Today I learned, again, that screaming “Don’t puke on the carpet!” doesn’t really impact a cat’s decision process. I also learned that picking a cat up while it’s busy puking on the carpet and tossing it into the kitchen is an excellent way to get lumpy warm bits of half-digested cat food onto the coffee table and wall, among other things. Other things in this case being a distressed toddler, said toddler’s snack, and said toddler’s mother, who was less than pleased. Other educational activities included a test on “Why do you care, you never clean it up anyway!” during which time expired before I was able to fully answer the question, and a makeup exam on “Suppressing your laughter during an apology” which I failed miserably. Not the first time I’ve failed that one, either.
I fail the majority of these tests, even the ones I self-administer. “Juggling a sippy-cup full of red kool-aid near white sofa in attempt to impress daughter?” Failed it. “Frantically scrubbing red stains off white couch before wife notices?” Did not receive passing marks. I also botched the oral exam on the question “Why on earth would anyone other than an complete idiot show a child how to juggle a sippy cup?” and its follow-up “How do you get kool-aid stains off a couch?”, the correct answer to which is not “Ask you to do it?” Helpfully mentioning that the couch hasn’t even been off-white since the baby started walking, perhaps more of a beige, doesn’t really improve things, as none of these colors are still anywhere close to red, which joyfully shouts out its presence like a drunk in a gospel choir.
None of which bothers my daughter, who gives far easier tests. “Playing with water hose” is a slide, as is “Running slowly away from little person with water hose”. “Loud startled arpeggio when little person unexpectedly sprays Daddy’s crotch with cold water” is her favorite, though. It’s right up there activity-wise with crawling into her nylon play tunnel and having Daddy pick up the whole shebang and swing her around, singing “Who’s daddy’s pretty girl? Who’s daddy’s pretty girl?” over and over again, until halted by a mother with visions of her precious flesh and blood being ripped thru the space-age tunnel fabric by the immense centrifugal forces built up around the rapidly-rotating father-daughter locus. Call it the ‘Revolving Infant Wormhole Ejection Scenario.’
Daddy’s good for lots of things, in her opinion. I figure I’ve got 6, maybe 8 more years if I’m lucky before her estimation of me takes its inevitable nosedive into the adolescent cellar, where my view of my parents dwelled for years. At fast food restaurants I sat as far away from them as I could, a behavior my younger brothers soon copied, leading to a dance Dad called the “McDonald’s Ballet”, as we all circled the floor, searching for the exact locations that would leave us all as distant as possible from a blood relative. To complicate matters, Dad would often wait until we had settled into our respective Lagrange points, and then, with a fiendish glee not normally found in a Methodist minister, move to a different table, leading to another ballet that annoyed Mother and the rest of us almost as much as it amused him. Since the behavior, insulting as it was, allowed Mom and Dad to have a more or less peaceful moment to themselves, they never really objected.
My biggest fear for those rapidly approaching years is not her opinion of me. I’ll take the free time as the gift my parents took it as. It’s the apparently hellish social world of the teenage girl. Pretty much the only things on my mind as a teenage boy were planning my route around school so that my path intersected as rarely as possible with whatever hulking brute had expressed his displeasure with me on days previous, and drawing dungeons on graph paper. In case anyone wonders, graph paper dungeons are a hulking brute magnet par excellence. My friends stayed my friends. We didn’t have to deal with the shifting alliances, backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and psychological manipulation that is a girl’s lot. I mean, we did all that stuff, but we really sucked at it, and in any case didn’t have any alternatives other than each other in the rural sports-mad school system we were ostensibly educated in.
The only metaphor I can find for this feminized total war is the politics of the harem. I’m almost certainly wrong, but it’s the only plan of attack I have. So I’ll try to keep her as busy as possible the older she gets, on the Victorian theory that busy bodies and active minds don’t have the time for paying attention to gossipy machinations, and cram as much self esteem into her as humanly possible between now and then. Maybe she’ll have enough stored up by the time she’s 10 to make it through the next 8 years without too much scarring.
I put her down for her nap today, and as I tiptoed out, she started singing to herself.
“Oo’s daddy’s pitty girl? Oo’s daddy’s pitty girl?”
So far, so good.