Fractured Bits from Toddler Land

Petra standing between two standing toy like a DJ at her two turntables.

Petra standing between two toys like a DJ at two turntables.

They don’t even toddle, yet they have harnessed the targeted power of tornadoes. You can tell where they’ve been by the destruction they’ve left. Every book from the lowest shelf is scattered across the floor. Scores of blocks litter the carpet like land mines. The contents of entire tissue boxes have been ripped into chunky snow.

*

Petra grabs hold of the round pendant around my neck, says Ness. Meaning necklace. Woah, I say. I’ve told her this word three times, and not today or yesterday.

*

Fiona now has a “talker,” an iPad devoted to a communication app, encased in kid-happy red. The main frame displays 120 words. The cells are tiny, too tiny for her raking hands right now (she can’t yet point) but (we surmise) not too tiny for her future. And so we are building toward a day when she can also say, not just necklace, but Mommy, I don’t like that necklace you wear every freaking day. Or whatever she’d like to say about my necklace.

Fiona and Justin looking at the talker.

Fiona and Justin looking at the talker.

*

I build up the stacks and rows on the lowest bookshelves. They tear them down again.

*

Petra pulls up on the coffee table and stands. Up, she says, and at first I think she means, Pick me up, but she shows no interest in being picked up, so I realize that instead she means, I’ve achieved.

*

Fiona gets “babble” time with her talker. She rakes her hand across the screen, and she taps her thumb on random spots, and she splays her fingers wide to see what words she’ll hit. An automated voice replies. Let. Bookstore. Read. Window. When she lands on Erin, she squeals and beams. She’s struck gold. She leans in a few inches from the screen, examines the tiny photo of her personal care assistant. Then she smiles at me and squeals again. It’s a full-body squeal: she tightens her arms and legs with a jolt and lets out a squeak. When she tries to say her friend’s name again, she remembers the rough location, even gets close to touching it.

*

Petra gives me a pretzel rod she’s been chewing. Thank you, I say. Then I put it in a Tupperware container on the table. No no no no no, she screams, her face scrunching in distress. Okay, I say, and try eating the pretzel rod. No no no no no! she says, clearly insulted by my idiocy. What she wants me to do with this pretzel rod, I have no idea, but she has firm opinions about it, and now she is digging her fist into her closed eye, squeaking with each hard rub, closing in on bedtime.

*

I build up the stacks and rows on the lowest bookshelves. They tear them down again.

*

Fiona is in the middle of the living room rug, crawling toward her favorite pastime: the magazines. Petra is on the edge of the rug, farthest away from the magazines. Fiona’s crawling is staggered and painstaking, rigid and shaky, each movement taking her only an inch or two forward. Her crawling is still a triumph. Petra sees where Fiona is going—magazines!— and charges ahead with a smile. Petra’s crawling is speedy and coordinated. Her knees pound the floor in a rhythmic thunder. I watch from the dining room table.

It’s a two-second screenshot, a point of no return: Petra crawls twice as fast as her sister. She beats Fiona to the magazines by a long shot. And so it begins, I think.

*

Kids in highchairs, an aerial view.

Kids in highchairs, an aerial view.

We put their highchairs together, tray to tray, during snack time. We cast cheerios and cheese bits and berries onto the surfaces. Petra’s index finger plucks an apple bit off the tray with precision. Fiona’s two-fingered grab is less astute but gets the job done; she pops a few cheerios into her mouth. After a few minutes, one sister decides she’s done. It doesn’t matter who. Maybe Petra pushes her arms against the tray’s edge, and says Up. Or Fiona signs all done and says Oum, meaning out.

We don’t listen fast enough. One starts chucking food off the tray. The other joins. Banana, cheese, anything is friendly fire on the floor. Fiona clears her tray with one gleeful swipe of her arm. Someone pulls off a bib. The other is emboldened by the gesture. Burn. The. Bibs! Burn. The. Bibs! The bibs are off, the floor is covered in food. The minions are revolting in Toddler Land.

*

I build up the stacks and rows on the lowest bookshelves. They tear them down again.

*

In the hour between their bedtime and mine, I’m reading Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. Children do not necessarily bring us happiness, the final chapter says, but they bring us meaning, purpose, deep joy.

An automated voice speaks from the opposite sofa: I took a much needed dump I mean poop and I do mean poop. My husband snickers. He’s playing with Fiona’s talker.

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