3/20/2005

Twelfth Trimester Report


"I say we cook her and eat her."

That is the sound of me becoming giddy with exhaustion and despair, leaning against my wife's shoulder as she stares into space with red-rimmed eyes. After a pregnant pause her mouth drops open like a fish. "...What?" she says, mechanically.

Our daughter has just turned two, and decided to become terrible. She's declared a neverending war against all forms of sleeping. It's four thirty in the morning and the toddler has decided that only losers wait for sunrise -- so, she's come padding into our room in the dead of night to jump on my kidneys. "I awake!" she sings.

Lord have mercy: this is my Twelfth Trimester Report.

The gestation period for human beings is traditionally divided into three parts -- called trimesters -- each three months long. Thus, the first three reports in this series dealt with the gestation of our daughter Ingrid, while the subsequent reports have detailed the process of her extra-uterine maturity. This is the twelfth trimester since her conception, and young Ingrid is experimenting with a staggering hormonal explosion known as "the terrible twos."

The change was heralded quietly -- the fanfare, in the form of crying, was yet to come. When she waltzed right through her morning "quiet time" a few days after her birthday we were unconcerned, and when she skipped her afternoon nap we figured she just had some excess energy to burn. But when she wailed and hollered at the prospect of finally going to bed we knew we were suddenly dealing with a different animal.

"No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!" she bayed like a demented banshee, tossing her little blonde head back and forth. "No bed! No bed! No bed pwease no!"

So, we stayed up for a little while longer and drank hot milk. It seemed that peace had returned until my wife said the word bed and thereby caused Ingrid to start bucking and clawing like a rabid squirrel. "No-no-nonono!" she screeched, writhing as if tortured.

"She is totally, totally insane," commented my wife.

"Do you have any holy water?" I asked.

We did eventually get the spastic little mongoose into bed, and like fools we thought we were free. We went downstairs and poured some wine. I was about to sip mine when my wife frowned and cocked her head -- her womany sense was tingling. I listened, too. What I could not hear was the sound of tiny footsteps coming down the stairs. Ingrid appeared in the hall, spotted us, and instantly began to wail.

This happened several more times over the course of the evening: she was put to bed, we thought we were in the clear, and then like a phantom haunting our sanity she would step out of the shadows and plaintively bleat.

By midnight she had finally tired herself out. "At least she'll probably sleep late," yawned my wife as we gratefully passed out in our own bed.

At five thirty in the morning the toddler stole into our room, positioned herself directly beside my wife's head, and started screaming. Both of us rocketed awake. When Ingrid saw that we were responsive she calmed down a bit, sniffed, and declared, "Mama, Papa: Bo scawed dawk."

"Did you say Bo is afraid of the dark?" echoed my wife.

"Yeah," Ingrid confirmed woefully, cradling the apparently terrified teddy bear in her arms. "I awake," she concluded brightly. "I hungy."

This routine continued for day after day -- to bed at midnight, up at five, no napping for anyone. We all started feeling a little rough around the edges, which in Ingrid expressed itself as a tendency towards restlessness, impatience, whining and dramatic mood swings. "It's like she's a menstruating insomniac," I moaned.

The days were long and loud. "Why won't she stop whining?" whined my wife. I began to have fantasies about being in a coma.

We bathed the child. We lulled the child with song and hot milk and quiet mammal snuggles. We ran the child. We begged the child. We co-slept the child. But there was nothing we could do to affect the storm surging through our daughter. She had declared a fatwa on rest, and she would not give in come Hell or high water.

Hell came in the form of parents on the edge: heavy-lidded, aching backed, irritable, darkly sardonic adult-size things without hope in life save death. At a certain point enough is simply enough. "That's it: I'm taking her ladder away."

Our daughter lives in a tiny loft, you see, and she accesses it by a wooden ladder leading to a small hatch. Removing the ladder, I reasoned, would keep the hyper-toddler in her room...where she could sleep or not sleep -- just as long as she wasn't jumping on my kidneys in the middle of the night.

