Oh, To Be Ten Months Old Again.

Ten-month-old babies may not seem like the world’s most intelligent creatures, but they’re already beginning to grasp the nuances of complex human language. For instance, Thomas has already discovered that “no” is the universal word for fun.

“No, no, no, we do not play in the kitchen cabinets!” his mom said, as Thomas turned around and grinned in self-satisfaction. (And maybe his dad grinned back, but there is no evidence to support that fact–only the accusations of the mother). Around Thomas was a bunch of plastic containers and lids strewn across the floor, as he had recently discovered the riches of the Tupperware cabinet.

At his current stage of development, Tupperware is about the perfect play toy for Thomas. It’s lightweight, comes in all shapes and sizes, and makes a nice “whacking” sound when walloped. Thomas spends most of his waking hours crawling around looking for inanimate objects to pummel, whack, or wallop into submission–who needs high-dollar Fisher-Price toys when you can be perfectly content wielding a cup, coaster, or cell phone as a hammer? 

Certainly, it’s a lot more cost-effective to let Thomas play with Tupperware, as most objects aren’t built to withstand the abuse a teething pre-toddler can induce. When he’s not pummeling something, he’s gnawing on it. With four front teeth now and an unlimited source of slobber, he can do a lot of damage to high-tech devices.   

That said, there is one high-tech device that I recommend all parents purchase. Sure, it may be $300, but $300 for a ten-minute break from childcare is a good deal if you ask me–plus it cleans the floors. We’ve had a Roomba for many years, and I always wondered why it bounces around the room in a seemingly random vacuuming pattern. Now I know it’s just an evasive action protocol meant to prevent hijackings by crawling babies. If you want to keep a ten-month-old entertained for ten minutes, turn on a Roomba and let them chase it around the floor. If they do catch it, most Roombas are built tough, or at least tough enough to withstand a moderate walloping by a ten-month-old armed with a Tupperware lid.  

The Danger of Stranger Danger

If you ever visit Little Rays of Sunshine Daycare, remember to walk fast, keep your head down, and don’t make eye contact—or else the three-year-olds will have sufficient time to exploit your fear. They like to ride tricycles over to the playground fence and give strange parents the stink eye. Walking past them, sometimes I feel like I ought to be carrying pepper spray, or at least a safety whistle. 

Child 1: “Who’s that?” 

Child 2: “He ain’t my dad.”

Child 3: “He ain’t my dad either.”

Child 2: “Hey, you, what’s your name?” (child rattles fence)

Me: (looking around, hoping child 2 is accosting someone else. Realizing he’s not, say name meekly): Umm, I’m Thomas’s dad.  

Whatever happened to teaching children to fear strangers? I mean, stranger danger was so successfully programmed into my belief system that now I’m wary of talking to strange three-year-olds. And by the time I was the ripe old age of three, my shyness level had already exceeded that of most woodland creatures, excepting perhaps the sasquatch.

Apparently, most babies develop an innate sense of stranger danger at about six months old, after which they begin to look warily at unknown faces. But it’s up to parents to foster this burgeoning fear into a healthy phobia that will not only save their child from the kidnappers plaguing the neighborhood, but make their child an incredibly awkward adult. 

“Don’t talk to strangers,” was the mantra of my childhood, and even now, I still hate trying to integrate myself in a group of strangers. I’ve tried many integration methods over the years. I’ve tried approaching with a mosey, spitting, and saying “howdy,” but that only works if you don’t spit on your shoe. I’ve tried the stealth approach in which I attempt to sidle up undetected and then act as if I’ve been there all along, but to some people that can be extremely alarming. I’ve tried the humorous approach, though the tripping-and-falling gag was purely by accident. Generally, my best method for introducing myself to strangers is to aim for the pity inclusion and employ endearing awkwardness.

Anyway, the more that I think about it, I’m glad the three-year-olds on tricycles have yet to be indoctrinated. It seems to me that “don’t talk to strangers” has an insidious suspicion baked into it. It teaches children to attribute nefarious and sinister motives to people who don’t look or talk like them. And if the current state of American society teaches us anything, it’s a civics lesson for what happens when opposing groups of people retreat to the comfort of echo chambers and thus never talk to strangers.  

The Child Who Gnaws A Lot

For someone who can’t even chew, my six-month-old sure likes to gnaw. I think that’s why many baby toys and dog toys look identical; in fact, I bet if you put a baby toy in a lineup with five canine chew toys, the baby toy would get off scot-free. Toymakers are marketing to the same demographic, mainly mammals who drool a lot. 

