7:15 a.m. Shirtless and buttery-skinned, you are sacked out motionless next to me on a double bed in your grandmother’s house in upstate New York. We are both sprawled out luxuriantly, but the price we have paid for this is high. Your father has been relegated to his own twin mattress, shoved off to the side and slightly lower in elevation. The mattress is the synecdoche of Papa’s unfortunate place in the family hierarchy since your auspicious arrival.
7:33 a.m. Showtime. After flipping over a few times, snuggling your naked back against me, and then a stretch and a sigh, you’re upright and the running commentary has started. GOOM-GOOM! You cry. It’s your last baby-talk carryover, your special term for breastfeeding. WANA GOOM-GOOM NOW! It’s an onomatopoetic approximation of the sound nursing makes. You clamp back on, drift uneasily back off. It doesn’t last.
7:45: You pop back up with a huge grin and a halo of bed-head. WANNA LISTEN TO MERRILY MERRILY MERRILY ON THE RED PHONE! Or, sometimes: WANNA GET DOWN AND RUN AROUND? Since you started speaking in sentences (albeit of the largely demand-based variety) about a month ago, many of your commands take the form of rhetorical questions. YOU WANNA GO IN THE LAKE? YOU WANT SOME CHEESE CUBES? YOU WANNA GO IN SPECIAL SEAT? YOU WANNA MAKE A GREEN FACE WITH CRAYON? YOU WANNA GET ELEPHANT STAMPS MUCH AS YOU WANT??!!!??? Obviously you want to do all of these things. Sometimes you want to do them badly enough that your question turns into an arm flap, which turns into a plaint, which turns into a whine, which turns into a soul-wrenching series of sobs, a.k.a. a quintessential Toddler(tm) Brand Tantrum.
8:00: I say, You wanna get a new diaper and get dressed and go play? (I wonder where you got your command style!) In form of answer, you utilize non-sequitur and repetition: NURSING. MORE NURSING AGAIN! Every time I attempt to wrest you from my bosom, clothe either of us, perhaps even pry myself from you for long enough to use the bathroom, you clamp back on in direr need. I clench my bladder, resign myself to a long morning, read my phone behind your head and try to ignore the news.
9:30: Eventually, you deign to allow me to cater to your basic personal necessities, and we adjourn to the breakfast table, where you may or may not announce the arrival of your alter ego, FLUFFY TROUBLE. First name Fluffy, which alludes to one of your favorite books, Dog and Bear (I CHANGE MY NAME FLUFFY!!! You spent most of your 16th month of life declaring CHANGE NAME FLUFFY! Sometimes just NAME!!!!!); middle name Trouble, because, a-duh, Trouble is your middle name. You Christened yourself at Mazzi’s, a family-friendly Italian eatery in Eugene, in early June, when we arrived and you saw fit to spend most of dinner tearing around the dining room with a sheepish parent in tow. CHANGE NAME FLUFFY! You cried. FLUFFY! “Are you causing trouble, Fluffy?” I asked. “Is Trouble your middle name?” With sheer delight, you replied: FLUFFY TROUBLE!!! FLUFFY TROUBLE!!!!! And just in case we weren’t sure you knew it was your new full name, you elaborated: FLUFFY TROUBLE SCHUMAN-ROHLOFF!
9:35: Fluffy Trouble, now learning to use utensils and preferring to DO IT SELF SAMA (code-switching!) has seen fit to give herself a yogurt facial. My inner soliloquy these days goes: Can I clean it up later? Will it afford me twenty minutes to AeroPress some decaf and eat half an egg, perhaps, even, to use the bathroom at my leisure? Then it’s allowed.
10:30. GO IN THE BIG HOUSE! YAY! Off to the Clink with you. We never tried to “sleep-train” you, being as we are so sensitive to your cries that we decided early on we lacked the intestinal fortitude to allow you to cry it out. But I guess we successfully “crate-trained” you, even though that is not a thing people are supposed to do with humans. When at last you discovered moving pictures, you fell in love with the Cat in the Hat, select old-school episodes of Sesame Street (like me, you find the new-school episodes to be cynical, cutesy, focused on selling toys, and lacking in meaningful allegory), and, being only the second-worst parents on the Internet (“Bird Mom” has been summarily displaced by “off-the-grid mom”), we decided to relegate your screen time to Baby Jail. I put you in there about once a day, either when I have a deadline and nobody is around to help, or I have a pressing biological need (or a semi-pressing desire to bathe).
