Days when my daughter hates me, I console myself that this may be a sign of her discerning nature. Two seconds out of sleep at 8 in the morning, she will open her eyes, see my salt-and-pepper craggy-ass grill looming over her and scream “No!” The sheer adrenal rage in her eyes rocks me back on my heels. And, this is not going to make me look great, but, no matter how often it happens, no matter how often her mother reminds me of the obvious (“For fuck sake, she’s two!’), it stings a little.
Instantly abject, I blurt reflexively, “Come on, I love you, Picklehead! What are you mad about?”
“Don’t say that!” After “No”, “Don’t say that!” is her favorite thing to scream. A endearing bit of censorship and control in a chaotic world, generally followed by ritual floor-flinging. Hands jammed over her eyes, she will freeze into a little anger coma. (Maybe, it suddenly occurs to me, she just hates the name “Picklehead.”) After which, when I go in for a tickle (mistake) she rolls over onto her back and kicks me in the teeth so hard it uproots the titanium screw I just had stuck in my jaw to hold an implant in place. Why the tooth fell out in the first place, who knows? The only certainty is that without it, regardless of alleged IQ or accomplishments, I radiate all the class and gravitas of gap-toothed Jew-billy. Maybe not white trash. White traife… But that’s a separate issue.
Fast forward. It’s hours after my morning tot attack, and I’m at a local health food emporium, idly scoping the shelves for some alpha lipoic acid. (Don’t ask me what it does, but I know it’s spectacular for you. That and turmeric). I’m thinking about this spate of random baby-wrath; about how, the way I’m wired, if somebody yowls at me, if they hate me, I kind of agree with them. It’s like, if I dig deep enough, I can retro-manufacture a reason for what would otherwise be some inexplicable personal attack. (Call me an asshole and I’ll kind of agree, even if I’ve been nothing but Mother Theresa to you. It’s something my mother helped me with.)
What you always wonder with an acting out tot, what I at least can’t help but wonder, is whether or not the current, ah, difficulty, might be permanent. I had a friend whose little girl was a biter. Sweet as could be except when she got pissed off and started chewing holes through classmates’ faces. After a couple years of attending school with a minder, followed by an effective drug regimen, she’s now a sweet, smart tenderhearted teen, whose parents no longer have to worry about her smashing Dr. Seuss books on her baby brother’s head. Amazing, how firm and resilient a baby skull is. I have seen Baby N take some bonks on the melon that would dent a Hummer.
But I’m tired. I’m losing the thread. I was going to segue from the troubling, there-I-said-it hurtful misbehavior of my own little two-year-old to where I’m currently standing, in the kiddie aisle at aforementioned health food store. In front me, in colorful packaging, is an array of mood-altering kiddie formulas. Would I better off grabbing Siddabrand “Kids 2+” or (my fave) Temper Tamers “for Irritability, Short Temper and Tantrums”? The product “temporarily relieves symptoms of irritability, short temper, tantrums,” plus the ever–troubling “mischievous (sic) and destructive, frustrated and discontented.”
And this, friends and working parents, is only one brand. I have not yet mentioned Hyland’s 4Kids “Calm’n’Restful.” Or Planetary Herbals’ “Calm Child” or Nerve Support’s Valerian Super Calm. Or Bioray’s gluten free, dairy and soy free, “Calm.”
This, mind you, is Los Feliz, Los Angeles, a neighborhood so enlightened half the parents probably have to be wrestled to the ground just to vaccinate for polio. My own folks, back when color TV was new, would occasionally drip a little beer or bourbon into my milk bottle, thereby quelling my own toddler torments. And I turned out fine. The idea of feeding Valium and gin to baby Cooper or the (ironically named) baby Mabel would, understandably, be anathema to the average Whole Foods shopper. But slipping baby a homeopathic roofie, why not? Sometimes even we vegpas (vegan parents) need a little—STOP THAT FUCKING SCREAMING—peace.
I’m not judging. I’m identifying. Though it is, at this writing, the height of the Cosby opera, and it’s hard not to make the creepy leap from herbal toddler-dosing, so they’ll shut up and sleep, to the patented Cosby Compliance Formula. Horrible thought. (And how comes nobody mentions the doctor, who wrote prescriptions for all that shit? And, from the doctor’s point of view, was the fact that he was Cosby’s go-to rape-meds guy good for business or bad? It’s a sick fucking world we bring our children into.)
But fuck that. My titanium screw still hurts. And it’s probably crooked now, so my new tooth will be facing outward, at 45 degrees, giving me a mono-fang, on the left, in the manner of a dentally challenged vampire. (How come you never see those?) But at the moment, my two-year-old is sitting on my lap, sucking on a bottle of almond milk, bliss-diddling her bellybutton. We’re watching A Turtle’s Tale, which has a cooler soundtrack than Frozen. It’s been a hug-fest for hours. Tomorrow, there will probably be wake-up hate whining again. But right now, it all feels right.
That Kiddie Calm really works.
This essay will appear in Jerry Stahl’s forthcoming book, OG Dad, a collection of his Rumpus column along with new, previously unpublished installments. OG Dad will be released by Rare Bird Books on Father’s Day, June 21st.
Rumpus original art by Max Winter.