The emotional remote control

Recently Leta disassembled the babysitter portable DVD player, ripped off its lid and stuck the screw that had kept the lid attached into her sippy cup. Aside from the months and months of unnecessary screaming, this has to be the most toddlerish thing she has ever done. I’m scared to even discuss this here, because I know I’m just tempting fate, but Leta hasn’t ever really exhibited destructive behavior that is so common in kids her age. She doesn’t color on any surface other than designated pieces of paper or topple furniture or throw silverware. Unlike my sister’s twin boys, she hasn’t once swiped the keys to the car, escaped the house and then thrown those keys onto the roof. Those boys did that when they were two. A year later they cut the tail off their Beagle. With scissors.

Is Leta a stubborn kid? Absolutely. But sneaky? Not at all. We can’t take credit for her usual good behavior because there is no way we have anything to do with it. She just isn’t very interested in seeing how much she can get away with. Occasionally we have to stick her in a corner and pull her fingers with salad tongs to get her to stop pitching a fit, but Jon is usually the one who sent her screaming in the first place because he cannot resist pushing her buttons, and buttons there are many.

For instance, Leta wants every book to begin with, “Hola! I’m Dora and this is my friend, Boots.” I do not see anything wrong with this as I have a hard time believing that she will still be doing this in college. However, when Jon is reading her books he refuses to start with that sentence “because he doesn’t like to encourage her denial,” and in return she likes to fall on the ground and writhe. I come in to see why it sounds like someone is raping a cat and find Leta hysterically clutching her book, screaming, “HOLA DORA! HOLA DORA!” while Jon sits there snickering, his arms crossed calmly over his chest. “I’m going to win this one,” he says.

This drives me crazy, but not even as much as when he teases her with his electric toothbrush. First of all, an electric toothbrush? Seriously? Is the concept of moving your hand up and down so confusing that you have to have a machine do it for you? He swears that he can feel his teeth becoming whiter every time he uses it, and every time I leave him alone with it in the bathroom he makes such noises that I suddenly find myself jealous of a toothbrush.

The first time he used it in front of Leta he did not warn her that it was going to sound like he was parking a motorcycle in his mouth, and it scared her so badly that I had to hold her for ten minutes while she shook. Now whenever she sees Jon walking toward the bathroom she shouts, “IT WON’T HURT! IT WON’T HURT!” as if she is trying to convince herself that her father has at least a fighting chance of coming out alive. Oh, he’ll come out alive all right, with a huge white grin on his face.

Jon thinks we need to force Leta to confront her fear of the electric toothbrush because that is what Cesar Millan would do. And so while they are playing in her room he will suddenly stand up and say, “I think I need to brush my teeth right this instant,” leave the room and return with what is to her nothing different than a device used to drill holes in someone’s skull. She goes insane, starts screaming for me, and I have to come in and punch him in the nuts. Because that is not okay. It is not okay to scare your child with a toothbrush. However, you could probably convince me that it is okay to scare your child in other ways, like say, by jumping out of a dark closet, or by dangling Elmo over the toilet. But I wouldn’t call that scaring. I’d call that leverage.