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The Story About the Toddler, Volume 11.

Our daughter Cordelia is 23 months old now. And, when I say daughter, I mean goblin. Some little girls are cute, demure, mommy-leg-clenchers. Not mine. She is pink and cute, but she stomps around the house, taking things, grunting, and baring her teeth, in a distinctly goblinish way. Sometimes, she rushes from room to room, arms straight out ahead Frankenstein fashion, going “Ahhhhhrrrrr!!!” I know I’m supposed to think this is cute, but it just makes it look like she wants to eat my brains.

In the last month, she made several advancements. First, in the same day, she managed to land a well-aimed kick on each of my testicles. Second, she started counting to 16. (And I am using the word “counting” in the parental sense, which means that she can babble the first 16 numbers by rote without having any comprehension of what numbers actually mean.) Third, she reached her “no” phase.

Some toddlers have a “no” phase. That is where they say no to everything, even things they desperately want. I can hold out an ice cream bar to Cordelia and she will claw for it desperately, all the while shouting “No! No! No! No!” The words are indistinct because of the drool the ice cream is making her generate, but they’re clear enough.

Science has varying theories for why some toddlers do this. One belief is that it is their way of beginning to establish their independence as human beings. My theory is that toddlers aren’t very bright. Either way, it delays for another several months any possible meaningful communication between me and my goblin.

If she is starting to develop independent will, however, that gives me and my wife another difficult and time-consuming job to do: breaking that independent will. At some point, we have to expend the effort to teach her not to crap her pants and throw her drink onto the ground. It’s easier to clean up the messes than to try to convince the little humanoid of anything. But we’re running out of excuses.

When Do I Have To Start Molding Her Brain?

In the last few months, I have neglected to mention Cordelia’s growing evolution in the waste-excretion area. Once the novelty of diaper changing wears off, there comes a point where even the most enthusiastically brain-dead parent stops noticing the many changes in texture, consistency, color, odor, and radius of the baby’s droppings. It was exciting once, a long time ago. But now, unless her crap is on my shoe or I see a domino poking out of it, it’s not interesting.

But that doesn’t mean that the march of progress has stopped. Cordelia still craps her pants, but she can now tell when it is about to happen, and she is wise enough to be ashamed of it. When she needs to go, she now goes into a side room and hides under a table. Sometimes, she even takes a magazine to flip through during the process. It’s adorable.

Hiding before a crap is, supposedly, one of the primary signs that toilet training can begin. I have no idea how the toilet training process actually works. I know it involves buying some baby sized toilet that sits in the bathroom, but it’s not really a toilet but a seat with a bucket under it, and the best case scenario is you walk into the bathroom and there is a plastic bowl of shit there and you go “Aiiyyeeeee!!!”

Toilet training does involve books. Cordelia’s grandparents bought her one. It’s about babies going to the bathroom and it has a tiny little speaker in it and if Cordelia pushes a button you hear the sound of a toilet flushing follow by a creepy little girl giggling and this book is now my least favorite object in the entire world. It is a war crime.

Toilet training is really on my mind now because, for the first time, I’m really having to think about how I will actively mold Cordelia’s behavior. Until now, parenting has simply been a word for “death prevention.” Now that is not enough. I have to train her.

How do you train toddlers to do things, anyway? Reward then by giving them chocolate? Hugs? Money? Giving them books? Threats? Cost-benefit analysis? I mean, we are going to have to train her to do all sorts of things. (Dress. Chew with mouth closed. Kill.) Human beings are the most extensively trained creatures in existence. We are trained by our schools, and our bosses, and our wives. Everything in our lives is governed by this elaborate web of rules that has been painstakingly beaten into us. Sometimes literally.

So I have to train Cordelia. I have to break her will so she doesn’t grow up to be a little heavily stained howler monkey who can’t get dates.

This worries me. I can’t even get her to sit in my lap for 3 consecutive seconds before she wriggles away and zips off. How am I supposed to program her?

A Really, Really Neat Trick

And if I am going to train her anyway, can I teach her tricks? One couple we know has a little boy. When he was Cordelia’s age, some friends went to their house. These friends tried to do the standard “Briefly ogle the cute baby and flee” thing. The boy pointed up at one of the women and said, solemnly, “Death!”

This really righteously fucking freaked her out.

