I knew about the terrible twos, but I had no idea there were terrible one-and-a-quarters. Baby Dog is definitely manifesting her wilful side.
Wednesday morning was great. After Mama Dog went off to work, we played in the living room for a while. Baby Dog discovered that not only did Daddy have a belly button too, but it was ticklish, just like hers. We took turns tickling each other. She laughed much harder at tickling me than she did at being tickled. We strolled over to the pharmacy to pick up Daddy’s Rx – totally free with my insurance, score! – and on the way back stopped off at the pet store to get some snacky treats for Doggy Dog so as to assuage our continuing guilt for the shortness of his shrift. We had snack time around 10:30, smooth as silk. The yogurt was pronounced “nummy!” more than once, and the cheese received a very welcoming eponymous bellow (i.e., “CHEESE!!!”). We read stories and looked at Survivor purely for educational purposes (there was a howler monkey in it). At 12:30 we went for the naptime stroll and she conked out before we were three blocks from the house. I turned around, strolled home, and tucked my sleeping girl in her crib, feeling like Superdad.
I put on a load of laundry, caught up on a few emails, did my freelance invoice, then sat down to watch a little crap TV while I still could. Watching the first episode of the lame remake of The Night Stalker, my mind wandered enough for me to think, “Well this kind of sucks.” Little did I know that suckery would be the high point of the afternoon for several hours to come. With twelve minutes left in the episode, Baby Dog started making noise. I gladly turned off Kolchak lite and went to get the girl up.
The Wednesday meal schedule has been tricky, but we’ve found a kind of routine. Because Baby Dog sleeps at what would be lunch time at daycare, she’s generally very hungry when she gets up and eats a big lunch, obviating the need for a snack between then and dinner. Mama Dog had suggested a large and varied menu including quinoa
, spinach, yogurt, tofu, and apples. All of these are things Baby Dog likes. I cobbled it all together and sat down to feed her, fully expecting that the first half of the bowl at least would go quickly. She ate one spoonful, eyeing me suspiciously, then started with the deflecting left hand and the curt, “No.”
I should have realised I was in for trouble when I got her up. I had gone in too quickly. She was crying but not talking. With Baby Dog, crying usually means “still asleep,” while talking means “ready to get up.” She looked awake when I went into her room, and of course once I was interacting with her, there was no turning back. But from her reaction to the food, it was clear she could have used another 20 minutes of sleep. Tired baby is cranky baby is uncooperative baby. I could see a tantrum brewing, and it didn’t take long for that prophecy to fulfill itself.
A big part of the food refusal is her desire to feed herself. Unfortunately, the yogurty quinoa requires spoon feeding, and although she tries, she lacks the motor skills for that. She wants to feed herself and gets frustrated that I won’t let her. If I let her, she gets frustrated that she can’t do it right. Unchecked, it builds momentum. Usually I can find ways to distract her and get the food into her mouth while her defences are down, but this day nothing was working. I tried every feeding trick I’ve developed to date, all for naught. Before I knew it, the food was emptied out of the bowl on to the tray, the spoons were on the floor, covered in dog fur, and not another ort had been consumed. All she wanted to do was swat the spoon away and cry.
Mostly what she was crying about was “Bud.” Bud is the porcine hero of What a Pig
, Baby Dog’s favourite bath book and for a while her chief obsession in life. In the last week she’s learned to say “pig” and even “oink,” but for months all pigs were named “Bud” as far as she was concerned. While I was trying to feed her and she was swatting the spoon away, she kept pointing a the kitchen sink and screaming “Buuuuuuud! Buuuuuuuud!” I tried hopelessly to reason; there was no pig there, nothing even remotely resembling a pig. “There’s no Bud there,” I told her. “Buuuuuuuud!” she replied. I took her out of the high chair and walked her over to the sink, hoping to get to the bottom of it. “Where’s Bud?” I asked, genuinely wanting to learn what object she thought resembled a pig. She just stared at the sink and said nothing.
Finally, I figured that she was after the real thing. I put her back in the high chair and reluctantly pulled What a Pig from its spot in the little pink tub where it will never quite get completely dry. “BUD!” she bellowed when she saw the book. I handed it to her, trying to steer it to the edge of the tray away from the food, lest it drip aromatic bath oils on the quinoa. That Bud has become one sweet-smelling pig.
