Oh hey, kiddo. You’re 23 months old! You’re a mere month away from your second birthday. I’d say “I can’t believe it,” but as I type this, you’re crouched on the floor of my parents’ family room, “helping” close the eyes of Kimpy, the definitely-worse-for-the-wear 40-year-old baby doll that used to belong to me. (“Kimpy” is a portmanteau of Kim and Pam, two teenage girls I idolized when I was your age.) You “help” close Kimpy’s eyes by gouging them out repeatedly. This is highly emblematic.
Your almost-second birthday has coincided with an extended trip to your grandparents’ in Oregon. This trip, as I’ve documented extensively, got off to a rough start — and I’m gonna be honest, kid. It hasn’t gotten much better since then. (And not just because two out of the three female inhabitants of this house currently have pneumonia, including me — the walking kind this time, if we’re keeping track, which I always am.)
If I still read the baby books (I chucked those motherfuckers into the metaphorical fire about a year ago, when I realized they did nothing but make me feel like an abject failure, and I recommend all other new parents do the same, unless you enjoy feeling like an abject failure, in which case they are just the thing), I’m sure they’d say something like Two-year-olds are just beginning to solidify their sense of place, and may get anxious when their routine is disrupted, and then I’d be like YOU DON’T SAY. You don’t say. Sure, you’d THINK that a kid who has resisted routine like a Donald Trump voter resists facts wouldn’t care about her routine being disrupted, but you’d be wrong.
Six months ago, when we arrived here at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for our last visit, you bounded out of my arms and down the hall, and didn’t stop delightedly squealing WE’RE AT GRANDMA AND GRANDPA’S HOUSE!!!!! for the next six weeks. You couldn’t go out into the back yard fast enough, and we had to bribe you to leave the park. Our first night here, just as you were about to drift to sleep, you started awake and demanded NURSE ON THE PURPLE COUCH, which is your all-purpose term for I am in need of comfort, and refers to the dark-red sofa in our living room in St. Louis.
You repeated NURSE ON THE PURPLE COUCH until you were in hysterics. You wanted to go home.
The next morning, I tried to take you out on our customary neighborhood jaunt to “Sunday-Dance” (Sundance), the health-food store down the street, and you were having none of it. WANNA GO BACK TO GRANDMA AND GRANDPA’S HOUSE. You also refused to leave my side.
I did not leave the house for three days.
Now, two weeks and one brutal cold later (you’re still pretty stuffed up, but otherwise unperturbed), you are thankfully more or less back to your normal self, and even tolerate being in the care of someone who isn’t me for up to 60 entire minutes! But there are still many unmistakeable signs of the almost-terrible-almost-twos, and they include but are not limited to:
(aka the PARENTAL FUCK-OFF NO MATTER THE COST, MOTHERFUCKERS)
When we finally arrived in Eugene, it was a homey 20 degrees, and the entire surface of the known Earth was covered in a layer of ice. It was beautiful, but also chilly. Adult humans with no newfound autonomous self-identities to assert wore outerwear. But guess what you hate to do? Wear a coat. If I can even get one on you (which I must wait until we are already outside to do, so that you can notice that IT’S COLD OUTSIDE and that’s why you need a coat), about forty-five seconds later, you start with the chorus of TAKE IT OFF. TAKE IT OFF!!! GO BACK TO THE STRAWBERRY SHIRT! (Or whatever happens to adorn your inner layer).
For awhile, we compensated for this by loading you up in layers, which you allowed for approximately three days until you cottoned on to our unforgivable desires to keep you from hypotherming yourself to death, and then you stopped wanting to wear sweaters and sweatshirts over your inner layers. TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF! Then you stopped wanting to wear sweaters and sweatshirts at all. TAKE IT OFF!!!!!!!!! “Maybe we can take her to a strip club,” your father mused. “She can help.” I guess it’s probably for the best that you’re scared to go outside, since it lessens the risk of frostbite.
OH GOOD, TANTRUMS
The morning we were stuck in Portland at my friend Sara’s, I thought it would be tons of fun to suit you up (in the coat you hate) so that you could play in the snow for the first time in your conscious life. What kid doesn’t like snow? As luck would have it, Sara had a pair of Croc galosh boots in your exact size and she let us borrow them. We somehow got you to wear your coat, and then gingerly traipsed over to the pocket park on Sara’s block, where you plonked down onto your butt within four seconds, and panicked about the snow on your pants. (You’ve become fastidious about stuff on you, whether it’s dirt on your hands, water on your pants, or any food you find suspicious touching the few foods you find acceptable, such as blueberries.) WASH IT OFF! WASH IT OFF! you cried. Then, unfortunately, you remembered you were wearing a coat. TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF!!!!!!
We hurried you home, only for you to decide that the aforementioned blue Crocs — which, it turns out, were too small — were the most important sartorial addition to your repertoire in human history, and when we attempted to remove them, you threw your very first toddler tantrum.
TAKE THEM ON!! (Obviously the opposite of “take them off” is “take them on,” clearly). WANNA TAKE IT ON!! WANNA TAKE ON THE BLUE BOOT!!!!
In front of friends I hadn’t seen in twenty years and a very interested baby, you melted the fuck down, screamed yourself horse, collapsed finally into whimpers. “Huh,” I said. “She’s never done this before.”
