Monday, February 16, 2009

I ruined Valentine's Day. It didn't seem like that big of an error at the time, but Mrs. Ditchman had to work on Saturday morning and I had the kids. The 3-month-old Little Digger I can handle, but the Little Ditchman didn't get down for a nap by 1:30, at which point Mrs. Ditchman arrived home to see the child, wide-eyed and awake. She looked at me with disgust. "It's too late now," she said. Meaning, there goes Valentine's. I love you!

She had picked up the prerequisite King crab & strawberries on the way home and I was looking forward to a nice night. I figured if the kid skipped the nap today, she'll just go to bed earlier and we'll have more time to ourselves. It doesn't work out that way anymore. It used to, but not anymore.

The screaming started at about 3:30 and lasted into the night. No amount of consoling or cajoling or refering to The Big Book of Premeditated Threats can contain it. You just button up and head into it, like hiking into a storm. She's a smart one, this kid, and the smart ones are the worst. They know your buttons. They bandy NO around like a pistol in gangland. They use the potty-training against you. When our little smiling wonder turned two, we were buoyed by the clearly evident fact that the "Terrible Twos" didn't seem to materialize. We mentioned this to the pediatrician. "Nah," he said. "They come at three."

Or 2 years, 8 months. The ranting, raging, warmongering truculent defiance of toddlerhood, which is here for an hour, gone for a moment, and then rears up on its hind legs and attacks you from behind while you're looking for a burp cloth, is a very real thing. We thought we had it easy, with our healthy, attractive, bright child. Since I am clearly the weaker of the two parents when it comes to the faculties of nurturing, I go straight for the smiling infant when I hear the screaming two-year-old. This always gets a nasty glare from the missus, but hey, I'm actually helping!

The screams are about the most mundane things, (I DON'T WANT TO WEAR THE RED SOCKS! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!) but have the force of wailing only heard at the Apocalypse. Within seconds the screaming becomes about the screaming, as in "Honey, calm down and stop crying or you're going to get a TimeOut." followed by "I DON'T WANT A TIME OUT! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" If the kid doesn't eat a good meal, it's worse. If the kid doesn't get a good nap, it's worse. Skip both and you will then accomplish neither, and from there you just gotta let it burn out on its own like a refinery fire. This is what was happening for most of Valentine's Day.

Later, when the toddler was subdued, chained and declawed, we sat down for King crab. Mrs. Ditchman was thoroughly spent. I could hear the muffled cries of my little girl's unjustified (in my mind) screaming going unheeded upstairs in the distance, behind a closed door. I tried to make light conversation above the din:

"Man. Two is more than twice as hard as one. No one told us this! The baby is easy compared to this. And then to have a toddler and a baby! Man, that's what's hard. For the first time, it occurs to me that having twins would be easier than having a baby and a toddler. Man."

Mrs. Ditchman looked at me with that you're-so-dumb look and said, "Yeah, but then you'd have two toddlers."

I nearly fell out of my chair at the thought of such horror. Then she told me a story of going to Costco the other day. The story had no beginning and no end and no plot. It was all setting: her at Costco. Screaming two-year-old in the stroller. Baby in the Bjorn, facing forward. Her leaning over to lift a case of soda. And then another case of diet. Strangers moving in to help. Thanks, but I can manage. I've been managing. I always manage. You really want to help? Take the kids.

I cleaned up. My lover cut out early, knowing that she'd have to get up in a few hours to nurse the baby. I went back to scanning photos of our wedding which punctuated the day with a certain unfunny irony. I recalled years ago when I first said "I love you" to that woman who became my wife. It was on a Valentine's Day. She was getting ready to break it off with me, but I showed up with King crab and strawberries and wine and I said "I love you" and I meant it.

I still mean it, of course. As a matter of fact, I mean it more now than I ever did. But it's a wild road that takes you here.