My wife was initially worried that Ingrid wouldn't notice that the ladder was gone, and would fall when she tried to leave her room in the dark. But all we had to do was watch the way she nimbly monkeyed down the ladder a few times to be reassured that she never descended without first feeling the way out with her toes. My wife did insist, however, that I tell Ingrid was I was doing. So as we put her to bed that night I said, "Ingrid, Papa's going to take your ladder away tonight. You have to stay in your room. Do you understand?"

"Yeah."

She may have understood, but she did not believe. It was less than five minutes later that we heard her angry discovery of the missing ladder, and subsequent deduction that escape was now impossible. She raged, her incoherent ranting sounding throughout the upstairs of the old schoolhouse. My wife and I cowered in our room, our hearts quailing to hear our toddler so furious.

The furor died down within a quarter hour. When we checked we found her asleep on the floor by the hatch. We quietly replaced the ladder, snuck inside and transported her back to bed. In the morning we found her on the floor by the hatch again, but this time surrounded by a small camp of blankets and toys.

It wasn't until the second night that she figured out after careful experimentation that the dropping out of her loft of any sufficiently heavy object would bring parents running in a heartbeat, convinced it had been Ingrid herself who had fallen. Thus were destroyed the cuckoo clock her Nana had given her for Christmas, her variously cross-branded CD player, and a plastic musical mobile we'd been saving for Baby Two (who is unconceived but scheduled).

I gave Ingrid a spanking that night, and really felt rotten about it afterward. Not because I thought the spanking was inappropriate, but because it just sucked to make somebody I love so dearly cry so pitiably. I felt in some ways that I had broken a precious bubble, never to be recovered -- I had introduced surprise and chagrin into a trust so pure you could float your soul on it.

"We're really going to have to work hard to keep you from spoiling her," warned my wife after listening to me simper about it.

"I know, I know, I know."

More crying, more screaming, more thrown objects. The next day the child was a horror of grumpiness, and so were we. Every changed diaper was a howling wrestling match; every meal was a messy fiasco. It was a long day, and my wife and I bickered. In the evening she went into the city to see friends, and I babysat the bratsplosion. I put off bed-time as long as I could, but eventually I broached the subject and endured a lot of histrionics. Not long after being first put to bed she began hanging out of her loft and crying, calling that she had dropped her teddy bear.

"Did you drop Bo by accident, or on purpose?" I asked her.

"Drop Bo," she repeatedly ambiguously, reaching out for him from the hatch. "Wadder, pwease," she added, pointing at the wooden ladder leaning against the wall.

"No ladder," I said, shaking my head. I scooped up Bo and handed him back to Ingrid. "You get back in bed right now, please, and close your eyes."

Ten minutes later the wailing resumed. Bo had once again found his way out of the loft. I picked him up, replaced the ladder and stomped up. "Do you remember last night, when Papa spanked you?" I demanded.

"Yeah," she said, looking down and twisting her hair in her fingers. "Bad giwl, bad-bad."

"Look at me Ingrid. Do you want to be spanked again?"

"No pwease."

"Then you get into bed!"

She climbed up the second, shorter ladder into her bed and accepted Bo from me. I replaced the covers and tucked in her little feet. "Papa, I not tiode," she told me. "Want ba-ba." (Ba-ba is her babytalk word for "bottle.")

"Listen, I will bring you a ba-ba, but here's the deal: you have to stay in bed while I'm away getting your ba-ba ready. Can you do that?"

"Yeah."

"What are you going to do?"

"Goine stay bed, Papa ba-ba."

"Right. Now I'll be right back -- I promise -- so you wait here in bed."

She nodded emphatically and patted the bed, so I jogged downstairs and heated up enough milk for half of a small bottle. When I came back she was climbing down her ladder. "Uh oh," she said.

"Ingrid! What are you doing?"

"See whea Papa -- whea Papa?"

"I told you to wait in bed," I scolded, and she dropped her eyes and pouted. "Why should I give you this bottle now, when you didn't stay in bed?"

She wordlessly climbed back up her ladder and got into bed. I followed her up. "Sowwy Papa," she whispered, patting the bed. "Ingid bed. Papa ba-ba pwease?"

"It can be hard to be patient. But I think you did try to be patient. Here's your bottle," I said, handing it over. "Now, I want you to stay in bed. If you're not sleepy, I want you to play quietly. Can you do that? Can you play quietly for Papa?"

