They don’t tell you a lot of things when you have a kid. Actually, nobody really tells you anything except: “HERE, HAVE THIS BABY.” If you’re lucky they give you pointers on how to feed it (breast milk, formula, cheetos), how to clothe it (diapers, superhero outfit, robotic exoskeleton), how to get it to sleep (lullabies, bourbon, veterinary pharmaceuticals). You can, if you ask, find out a whole lot about the basic biological needs and functions. Early on and even through toddlerdom you gain a great deal of knowledge about poop. Look, shape, consistency. How it begins in infancy as some kind of black X-Files tar, how it smells at first like buttered popcorn but later stinks like the leavings of an adult drunk who just ate a dozen egg rolls, how there are colors to watch out for (green, red, paisley, technicolor, pulsating starlight).
But when it comes to intellectual and emotional development, I’ve found that the information there is considerably more scarce — or, at least, a whole lot less certain. Mostly, you just have to roll with it. You go through all the crazy whackaloon shit you get with having a two-year-old toddler. Then they become threenager monkey-demons with the hormonal surge you thought was left only to pubescent thirteen-year-olds. You take each day as it comes.
Thing is, each day has this way of feeling like forever. Especially when they seem to repeat, ala Groundhog Day. And that’s one of the things they don’t necessarily tell you, or at least, nobody told me. (Or maybe I just wasn’t listening — never discount the possibility that when somebody was trying to explain something to me I was staring off at the middle distance thinking about sex, cake, video games, pie, sex, cookies, or how one day we’re all going to die.)
We often measure our children’s early lives in months — “Oh, he’s six months, he’s eighteen months, he’s 312 months.” But you can also measure their existence in phases. Our kid goes through these phases and while they’re happening, they feel like forever. They feel like, this is who he is instead of this is who he is right now. You get used to a certain phase as awesome or scary or weird as that stage may be, and then one day it’s just — poof, it’s over. And you almost miss it. They’ve moved on, and even if it was a phase that drove you to drink a six-pack of wine coolers a day in a dark downstairs bathroom, you might miss it, too.
I don’t know what phases your kids have gone through or will go through, but I thought: “Hey, maybe I’ll write down some of B-Dub’s phases.” Just for a lark and a larf.
So here I present to you: ten of B-Dub’s most notable phases.
The Eon Of Marshmallow Cereal
Our kid, he eats pretty all right. He’s some kinda weirdo who eats his vegetables first. He’ll eat stuff that I wouldn’t have touched as a kid: mushrooms, kale, avocado. But there was a point where the only thing he wanted for breakfast was marshmallow cereal. Like, Lucky Charms, except we’re those hipster crunchy hippie assholes who have to buy the kind without artificial colors and high-fructose-corn-syrup and whatever? That.
We’d try to expand his horizons, we’d make eggs and pancakes and French Toast but if he didn’t get marshmallow cereal, it was fucking Thunderdome in our kitchen. He was like a nuclear reactor with all the safety protocols gone to shit: a nation-destroying meltdown. You hit this grave realization where as a parent you think, “Eventually someone’s going to come and take our child away from us because at this point we cannot get him to eat a healthy, proper breakfast to save his life. They’re going to give him to another family who won’t buy marshmallow cereal. We have made a monster. We are terrible parents.” And then one day, months later, it’s over. Like birth contractions over a much longer period, they come and then they go. Now he eats diversely again (though there was a very short pancake surge).
He has not asked for marshmallow cereal in months.
The Days Of The Transformers
Everything was trucks until it wasn’t — then it was trucks that become robots. One day, B-Dub couldn’t give two rat pubes about Transformers. The next, they were the best thing ever. (I’m lookin’ at you, Rescue Bots.) Everything was Bumblebee and Heatwave and Ironhide and he would be those character and he would make them out of Duplo blocks and every mundane object he picked up — pillow, fork, cement block, piece of dog poop, brick of uranium — he pretended was a Transformer even if he had a perfectly good Transformer toy within reach.
