Here’s what happens:
You have this baby.
This baby is boring.
I mean, the baby’s sweet and all. Chubby-cheeked and wrinkle-butted. But after a while you figure out the baby’s only got so many tricks in his bag: giggle, fart, coo, burble, squirm, fill diaper, start over again. You can connect with the baby on a kind of primal-spiritual level, like, you hold the baby and you stare into his eyes and contained there in those big blue orbs are the secrets of the universe. (The baby, of course, is just admiring your nose hairs or eyeglasses or thinking about boobs. Secrets of the universe be damned.) But all told, the connection you feel with the infant isn’t particularly deep.
It’s strong! It’s very strong. But it exists only on that primitive level.
Babies aren’t even dogs. Dogs have that soulful look. They know what’s up. Sure, they crap on the couch or eat your trash, but they know they did something. An infant is like a human-shaped goldfish. Things happen and the baby’s like, “Nope, forgot already. Who are you?”
But then a weird thing starts to happen.
The baby nature begins to peel and fall away on the coming wind. And what emerges from this infant-shaped chrysalis is the weird, needy, hilarious individual known as The Toddler. This creature has a personality. He is different from other such creatures of his kind. He likes things and dislikes other things. He has preferences. And wants. And irritations.
And he starts to talk.
And he starts to defy.
And he starts to play pretend.
He sings and makes up words and dances around and runs full speed into things.
The infant becomes the toddler.
The toddler is a person.
And our toddler is rapidly becoming a little boy because today, B-Dub turns two years old.
Little B-Dub is a comedian.
He likes to do silly things and say silly things not merely because of their delightful silliness but also because he’s watching you like a hawk to gauge your reaction. He’ll fidget out of his pants and go “OHHHHHH” as if to say, dude, I just totally slipped out of your pesky pants trap. He’ll pretend that his truck is eating food and he’ll watch you with a puckish look to see what you say about it. He’ll call us by funny new names — “Moppy Boppy” for my wife (or “Moppy Poppo”), and “Daddy Tot-tee” for me — just so we can correct him and he can cackle.
He’s got empathy. If he hurts you or sees you get hurt, he’ll rush over to give a hug. If you tell him you’re sad — like, say, he decides to fight reading a book one night — he’ll come around and try to fix it. Then he’ll say, “Daddy happy!” and all is right with the world.
I don’t want to suggest that it’s all perfect.
He’s a sweetheart. And hilarious. And smart as a whip.
But toddlers, man. Toddlers. Some days I wonder if we’ll get PTSD. It’s like living with a hand grenade. One minute it’s all laughter and trucks and Curious George and next minute it’s like someone opened the door and invited a tornado in for tea. A rage tornado. Sometimes it’s rage that has a clear and present source: he wants a popsicle but it’s lunchtime so we say, yeah, no, we don’t eat popsicles for lunch, good try, A for effort. You tell him “no” and you might get him to comply or you might see him melt down as if all the bones in his body turned to beanbags, as if all he can do is pile up a sack of of spilled potatoes. But at least that has a cause.
Wants popsicle. No popsicle. Rage. Easy equation.
What happens sometimes though is that the rage has no known source of agitation. It’ll just be like — whoosh, the tides shift and a squall crashes through your seawall. The shriek, the tears, the incoherent inchoate frustration! You know what it is?
I’ll tell you what it is.
SATAN, THY NAME IS TWO-YEAR MOLARS.
I thought we were done with teething! I was like, “Great, whatever, he’s got all his teeth, he can chew his food better than most old people.” You feel like you won. But then it’s MORE TEETH. Big mamma-jammas, too, poking up through his gums. And it hurts. He’ll tell you it hurts. Parts of his jaw are breaking away and becoming teeth. It’s like something out of a horror movie.
So, you couple that with the fact he’s basically a turbulent broth of intellectual, physical and emotional development and you have there a recipe for what amounts to a Godzilla-attitude crammed in a very tiny person-shaped creature.
When you’re a baby, your entire perception is that the universe exists for you and you are cradled at its starry center. All the people around you have manifested to serve you. You’re like a chubby little-big God-Baby. A divinely cherubic Jabba the Hutt.
At this point, your whole life is solipsistic.
But then, as Toddler Spirit begins to manifest, that solipsism is forced to the margins and you start to realize what must be a rather shocking reality: you are not the center of a universe created just for you. Imagine that. Imagine being God and then someone saying, “No, that was just a delusion cast unto you by a brain still forming itself inside your doughy little head.”