"Yeah," she said earnestly. "Pomise," she added before sticking the bottle into her mouth.

"You promise?"

"Yeah, pway kitely pomise," she said around the nipple, nodding. She lay back and tucked herself in, handing the empty bottle back to me. "Ingid pway kitely."

And that was it. It was over. She fell asleep in five minutes and has been going to bed without fuss ever since. As suddenly as the storm had come, it was done.

The next day she napped twice, and retired early. The day after that she woke late, and napped again after a whiny and fussy afternoon. When she woke up the morning after that she was born anew: smarter, faster, bolder. Suddenly she could put her jigsaw puzzles together. Suddenly she could sing along to songs past the first verse. Suddenly counting took on new, coherent significance: "one, two, fee!" -- it was a revelation that could be applied to so many things!

These new powers did not go unnoticed by her, either. Along with their debut came a new demand for her own opinions to be taken more seriously. "No I don't want it!" became her new refrain. She delighted in refusing to eat her favourite foods, on the grounds that refusal itself was such a gay, novel concept. Anything suggested to her would be refused at least once before she conceded (often enthusiastically).

She also became more cunning.

Shortly after my wife figured out that a tired but restless toddler could be forced into a nap by lying in the bed beside her until she fell asleep, Ingrid figured out that she could refuse to nap unless a parent lay beside her. "Mama seep!" she would say, patting the bed beside her. "Papa seep!"

She also learned that she could sound the alarm call on various subjects (like having wet herself or being thirsty), putting off naps or bedtime for several minutes. She demonstrated her lack of sophistication at deception, however, by attempting to compound their power by using all of her lies at one stroke. As she was being carried upstairs you would hear her object: "Mama, I pooed; I scawed; I sick; I hungy; I fall down got ouchie."

But this period of experimentation was short lived. She did not become permanently dependent on falling asleep with a parent, and she did give up trying to fool us into changing unsoiled diapers. Within a couple of weeks she settled into new groove, caught up on her sleep, and resumed being charming.

We're on an upswing now.

Her independence increases with each passing day. "No, I do it!" she insists when an adult tries to helpfully interfere with something that is frustrating her. When she falls her first instinct is to try again to climb whatever bested her, while angrily sniffing back tears if it comes to it. "I do it!" she cheers in victory. When she does fall and hurt herself she's the first one to admit that she's usually only crying from fear, not from pain.

"No I do it!" she'll insist as she wrests herself out of your comforting grip, determined to try again.

She has spent the winter finding places to climb in the schoolhouse, industriously pushing stools away from the bar and combining them into improvised monkey-bars. She climbs up her Great War era schooldesk as a first stage and then hauls herself up on the high stools, lying on her tummy and flailing out her limbs. "I fly!" she claims.

There is no shortage of sage voices whispering uninvited opinions that little girls shouldn't climb to places from which they might fall. I endeavour to smile and be polite, because such opinions come from a warm place in people's hearts. At the same time, I wish they'd shut up. They are shocked and scandalized that Ingrid climbs a short ladder to her loft, and horrified that this ladder's terminus is just a few feet away from another stairwell; their active imaginations can easily spin scenarios in which a toddler falls off her ladder in just such a way as to bounce down an additional flight of stairs.

They point out that when she climbs on stools she may fall. When she falls and recovers they say she was lucky to have landed well. When she falls and lands badly and cries they shake their heads and cluck.

One concerned opinionator even suggested that allowing toddlers to live in lofts was contrary to the laws of the land governing the care of minors (which, for the record, is baloney -- Canada isn't that socialist).

We have been led to believe by some parties that we are, in short, terrible and reckless parents.

Like I said, I struggle to remain polite.

My child is a monkey, and she loves to climb. She is as sure-footed as a mountain goat, and she got that way by testing her limits, falling down, and then pushing beyond to a new level of skill. Her ability to absorb minor injuries is staggering compared to an adult. Her voracious hunger to pit herself against obstacles is a passion too keen by half for me to even dream of crushing to satisfy my own nervousness.

