This post is intended to make you laugh. If the title offends you, stop reading and look up the term “hyperbole.” If you currently own a toddler or if you are the previous owner of a toddler, put everybody to bed, pour yourself your favorite beverage in a clean Mason jar and enjoy!
When we received the call to become Autumn’s foster parents, we were living in a two bedroom apartment with two little boys, a diva yorkie-poodle mix named Sophie with so many medical issues the Vet believed she wouldn’t make it to a year old but has somehow made it to 12 and is still coughing up lungs all over the house (I’m convinced that at the end of time all that will be left on the earth will be Sohpie, cockroaches, and an old family friend who is 90, believes Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the 13th and 14th disciples of Jesus, drives a mid-80s Oldsmobile, and push mows her own lawn in the middle of the summer), and a high-energy Olde English Bulldog named Obi Wan. Our tight quarters were about to become even more compact. But Autumn was a premie and she would first have to sleep in a Moses basket beside our bed and then in a crib at the foot of our bed. That would last until she was nine months old.
We built a house from the ground up starting in November of 2013 and we moved in on March 1, 2014. This was our second new house and by far the largest: five bedrooms, three baths, two family rooms, two dining rooms, an extended garage, and an open kitchen. We had plenty of room for a growing family that would include four children, two grandparents, and Mommy and Daddy. I was under the illusion that we were recreating The Waltons with their tight knit family in a cozy, clean house filled with peace, love, and harmony. What I actually got was Grand Central Station after rush hour traffic with sections of my house qualifying for Disaster Relief if I could only find time to write the grant instead of scrubbing dog pee and tempera paint out of the carpet.
To be fair, my experience with toddlers is not totally relegated to Autumn Rose. In 2004 I moved into my first new house. I wasn’t married at the time. In fact, it would be five years before I even met Erin. My parents and my niece and nephew, ages 5 and 4, came to visit me the first weekend after I moved in. My nephew grabbed a bag of Cheese Doodles and brought them in the living room. I told him not to rub his fingers on my new carpet. He said OK in his innocent toddler voice. But toddlers are like Koalas on LSD, cute and cuddly to strangers, viciously mean when agitated, and no attention span whatsoever. He took the Cheese Doodles upstairs to the guest bedroom. I noticed how quiet it was which was a certain sign of trouble. I opened the door to the guest room. He had spilled the entire bag, crumbs and all, on my brand new carpet. He was on his hands and knees trying to pick up each crumb from the glowing orange circle of cheese powder now molecularly bonded to my carpet fibers. I just stood there with my my mouth agape. He looks at me with those big brown eyes and says most sincerely, “I didn’t rub my fingers on the carpet!” To the day we moved out of that house the guest bedroom still had an orange glow to it.
Our Happy Home, A.K.A., Ground Zero
The week before we moved in I painted the entire upstairs a soft grey and the entire downstairs light beige. We wanted to be conservative in case we decided to sell the house one day. We used one of our dining spaces as an art area and we instructed the boys not to take art supplies out of this area. We thought if we kept the pencils, crayons, and paints confined there we were pretty safe. Boy, were we wrong! Our hallway leading up the stairs has multicolored squiggles and lines that remind me of the maps of the New York City subway system. The bathroom upstairs has toothpaste on the walls despite my repeated attempts to clean it (I would point out this is not the most unusual place I have found tooth paste. It has appeared on the carpet, in the hall closet, in each child’s eyes, and in the very center of Carl’s back. Carl was by himself yet the toothpaste was in the center of his back where he can’t reach. That mystery has never been solved). We have what I believe is a ketchup stain on the wall beside the buffet that looks vaguely like the screaming man from the famous painting. In various rooms of the house you will find attempts at spelling names. Am I the only person who has a child named Jonathan who denies writing the word Jonathan on various walls and in various misspellings throughout the house? Perhaps this mysterious child also named Jonathan will appear and accept responsibility for failing to spell the name correctly in over twenty attempts.
Every bathtub is filled with rubber toys. I sat down in the bathtub a few nights ago only to jump up quickly when I felt Dory swimming between my cheeks. It’s hard for a fat dude to get up in a tub, but I moved liked grease lighting that day. Downstairs is Autumn’s favorite toy: A rubber baby doll designed just for playing in the tub. It was my mother’s idea to buy it for her for Christmas. I was even nice enough to order it from Amazon on behalf of my mother. It’s completely soft rubber with a little hole in its personal area so the water can drain way and mold and algae won’t grow. Autumn, however, uses it to shoot pretend pee pee across the bathroom toward whoever happens to come in while she’s bathing. I feel violated anytime I try to giver her a bath.
