Terribly Two

Posted by jdg | Friday, July 20, 2007 | ,

Juniper can spend hours looking at pictures of herself from when she was a baby, and this inevitably launches her into a series of regressive behaviors that result in me taking care of a six-month-old again, swaddled and googooing and gagaing in her old boppy. The other day she asked me to take her to the dollar store next to the wig shop so she could buy a pacifier with the quarters and nickels she'd scrounged from beneath the couch cushions. A resourceful one, this child. I took her over there, but only because I've been meaning to buy her one of those toddler-sized doo rags they sell at the wig shop. She asked to ride in the bjorn, but I just ignored her. I do have some limits, you see.

Juniper never took a liking to the pacifier back when it would have been really useful to cork all that hollering, but after we walked out of that dollar store with a 3-pack of pacifiers, I didn't have to listen to her asking me if kangaroos have shadows or why the dead squirrel had no eyes for at least twenty minutes. It made me wish I'd followed through with those fantasies of duct taping a nuk in her mouth back when she was a baby. Eventually she took her new pacifier out and said, "Swaddle me, dada."

Back in her early days, I was always the designated swaddler. I was good at it, like those ladies with the hair nets in the taquerias who roll burritos so tight that when you stick your fork in them black bean juice squirts in your eye. Still, it's no easy task to swaddle a 30-month old wearing shoes. The other day we went for a jog and she refused to sit in the jogging stroller unless swaddled. After the swaddle, I couldn't get the restraining straps over her shoulders, so I just used the chest strap to keep her in nice and tight. It must have looked like I was taking the world's smallest psychotic cannibal out for fresh air in her little chariot. A couple days later she wouldn't leave the house unless swaddled, but I had to play fetch with the dog, so I swaddled her up and brought her over to the park and just sort of propped her up against a tree. I put the pacifier in her mouth and occasionally asked if the little baby was doing okay [she'd nod] and she was perfectly content. It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous that her fantasy of infancy is this pantomime of quiet, reflective observation, whereas the reality of her infancy was anything but.

All of this comes with a balance of big-girlhood, of course: two inches of height in the last two months, several consecutive diaper-free months, underdogs on the big girl swings, and the ability to tear my heart to shreds with a few icy words. "I don't like you anymore, dada," she said to me the other day. Then, later: "Dada, stop singing. You are not a good singer."

And of course, there is also whining. Sometimes it seems like one of us must have dropped her at around 28 months and she just got stuck in the whining position. I also don't understand why everything has to be said at the same level of heightened volume, as if I'm not submitting to her will because I'm some foreign tourist who doesn't understand her, so everything needs to be shouted for clarity's sake.

There are things I love about her growing older, like the conversations we have and how she can reveal all the trippy shit going on inside her head. Oh, and how she can walk by herself now. That rules. But when we sit there with her old photo albums I do sometimes find myself wallowing in maudlin thought, seeing a photo of her as she looks in my memories of those days I would drop her off at daycare in the morning and couldn't even make it to the bathroom upstairs before I started sobbing. Wouldn't it be nice, I think, to go back and spend more time with her when she was that age? Then I slap myself across the cheek. Perhaps she gets her baseless fantasies of a quiet, reflective infancy from me. Those days weren't fun. They were loud as hell, and we were hardly sleeping.

Someday I'll probably look wistfully back upon these days, too, when Juniper the big girl always pretended to be Juniper the baby. I may be capitulating too much to her regressive demands, but when it comes down to it sometimes I'd rather deal with a 2.5-year old quietly acting like an imaginary infant than a 2.5-year old acting like a real 2.5-year old.