Having a kid is weird.
And I don’t just mean the usual weirdness, like never being able to use the bathroom in peace again, or how stepping in a pile of cold, wet something doesn’t even make you flinch, anymore. Or typing this post with three fingers, because a tiny human was curious about what you were up to while he watched Cat In the Hat, so he climbed up onto your lap, and you now have to use one hand to hold him so you can make sure he doesn’t start slamming his little fingers onto the keyboard in that special random way that immediately starts deleting important files.
I don’t even mean that special parent-weirdness, like stepping out of the bathroom after a shower and having a miniature person run up, yank your towel aside like it’s a set of curtains, and having him scream directly into your crotch, “Hi, Weenie!”
I mean those special circumstances, where, when you think back on it later, you feel like maybe you just lost your mind for a little bit, and your brain decided to fill in the blanks with scraps of absolute lunacy.
Heck, sometimes you don’t even have to think about it later; even in the middle of it all, there’s a part of you going, “This can not be real, right? There’s no way this is a real thing. I’m strapped in a bed somewhere, getting pumped full of medication for a mental break of some sort.”
We were having a pretty good evening. His mom was working, so it was just the boy and I. We were in the kitchen; I was cleaning, and he was pawing through the pantry, trying to decide on a snack. He settled on popcorn, indicating this like you do–by slapping me with the package and screaming please at me until I gave in to his request.
“You want popcorn?” I asked, not because he was being subtle at all, but because I wasn’t sure if he even knew what he was demanding.
“Yeah! Yeah, corny! Please! Corny! Yeah!”
I hadn’t even realized that he knew what popcorn was, much less that it was already part of his growing vocabulary.
“Okay, we’ll have some corny,” I told him, throwing the package into the microwave. We spent the next two minutes and ten seconds shouting “corny” at the microwave and to each other. Believe it or not, this isn’t the part where I wondered if I had already lost my mind.
I pulled the puffed-up bag of corny from the microwave, and while it cooled, I searched through the cabinets for our popcorn boxes left over from his birthday party. It didn’t take long to find them, and soon, he was contentedly crunching away on his corny.
It’s important for you to understand that my child is adorable. Like, I know most kids at his age are at their peak cuteness, but my boy doesn’t play around about it. So while he ate his snack, I whipped out my phone to take a quick video.
“What’cha got, there?” I asked him.
“Corny,” he answered, holding up a piece to show me, in case I needed visual confirmation. “Corny.”
“Corny? Is it good?”
“Yeah. Corny.” He focused his attention on the corny, completely ignoring me in that way only toddlers can get away with. I turned off the video, carried him and his corny back to the living room, and set him down. I had made it almost to my chair when he decided to dump his corny out on his plate–a new purchase I had been showing him earlier–which was on his trampoline.
Most of the corny missed the plate, covering the trampoline; and while that kind of mess sucks, at least he was making the connection between the food and the plate, so I couldn’t fault him for it. What he did next, however, I could fault him for: he dumped the corny from the plate onto the trampoline, and then proceeded to scatter the corny from the trampoline to every inch of the floor.
We’ve been having food-on-the-floor issues for a couple of weeks, now, and he knows he isn’t supposed to do it. I, too, know he shouldn’t do it, so my fuse was a little shorter than it would have been normally.
“Why? Why did you do that?” I cried.
“Why?” he shouted back at me, because that’s what he always does when I ask him why he did something. Honestly, it’s a pretty slick tactic, because you both avoid answering for your bad behavior, as well as confuse the person confronting you about your bad behavior.
I snatched the popcorn box away from him, and began scooping the mess from the floor into it.
“Corny! Please! Corny!”
“No! No more corny for you!” I wasn’t shouting, but my voice was raised in frustration. The boy, understanding that this isn’t how we should deal with our anger, decided to try to match my tone, and–just for good measure–double my volume level.
“Corny! Moy corny!”
“No! You dumped it on the floor, so you don’t get more corny!”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is when the rational part of my brain began weeping. Because you can’t angrily, loudly, say things like, “No corny.” You can’t do that in a sane world, you just can’t.
I know that parents throw the phrase, “my kid is driving me insane” around a lot, and I usually don’t blame them. Because it isn’t just an expression used to convey the sentiment of, “this kid is being bad,” although it is used in that context quite a bit. But it can also be used in a much more literal sense, as in, “this little human is honestly pushing me to the brink of my sanity.”
Not because the child is being bad, necessarily, but because we, as functional adults, have grown up understanding the bounds of how a normal world works, and a toddler doesn’t care about those bounds. At all. So the parent is forced into a situation that makes no sense; a situation that can span over a time period that the rational mind is not at all comfortable with. Sometimes, your brain picks up on this immediately, as mine did during the corny fiasco.
Other times, it isn’t until later, when you’re staring down at your sleeping angel, reflecting on another day that you’ve lived through, and you go, “Wait, what? That had to be my imagination, right?”
Because it doesn’t even seem like it could be real.
And then your child yawns, or rolls over, or maybe even just stays still in their bed, and your heart feels like it’s going to break because it’s so full of love. And that overwhelming love, it doesn’t feel real, because you didn’t even know you were capable of loving something so much, but it doesn’t feel like your imagination, this time, not one little bit.
That’s when you realize that all of this–the battles, the weirdness, the love–it’s all real, you aren’t just losing your mind.
And that’s when you also realize that it isn’t so bad at all.