Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Five Years Old

Today, at 3am, roughly the time The Wife was up going to the bathroom, while I snored blissfully unawares, we passed the five year threshold.

Five years since The Littlest Critic came out into the world, her two dark-haired parents astonished to see this tiny little girl with a funky red Afro being carried over to the warming station. It had been a long, induced labor, despite the fact that we had taken eleven of our twelve weeks of Bradley Birthing Classes, preparing us for the wonders of natural childbirth.

She was complicated from the get-go and in five years that hasn't changed a bit. If there is an easy way of doing something or a fantastically complicated way, rest assured that fantastically complicated will win the day.

* * * * *

The Wife stayed home and nursed through the summer following her birth, then when school started again, I snagged a part-time second shift job to stay at home with her during the day. The Wife hooked herself up to the breastpump and left us with bottles. TLC cared not at all for the fancy, ergonomically designed, top-of-the-line bottle nipples. We tried every kind, but only the cheapest, greasiest Wal-Mart brand of latex nipple would do.

And, boy, could she chug. Better correct that trait now, I often thought. That's never going to be a good plan come high school.

* * * * *

Like many people claim that you forget the pain of birth, I have long since forgotten the pain of changing diapers. It's nothing that a visit to my sister and my nieces won't bring back in all its odorous, Technicolor glory. One late summer day, when TLC was about two, as we passed an RTA bus stop near the playground, she looked up at me and remarked, "That's for changing diapers." I looked from the bus stop to her face, then dimly recalled that almost one full year ago, one late summer day, I had stopped and changed her diaper in that very same place.

TLC may not have the greatest memory for why she's not allowed to jump up and down on the back of the couch or why she can't have another cookie today or what I said about trying to run in the parking lot or how to treat her cat, Sparrow, nicely. But every so often she reaches way down and pulls out something strange like this.

* * * * *

Those first four years when we spent every day together, playing, eating, sleeping in, watching cartoons on PBS, going for wagon and bike rides, visiting the library, potty training, learning numbers and letters and words for every single thing under the sun – those first four years are a golden age that will probably never be equaled in my life.

In those four years, TLC introduced me to her imaginary friends, Annasasso, Intenna, and Benniest; she made up stories about Stripes Can Be, Spots Can Do, and the Pineapple Mouse; she named all her stuffed animals with bizarre names like Hayso, Pop Pop Doc Doc, and Ackly Dackliest (who had his/her/? own theme song that went "Ackly Dackly doodlest/TOOOOO MEEEEE/Bum Bum"); and we invented a rather self-explanatory game called Tickle Tack which is played to this day.

In those four years, I almost entirely gave up writing fiction and spent the bulk of my creative time inhabiting a strange fictional world occupied by talking poodles, grumbly dogs, and an imaginary friend who only could be spoken to on the phone. Now that TLC is in pre-school, I don't live there any more. I only visit.

* * * * *

We are vegetarians, TLC and I. Her mother is about 90% vegetarian, though she slips where chicken is concerned and can be induced to take small nibbles of well-prepared steak. People sometimes presume to ask me if TLC made the choice herself to be a vegetarian, as though I were depriving her of some necessity of life. As though parents didn't make hundreds of choices for their children without their children's consent: you will be raised Catholic, you will not hit other people, you will take piano lessons or play soccer, you will wear pants when you go outside, you will stop picking your nose and eating it, you will take baths and brush your teeth, you will go to sleep now.

Yet, for some reason, the follow up question as to whether or not TLC "chose" vegetarianism is frequent, stupidly so.

For the record, TLC thinks the idea of eating poor little animals, who are her dear friends, each and every one of them, is horrible. I've not indoctrinated this idea in her or tried to scare her with PETA videos of slaughterhouse conditions. I've simply said, "Some people eat cows. Do you want to eat cows?" And she looks at me with an almost horrified expression or she'll stick out her tongue and say, "Yuck."

* * * * *

For TLC's first birthday, our scuffed, nasty looking hardwood floors were freshly covered with brand new beige carpet. Everyone marveled at what a difference a little carpet made. All her toddler buddies toddled about, falling over on to their bottoms, on to their hands and feet, on to their heads, and no one cried. Miraculously, no one got frosting on the new carpet either, not even her older cousin R., a rambunctious boy who ran around clonking all the adults on the head with a balloon that bore a striking resemblance to an enormous red phallus.

