My daughter likes to bang her head off the floor. It makes a point—an especially guilt-tinged one, given that we had to get rid of our carpets due to a mold infestation, so now there’s no cushion between baby cranium and wood. (Does mold infest? Whatever it does, it was too toxic to breathe. I know because the experts who also billed us for the de-infesting told us so. How could be there be any doubt?)
So there’s that. She also falls a lot. Babies do that. You’ve seen it. They walk like tiny drunks. Headbanging is part of the job. N has a blue bruise on her cheek, a knot on her forehead. A new tooth got knocked loose when she walked into a wall, clutching Elmo, whom I blame for distracting her. He won’t shut up. Always asking for hugs, or whining that “it’s too tight,” or just giggling. She cries on impact, then stops—eventually. Or doesn’t cry at all. But when shit’s not going her way, it’s a flat-on-her-back rage convulsion. And who can blame her? Add to the constant bruising the frustration of not being able to communicate. At nineteen months, it’s all needs, torments, and delights. “No” and “Cute!” are her favorite exclamations.
I would love to go to the Cute-iverse, as so many parent-of-baby writers are wont to do. The googly ga-ga wonder of it all. Instead, watching this tiny, two-legged pain-inducer wail and whomp her noggin, I’m reminded of my own father, a headbanger himself, long before heavy metal made it a thing. Instead, during fights with my mother—they’re both gone now, no doubt eliciting cries of “Pipe down!” as they bicker in the afterlife—the old man would step up to a wall and, in full of view of us kids, knock himself forehead-first into the architecture. It created, over the years, a living diorama of dad-rage. “Oh look, there in the bathroom: Thanksgiving ’66! You can still see a little blood in the plaster!”
Not to get sentimental. Though, I’m not going to lie, it’s hard not to go all misty-eyed at the memory, if only from gratitude. Right now, watching my little love-bomb, face-down, screaming, “NO! NO! NO!” at the top of her tiny lungs, pummeling the floor of our local supermarket (which is no doubt crawling with E. coli), I thank my lucky stars that my father, whatever his other issues, saw fit not exercise his right to face-bang in public situations. My mother, on the other hand, was no stranger to public scenes. As a sixteen-year-old, I used to carry smelling salts whenever we’d venture out together, in case she gave into the urge to scream, “Oh God, he wishes it was me!” when at a Dairy Queen or Denny’s, letting the world know that, in her opinion, I wished she’d checked herself out in the garage in our brand-new Oldsmobile instead of the old man. Hardly true. You don’t want your parents to commit suicide, no matter how complex your relationship (at least I didn’t). But, mental health not being my family’s strong suit, my late mother, God bless her, had an alarming tendency to make public scenes long before reality TV was around to make it a career move.
And yes, as I write this, my year-and-a-halfer is twirling through the air, footloose and diaper-free—best cure for diaper rash, they say, is exposure to air—shrieking, “I fouted, I fouted!” in a voice of plaster-cracking delight. “Fout,” in her particular brand of Toddlerese, translates to “fart.” For whatever reason, my little girl is inordinately proud of her flatulent moments. And why not? Self-esteem is a good thing, right? I’m happy to instill it in her. Even if I wish she wouldn’t do it while I’m carrying her on my head.