The Rugratic Method

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | ,

We're all sitting at the dining room table while Juniper eats her dinner, and my wife is reading to me from a story in the paper about a 72-year-old man who learned that he was adopted after being abandoned at 2-days old in a snowy vacant lot during the Hoover administration:

"'Back then, it was either Jane or John Doe,' one nurse said. 'But they chose to name him Jimmy Snowbank.'"

"What are you talking about Jimmy Snowbank?" Juniper asks. These days she's like a cub reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal with all the who what when where whys.

"Jimmy Snowbank was a baby they found in a snowbank. . .because his mama put him there. . . because she didn't want him I guess. . .maybe she was scared. . .maybe she was too young to take care of a baby. . .it's hard work. . .because they ask a lot of questions."

The next day there's like a thousand feet of snow outside so I dress her up in so many layers if you took a cross section it would look like they signed the magna carta back when we put her underwear on. With an impenetrable polyester exoskeleton in place, the final touch is a pair of pink Dora the Explorer sunglasses that cover half her face. Every time I put them on her she points at Dora and asks "who's that girl?" and I pretend not to hear her. Outside, she has no interest in making snow angels, but delights in making what she calls "butt prints." She orders me to sit down next to her, but I'm only wearing jeans and soon they're so clammy and cold my balls are snuggling up against my appendix for warmth. "Let's play Jimmy Snowbank," she says, and then she goes through some melodramatic pantomime about leaving me in a snowdrift and she's covering me up with snow and telling me to cry. She forgets nothing you tell her, I think, and then I can no longer feel anything below my belly button. Just when I'm sure they're going to find me frozen like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining with a two-year old wearing sixteen pairs of pants banging a stick against my head and barking at me to cry like Jimmy Snowbank, she tells me she wants to go back inside.

Once there, the feeling returns to my legs, and I sit down at the computer and show her this flickr set. She is so freaked out by seeing Elmo in all those real world situations. "What is Elmo drinking?" she asks. "Beer, probably," I say. "What is Elmo doing there?" "That's what happens when you drink too much. One time I had to sit with your mom in someone's front yard for a couple hours after a party. She looked just like that." I know that one's going to come back at some inappropriate time and get me in trouble. When we get to the shot of Elmo on the toilet Juniper starts hyperventilating. I have to answer at least a hundred questions like why is Elmo pooping and whose bathroom is that and finally what color is Elmo's poop?

To spend all day with a not-quite-three-year old is to regularly find yourself interrogated and trapped in all kinds of existential dead ends. Why does a mother leave a 2-day-old baby in a snowbank? Who is that girl on her sunglasses, really? What color is Elmo's poop? I used to lie like my mom did, but keeping track of all the lies is so exhausting. So now I just hum, and nod my head from side to side. And that worked until yesterday, when she learned to grab my cheeks and say, "Dada you have to talk to me!"

[photo by Mark Sebastian]