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Almost Two

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Image of the bold Cat Hunter with his preyTheron will be two years old in a little less than one month (June 7, 2008, to be specific). He's a clever, active little guy, and last night he said his own name for the first time. It was cute, but also mildly disgusting. Let me explain...

Patterns of learning
There are some well documented patterns to acquiring new skills. One of the classic ones -- and it shows up in everything from languages to martial arts to computer use -- looks like this: you spend ages working on something, making little or no progress. Then, suddenly, something clicks into place, and you're off and running.

Theron's language skills seem to have done that. He's added some new phonemes (he can do a pretty convincing "ssssss" now). He can repeat anything we say, up to about four words in a row, and usually does. More impressive, he's starting to build sentences (as opposed to the two-word demands he was using earlier). He's even experimenting with grammar.*

Unfortunately, he still poops in the tub.

(Bear with me. There is a connection here.)

Pooping in the tub
For the last couple of weeks, this has happened nearly every night. It's becoming part of his bedtime routine. We finish watching Muppets or Elmo; we undress the boy and set him in the tub; he poops; and I clean it up.

My wife and I have different theories as to why this should be. The Beautiful Woman holds that it's a matter of simple biology; basically, the warm water relaxes him, and things just naturally come out. I, on the other hand, champion a more psychological answer: as the parent who usually bathes him, I feel quite certain that he's doing it just to irritate me.

...All of which brings us back to last night. We've finished watching the Muppets. We've filled the tub and undressed the Boobelly. I set him in the tub, and moment later there are... no, no, I'll spare you the details. The Beautiful Woman comes in while I'm cleaning up, and is greeted with the burning question: "Do we have enough bleach to soak the tub, or should I go get more?"

So the Beautiful Woman looks at her darling son and says, "Oh, you pooped."

And Theron repeats: "Pooped."

Whereupon she continues, "That's right. Mommy poops, Daddy poops, and Theron poops."

And Theron, looking up at her, says: "Mommy... poop."

And, a moment later: "Daddy... poop."

And finally: "Theron... poop."

And that's the story of the very first time that Theron actually said his own name.

It would have been a lot more heartwarming if he could have done it without depositing excrement in his bathwater, though.

Our son, the gerbil
thumbnail image of Theron in tunnelTheron has been many things over the course of his young life - metaphorically, at least. While he was still an internal baby (i.e., before he was born), we kept track of his size by comparing it with various things. So, at one point he was tadpole; later he was a lizard (pronounced "leeezard"); after that he was a grapefruit... you get the idea.

Then, after he was born, he was gifted with other names. Podling, Pumpkin, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Chipmunk, Destruct-o-matic...

Well, a few weeks ago I took him to a McDonald's playground. The reasoning was simple: he needed exercise, and the weather was too nasty for a public park. So, McDonald's: totally enclosed, air conditioned, and -- in the middle of the afternoon -- not completely overrun with other children.

So I took him in, bought a few token items so nobody would complain, and turned him loose.

The playground is about two stories worth of brightly-colored plastic tubes, with ramps and slides and windows and other points of interest. It has sort of sports theme, so at the end of certain tunnels there are little round rooms (that look like baseballs or basketballs from the outside). On the outside, it has a sign: "Kids 3-12 welcome to play. Parents, too."

Taking them at their word, I lifted Theron into the maze and followed him in. The interesting bits require you to climb up a series of half-platforms, which are set within a rectangular column. Because the half-platforms are staggered (one on one side, then the next a little higher on the other side), it's less like climbing a ladder and more like working your way up through a cave. Theron is still a little short for this, so I helped him up.

Once we reached the top, Theron promptly disappeared into the tunnels. I followed as best I could, but it turns out that I'm not as eighteen as I once was. Nevertheless, I now have a pretty good feel for what life would be like as a gerbil... and I managed to document the experience for posterity.

Theron, of course, is a natural at this. He scrambles, climbs, and slides with complete abandon. He is perfectly capable of climbing all the way up the long spiral slide - which surprised me, as it's rather steep in places. And if he does get stuck, he grabs me and pulls me over to wherever he needs a push.

Best of all, he loves it. Boy's a natural spelunker. Gets it from both sides.

New and better ways to dance
In one of the earlier entries, I included a video clip of Theron dancing in front of the Muppet show. Well, his dancing has advanced since then. Maybe not improved, but definitely evolved. It's become a much more strenuous activity, and involves a lot more moving around. Behold:

(Click for video)

A bit of perspective from the end of the second year
Having a child now seems completely normal. He's so thoroughly a part of our lives that it would feel weird if he weren't there... and I'm not quite sure when that happened. Somewhere in the last year, I went from "Wow, we have a child. How did that happen?" to "What would we do without him?"**

This, I suppose, is what people are referring to when they talk about how wonderful it is to be a parent. And it really is cool. What they seem to forget is that the first year -- the part where you're raising a baby -- is an unrewarding, unremitting ordeal. It's totally worth it, because afterwards you get to have a child, but that doesn't make the time any less purgatorial while it's happening.

Schadenfreude and/or epicaricacy
We are not the first of our friends to have children. However, until recently, most of the friends in our immediate geographical area were childless. Those friends who already did have children are either elsewhere; or they've had children for some time; or they don't hang out with us much as they used to do***; or some combination of the above.

So, when we got around to having Theron, it was a lot like being the first of our little circle to have children.

That is, we were suddenly a lot more tired than everyone else; ten o'clock felt a lot like two a.m. used to feel. Our free time was suddenly much more restricted; trying to get together with anyone required (at least) three times as much planning and equipment. Things that used to be perfectly acceptable get-together times were now difficult, if not completely unworkable. What used to be a simple change of plans was now a major ordeal.

...But the really annoying part was that almost nobody seemed to realize it. Even when we explained, there was always this sense of, "Huh?" Sometimes it was obvious; more often it was just below the surface. Most of our friends just didn't get it. Whatever they actually said, I could almost see them thinking, Surely it can't be as bad as all that. There were exceptions, of course, and for the most part people were pretty reasonable, but A) even a little of this is really infuriating, and B) we ran into it fairly frequently.

Now, however, several more of our friends are preparing to have children of their own. My wife and I await these new arrivals with a mixture of genuine happiness for our friends -- mudita -- and perverse pleasure in the knowledge that life is about to become very difficult for them: schadenfreude.

I seriously doubt that anyone is going to come up to us and apologize.**** For one thing, they're probably going to be far too busy taking care of babies. For another, I'm talking about a subtle little prejudice, more evident in the way people reacted than in anything they actually did; I doubt most of them were even aware of it.

Nevertheless, I'm planning to savor this feeling of fiendish glee whenever the opportunity permits.

Also, I hereby apologize -- freely and without reservation -- to any parent whom I've ever regarded with that "Oh-come-on" attitude, in either my voice or my expression.


Theron plays in his gerbil cage.

  A small boy in his cups...

Riding on bang-daddy is fun!

More time in the gerbil cage.
I love slides! Regard the Pig...

* A few nights ago, right after we'd put him down for bed, one of the cats rattled the door. Theron raised his head and said (I am not making this up): "Cat come in." The enunciation wasn't perfect, but it was a perfectly understandable sentence.

**Answer: have more free time.

*** Probably because they have children, and therefore can't.

**** But if anyone does feel so inclined, I offer the following words a model: "Oh my G-d, I was so wrong. You really weren't exaggerating or being difficult. Having a baby really does make it hard to go do things." You can also tell us about how brave and wise and good-looking we are, if the urge strikes you. There's no shame; many people feel that way when confronted with our essential wonderficiality, and far too many feel compelled to restrain themselves for fear of embarrassment.