Which is the baby toy?

Both sets of grandparents have asked for guidance on what to get Thomas for Christmas. That’s a good question: What do you get for someone who is perfectly happy gnawing on a cell-phone charger cord? Thankfully, I caught Thomas trying to electrocute himself before he ruined my cord (life lesson learned: never leave a conduit for electrons near a baby). But the question still stands, what do you get a six-month-old? 

I thought about getting him a copy of War and Peace. For one, that title more or less sums up the early experience of human baby–either peacefully sleeping or engaged in wailing warfare over food or the ruined state of a diaper. Second, that book has a lot of pages in it, and Thomas seems most content when stuffing crinkly paper in his mouth. Third, if he starts a Tolstoy book early, there’s a chance he may actually complete it and succeed where his father has failed. I once voiced a critique of Anna Karenina in casual conversation with an English professor (she was a real literary snob if you ask me). She rebuffed my criticism that the ending seemed a little cliche by snorting and pointing out that Anna, after eloping with Vronsky, did not live happily ever after and instead jumped in front of a train. How was I to know I had only read the first volume of Anna Karenina when it alone was over 500 pages?

Sometimes I just wish Thomas would stay the size he is now. His collicky days are over and he is so easy to please right now–just give him a chew toy and he’ll gnaw happily. I’ve also successfully taught him to roll over, which he can now perform for the amazement of onlookers. And, to add his repertoire of tricks, I’m currently teaching him to babble on command and to crawl to improve his fetching skills. 

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Thomas is currently living the pampered life of a modern house dog, which is pretty close to an ideal existence. There have been many times in my life when I’ve envied tail-wagging dogs who are easy to please and unburdened by the worries and stresses of human existence. Now, as a parent, I find myself worrying about what Thomas will worry about. I just want him to live happily ever after, and I can’t imagine him being much happier than he is now as a six-month-old content to gnaw on paper. 

The Child Who Gnaws A Lot

The Dark Lord Colic, the Witching Hour, and a Strange Dream

It’s strange how life changes once you’re subjugated to a little bundle of joy. For one, your vocabulary expands. I’ve said the word fussy more times in two months of parenthood than I had in three-plus decades of a previous existence, an existence when the only he-who-shall-not-be-named was Lord Voldemort, when I lived blissfully unaware of the existence of the Dark Lord Colic. It’s not that I hadn’t heard the word colic before. I just confused it with cholera, a disease that modern medicine has mostly conquered. Thus, I didn’t spend much brain power pondering colic, believing health care professionals had everything under control. 

However, after Thomas set a high-water mark for tears, I studied up on the dreaded term colic. My wife asked me, “Do you think he’s got it? He’s been crying for over three hours.” Though I hated to admit it, the evidence was pointing in that direction–fed, burped, and diapered and he was still red-faced and screaming. 

I’ve since learned that, like the number of licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know what causes colic because doctors have thrown up their hands and given up on curing it. Now, they more or less give you a rain slicker and tell you to batten down the hatches. “It gets better,” they say, usually after week eight. And sure enough, it did. In fact, I wouldn’t consider Thomas a colicky baby. He had a collicky week in which neither pacifier, nor bottle, nor swing, nor rocking chair, nor sweet lullaby, nor pleading parent could separate him from the love of God-awful wailing. 

The Witching Hour

The witching hour, a colloquialism for the prefered hour in which a baby decides to go bonkers, usually started for Thomas around 5 pm. Thereafter, to hear Thomas tell it, he had more blues than B.B. King at a Memphis nightclub on a Friday night. He would wail away for hours, with us feeling as helpless as he actually was. And then, for reasons beyond our comprehension, he would just cease crying and then smile and act as happy as can be, as if he hadn’t just spent the last few hours practicing for the time in his life when he’ll have to pass a kidney stone. And then the next day, he would do it all over again. 

This lasted for a week, though it felt like a good forty days and forty nights of continuous outbursts. And then, for no perceivable reason, the skies cleared, a rainbow appeared, and a dove descended with an olive branch, metaphorically speaking. 

This week, in fact, I’ve actually gone from daydreaming about dreams to actually dreaming. Last night I had an old recurring dream: I was being chased by tornadoes again. Usually, I classify this dream, in which menacing twisters follow me in my rear-view mirror, as a nightmare, but this time I got out of the car and walked up to the tornadoes and gave them a big hug, like I was welcoming home some long lost friends. 

Is This a Picture of an 'Intense Supercell with a Mass of Tornadoes' in  Kansas?