My recent braggy fit about our daughter’s budding literacy might have left the impression that we’ve rushed out and purchased a set of kid-sized Latin flash cards. We are thrilled for her, and cliché-proud, and daily taken aback by what goes on in her feverishly active little brain. But we’re more tempted by the “Good Manners” flash cards (yes! they actually exist!). Because below that brain lurks a heart, and it’s the heart of a three-and-a-half year old. Which spells F-R-E-Q-U-E-N-T S-A-T-A-N-I-C P-O-S-E-S-S-I-O-N. We’re holding off on the Nobel nomination just yet.
Three weeks back I alluded cryptically to a nightmarish shopping expedition. The short version ( “Short version?!” some of you just blurted out, sputtering coffee on your monitor, since you know better than to think you’ll find anything other than the long version at Casa LD), ahem, the shortish version is that somewheres about the canned goods aisle, the lil’ monkey realized something. She realized that when Baba is shopping with her and her little brother, Baba will not stray very far from the cart in which said little brother is parked. It didn’t take her long to draw a connecting line between this truth (Baba is a slow-moving, cart-tethered object) to the realization that she could wreak havoc all over the store, limited only by my will to chase her.
She still doesn’t quite understand what I mean when I refer to my “many paws” (it may confuse matters that I always paw the air when I use the word). But she does know that it means Baba can be guaranteed to chart the path of least resistance, so as to avoid boiling her own blood, or flipping a switch and behaving like an angry monkey at the zoo.
The girlie began testing her epiphany with delicate little forays further and further toward end of the aisle. Finally I called out to her, using the absent tone of a parent unaware of the holy hell that’s to come.
“Punky, sweetie, stay where I can see you, okay?”
I turned to face her, only to see her careening down the aisle, pony tail a-bobbing. She hooked a left toward the dairy section, and then — poof! — she was gone.
I thought to myself: “What can she do? She’ll be right back. She’s not really a bolter.” Note this, o ye inexperienced parent, the prophetic ingorance of “she’s not a bolter,” and any such similar pronouncement (I thought our son was “not a bookshelf climber,” too, until last week when I saw him perched near the middle of the fiction section, as if it were Yosemite’s El Capitan and he were making an historic free climb of it.) Our awareness of our kids’ capacities is always at least two weeks behind schedule.
A minute later she reappeared, laughing maniacally, at the end of the aisle. I saw her out of the periphery of my vision and shot out “Sweetie? Please stay where I can s— ” and she was gone again. Cheshire cat grin left in her wake.
Though the grin was more like that of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Batman. A bit more demonic than impish.
“Bwuaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha,” I imagined hearing her say, right before she disappeared again. If only she could say “Bwuaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha.” Which at this rate should be coming any day now.
This routine persevered through the rest of my shopping trip, interrupted only by her little brother’s uprorious giggling when he made another sighting of her. She was a frickin’ UFO with a clown’s wig on or something.
Oh, I could have gone off and gotten her, I’m sure. But that would have surely tripped off a loud round of crying from her brother (another menopausal stress trigger), and it still wouldn’t have guaranteed she’d have consented to stay nearby. The only thing I could be sure of was a crying, upset baby in the grocery cart in addition to the A.W.O.L. toddler.
For that matter, I could have also rolled over to the liquor section, unscrewed a bottle of cheap wine, and sucked it all down with one of their food sample paper cups, too. Though that, evidently, is just as effective at exacerbating menopausal stress as, say, a madcap three-year old at the grocery store, zig-zagging out of sight (and into a precarious display of bottled goods? or the parking lot? or I don’t even want to think).
How bad did it finally get? You want to know? I’ll tell you. I finally had to leave the cart (and the boy) in line to go find her and try to talk sense into her, knowing that circumstances dictated I prepare myself for my least favorite if most expedient parental tactic, coercion using superior force. I managed to persuade her to join us in line, but her consent lasted for a millisecond. She had come to love her liberated state so much that I could only keep her there by maneuvering her between my legs and then imprisoning her thrashing body between me and the counter. I was crouched like how windsurfers crouch, knees pinned to the counter wall, arms hanging on to the little platform they have for writing checks and processing credit cards and such. This was Popcicle Debacle, version 2.0.
Not like my expert positioning kept her from doing further harm. Just as I had scrawled my electronic signature on the keypad thingy and was about to finish the credit card transaction, I watched in horror as her pasty little fingers emerged from my carefully constructed human jail, and she hit — yes, she did — she hit the “CANCEL” button on the transaction. And thus the whole thing had to be re-mounted.
A woman and her two children had been gaping at the whole tawdry scene in silent amazement. I looked up at her and said, “Let this be a negative example for all of us.”
I mean really. The pinnacle of my parenting skills was to physically restrain the thrashing child. Defusing the source of the thrashing was well beyond my capacities in the moment.
Bless her soul, as her children were furiously taking mental notes, the woman in line said to me: “She’s my daughter’s twin! My daughter’s twin! ” Bless her even more for resisting the natural urge to preface “twin” with “evil.” We were both in the same boat, she conveyed to me, even if it was the Titanic.
The only way I could leave the store with the girlie was by carrying her under my arm. Shopping cart pushed with the one hand (agog and infinitely entertained brother perched in the childseat), maniacal three-plus-year-old under the other arm.
I drove home in silence. Periodically, the lil’ demon monkey would say from the back seat, “Baba, how come you’re not talking?” She knows that only a freight train could stop her loquacious Baba from bantering with her about events of the day. And she had a good sense that she was that freight train.
When we pulled into the driveway, I said, “That was the absolutely worst grocery shopping experience I have ever had.”
To which she replied, “But Baba, that was the best one I’ve ever had.”
And I believe her.