11:00. IDZIEMY DO PARKU! Your bilingualism is still with us, albeit uneven, and mostly involves (unsurprisingly) bossing your dad around. Most days, he takes you for an hour or so in the morning so that I can have a mild semblance of a career (no hyperbole; my forthcoming book and all of my articles are done in 45-minute spurts in this fashion), and usually you go to the park. For months, all you wanted to do there was swing. SWINGING KID! You’d say. MORE SWINGING AGAIN! To pry you out, we’d have to wrest away whichever of your beloved and ever-growing menagerie of stuffed animals you’d brought with you, and in the moment you raised your hands to grab Own Monkey, or Guy the Frog, or Cat the Cat, or Miś, or Yellow Miś (known in a previous life by yours truly as Care Bear, seen above enjoying a GOOD SIT with you), we’d scoop you up. Of course, we should have counted our lucky stars when all you wanted to do was zone out in the swings, because recently you’ve entered a phase where you want to go down the slide, which you are still too small to do on your own, a fact that largely escapes you and results in a not-small amount of consternation when we won’t let you hurtle yourself to your immediate neck-breaking demise.
12:00. YOU WANNA GET SOME CHOW? LUNCHY MUNCHY! With a nice sheen of yogurt-crust still visible on several appendages, it’s time to strap you back into your high chair and get you to eat literally anything that is not a Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. You stopped eating vegetables sometime in mid-January and since then your eating habits have stagnated somewhere between Peak Toddler Chicken-Nugget and Well, At Least She Still Likes Blueberries. At the cusp of your one-year birthday I would have characterized you as a “good eater” who “loves broccoli.” Your father (and all other relatives) blame me for letting you try mac and cheese once, all those months ago. “If she’d ONLY known broccoli, she’d STILL only want to eat it.” To which I say, excellent parallel structure, but, also, you are welcome to strap this kid in and feed her three times a day and then see whether she Welcomes a Variety of Foods Once You Introduce Them. For two months in Eugene, LUNCHY MUNCHY often involved partaking in your Grandpa’s favorite pastime, GO TO RESTAURANT. As a result, you got to be on a first-name basis with the waitstaff at many of my hometown’s finest establishments, including your personal favorite, Morning Glory, and my personal favorite, Noodle Bowl (at which I never get noodles and ALWAYS get Bibimbap). Currently, in addition to Nutrient-Free Toddler OG Classics (mac, pizza, Goldfish, fries–which you call “sticks”, etc.) your favorite things to eat are berries, avocados, your Babcia’s chicken, and your grandmother’s Spaghetti Bolognese. In contrast, my favorite things to eat are my feelings, which, despite my enthusiastic return to WeightWatchers, I somehow keep doing. (Well, WeightWatchers and then in short order a ripoff app based on the old WeightWatchers, after I found out that new WeightWatchers is basically a super-restrictive diet and if I were the kind of person who could “nudge” myself to eat only grilled chicken and veggies all day I WOULDN’T NEED A FUCKING WEIGHT CONTROL PROGRAM; pardon the authorial intrusion). Anyway, no matter what your Grandpa says, many of his favorite restaurants are Point Massacres, but we all generally had a great time there anyway. Especially when you’d get super-grumpy toward the end of the meal, and then melt down on the way home, signaling a…
1:30, or sometimes 3, or maybe 4, or, hey, why not 5, or, hell, 6:43, because I am convinced that you are still fucking with us: NAP. OH SWEET MERCIFUL CHRIST, A NAP. FUCKING FINALLY, A NAP. All right, a minute or two where I can catch my breath and hear myself think. First, time to update my NotWeightWatchers Points. “My Feelings = 9000.” Next, catch up on some work. Finally, some real writing getting done up in this–oops, you’re stirring. You’re sitting. You’re wobbling back and forth, beginning to whimper. GOOM-GOOM. GOOM-GOOM NOW! Sigh. You end the caesura by clamping back on, glugging as if your life depended on it (HINT: IT NO LONGER DOES. YOU EAT FOOD NOW), your eyes rolling back into your head. The good news: You’re back asleep! The bad news: This may foreshadow evil things later. The other bad news: Now I’m immobilized with a toddler on my titty. I make the most of my alliterative paralysis by scrambling for my phone, raising it above your head, and watching a teeny-tiny episode of Roadies. I don’t even like Cameron Crowe, and I have never been one to affect a soaring love for rock’n’roll, but for some reason I can’t stop watching.
7:00. Dinner. Sisyphean coda of lunch, breakfast, and what seems like every other fucking moment of my life.
7:30-9. Shenanigans Part I. Now, at last, Fluffy Trouble is free to be her most troublesome self, BEST EVER SEEN! WANNA PLAY WITH CIRCLES? WANNA PLAY WITH SEMI-CIRCLES? WANNA DRAW WITH CRAYONS? DRAW PUPPY! DRAW A-OTHER PUPPY! DRAW A-OTHER GREEN PUPPY! BIG BIG FOURTEEN! Just as your parents are beginning to teeter in place, wondering how much toddler exposure a human being can endure without keeling over, it’s time for several hours of periphrasis, often of the ironic variety, courtesy of your very interesting development of complete sentences and unique contextualization. (FRIENDS SHARE TOYS! you say, yanking away a kid’s toy; NO RUN STREET! you say, racing straight for it; I’M STUCK! you insist, when we’ve buckled you in to your carseat on purpose.) This is also the time when independent rambunctiousness overtakes you, where all you want to do is play by yourself (often the most dangerous and/or destructive way possible), and then, often, you request to read your books. As you have since you were ten months old, you have all of your books memorized, and can now generally provide the contents of each page word for word. You have not yet reached the point where you chastise me for not reading it EXACTLY RIGHT; I can only assume that’s coming soon.