The bonus? Pretending to be Bumblebee or Optimus Prime gave him confidence to do things like they would: heroically and with great robotic panache. And shit, I was excited, too! I loved Transformers as a kid. And so for Christmas we bought a bunch of cool Transformers gear and lined up to give him his new presents and — the boat left, and we were not on the boat. The Days of Transformers were over. Transformers all diminished, and went into the West. He was… y’know, excited enough, I guess…
But the All Spark had gone dark.
Everything Is Coming Up Minecraft
Now, it’s Minecraft.
I know that right now, Minecraft is basically Heroin For Children, but just the same, I expected that Wee Little B-Dub was too young for it — and by the time he was old enough for it, the Small Person Zeitgeist would’ve moved onto something else. But, oh no. He saw me playing it and wanted to try — and we were like, “No, son, it’s too hard, and there are zombies, and — you’re going to embarrass yourself, and nobody wants that.” But he picked up the controller and within a few short days basically owned the game. He was playing it better than I was. Doubly awesome was how much he glommed onto the Creative Mode, which he treats like Digital LEGO. (Below, you’ll see a thing he built where one day he was like, “Look, I built Mommy, Daddy, and me!” Okay, sure, our family portrait comprises a trio of horrific pumpkin-headed wool-bodied scarecrows, but I’m a horror guy so I thought it was pretty damn amazing.)
As with the Transformer phase, this wasn’t just him wanting to play the game. This was him embodying the entire experience like an obsessive little sponge. He was Steve. He was a zombie. You’d find him around the house pretending to chip iron ore out of our drywall. He wanted the toys. The LEGO sets. The YouTube videos. Every day was like a Minecraft improv group: “Mommy, you be an Enderman. Daddy, you’re a zombie. I’m Diamond Steve. Let’s go.” This phase is guttering like an old candle, now: I think we’ll soon be out of it.
But one never knows.
The Curious George Era
We have watched every episode of Curious George about four million fucking times.
We have memorized whole swaths of this show — not through concerted effort, but merely through experiential osmosis. My wife and I have pondered over this cartoon — a ‘toon that prominently features what I think must be chimpanzee that they call a monkey instead of an ape, a show that begs us to ask questions like: “If this so-called monkey cannot properly put a xylophone together or tell the time and if he screws everything up always, why do the Only Three Scientists In The World let him go on important space missions or polar expeditions? And at what point does Curious George finally go through Monkey Puberty and maul the Man with the Yellow Hat in some sort of sexed-up ape-rage? And can’t we just admit that the Man with the Yellow Hat is a little over-invested about this whole everything has to be yellow thing?”
(Seriously, even his underpants have to be yellow.)
Our son asks none of these questions and simply adores watching the antics of this funny monkey. Unlike other phases, B-Dub hasn’t gone all in — this is not a supernova phase where Everything Is George Until It’s Not. Only the show and the books are George but otherwise it affects his life not at all. Except when it comes time to watch something on the television: then nine times out of ten, he defaults to this show about a toddler-analog monkey who screws everything up lovably. Because, one realizes, toddlers and monkeys are alarmingly alike.
This phase has been ongoing since he was tiny.
The Developmental Contractions
Children grow intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially.
That sounds awesome. And it is — or, at least, the result is.
But again, another thing they don’t tell you? These stages of growth are often accompanied by utter tumult. They don’t tell you that to get to the next stage of development — to put on an inch in height or to upgrade to the next level of intelligence — your kid has to first become some kind of hangry rampaging werewolf. He might stop sleeping. He might wake up at 3AM every night for two weeks. He might start eating three plates of food at dinner, or he might instead start fighting every bite he has to take. He might engage in SUPER-TANTRUMS, which are like regular tantrums except the earth splits and he shrieks ball lightning out of his mouth and people goddamn die. He might sleep extra-long and you’re standing outside his door at 10AM wondering, “Is he alive in there?” It’s like, to become a butterfly he doesn’t need to enter a cocoon so much as he needs to become an over-emotional, unpredictable velociraptor. And the velociraptor has a saddle and in the saddle is a honey badger, and also, the honey badger is high on bad cocaine.
