The Baby Knows

by Site Author

When you have a three-year-old and also a baby, it’s the baby who knows what’s up. You tell the three-year-old that it’s time to get dressed for school, and those words alone trigger a tantrum. The three-year-old falls on the floor, and screams at the ceiling as if to ask “Why God? Why?” She kicks her legs and waves her arms and, for a moment, appears to be making a snow angel. But then she remembers that it is you who is the enemy, and so she pivots so her kicks land on your body.

You wonder why every morning has to be like this, and why—for god’s sake!—it matters so much that she wear that dirty, stained skirt when it is nearly below freezing outside.

You wonder whether there’s some other way to get out of the house in the morning. Should you have her sleep in her school clothes? Are there clothes that can be applied to a child. For a moment you sketch out a toddler-clothing applicator. It involves Velcro and a lasso.

How would a good parent handle this? Surely they’ve figured all of this out. Good parents around the country are already on their way to school, engaged in a discussion with their toddlers about a poem by Rilke.

But you are not a good parent, that’s clear, since each and every wardrobe change causes permanent trauma. Thirty years from now, your daughter will be describing these moments to the prison psychiatrist. In that professional’s opinion, it is all 100-percent your fault. Winter clothes?! No wonder this poor girl ended up this way, here, like this.

You’ll try to reason with your daughter, explaining what frostbite is, and how warm blood has to circulate, and that she is a mammal. And when that doesn’t work, you’ll bargain. What if you only wear underwear, but then as soon as we leave the house, you put on your winter clothes? What if you wrap yourself in a blanket? What if I improvise new clothes out of the rug you just ruined?

None of it will work, and despite being ten minutes late to school, it’ll be another half hour before you are finally out the door. But, in all of this, you’ll look over at the baby and realize that she gets it. She’ll smile up at you as if to say: can you believe it? Again? She threw this same fit yesterday! And then she will quietly, in her baby way, smile again and reassure you that when she’s three years old, she will never be like this.