That day, you were still getting over your stomach bug, you were discombobulated and tired and confused — of course you melted down. Who wouldn’t? We all felt like melting down. (Fluffy) trouble is, we’ve been treated to an encore performance of this spiffy new skill you cultivated on a near-daily basis, for such sundry reasons as:
- you have failed to achieve precisely the correct “cozy and safe” position on the couch
- your sock is coming off
- one of your pant legs has ridden up
- you sneezed
- you ate some soup
- your grandmother left the room
- the play-doh owl is ripped (you ripped it)
- the sticker of a parrot has been decapitated (you decapitated it)
- Care Bear is on the floor while you’re on the couch
- Care Bear is now on the couch, but you’re on the floor
- You wanted to be on the couch and not the bed
- I removed you from the bed to take you to the couch
- The decorative frog wasn’t in the exact location on the shelf where you remembered seeing it last
- The puppet doesn’t talk by himself
We still don’t say the words “blue” and “boots” together near you.
“You’re so lucky your kid talks so much,” people say. “She can communicate anything she wants.” She sure can. Currently your big fixation is “sparkles,” thanks to my ill-conceived decision to have the Schumans celebrate actual, honest-to-Jesus-God Christmas for the first time since 1990. Part of this festiveness involved the obligatory Ugly Sweaters, which included this gem for your grandpa:
And a blinding sequined number for your grandma, which you immediately fell in love with to such an extent that you not only forced her to wear it nine days in a row, but any time your petite, bird-boned, easily-chilled grandmother dared to don a sweater over it, demanded: TAKE OFF MY SWEATER!! TAKE OFF MY SWEATER! (Other people are still sometimes “me” and you are still “you,” intermittently.) Often, she complies (perhaps that’s how she got pneumonia! Now what’s my excuse?), and that’s how you came up with one of your new songs: SPARKLE SPARKLE GRANDMA. SPARKLE SPARKLE GRANDMA. To distract you while your grandmother did laundry, I bought you your own sequined sweater from H&M, and it came today, and you let me put it on you (perhaps its sparkle-ness outrode its sweater-ness), and caught your reflection in the mirror, and proclaimed: SPARKLE SPARKLE BEANIE! SPARKLE SPARKLE BEANIE!
Yes, adorable, sure, great. Not all of your demands are so cute. Your primary demand — the refrain that punctuates my day as regularly as my own heartbeat and/or terrifying hacking pneumonia-cough — is NURSE ON THE BROWN COUCH. (At least you’ve no longer decided you need to go home to St. Louis, so that’s something.) Dog spook you? NURSE ON THE BROWN COUCH? Someone want you to eat something that’s remotely healthy? WANNA NURSE ON THE BROWN COUCH! Does your mother have to use the bathroom, drink water, or godforbid do anything related to her paying work? WANNA NURSE ON THE BROWN COUCH NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, you definitely talk a lot. But approximately 57% of what you say is NURSE ON THE BROWN COUCH.
At least your desire to nurse on the brown coach is ostensibly true. Sometime in the last month, you’ve also learned to fib, which should be depressing but is instead hilarious. A few nights ago, when you were mid-tantrum and insisting to leave the bed and go NURSE ON THE (you get the drift), you insisted you were SCARED OF THE BED!!!!! Tonight, as my mother put on her coat to leave for a rehearsal, you proclaimed you were SCARED OF GRANDMA’S COAT!!! A few days ago, you looked at your father in the middle of your snack and said: GRANOLA IS SCARY. I guess this isn’t so much lying as a use of the word “scary” that does not bear a family resemblance (shall we say) to the way the rest of our language community uses the word “scary.” Maybe that doesn’t count as a fib. But this does:
Often, during your bath, you’ll ask for a glass of water to drink. (We try to discourage you from drinking your bathwater; nothing would make you happier.) We’ll ask you: “Are you going to drink the water, or dump it?” “DRINK IT!” We hand it to you; you dump it. Repeat 9000 times, while singing this song you made up: WE DON’T DUMP THE WATER WE DRINK THE WATER (dump)! WE DON’T DUMP THE WATER WE DRINK THE WATER (dump)!
Right this second, in fact, as I type this, you are attempting to climb your toy easel. Your father asks: “Are you climbing the easel, Fluffy?” Mid-climb, you say “No.”
ALSO SOME GOOD STUFF, FINE
The almost-twos are not all almost-terrible, though. All of this anxious behavior has, of course, come alongside a massive cognitive leap: You can feed yourself with a spoon and fork with relative ease (until you DUMP! WE DON’T DUMP THE CHEERIOS! [dump]); you can speak more or less fluently, though still more declaratively than conversationally. Your current favorite thing to discuss is opposites. “What’s the opposite of cold?” I’ll ask. “DE OPPOSITE OF..COLD…IS…HOT!!!!” What’s the opposite of up? “DE OPPOSITE OF UP…IS…DOWN!” Many of your opposites are correct; others are perfect toddler stream-of-consciousness. “What is the opposite of SHORT?” “DE OPPOSITE OF SHORT IS…SMART!” Others are dirty jokes I taught you. What’s the opposite of fart? “DE OPPOSITE OF FART IS…QUIET BUPP!” (That’s my level of comedic inspiration these days.)
You also say things that only mean what they mean to you, sometimes for reasons I can discern, other times not. Chief among these is your propensity for yelling LET’S GO VIOLET every time you run down the hall. If I try too hard to figure out why, I will explode.
As you learn better and better how to lie to us, we are are also less and less able to lie to you. The other night, in an attempt to try to get you to eat a vegetable, my mom went on a long tear about how she was going to give you a “tree,” a special tree to eat on the “big big island” (something you talk about all the time for reasons I don’t understand). She placed it on your high chair, and you took one look at it, and cocked your head, and said: IT’S KIND OF LIKE BROCCOLI.
In a month, you’ll be two. I can’t believe it. I’m exhausted. I’m filthy. I’ve got pneumonia. I’m your mama, and no matter how loudly you tantrum, or how many sequins you demand, or how many fibs you tell, or how many glasses of water you dump, or how many spears of broccoli you identify and then refuse to eat, I will be here, right by your side, to help you and comfort you and keep you safe.