I want to train Cordelia to do this. Granted, I have not had much luck training her to do things. I’ve tried, say, playing fetch with her, and she is less capable of following instructions than your average cocker spaniel. But, by rewarding her with candy, I hope to be able to train her to point at passers-by in the mall and say “Death!”

This would be great. I picture superstitious old immigrant women fainting in terror and security rent-a-cops checking to make sure that the safeties on their fake guns are on.

It is important to find fulfillment in parenting where you can.

The Words I Most Wish She Could Understand

“Cordelia, daddy has to go urinate right now. Please do not freak out and start screaming when he goes into the bathroom.”

The Worst Parenting Advice, Ever

It took some time, but I finally figured out the stupidest piece of advice anyone ever gives parents.

It is that you don’t need to buy baby food in the stores because you can make it yourself.

That’s right. I should go out and buy okra and wash it and boil it down and carefully mash it into paste so that my child can eat 1% of it and reject the rest. That effort is SO preferable to spending pocket change to buy nice, premade food in a jar at the store. It is great to know that we can spend some of my incredible surplus of spare time boiling beets.

Christ, for only a dime more, I can even get a can get a jar with “Organic” printed on the label, which proves I’m a better person.

Jesus. If I can’t spend a tiny amount of money to buy something that saves me a lot of tedious work, why the fuck did we come down from the trees in the first place?

Brief, Tasteful Comment

Cordelia was watching me put laundry away, and she insisted on playing with the clothes hangers.

This is really ironic. After all, the clothes hanger is the natural enemy of the baby.

Off-Topic, But Still Significant, Marriage Rant

I have frequently discussed, in the installments of this journal, potential good reasons to have children. There aren’t many.

My current best reason to have children is the beneficial effect it has on one’s marriage. The bonds of family and parenthood are so tight and so fulfilling that it becomes all right to totally neglect your marriage in every other way. When my wife would, under any other circumstances, be choked to the point of strangulation with fury and black bile, all we have to do is stand arm in arm and look down at our daughter and a warm feeling of parental bliss will overcome both us and any potential obstacles to our togetherness.

(One corollary of this, of course, is that couples who aren’t parents have a weaker, more fragile love, but I think this goes without saying.)

It was a real relief when I realized this, because it took a lot of the pressure off. Marriage in this modern age is just plain a pain in the ass. I mean, it was easy in the old days. You could swear to be with someone for life no problem, because by the time you got settled down and the hormones wore off and you began to feel trapped, something killed you. You were gored by an elk or the syphilis ate your brain or you got a cold. You only ever had to maintain being married a few shivering, terrified years.

But now, at the age of 33, we’ve been married about 5 years. If life-expectancy forecasts are to be trusted, I have to keep this up for 40 more years. And I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible. I mean, I’ve known me for 33 years, and I already totally drive myself up the wall. I am sure my wife will get to that state much, much sooner.

So how do we settle this? How do we humans get ourselves out of this whole marriage trap we’ve found ourselves in? Sure, children bring total relationship harmony, but then they grow up and leave, and they don’t take your spouse with them. So, what?

A Simple Solution To Everyone’s Problem.

After 25 years of marriage, a couple is required, by law, to duel to the death with pistols. The winner can go on, no harm, no foul, and find a new spouse. I pick pistols as a way to keep male physical strength from providing an unfair advantage. I first wanted to have married people fight to the death with axes, but that seems slightly unreasonable.

Of course, you may ask, what if the couple in question is still truly in love and wants to stay together after 25 years? My answer is: this will never happen.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, it does? Simple. The couple can agree beforehand to intentionally miss each other during the duel. Once the shots are fired, if both parties are still standing, they are forced to stay together until a non-gruesome death does them part.

Of course, the ability to make such agreements does not prevent the possibility of amusing treachery:

Man: “Honey, I love you. Truly. Let’s miss each other and be together forever.”
Woman: “Uhhh ... Sure! I’ll miss you! No problem!”
(2 days later)
(POW!) “Ugghh!” (thud)

The possibility of this happening is, I feel, one of the most amusing and interesting things about this plan.

So there we are. The whole marriage problem is only going to get worse as human longevity increases. And, frankly, my wife deserves a good shot at escaping me. Sure, there are problems with this system, like the increase in life insurance premiums, and the foul stink of evil that rises from the whole idea. But I trust other people to find ways to make my idea work.

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