One of our favorite things to do, at least twice a week, is to eat dinner in the living room and watch an episode of the 1966 Batman TV show. We also watch The Flash when it’s on, but that’s only for about half the year. The kids bring their paper plates and Kool Aid Jammers into the living room, they sit on the floor, and we enjoy some good old-fashioned superhero entertainment! Except for Autumn. She would rather see what’s on everybody else’s plate, climb over her mother in the recliner, torment Sophie, and then scream and cry when someone else eats her food. Getting her to eat is worse than negotiating a hostage crisis. We make sure to have foods we know she’s liked in the past, but she seems to change her preferences by the day. Some days she loves hot dogs, other days they are gross. Some days she devours green beans while other days she flicks them off her plate onto the table. Sophie loves to sit under Autumn’s chair It’s a veritable smorgasbord of culinary delights.
Going out to eat is not any easier. We ask her what she wants to eat and she will generally tell us what she wants, but when the food arrives at the table you can forget it. She won’t eat a thing. Just this past weekend we celebrated her adoption at the Angus Barn, one of the most expensive restaurants in our area. The children’s plates were $14 each, so you have an idea how precious this meal was supposed to be. Autumn’s plate arrived and the look on her face was nothing short of disgust. She never touched a bite of it. Even at the end of the meal when she had her ice cream she hardly touched it either. But when Phillip finished it she howled like a banshee. After we left, we had been on the road not five minutes before she said, “Daddy, I hungry!” I could do nothing but shake my head.
I love to bond with Autumn. The best times are when Erin and the boys have not yet come home from school. On Monday she crawled in my lap and gave me a hug. She said, “Daddy, I’m your candy girl and you’re my sweetness.” I said, “Oh, that’s so nice! I love you.” “I love you too, Daddy. Now smell my butt.” Stunned silence. That’s all I could muster.
The Fashion Diva of Plymouth Dr.
Erin had dreams that her children would look like the fashion models out of the Pasty Aiken catalogue. I admit falling into this trap as well, buying smocked outfits for every season and designer labels that meant nothing to a toddler with a cup of milk and a paint infused brush with watercolors dripping down her hands and arms. Her entire body and her beautiful clothes frequently looked like she was heading to a Gay Pride Parade.
Toddlers have acute senses beyond their years. I never knew a shirt or sweater tag could feel like flesh eating bacteria slowing gnawing away at a person’s neck. I suspect Autumn picked up this habit from Phillip. He has OCD and nearly has a seizure anytime a tag rubs the back of his neck or his waist. It’s bizzare! The kid has no problem going without a bath for days (if I’d let him, but the funk gets to me after two days of summer play) yet the feeling of a Ralph Lauren tag bothers him. Autumn is the same. We have the cut the tags out of her shirts or she goes limp on the floor as if the flesh-eating tag has sucked the life out of her. Either that or she screams. Loudly and with extreme distress. Like, someone has taken the last pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and I was saving it until today but now I’ll have to do without because everybody in this house is so selfish and fat kind of loud. Pure desperation.
Then we have the Battle of the Bows. Erin chose to fight this battle for reasons beyond me. All pretty girls MUST have bows in their hair, she told me. It’s a Southern tradition. The first bows I bought for Autumn were much too petite. Erin preferred bows so large that after we clipped them on Autumn’s platinum blonde locks, her head collapsed on the table from the weight of the ribbon. I thought it was borderline child abuse. The bows would stay on her hair for less than a minute at first. The length of time gradually lengthened until Autumn was three and she willingly wore them when we went out in public. I think the only reason she changed her mind was because Mommy threatened to pull out the super glue if the didn’t leave the bows alone. Despite the fact that Autumn wears her bows now, discarded bows still litter the back of the truck and the convertible. I just didn’t have the heart to tell Erin that the bows came out before we even left the driveway.
Next, we have the boots. It doesn’t matter what the occasion is, boots are the shoes to wear. Boots with jeans. Boots with shorts. Boots with bathing suits. Boots with freaking diapers! My own mother encourages this. She also has a boot fetish. One day my sixty-two year old mother wore a red dress with a pair of knee high black boots. I was appalled. I told her she looked like a washed up call girl. “I do not!” she told me. “I look like a high class hooker!” And she wonders why I question the veracity of the circumstances of my birth. If it weren’t for the fact that we look just alike, I’d swear I was adopted. Autumn’s latest boots are tan on bottom and Tiffany blue on top. At this point, she takes them off only to take a bath. I have a fear that one day she’s going to look like Daisy Duke. Luckily for me Carl is overly protective of her so I have no doubt if we have to scrub painted proclamations of love for her from atop the town’s water tower, he will be the one to do it.
Chocolate Milk: The Red Bull of the Toddler World
Everybody has a weakness. For Autumn, it’s chocolate milk. She loves it with everything. I have to say that it’s partly my fault. I buy it for her each time we go to the grocery store. As I’ve said, Autumn doesn’t eat much at all. Actually, that’s only partially true. There are days when she eats like she just came off Weight Watchers and found out that calories don’t count anymore. She can put away food like a grown man when she feels compelled. Unfortunately, she rarely feels that way. But with chocolate milk, there is no time like the present. She runs on chocolate milk.
