The Sponge Stage, or Why I Now Have to Start Behaving Like a Parent

On Tuesday morning the occupational therapist assigned to Leta showed up with the results of Leta’s sensory profile. We had thought that maybe Leta was having problems processing sensory data and that it was affecting her ability to walk and exposing the fact that both her father and her mother passed on a defective gene, the one that enables human beings to cooperate with others.

The profile shows that Leta is average, that she is neither too sensitive nor too insensitive to sounds and lights and movement. The test results show that she is behaving like most kids her age which begs the question, THIS? THIS IS WHAT EVOLUTION HAS WROUGHT? When we grew legs and started to stand upright why didn’t we weed out the screamers? You think we would have thrown all the loud ones off a cliff and that along with our tails we would have lost the ability to make life unbearable for everyone else at camp.

Leta has learned about 20 different words in the last couple weeks, though, and this has lead to a mood chart that looks more like a series of rolling hills and less like a heart going 600 beats per minute. Some switch flipped in her brain and she repeats everything now, every sigh, every laugh, every exasperated OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO KILL YOUR FATHER. She knows the dog’s name, she knows the babysitter’s name, and hell if she won’t stop saying Elmo’s name. I have to admit, though, that when she says Elmo I melt a little bit inside. She pronounces it, “Melmo,” and the mo part gets hung up in her toothy grin. I want to catch it in the air, throw it in a Tupperware container and freeze it so that I can make a mold of it and hug it like a bunny.

She has mastered Thank You and All Done, and in front of the therapist the other morning she made the sign for MORE. I thought she had been replaced by some supernatural shape shifter who wanted to fuck with my mind. She was playing with a wooden puzzle where she had to match animal shapes when the therapist asked her if she wanted one more shape. Leta put her hands together and said, “More.” She had never done this before, not for me, not for Jon, not for Jon’s sister who teaches kids to sign for a living. WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY CHILD?

She has also begun counting and I can testify that hearing your 20-month-old baby say, “Seven” right after you have said, “Six,” is far more trippy than dropping mushrooms on a beach and thinking that footprints in the sand are dead people’s arms intertwined like the weaving in a basket, that was one hell of an afternoon. You start to wonder, how did she know that? And if she knows that WHAT ELSE DOES SHE KNOW? The counting freaked us out so badly that Jon and I immediately shared a knowing glance, one that signified HOLY SHIT, UNDO! UNDO! Once I cut FUCK out of my vocabulary my tongue won’t know how to form complete sentences.

There is one final battle, however, an epic conflict between our will to stand firm and her refusal to say PLEASE. She knows the word, she knows how to use it, she understands that little baby frogs have their legs torn off when she doesn’t say it. THINK OF THE BABY FROGS, LETA. And yet, nothing is important enough that she will give in, not food, not shelter, not even Melmo. She will hold her lips so tightly together that she starts breathing through her ears, and finally when neither her father nor I have budged she will turn her attention immediately to something else as if to say, “I didn’t really want it in the first place, now don’t you look ridiculous.”