So, B-Dub the Toddler is grappling with that, I think. And he acts out in ways that suggest he’s still trying to hold onto some measure of his flagging Divine Power. The kid’s like a Little Napoleon. He does this thing where he assigns one parent to a task — say, the washing of sticky hands or the ascendance of God-Baby up a flight of stairs — and you know who hath been chosen because he jolly well fucking tells you who hath been chosen.
“Mommy,” he’ll say after dinner, waving his food-crusted hands about. “Hands dirty.”
Go ahead, ask him: “Can Daddy wash your hands?”
“Nope.” (He prefers “yup” and “yeah-yeah” and “nope” to the more traditional yes and no.)
Sure, you can ask him again: “Can Daddy please wash your hands?”
“No.” And now you hear the irritation in his voice.
Subtext: HOW DARE YOU DEFY ME, PUNY KERNEL OF HUMAN CORN.
And if you ask him again — or if you just say, yeah, fuck it, I’m going to wash your hands — you have invited a certifiable shit-fit. A nuclear toddler meltdown. A RAGE-DIAPER.
You have defied the God-Baby.
And now the God-Baby is mad.
See, but that’s the weird thing. You push it with your kids, right? You do this in part out of frustration and stubbornness (“You don’t tell me who washes your hands, I pay the mortgage around here and I can wash the hands of any sonofabitch who comes through that front door”). But you also sometimes capitulate instead for entirely different reasons — maybe you think, “Me washing his hands is really not the hill I want to defend right now,” or you think, “I really don’t want to make him cry. I want him to be happy, not sad.”
And it’s that last part that really trips you up as a parent.
Because your knee-jerk reaction at any given moment is to protect, protect, protect. To help them. To restrict from them all the sadness-making things that may happen to them. You might think, “Life is short and hard and so what’s the big deal if I let him eat a popsicle a half-hour before dinner?” (B-Dub would shank a dude for a popsicle, especially while teething.)
But that’s bad news, that attitude. Because whatever life is or isn’t, it’s filled with an endless array of potentially unpleasant moments — and there comes a point when you realize your job as a parent is less about making your children instantaneously happy and more about preparing them to deal with the unpleasant moments life will fling at their heads. You need to teach them ways to be happy in the midst of potential unhappiness, to be able to weather the slings and arrows of dissatisfaction. You want to give in and buy them every toy they see, but then you have to realize that not only is it your job to help them handle disappointment but sometimes it’s your job to actually foster that very disappointment. It’s like “disappointment training.”
Which is really very cruel.
But also really very necessary.
So you say no to things. You deny them things.
And you do so even when you want to do otherwise.
FINE YES HE SAID HIS FIRST CURSE WORD, OKAY.
He was in his seat eating.
I opened the door for some reason and our new puppy — the Red Dog named “Loa” — shot out like a bolt of lightning and so I went out to get her back in and whilst out there I uttered the — totally appropriate! — curse word of, “Oh, you bitch.”
I’m not proud, but there it is.
The door was mostly closed behind me.
I didn’t yell it. I said it. Spoke it in my normal volume.
But B-Dub, he has some kind of SORCERER EARS.
Because he says to my wife:
And then you’re left with a struggle as to what to do. Laugh? Cry? Yell? We went with the: Just ignore it and hope we give him no satisfaction. It seems to have worked because he never said it again. Still: we’ve let slip a few half-cusses — “dick,” or “douche” — and sure enough, he plucks those words out of the middles of sentences like they’re delicious candies and immediately begins trying to say them and savor them.
He truly is my son.
He says lots of nice things, though, too.
He says please when he wants something.
He says thank you when you give him something.
He says thank you when he gives you something, too.
He’s just letting you know you owe him some gratitude, damnit.
It’s surprising what he’ll eat. He’ll eat kale. He’ll eat mushrooms. He’ll eat peas. Things that when I was a kid you couldn’t get into my mouth. My mother would try to sneak green peas in my food and I’d be like a dog sorting out a pill — I’d eat the rest and then ptoo. Bye-bye, pea.
Thankfully, we also haven’t had many instances of him eating things he shouldn’t. When I was a tot I choked on a bottle nipple. I choked on a penny. I almost died drinking well water where a possum had died (oops), though that wasn’t really my fault (thanks Mom & Dad for the dead possum water, which is like Vitamin Water except full of infant-killing bacteria).
Knock on digital wood, but B-Dub’s been healthy as a horse for the last two years.
Maybe it was the breastfeeding? Or the kale? Or the gamma rays we subject him to so he can become The Incredible Hulkbaby whenever someone won’t give him a popsicle?