Ordinarily, with a favourite book in her hand Baby Dog can be fed with impunity as she flips intently through the pages. “My name is Bud,” I read to her, spooning up the spinach, “I’m a pig in the mud.” She swatted the spoon away. “I love to muddle in my favourite puddle.” Swat. “I’ll take a rain shower and I’m clean for an hour.” Swat. “Til that puddle of mine says, ‘Come in, the mud’s fine!’” Swat swat swat swat swat.
Of course, it’s futile to reason with a fifteen-month-old, but she understands so much, I felt compelled to try. I had held up my end of the bargain by bringing her Bud; she wasn’t doing her bit. “If you want Bud, you have to eat,” I said. She swatted the spoon away. I sighed. I knew that I was about to turn into The Man with all his damn rules. “Okay, no Bud,” I said, and took the book away. If there had been a tantrum already, there was now a Spinal Tap tantrum turned up to eleven. I withstood it as equably as could anyone this side of the Dalai Llama. I’m known for my patience, really I am. I waited for her to calm down. After a small interval elapsed, I held the book up. “Do you want Bud?” she grabbed for the book. “Here’s some nummy spinach,” I said. Swat. “Okay, no Bud.” Screaming resumed. “You can have Bud when you eat.” Loudest screaming yet.
Here’s where I knew I’d crossed a line. I could have just let her play with the book and wait until she decided she was hungry. For some reason, though, I’d made it conditional. “You must eat if you want the book.” It was utterly arbitrary, but having drawn the line in the sand I was bound to enforce it. I had somehow found my inner Republican.
At this point, the dog had started whining from behind the gate in the back hall. I had hushed him a few times, and each time he came back whining more loudly, like he thought maybe the problem was I just hadn’t heard him yet. This is a recurring pattern. He’s sympathetic to the baby’s distress. She cries, he whines. Unfortunately, this is what undid my famous patience. The dog whining was just one layer of aggravation more than I could take. I jumped up and yelled at him to get out and go away. I slammed the playpen in his direction. He scattered away, tail between legs. Jesus, and I was already feeling guilty about how shittily we’ve been treating him…. Well, better an outburst at him than at the baby. She didn’t even notice me yelling, her own screaming was so loud. I stashed Bud out of sight and let her scream, periodically offering the spoon and being refused.
Finally, it ran its course. Some mysterious threshold was passed. Baby Dog opened her mouth and took a spoonful of food, then another, and another. She paused to drink milk. Being a man of my word, I gave her Bud. “See,” I said, hoping there might actually be a lesson in this, “all you have to do is eat your lunch and you can read Bud.” “Bud,” she agreed, sniffling.
After she had eaten and I had cleaned her up, I made amends with Doggy Dog by giving him one of the Bark Sticks we’d picked up that morning. Dogs don’t care if it’s guilt food. Food is good. Baby Dog and I played and read in the living room, then we went on a big stroll. We went first to the bank so Daddy could deposit the fruits of his freelance labours, then on to Rockridge Kids to get padding for the edge of the coffee table. Mama Dog and I also had in mind for some time to get Baby Dog a monkey toy. She has lately learned the word “monkey” (pronounced “MUN-tee”) and that monkeys say “ee ee ee.” In all the items in her toy box, though, even in all her books, there are only two tiny little representations of monkeys; one on a little wooden block and the other in a tiny little accessory to a circus toy. She needed a monkey big enough to look at eye to eye.
The plush shelf at Rockridge Kids isn’t very comprehensive, and it’s mostly given to teddy bears. I parked the stroller there and Baby Dog watched curiously as I rummaged through the shelf. Normally, she would be reaching at things she wanted, but my purposeful behaviour was apparently a greater curiosity. Suddenly I stopped and looked back at her. Then I pulled this fellow
from the shelf and held it out to her. “MUN-tee!” she cried, delighted. I had the cashier give me a pair of scissors so I could snip off the tag right after buying it. Baby Dog held her new toy, chattering “MUN-tee!” and “Ee ee ee!” and “Nana!” all the way home.
I suppose it looks like I’ve fallen into an age-old pattern here; lay down the law for her own good, then pay off the debt of guilt with a new toy. All I can say is – I started the day wondering whether or not I’d be able to find a monkey at Rockridge Kids. I’d been thinking about it for weeks, in fact. Wheeling home, Baby Dog had a belly full of good nutritious food and a new favourite stuffed animal. I had a brittle feeling of fallibility and the certain knowledge that as time goes on, it’s just going to get harder and harder to know whether or not I’m doing the right thing.