She is always supervised. When her risk assessment seems a tad naive, we step in to warn her. When she essays something patently foolhardy, we intervene and outline boundaries. We do allow her to fall, that's true, but nothing catalyzes her powers of adaptation like failure. It only takes a few spills to educate her about the salient elements of a precarious situation. "Need hewp!" she'll appeal at an impasse (usually uttered while hanging off the edge of something, feet kicking in the air for balance).

This all goes to say that she has never given us a reason to doubt the freedom we grant her. "But she might fall down the stairs!" my mother will say.

"True," I'll agree. "And so might I."

And so might any of us. Children must be allowed to err, this I believe strongly. When they are sheltered from failure or injury they become ill-equipped to deal with them when they inevitably do come -- leaving them surprised and discouraged, feeling vulnerable and ashamed. In contrast, I believe that children who are not so sheltered learn that minor setbacks are just tripping stones on the road to eventual success.

Also, the kid isn't stupid. I mean, if she misses her footing on her ladder she grips the sides and says, "Whoa!" She looks down at the stairwell and knows it isn't a place she'd like to tumble. "Faw down," she says. "Caful!"

Toddlers are unsophisticated, but they're not morons. They fall down enough to know what hurts.

We refuse to give in to paranoia. Ingrid isn't a baby anymore. She's a tiny human being, capable of (inexperienced) judgement and making (simple) decisions. Because of her limited exposure to life on Earth we watch over her, but we do not stifle her explorations.

And her explorations continue.

These days she can often remove her own clothes, but still has trouble putting them on. She's become touchy about using the potty, but we're still making progress. She has begun to identify letters by shape and sound -- "M is for Mama!" -- and with her crayons pretends to write longhand when she isn't bashing at my wife's laptop in an effort to type. "M!" These days she can also accurately identify several colours, including wed, yeyyow, bioo, geen, pink, puwpo, white and biack.

She is eager to see metaphors for the parent-child relationship everywhere. Anything little is the baby, anything medium is the Mama, and anything large is the Papa. For example, when a small car parks beside a large truck Ingrid will explain that the "baby car" wants to be with "Mama tuck." Little things all alone are often described as "missing" their Mama, as little things attached to or atop large things are said to be "pwaying wif" their Papa.

Her favourite movie in the entire universe is master animator Hiyao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro (1988) with Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999) coming in as a close second. The first movie enchants her because it is a sensitive and evocative story about two little girls who live in the old Japanese countryside presided over by an adorable forest spirit; the second movie enchants her solely on the grounds that it includes a robot.

"Wobot! Giant wobot!" Ingrid will cheer, waving the DVD case around and explaining the pictures on the back to me. "Wobot eat metal, Papa. Wobot big steps, boom-boom-boom!"

Ingrid goes ga-ga for any form of automaton including but not limited to the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, a television commercial featuring a dancing Citroen, Artbot on TVO Kids, Bender from Futurama, and any statue or figurine made of metal. "Thassa wobot, Papa!"

Ingrid feels that many robots are misunderstood. Sometimes they seem scary at first, but they're really good folks at heart. "Dey don't know wobot sis good," she will explain when people in movies run away from robots. "Sis good wobot."

Her tolerance of media that doesn't include any robots has decayed, which pretty much puts the two of us in the same boat. (She'll always make time for Miyazaki though, which is fine because so will I.) She is also very taken with anyone or anything who flies through the air, including "wockets" and "panes."

Ingrid has been drawing for a while now, but her position on the matter recently underwent a seachange when she came, rather suddenly, to really appreciate the fact that drawings could be representational in a literal sense -- in other words, the picture could mimic known things as opposed to just holding imaginative scribbles inspired by known things. It occurred to her one day after we had watched The Iron Giant and she was sitting at her desk drawing while we chatted. I suggested that she draw the robot from the movie. She furrowed her brow and looked confused, handing the crayon to me.

So, I drew a quick sketch from the film, in which the robot stands in silhouette behind a row of trees and sadly watches his new friend, Hogarth, drive away. As I drew her eyes widened, and when she couldn't contain herself any longer she dashed the crayon out of my hand and grabbed the paper. "Papa, thassa wobot!"

"That's right. From the movie."

"Wobot sad -- poor wobot. Thassa wobot there!"