BUT FIRST HULKBABY POOP
We’ve had two years of miserable sleep. This kid has never slept well. Up every couple hours. Restless. Irritable at night. Like he always wants to be doing something, and sleep ain’t it. People told us all kinds of shit to fix it. Here’s the danger of parenting advice, by the way — parenting advice is geared toward One Specific Child, and as it turns out, all children are not built off the same template. We had everyone giving us advice on how to fix the sleep problems — attachment parenting, cry it out, give him a mini-bar bottle of whiskey, stick him on a northbound tractor trailer, let him read some Dostoevsky. We tried it all and all of it failed.
Eventually our doctor was like, “You know how some adults don’t sleep well? Some babies are like that.” She has two kids herself and one of them worked well with cry-it-out and so for a while she assumed that was the go-to advice but then it totally failed with her other child.
So, turns out, every kid is different. WHODATHUNK.
Just the same —
Suddenly, B-Dub is sleeping.
Two years later and he can finally sleep through the night. I can be up and writing in the morning before he wakes up which is some kind of divine intervention. It’s also horrifying at first because you’re like IS HE DEAD DID HE ESCAPE IS HE IN THE VENTILATION SYSTEM LIKE JOHN MCCLANE FROM DIE HARD WHY ISN’T HE AWAKE YET OH GOD OH GOD
But then you get over it and enjoy the relative peace. Short as it is.
He loves trucks. He loves trucks so much. I’m pretty sure he might marry a truck someday.
He loves every kind of truck out there.
Even trucks I would normally consider to be “lesser” trucks — like, an excavator is kinda bad-ass. Some tractor trailers are pretty bad-ass. But he’ll get excited over a garbage truck. Shit, he loves garbage trucks. Pick-up trucks, too. ALL TRUCKS EVERYWHERE.
I tried indoctrinating him early into other interests. Like, “Hey, dinosaur!” No, fuck that dinosaur. “Dude, robots!” I got a little bit of traction with the robots but it’s fleeting. “Here’s a cutesy-wootsy pre-school version of Batman!” No, Batman can eat a bag of bat-dicks. Stupid Batman. We’ve had some luck pushing other vehicle-types on him — he’s definitely into trains now and has some love of planes and boats, too. It’s a game of inches.
But at the end of the day, give him a truck and he’s happy.
Which is why we have approximately 4,000 trucks.
All of them sharp.
The bottom of my feet have truck-shaped calluses.
I walk through my kitchen like a lizard dancing across a hot desert.
The intellectual leaps-and-bounds occur daily, now. He’ll spit new words at you — words you never actively taught him. Like, for a while in terms of language development it’s you and him together in a concerted effort to pick up new words. You’re going, “Can you say antidisestablishmentarianism?” And he’s like “dibblesnot” and you’re like, “Fine, good enough, let’s move on.” He gets a cookie and everybody’s happy.
But eventually he just starts… repeating. Or saying words you don’t even remember telling him.
Which is so strange. You get the sense that someone is coming into his room at night and teaching him words. (Maybe that’s why he didn’t sleep for all those months.) It also reveals itself not just in parroting words but in the comprehension of those words. Like at one point he — of his own free will — picked a dandelion and went and gave it to my wife. And she was either genuinely thrilled or put on a really good show about it and then he runs back to me and is like, “Mommy, yellow, happy.” And this was a little while back when he hadn’t been saying three-word sentences — and here he put together a statement that wasn’t just an objective statement but is actually somewhat abstract and subjective. Happiness was not a thing we taught him about. Not even the word “happy.” And there it was. He made Mommy happy by giving her a yellow flower. And he recognized it and could talk about it.
The last two months have been a springboard of brain development.
He can count stuff.
He knows his ABCs — well, not the ABC song itself because it blew my mind one day to realize that the actual order of the alphabet is largely meaningless and what’s meaningful is that he can identify individual letters and know their sounds. Words don’t give a shit that C comes after B comes after A — words just care that you know what each letter does on its own and in relation to the letters next to it in that given word. So, we’ve concentrated less on the rote memorization of ABC and more in a, “I’ve emptied this bag of letters let us identify them together or you will be eaten by this Kodiak bear I’ve invited to our learning session.”
Every parent thinks their kid is a genius, I know, I know.
BUT MINE IS HE’LL RULE YOU ALL SOMEDAY FEAR HIM FEAR THE DIAPER
So, now he’s two.
I don’t know what happened.
I don’t know what happens next.
But that’s really part of the fun, isn’t it?
He’s fun. And sweet. And strange. And occasionally a rampaging monster.
Happy birthday, little person. We love you very much.