These contractions are short-lived. A day here, two weeks there, then done and gone. But they’re like bad storms from which emerge beautiful, sunny days.
The I Can Help / Mommy Can Do It Continuum
The best worst thing your Tiny Person will say is:
“I can help you.”
It’s best because, yay! You’re kind! You want to help! You’re a nice little creature!
It’s worst because your child is not qualified to help anybody do anything ever. They’re just — they’re functionally worthless. He has no skills. He can’t cook or clean but he thinks he can cook or clean. His only marketable ability is to — like the monkey-ape known as Curious George — wreak well-meaning havoc. But it’s still a nice stage and mostly you just let him help you and try your best to correct his efforts without punishing them. “I’m glad you threw the cat in the dryer because the cat was wet from knocking over its water bowl, that’s very good thinking and thank you for helping but hey, just for future reference, animals do not go inside appliances. Any animal inside any appliance. Ever.”
The opposite of this phase is when he goes through a period of not wanting to do anything, ever. The most wretched version is when Only One Parent Has Been Chosen By His Emperor, The Magnanimous B-Dub, to perform any and every given task. “NO, MOMMY HAS TO TAKE THE CEREAL BOWL. NO, ONLY MOMMY CAN HELP ME DRAW. ONLY MOMMY CAN HELP ME HIDE THE BODIES IN THE PUMPKIN PATCH AHHHHHH.” It’s like, jeez, kid.
But this too shall pass.
It shall always pass.
The Sweet, Sad Season Of Our Passed-On Poochie
Our taco terrier passed away this past year. It was hard on all of us as it always is and always will be, but this time we had the added random factor of hey so how well do toddlers deal with death –? I know I don’t deal well with death both real and imagined and I ostensibly have a better-developed emotional switchboard. But we faced it head on and didn’t sugar coat it and tried to be very clear that, yes, the dog had died, and that means she is gone forever. But the kid dealt with it like a champ, literally telling us that she is still here because can “remember her” (I swear to all the gods that he said this — a lesson even we adults could stand to learn).
Then, about three months after she passed away, B-Dub started talking about her. Sometimes like she was still around or coming back. Sometimes like he was her — at one point he pretended to be her and said, “I’m sick.”
So we said, “We’ll give you medicine.”
“The medicine won’t make me feel better,” he said.
And then we swept up the pieces of our broken hearts with a broom and dustpan.
But over time he gained control of it — and there ensued a period of time when Everything Was Our Old Dog. Every stuffed animal, every toy new and old, every conversation. Over time that softened, and now he brings her up occasionally. I’m guessing this phase was a vital one just to help him deal with the loss.
Phases can have that kind of value. Maybe that’s the value they always bring: helping your fumbling little weirdos figure out how to deal with the rigors of existence.
The I-Can’t-Poop Epoch
“I can’t poop,” he says, one day.
It had been three days since his last dropped deuce.
“Because it’ll hurt.”
“Did it hurt last time?”
“Did it hurt at some point in the past?”
Blink, blink. “So why do you think it’ll hurt now?”
“I don’t know it just will.”
Ahh, the logic of the tiny person. When pressed, he further explained:
“My poop is old and I don’t like this poop anymore, so I will not poop.”
This week has suggested an end to the phase — but man, has this one been A CEASELESS DELIGHT. You know what happens when your Little Person fails to dump his biological garbage? It backs up. It makes him cranky. He does dances that he identifies as his “poop dances,” which are interpretive dances that you should interpret as, “I have to poop but I don’t want to so I’m going to spasm in an inelegant way in order to try to coerce the poop to never leave my butt.” Then he gets skidmarks in his underwear and you start having to have frank discussions about WHY HUMANS NEED TO EXPEL WASTE without at the same time creating some kind of psychological condition and fear about the entire act (IF YOU DON’T TAKE A CRAP YOU WILL FILL UP WITH CRAP AND THEN YOU’LL JUST BE A CRAP GEYSER PLEASE ENJOY THE RESULTANT NIGHTMARES OH AND DON’T FORGET TO FEAR YOUR HORRIBLE, PURGATIVE BODY).