"You got it."

She gathered up the paper and crayon and shoved them at me. "Papa, dwaw wobot! Papa, dwaw Hogarf!"

"I don't know how to draw Hogarth. How about if I draw Totoro?"

"Yeah, dwaw Totollo."

So I drew Totoro. A look of religious awe passed over her face. "Sis Totollo! Sis Totollo there!" She hugged the paper, crumpling it. "I lush Totollo."

"I know you love Totoro. Can you draw him?"

She took this challenge very seriously, and concentrated hard with her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth as she laboured over a big circle filled with a series of smaller dots. She retracted her tongue and stood back. "Wow, sis Totollo there!"

I couldn't see it, but I trusted her. I basked in her joy at discovering that the images and characters that appealed to her could be called into existence wherever she fancied, issued from the tip of her crayon. She was drunk on creation. She experimentally put Totoro in the same drawing as the Iron Giant, and then declared them to be friends. "Good spin-off," I said.

When we teach her new things she checks back with us frequently to make sure the facts are still valid. Yes, the grass is still sleeping under the snow; yes, the moon is in the sky. Her most persistent question is, "Whass happenine now?" and it is offered at regular intervals a few seconds apart whenever a new noise or event is detected. She wonders where the people she knows are when they're not in sight. She's eager to tell anyone who will listen her inventory of most amazing insights: that kittens are baby cats, that it's mean not to share, and that pee comes out of Papa's penis.

"I no haffa penis," she'll add, in case the matter was unclear to you. "Gotta 'gina."

She understands Latvian, and will speak a few words. She understands some French, but won't say a damn thing. (That's fine -- I know she's storing it for future use.) Whenever she hears Japanese she exclaims "Totollo!" from having watched the subtitled DVD when our VCR was on the fritz. "Hai!"

When she's high on life she spins in circles and screams. "I sceamine!" she giggles, and then screams again. "Sceamine!"

Yesterday we played in the wet, thawing yard, a mud-smelling field rising up from beneath the snow. Spring is coming soon and we've been telling her about it. My wife and I smiled as we listened to Ingrid making up a song and singing to herself as she played on her swingset. "Bo Bo, B'Bo-Bo-Bo, Bo Bo..." she sang to her teddy bear. "Ingid Ingid, In'Ingid-Ingid-Ingid, Ingid Ingid..." she sang as she spun in place. "Outside!" came the chorus. "Outside-outside-outside....Bo!" The melody was remarkably consistent.

"Are you singing?" my wife asked her.

"Yeah," she replied carelessly as she hopped in a puddle. "I music."

And she is. It's true. The kid is music.


7 comments:

Hachifusa said...

I don't usually leave comments on anyone's journal, especially anyone I don't know, but just to let you know: that was arguably the best entry I have ever read. Considering I have been having dreams lately about having a son around that age (I'm eighteen, and I am in no way, shape, or form ready to have children), it was particularly entertaining.

*shrug* Just thought I'd mention it.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Hachifusa,

Thanks for troubling to write.

It's true what they say about having kidlets: it's stinkin' rewarding.

M F D H
aka CBB

Anonymous said...

I have been sure I wasn't going to have children since they are a lot of work. You make it sound enchanting and magical in spite of the sleepless and other down sides. That is powerful prose. I really enjoy your writing.
Amanda

NolaPete said...

I stumbled across your Darth blog and look forward to it each day. I decided to investigate the person behind the brilliance and found even more that I enjoyed. My daughter will be eleven this month. She was fortunately terrific twos instead of terrible twos of which I'm thankful. I did although experience similar to what you went through with an ex-gf's toddler. Thanks for the wonderful account about Ingrid. She sounds like a splendid child and you two sound like equally good parents. Keep up the good work.

suanie said...

Really beautiful post. You took me on part of the journey with your words. Enjoyed the ride. And I don't even like kids that much.

Shu the Happy Norseman said...

Incidently, it was suanie who mentioned yr blog in her blog. Seems she has passed by here too. Loved yr writing style, and this piece is just wonderful. Makes me wish for my own kid too n i'm still in uni. Like Amanda said, you made it sound enchanting and magical. Loved it. All the best with yr daughter!

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