Just in time for tonight's dinner (the party will be held later, off-site), our carpet has been pulled up and our scuffed, nasty looking hardwood floors are freshly sanded, stained, and refinished. Many of the downstairs rooms have been freshly painted with lighter, brighter colors.

TLC has already given herself an enormous goose-egg bump on her noggin while executing various spins and pirouettes. Plus ça change, plus ça change is probably more accurate here. As it always is.

* * * * *
In the last five years, I have learned more about people (myself included) that I have learned in the previous thirty. In the last five years, I have found a love that outdoes all typical human passions. I love you, Littlest Critic, you little darling, you little smart ass.

Friday, March 07, 2008


When The Littlest Critic was a baby, then a toddler, The Wife and I talked of A Sibling. She wanted a second baby. I had made it clear that one child was all I was prepared for. Any one of a number of reasons can be given for my refusal: my own wishes to be an only child when I was young (sorry, sisters o' mine), the environmental impact more Americans make, the issue of how to afford more children in this ever-increasingly expensive world, the timeframe when I'd finally be able to go back to working a meaningful, day-shift job, and, lastly, to be perfectly frank, I hadn't wanted to have any children in the first place.

Now, I completely admit, I had been wrong about that. TLC has enriched my life in so many ways that I can't even comprehend anymore who I was before her. She herself is, in her own rights, well worth the price of everything. I love her dearly and wouldn't trade her for the wide world.

For a while, The Wife, too, went back and forth on the new baby idea. Sometimes she was gung-ho for it, to the point of having shouting fights with me to advocate the idea. Other days, she was glad TLC was an only child since the tyke didn't have to share us. Coming from multiple sibling families, the both of us, we understood the dynamics of having to fight for your share of attention, your fair shake, your turn to be, if not the favorite, at least the favored.

Eventually, I pretty much ran the clock out on this line of argument. The Wife's family tree is overrun with twins and once you reach a certain age, the chances of producing twins goes way, way up. The Wife is – ahem – in the range of that line in the sand, and it's been made quite clear from my end that I would consider twins a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Even TLC has waffled on the idea of A Sibling. "Just you and me and mama," she used to say, realizing that a new baby would want to play with her toys, would get all the attention, would cut in on her being the center of the world. A Sibling, moreover, would signify a move by TLC out of our bed and into her own.

(Yes, we are co-sleepers; yes, she is almost five; no, I don't care what you or anyone else thinks about this.)

From time to time, TLC would suddenly announce, "I want a baby sister." It was pretty much always a sister, never a brother. Then she'd go right back to not wanting a baby sister. "Just you and me and mama." We'd visit her cousins, at least one of my sisters being fecund enough to have a new baby arriving often enough to let TLC get a quick new-baby-smell fix. The Wife, too, would hold one of these nieces, the tiny, weightlessness in her arms, and she'd look at me with doe eyes and wistfully puckered lips.

No dice. "You know," I'd artfully mention later in the car, "that weight does get harder to drop off as you get older."

(Yes, I am a jerk; yes, I do know it; no, I don't care what you think about this 'cause I'm a jerk. Q.E.D.)

Eventually, TLC started Pre-K and I snagged a good job in the advertising field. Having such a good job, such an impressive sounding job ("What do I do? Well, I'm a copywriter for an advertising firm.") acted as its own baby repellent, as the notion that I'd have to give up this good job to take another cruddy night job in order to stay home with the new baby was too much even for The Wife to ask of me. You see, I'd spent the last four years in a job that The Wife described after visiting my office as "soul deadening." When she said that, she'd sometimes look at me with a mix of pity and admiration, as if I'd come damaged out of a great war.

For the last few months or so, the idea of A Sibling hasn't really come up much, but when it has, TLC has been consistently in favor of the idea. Last night, the newest cousin, my nephew by my youngest sister was at the house and TLC began talking up a "baby brother." The Wife assured me that this was not, in fact, the first time a brother had been part of her plan.

The Wife went further to explain TLC's thinking on this matter. It went like this:

Daddy and Mommy will get not married anymore and Daddy will get a new wife. Then he and the new mommy will have a baby brother for me, then Daddy and my baby brother will move back here and live with us and marry Mommy again.

What impressive kid logic! TLC's hooking me up with some brand new luvin, plus, somehow she's become convinced that the actual roadblock to A Sibling isn't me, but her mother. I know she's been Daddy's Girl lately, but seriously, she's too good to me by far.