A couple of days ago you turned thirty-one months old. I’m pretty damn glad this month is over, to tell you the truth, and not because of anything you have done. In fact, you are probably the one thing that has pulled our bodies through the thick mud of the last few weeks, through the crappy pea soup of circumstances that sometimes happen when you are responsible for putting things back together after they have gone terribly wrong. It’s called Being an Adult, and it totally sucks. Many nights your father and I will fall lifeless into bed, and in the moments before we both fall asleep one of us will turn to the other and say, “I want gum. Pink gum.” Those are the first words out of your mouth every morning, and it’s our way of reminding each other of what we have to look forward to, of the reason our lives are really quite wonderful. It’s impossible to dwell on the more difficult parts of life when you live with someone who farts and then routinely screams, often in public, “Daddy tooted!”
Mornings are your most talkative time, and after demanding a piece of gum and before I’ve even lifted you out of the crib you start asking for various items from the kitchen as if ordering from a menu:
“A cup of water. Big. With ice in it.”
“Strawberry coptart. Not hot.”
“Chitchen. Four. With mustard. And tetchup.”
If I bring you water in the wrong cup, or fix you a poptart that has no icing, you become so unnecessarily insolent that if I were your server I would secretly spit into your Diet Coke. You will only eat a specific brand of chicken nuggets, ones shaped like the silhouettes of dinosaurs, and in the most recent bag we bought there was one piece that must have gotten caught in the machine at the manufacturing plant. Two dinosaurs had fused into one giant lump, and I actively avoided serving it to you until it was one of the only pieces left. I was hoping that maybe you wouldn’t notice the odd piece, and you didn’t until you had already dipped it in ketchup and brought it to your mouth. That’s when the monstrosity locked eyes with you and ate your face off. There was a lot of blood, a lot of splintered wood where the deformed dinosaur had wrestled you to the ground, had confronted you with its Wrongness, and afterward as I mopped up the carnage your father mentioned that he had avoided serving you that exact piece, too. Do you know how embarrassing it is to realize that you have rearranged your life for a chicken nugget?
Just one day previous to that incident we were all sitting around the table having lunch together, you and I and your father and the babysitter, when you refused to eat the chicken we had cooked for you. This is not uncommon — see: every post I have ever written about your eating habits — and my take on this now is to completely ignore you. Whether or not you eat a particular meal is going to have very little effect on whether or not you make it to your next birthday, so I no longer spend any energy worrying about this. Your father, however, cannot stifle the DNA given to him by his own father, and when you rebel this way he feels an irresistible need to prove just how much control he has as a parent, and more importantly, as a man. “Leta!” he said as he gripped the top of the table with his fists. “You see all three of us sitting here? We are all your bosses. Mama is your boss, Katey is your boss, Daddy is your boss. Your bosses are telling you to EAT YOUR CHICKEN.” It wasn’t the most convincing argument he has ever made, but it was probably his loudest. You sat very quietly with your hands in your lap, and after shooting both me and the babysitter a quick look you pointed straight at your father and said in a tone that gave him the first glimpse of the hell his life will be when, several years from now, you and I end up having our periods during the same week, “Mama is the boss OF YOU!”
This month we have spent many afternoons playing with your ugly plastic baby dolls, pushing them around the house in strollers and wrapping them in blankets to keep them warm during the long, cold summer. You love to put together puzzles, draw flowers, jump on the bed, and recite entire books from memory. One day when we had exhausted all your usual activities, I was searching for something to allay your boredom when absentmindedly I stuck a small bouncy ball in my mouth and spit it out like a clown. You thought it was the funniest thing you had ever seen, and so we spent the next hour spitting out bouncy balls. I didn’t think anything of it until the next morning when I was working in the basement and I heard the babysitter scream. I ran upstairs to find her hyperventilating, and when I asked what was wrong she said, “Leta put a bouncy ball in her mouth!” You mean, one of those objects that is as perfectly round as the opening in her throat? That which could lodge itself squarely in her esophagus? I hope you watched her spit it out because that part is a total riot!
One night last week we had dinner with my father and arrived home later than your usual bedtime. When we walked in the door I told you to follow me into the bathroom to get ready for bed, but you protested the way someone your age usually does, with a really dramatic, “Nuh-uh!” and by stomping your itty-bitty feet which could be heard all of two-inches away. I headed to your room to get out your pajamas when I heard your father walk to the front of the house and tell you it was time for bed. “No,” you said again, but this time more softly, more reasonably, and then continued, “I’m sitting here for two minutes.” Your father yelled from the living room that you had put yourself into a time-out, had moved your chair against the wall and climbed onto it. How could we possibly expect you to go to bed when you are not allowed to get out of that chair? That was an impressive tactic, Leta, and it made me think that maybe it’s not such a good idea that you are in the room when we watch 60 Minutes. I eventually picked you up and carried you to bed, but next time I may see your psychological warfare and raise you one Elmo Hostage Crisis.
I have a friend who used to say that when I talked about parenthood it sounded as if I were trying to convince myself that everything was okay. And for a long time it was exactly that — this new way of life was hard to navigate, impossible at times. I used to hang up the phone after talking to her, crawl into my closet and cry because I thought I was so bad at this. I said a few months ago that things were better, and they were, but I had no idea that you would continue to become more charming, more adorable, more full of surprises. At this age you are like Christmas every morning, always saying something wildly outrageous, often breaking into song in the oddest places, and now my friend tells me that when I talk about parenthood it sounds like an instrument I’ve been playing all my life. I like to think that I feel better about this because I am better at this, but I know it’s mostly because you are the most amazing person I have ever known. Whenever I talk about you to other people, whenever they ask me how I’m doing with this, I’m not sure I can adequately communicate just how lucky I am to know you.