a professional game designer, the people who designed Candyland were the biggest douches in Douchylvania.
Either that, or they wanted their bright, happy, sugar-coated world to teach children a truly valuable life lesson: “Sometimes, you just get fucked. Hope you enjoy being bogged down in the Molasses Swamp for the rest of your natural life. Suck it up, buttercup.”
12/09/05 Addenda to the above: I have since learned that I was playing with an older Candyland set. The penalty spaces in newer sets only make the victim lose a single turn. This is exactly the sort of coddling of our pitiful youth that will enable the Chinese to EAT US ALIVE. Seriously, if I was redesigning Candyland, I’d make it so if you landed on a penalty space you’d never move again. Because that’s HOW LIFE WORKS!
Like computer games? A great fantasy adventure awaits you here.