We tried lightly incentivizing — you don’t want to over-incentivize because if he thinks that simple, necessary acts can net him a new toy or a pony ride or some shit, he’ll push that button every time. So, it’s mostly a little bit of chocolate. (As the aforementioned crunchy hippie hipster douche-dumplings, we buy him these no funky coloring choco-rocks that taste better than M&Ms and have a perfect texture.) But the best incentive, I think, is celebrating when he goes.
Which means that whenever our kid takes a crap, we all clap and applaud and have a grand old time. YAY, YOU POOPED, YOU PERFORMED ONE OF THE CORE TASKS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, LET’S ALL GATHER ROUND AND MARVEL AT IT and then you marvel at it and his fecal leaving is about as big as the leg on a baby doll and your eyes bug and wonder exactly how this very small person produced this very large, adult-sized tugboat into his potty.
Needless to say, we’re glad this phase is over.
Even if we have to applaud our kid taking a dump.
To be honest, I now kinda wish people applauded when I did it.
The Police Boat And Bear Cycle
People don’t understand how fucking weird kids are.
Just fucking super ultra weird.
Like, I feel as if I’m weird, but then my son says or does something and you just want to ask, “What is wrong with you? Are you all right? Why did you say that thing? Are you human or some kind of alien intelligence pretending at being human?” (The other day at dinner he knocked on his head with his knuckles. We asked, “Why are you knocking on your head?” His response: “I’m just seeing who answers.” As if a praying mantis might explode out.)
So, at night, we play for a short while in his bedroom before book-time. Stuffed animals and pretend and the like. Lately one of the things he insists on seeing is that we take his GIANT EPIC STUFFED BEAR (it’s bigger than he is) and then I drive one of my old Matchbox cars that looks like a police boat on and around the bear. The boat drives on his head, in his mouth, the bear stomps around like Godzilla with the boat riding shotgun, the boat flies out of his butt (that earns paroxysms of laughter) — it’s just weird. I don’t get it. I do not understand the appeal. Why do these things belong together? No idea. (Though I call dibs on turning this into a sitcom or hour-long action dramedy on FOX. Dibs, I say, dibs!)
(A related pre-bedtime playtime weirdness was how he would demand to take me or my wife and pile pillows and stuffed animals on top of us. He would call this “Janteen,” or alternatively, “Anteen.” He would find this so funny, he’d almost cry. I mean, what the shit, kid.)
One day he won’t do it anymore and this, like so many other phases, will fall to the wayside and find itself replaced with some new habit, hobby, obsession or fixation.
The HyperDrama Never Forever Phase
Here’s a new fun one:
Everything is super-dramatic when he doesn’t get his way.
Let’s say he wants to play a game or run around with his toys or leave the dinner table before he’s eaten his food — and we say “no” for some reason or another. Whatever the restriction, his response is incredibly dramatic and usually contains the words: “never again.”
“I’ll never ever get to play with my toys ever again. Forever.”
He’ll never watch that show again.
He’ll never be able to eat that food again.
He’ll never forever ever finish his dinner ever again ever ever ever.
One time he was playing with a toy but I was busy doing something. He wanted me to play with him and I said, hold on, Daddy’s gotta do this really very important thing for work (translation: probably tweet something dumb). And B-Dub, without missing a beat, keeps his eyes on me and then takes the toy and goes and tosses it flippantly into the corner of the room. “I guess that goes there now,” he said. “I guess that’s… that’s just it. Just throw it in the trash. We’re never gonna play with that toy ever again.” It was this totally passive-aggressive vibe, all: “MIGHT AS WELL FLUSH THE WHOLE THING DOWN THE TOILET, THEN. THAT’S CIVILIZATION SORTED. IT’S ALL OVER NOW. I HAVE NO FATHER. ALL OF LIFE IS EMPTINESS SO LET’S DIE.”
So, this is the phase du jour. Utter melodrama.
Soon, it’ll be something else.
And then we’ll miss the ones that have gone past, odd as they may have been.
*pours a little apple juice on the curb for all the lost phases, weird and wonderful*