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The Story About the Toddler, Volume 13.

My daughter Cordelia is two months into her second year, and it’s been two months since I’ve written anything about her.

It’s hard to find interesting things to write about a toddler. It’s not that she hasn’t done anything interesting. Interesting to me, that is. She does cute things all the time. But cute only works on parents, not other people. She does something cute, and my wife and I spend a minute telling friends about it, and then we have to make it up to them with an hour of penance talking about things non-baby related.

For example. She can use two words together. “Bye bye, mommy.” “Pizza good.” She can pick her nose. She can give a fair verbal warning before she craps in the bathtub. She can play with dolls. She can imitate daddy ripping the throat out of her Mickey Mouse doll and drinking its pretend blood.

She can turn on the radio. She can request that I draw a triangle. She can point to her butt when requested. She can shove her hands inside her diapers to search for treasures. She can imitate mommy saying “Shit.” She knows that she can rouse her father from a nap with one good punch.

You see? Who gives a shit? It’s excruciating. The thing is, it’s fun writing about babies and one year olds, because they are bizarre, alien beings who perceive the world in a fundamentally different way than we do. It’s kind of cool.

But toddlers are basically just stupid humans. And I don’t know about you, but I’m already around stupid humans ALL THE TIME.

But I’ll write stuff about her anyway. It’s easier than actual parenting.

Four Days Of Indifferent Quality Care

OK. So my wife Mariann needs to fly to the other side of the country for a few days, leaving me to watch Cordelia by myself. That’s not a problem.

What was a problem was the attitude about this of pretty much everyone around me. My friends, my parents, and anyone else who found out that I was watching Cordelia alone got this funny look on their faces, and then they looked really concerned and sympathetic and said something like “Oh. ... Are you sure you’re going to be all right?”

Which, roughly translated, meant “You do know you’re supposed to feed her, and bathe her, and let her keep getting air, right? RIGHT!?!?”

It was sort of refreshing, really. It’s so rare that you get to see what people really think of you. And it’s not like looking after a two year old is so difficult. I mean, sure, they’re annoying, self absorbed little tyrants. But if they need something, they can actually say it. I don’t care how bad a parent you are. If your kid attaches itself to your leg like a limpet and starts shouting “Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!” for fifteen minutes, then you’ll probably be able to catch a clue.

But here’s the funny part. I was a terrible parent after all. Not long after my wife left, I got taken down by a cold.

For Cordelia, it was a one-girl reenactment of Lord of the Flies. I was on the couch, expelling mucous and bloating gaseously. Cordelia watched TV, ran around screaming, and poked at me with chopsticks. Every once in a while, she’d flip through one of her books, and I would try to stay involved in the parenting process by muttering the words on the pages. Or, what I think were the words on the pages. I may have just been rambling incoherently.

And yet, despite my pitiful incapacitation, Cordelia lived. Which means that I have exceeded the modest parenting standards set for me by everyone I know.

Eventually, I got better and took her to the zoo. That was where I learned that I am allergic to zoos.

And Then the Germs Entered Her Head

Brief conversation in the grocery store the other night.

Well Meaning Cashier: “How are you doing tonight?”
Me: “It’s almost midnight, and I’m buying infant cold medicine. How do you think?”
Well Meaning Cashier: “Ah.”

Cordelia caught my cold. So I got to go out and forage for baby cold medicine. And I can’t believe how lame the stuff is.

When I was five, the best thing about being sick was getting dosed up with Nyquil. Nyquil is 20 proof, which did quite a number on my frail frame. If you’re a five year old who really wants to get a buzz on, getting a cold is really the way to go.

But infant cold medicine doesn’t have alcohol. None at all. I checked every brand. Cordelia was crabbing and refusing to sleep, and I wanted to give her something to take the edge of. Heck, I wanted her out like a candle. I wanted to buy cold medicine with a cute little cartoon drawing of a taser on the box. I was looking for a brand that said “We will FUCK your kid’s SHIT UP” on the label.

So I just bought regular infant cold medicine. And I brought it home, and Mariann informs me that the brand I bought will make Cordelia hyper and unable to sleep. What the fuck? Why would anyone ever make anything like that? When your kid is sick, the LAST thing you want is for it to be more awake. So my wife went out and got older kid medicine, mixed it with milk, and neutralized our child.

Then I made a chocolate cake with Nyquil buttercream frosting. It was delicious.

