The First Time I Made My Kid Cry
It's one of the good days we've been having a lot of lately. A little outing in the morning, kids playing quietly in the house while I make lunch and simultaneously goof around on the internet. One of the days I don't want a lot of people to find out about because they'll know how sweet this SAHD gig can be. One of the days I don't want to talk about because it might jinx me for the next two years.
Twin A (age:2.75, blog name: Cobra) is sitting at the kitchen counter, waiting for her burrito to come out of the microwave. (Yes. A fucking frozen burrito. At least now the kids like them warmed up instead of straight out of the freezer.) Her sister is still making "cake" with all the different colors of Play-Doh we own. Whatevz. She can join us later.
I hold the gallon of milk in a way that gives Cobra the illusion she is pouring it into her new Abby Cadabby cup by herself. "I want lots," she says. We pour lots.
The microwave dings.
"I hear-ed something," she says, fanning her fingers from her cheeks in a way that's not so much cupping her ears as creating the illusion of dorsal fins on her face.
I pivot to collect the radiated vittles.
I hear it first.
The trickling of milk off the edge of the counter. The splash of milk on the hardwood floor.
Then I see it.
Cobra, frozen, holding the cardboard tray the burritos had once rested on, in the same position it had been in when it made contact with the Abby cup and set the catastrophic wheels in motion.
"Aaaaauuugghhh!" I bray, thumping my temples with the heels of my hands. "Why? Why? Why?"
She sits motionless.
"Why, Cobra? I tell you every day! Watch out for the milk! You're a billy goat in a china shop!"
I can see the milk run under the baseboard and I imagine the cheese that will grow there, eventually becoming a medium-density fiberboard Parmesan.
I'm not actually angry. It's a good day. I'm just annoyed. Cleanup on Aisle 3, goddammit.
I'm kind of messing with the kid. She and her sister think "billy goat in a china shop" is one of the funniest things I've ever said. And yet, I am annoyed.
I yank a yard or so of paper towels off of the spool and get to dabbing, an ignominious business performed on hands and knees. I throw the first sodden wad in the trash.
Cobra has descended from her perch and stands near me, her toes beaded with milk. I continue grumbling, but it's more of a lament now: the SAHD's field holler.
I toss the second fistful of Bounty into the receptacle.
"THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!" I quote from one of the girls' favorite books, playing it to the hilt.
"Does Pigeon say that?" she says.
"Yeah," I say, "Pigeon says that."
"Is that funny?" I say, going along with the usual routine, but maybe with a soupcon of menace. We talk about books a lot.
"Is that fu-uh-uh-uh..." she starts. "Is that fun-fun-fuh-uh-uh-uh..."
Her face disintegrates. Her mouth opens wide, turns down at the corners. She gathers air in stuttering gulps.
I've gotten genuinely angry at my kids before. I've yelled. Many times. Extinguishing that behavior is Project #1 for me right now, and I have to say that I've made some headway.
But this is different. In previous instances, my anger has been inspired by unreasonable behavior on the part of my kids. They don't get something stupid that they want: to stir the frying bacon, to run after Mommy's car when she leaves for work, to wear pajamas to the zoo. By the time I start yelling, they've been screaming for minutes. They don't even know I'm there.
This is different. Cobra was in control of herself when I started with the berating. She was a little scared and upset and her beloved tutu was dripping with milk. But mostly, Dad was griping and calling her names.
She lets it out: not the indignant screech I've become accustomed to, but a mournful, warbling yodel. It goes on for days. Then the sobbing inhale. And another desolate wail.
This one is on me. She's not crying over spilled milk. She's crying because her dad made her.
I pick her up and try to comfort her. Between gasps, she bleats, "No hugs!" She wipes off her arms where I have put mine around her.
"Shh shh shh shh shh..." I offer. "It's okay, I'm sorry. It's no big deal. Daddy doesn't even care about the milk. Don't worry about it. I'm sorry." I'm sure most child-rearing manuals would disapprove of apologizing to toddlers. But I am sorry.
I don't remember much about my early childhood, but I remember what this is about. Gasping and sobbing and wanting to stop, and having some grown up tell you to stop, but not being able to stop.
So I carry her into the tornado wreckage of the playroom, where her sister is still obliviously stirring and kneading and julienning Play-Doh into lumps and pancakes and shreds.
"Do you want to read a book?" I ask. This offer usually snaps her out of any funk.
"Puh-ka..." she sobs. "Poe-kah..."
"Um...I don't know what you want. Can you point?"
"Pah-kah..." she gasps. "Puh-keh lih puhpuh..."
"Puh-keh lih..Oh! Poky Little Puppy?"
"Yeh yeh yeh," she says.
We sit on the stairs and read that annoying book twice as the baseboards and the raw ends of the cherry flooring underneath soak up half a cup of milk.