9ish: Bath. An excellent time to practice our favorite song, which goes: WEEEEEEEE DON’T STAND UP IN THE BATH. WE STAY ON OUR BUP* IN THE BATH. (*You used to say “bup” for “butt,” and that’s now what we all say.) You know all the words to the song, but that doesn’t mean you HEED the song. You inherited many of your mother’s “gifts” (the “gift” of nonstop stream of consciousness yapping, for example), chief among which is the immediate memorization of all song lyrics. This, combined with your as-yet-undeveloped ability to sing, results in a lot of inspired spoken word around the house, often combined with your signature dance move of bending over slightly at the waist and sticking your arms out behind you, fists clenched. WALKIN OL JOE WALKIN OL JOE YOU’RE DA BEST HORSE IN DA COUNTRY OH GALLOP OL JOE GALLOP OL JOE TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR FRERE JACQUES MONSTER IN THE MIRROR WUBBA WUBBA FIVE SPECKLED FROGS MORE GET TOGETHER NO MORE MONKEYS JUMP ON BED MISTER SUN SUN MISTER GOLDEN SUN PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH MADE WITH JAM CAT CAME BACK CAT CAME BACK AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
9:30-??? Shenanigans, Part II. You’re bathed, skin so perfect and clean and baby-smelling soft. You’ve yawned. Perhaps you’ve even melted down over not being allowed to stuff a handful of nickels into your mouth. It’s time for bed. GOOD NIGHT PAPA, you say. GOOD NIGHT, GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. GOOD NIGHT, BABA. We adjourn to the bedroom, say goodnight to all of the furniture. We read another book, usually One Fish, Two Fish. We say GOOD NIGHT, LIGHT, and fade into darkness. GOOM-GOOM, you say, refrain that starts the day and ends it. GOOM-GOOM. GOOM-GOOM. You clamp on, and I feel your breath start to slow as you chug and chug, your eyelids beginning to flutter. Your father sneaks into the room, slips in beside us (or, depending on our location, below us–you used to be able to go to bed without him in here, but lately you’ve taken to screaming out his name, and another of your ironic sentences, PAPA BE RIGHT BACK, PAPA BE RIGHT HERE, PATIENCE! ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE TEN BUCKLE MY SHOE ELEVEN PATIENCE! PAPA BE RIGHT BACK!). You sigh a contented sigh. We wait. You settle. We wait some more, breath held. At long last, your father whispers: Is she down? I say…I think…maybe…y–aaaaand before the word comes out of my mouth, I feel the telltale shuffle of your weight from my chest to your knees. You pop up, grinning from ear to ear. ROOSTER SAY OH MY GOODNESS! WALKIN OL JOE! WANNA DRINK WATER? WANNA SING CAT CAME BACK? GET DOWN RUN AROUND! You’ve done the epic fakeout, the Boob ‘n’ Rally, and now you’re good to go, in the dark, hopped up on the might of eleven thousand nickels someone stuck in you when I wasn’t looking, for infinity more hours. It is usually close to midnight–if not after it–that, at long last, you deem the day sufficiently lived, and you go to sleep.
My incredible daughter. You are not easy. You are not obedient. You are hilarious. You are defiant. You are sweet and kind, yes–but you are also a badass. You are a bad ASS child, and I admire you for it, and I want to be more like you. The world has its share of sweet, obedient girls already. You are here to turn it on its head, to–pardon my mixed metaphor–set it on fire. (I HOPE METAPHORICALLY.) You are my priceless badass child, and I am in constant awe of your indomitable spirit, how it fills rooms, charms (and ever-so-rarely rarely appalls) passers-by (the ones it appalls are assholes). As you grow older and your sentences start to blend into conversations, you will continue to find that some of the boundaries the world so unfairly places around you are there for a reason. But the others–the others are arbitrary. They are. And I hope that you live the rest of your life ignoring them, or, in full resplendent mode of Fluffy Trouble, plowing them down.
Yours, as always humbled (and exhausted),
PS: I am terrible at ending things, so here is a deus ex machina of a more excellent photo-moments of the past three months.
PPS: OH HEY LOOK, Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Awkward Miscommunications and Humiliating Situations Only They Have Words For, is available for pre-order in hardcover and on Kindle. PLEASE BUY IT, even though you are a little baby and don’t have any money and can “only” read 20 words. XOXO.
PPPS: Yeah you read it right motherfuckers, my year-and-a-half-old can FUCKING READ. Who’s a terrible mother who deserves to die now?
PPPPS: She is teaching herself to read, bee-tee-dubs. I’m not some psycho who drills here all the time. I swear, she loves it. Just ask her!