Why I’m a Mediocre Parent

I have always known that I am a mediocre parent, but I’ve never really been able to put my finger on the reason why. (Well, reasons besides writing this mean-spirited little journal and putting it on the Internet so that tens of thousands of people can read it.) But spending the weekend taking Cordelia for lots of walks helped me figure it out exactly.

I have always been a very self-absorbed person. Not mean or selfish. But I prefer to spend a lot of time in my own head. In Elementary school, when the other midgets were playing handball, forming cliques, and interacting meaningfully, I walked around the edge of the field by myself. This wasn’t because they didn’t like me (although, Lord knows, they didn’t), but because I just liked to spend time thinking.

If memory serves, I was thinking about, should the slides and swings and other playground toys come to life and become Dungeons and Dragons monsters, what their game statistics would be. Let this be a lesson to you. Just because someone is quiet and thoughtful doesn’t mean that they are smart.

But now, I am the same way. When I put Cordelia in her stroller and take her for a walk, I shouldn’t be silent. I should be pointing things out to her, trying to fill her empty brain. I should be saying things like,

“Look. That’s a cat. Caaaaaat.”
“That thing? That’s a tree.”
“Down there is grass. Graaaaaaaass.”
“That guy who just almost ran us down in his SUV? We call him a ‘cocksucker.’ Cooooooocksucker.”

But I don’t. I just take advantage of her silence during walks to think about my work. Or movies. Or how much I hate our president. I pretty much disappear from reality for the duration on the walk, only brought out of my reverie by her sufficiently loudly yelling for food.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be a decent parent. I’m not mean. I don’t thump her cute little head. I give hugs. I make sure she is fed and changed. I’ll be able to feign interest in all that weird Pokemon shit she brings homes. But I’ll never be a great parent. I’m just not very engaged in the world.

Shit. Why am I down in the basement writing this? I should be upstairs sharing in my daughter’s limited, priceless toddler years. Shit, shit, shit ...

A Brief, Confidential Message From My Wife To the Person Who Was Staring At Her In The REI the Other Day

“Yeah, look. I know my toddler is screaming as if I just jabbed my thumbnail in her eye. You see, I’m trying to get her to try on this coat before I buy it, and she’s just decided that wearing a coat is the worst possible thing that could possibly happen, so she’s totally fucking freaking out.”

“I’m not being abusive. She’s just like that. And if you don’t stop giving me that horrified look right this second, I’m going to throw her at your head. OK?”

I Can Completely Shatter Her Psyche

The best thing about having a toddler, at the head of a very short list of good things, is that my wife and I can cause her to break down into devastated, remorseful tears simply by raising our voices slightly.

Sometimes, we will be communing with Cordelia the way we usually do lately (letting her watch us play Nintendo), and she will walk up and punch one of us in the back of the head. And we will both say “No. No hit.” and she will completely collapse into tears.

(Note that we say “No.”, not “No!” What I need is a punctuation mark that is halfway between a period and an exclamation point. It’s not a shout, and it’s not a regular, conversational tone of voice. It’s the tone of voice you’d use when you are dealing with a tiny, fragile human being who has just punched you in the back of the head.)

So we say “No.” in a slightly raised voice, and she completely collapses, and we have to hold and comfort her, and all this time I am thinking, “This is great!” I have never ever had so much power over a single human being. Truly, I am like a God to her.

I don’t abuse this power, of course. I have some human feelings. Plus, having to help rebuild her emotionally delays what I really want, which is to nurse my bruise and play Nintendo. But I have to enjoy it a little bit. Because, as I understand it, someday she will be a teenager, and my slightly raised voice will not have as devastating an effect as it does now.

Jeff’s First Rule For Playing With Toddlers

“Never play any game you aren’t prepared to play 500 more times.”

A corollary to this rule:

“No matter how much the kid likes it, never, ever do anything with it that strains your back. Even slightly.”

More Parenting Wisdom

Grand Theft Auto 3 is a marvelous and hugely popular video game that rewards violence, cruelty, and the most savage and barbaric behavior imaginable. I have decided that I will not let Cordelia play it until she is ten or so. While the subject matter is mildly questionable, as a professional computer game designer, I feel it is my sacred parental duty to show her what a well-designed game is like.

It’s sort of like showing your child a sunset for the first time. And then stealing a car and giving it to her so she can run over a prostitute.

I haven’t yet come up with a good reason to show her Taxi Driver when she’s eight. But I’m sure I will and, when I do, it’ll be really convincing.

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