I’ve never seen a child who refuses to slow down until I met my little girl. Naps are generally foreign to her unless we are driving around in the van. Then she waits to fall asleep until we enter our neighborhood and are less than two minutes from home. If she wakes up and gets her requested chocolate milk, she could run the Boston Marathon at full sprint. I’m convinced she has inter-dimensional travel because after a cup of chocolate milk she seems to be in all places at all times. She’s in the playroom refusing to give Phillip back his basketball. She’s in the art room splashing watercolor on the sweater I left on the table after work. She’s yelling at Carl to get out of the bathroom despite the fact that she just went five minute before. She’s in her room playing in her pink kitchen banging the pots and pans while she pretends to bake cookies and brownies that she says are only for her since she is not required to share unlike her brothers who must giver her a share of everything. Gotta love toddler logic.
When I tire of the excessive noise and her boost of energy I have her sit with me in my chair. She sits for about a minute before she begins pulling my hair, twisting my head, and insisting that I give her kisses so she can wipe them off. I’ve threatened domestic violence charges against her but she remains undeterred.
Eventually she’ll give up the ghost and sit still for whatever movie is her current obsession. At first, it was Frozen. All of us are Disney fans, but after seeing that movie over one hundred times and hearing “Let it Go” on EVERY SINGLE VAN TRIP we took, I was ready to give Elsa a throat punch. Next, we moved on to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or as Autumn called it, The Candy Man. Gene Wilder gave an outstanding performance, but by the fiftieth time I was ready to kick his chocolate behind back to Oompa Loompa Land. Of late she wants to watch Halloween Town. Even though she knows Kalabar is the evil guy, she still sits in wonderment at the mystery of it all. I haven’t yet seen the movie enough to hate it, but Halloween is my favorite holiday and I’m afraid Autumn will make me detest the fall festivities if she doesn’t switch her obsession soon.
All Toddlers are Selectively Bipolar
I love my mother but she can drive me nuts. Honestly, she’s “The Baby Whisperer.” Give her a baby who is upset or uncomfortable and she not only calms the child she also can tell you EXACTLY what’s wrong. She raise me and my brother, but she also had a large hand in raising two nieces, her first two grand children who are nearing adulthood, and now she has an active role in my children’s lives. When Daddy says no, Nana says yes. Autumn can have a total meltdown when Little Einsteins fails to come on at the right time. I try reasoning but the shrillness of her cry is my kryptonite. Nana just swoops her up in her arms and makes it alright.
When Autumn hasn’t seen Nana and Pa for a period of time, they tend to forget that as a toddler she’s a handful. While I try to referee the latest wrestling match or investigate the mystery of the strawberry yogurt under the couch cushion, Autumn rules the roost in the kids’ playroom. The boys can be playing reasonably quietly, but Autumn interjects herself and the yelling commences. “Give me back my piece! Autumn, stop it! You have to play with me! We can’t play with you when you are messing up our game! Shut your butthole mouth!” That last one came directly from Autumn. A three year-old. Now, she didn’t learn that from me or from Erin. When I heard it I immediately went up to the playroom and removed her from terrorizing the boys. She sat in her room and we had a little talk about nice words and ugly words.
When Nana and Pa are around, Autumn is a little blue-eyed angel. She is a precious gift from God who can do no wrong. With Daddy, nap time is drama-filled with requests to go potty every three minutes (how she an squeeze out drops of pee at three minute intervals is beyond me!), claims of hunger or thirst, and exclamations of the travesty that nap time is while her brothers are still outside playing. But when Pa takes a nap in the recliner, guess who’s right there with him?
Goodness knows I love my mom and dad very much, but their granddaughter is the master manipulator and they simply can’t see it. I’ve already told them when she calls us from the prison asking for cartons of cigarettes to trade for commissary items they will be the ones with the Food Lion bag of Camel 100s at the security checkpoint, not me.
The Cruelty of Time
I’ve heard people talk about the terrible twos and the terrorist threes, but I’ve found that each age comes with its unique challenges. When Autumn was an infant we rarely slept more than two hours. I stumbled around school like an extra on The Walking Dead. Yet I wish I could go back to those days just for a moment to hold that little pumpkin in my arms again. She used to root her head under my many chins, her little voice in squiggles and pops. I loved it. I finished the second half of my graduate degree with Autumn lying across my chest. To this day the aroma of sour milk and Baby Magic lotion makes me smile.
You get 365 days of infancy. 365 days of age one. 365 days of age two. And so on, and so on. Despite the frustrations, the ripped book pages, and the stained furniture I love my little girl to the moon and back. I wouldn’t trade one day with her for a lifetime of peace and quiet. I love her toddlerness and dread the day when she walks confidently into her kindergarten class ready to be an independent little girl. My baby will be gone, but I will still hold the image of those little blue eyes looking up at me from her crib, a grin crawling across that beautiful face, and a toot erupting out of that squishy bottom. At least I’ll have my memories.