Terza is three, which is the age at which, I've noticed, children tend to develop a short-lived phobia of feces. Don't ask me why this happens. I know it has something to do with what they call "body integrity" which is also why, at about this age, they also develop a blood phobia. All of which is to say, I will definitely not be showing the kid any birth videos any time soon. Could you imagine what the implications of that would be on someone concerned about body integrity?
Because it's not my first time at the rodeo, I was prepared for the poop problem. When Terza has to go, I hang out with her in the bathroom and just chat with her and tell her stories so she does not have a full-on nervous breakdown about her imminent BM. While doing that a few days ago, I was reminding her of the fact that there's nothing to worry about. And she, in a moment of clarity and reason, agreed.
Then she expounded on the subject:
"A poop is not a lion or a tiger," she observed. "A poop can't eat you. So you don't have to be scared."
Seconda's learning about birds in school and had a homework assignment in which she had to write about the morning dove.
She did it. But she spelled it "mourning dove."
"I'm concerned about Seconda," I told David, "Why would she automatically opt for mourning instead of morning? That seems so bleak and macabre."
"Are you sure that's not how it's spelled?" he asked me.
"I mean, I doubt it. Birds sing in the morning. They wake you with their cheerful chirps. Birds are optimistic."
And then I googled it and Seconda was totally right.
What kind of a doom-and-gloomer named that animal?
I was relieved, though, for several reasons. A: My daughter's paying a decent amount of attention during Bird Study. B. One less piece of evidence that she is bleak and macabre. And C: I think I may be a genuine optimistic myself, to have assumed the dove would have a cheerful, hopeful name. Of course, I'm the most neurotic genuine optimistic that ever lived. But still . . .
Terza spilled birdseed all over the living room floor on a recent Sunday afternoon. I swept it up as best as I could (of course I'm visually impaired so, you know, my best in the sweeping-up-birdseed department isn't great). We were half out the door when she spilled it. I knew there was birdseed scattered on the rug, but I didn't have time to deal with unearthing the vacuum and plugging it in and sucking up all the birdseed in order to restore the filthy carpet to just normal levels of filth.
"I'll do it later," I decided.
We didn't get back home until late that evening. We rushed to feed the kids and ourselves dinner. We clean up the rice Terza spilled, and the milk that Seconda spilled and a half dozen other minor messes I can't even recall because they are so routine I'm no longer even aware of dealing with them; I just go on auto-clean mode.
David put Terza to bed, at which point I remembered the birdseed. I managed to pull the vacuum out of my bedroom and wheel it into the living room before I was called away by another child to take care of another crisis. Later that night, after the kids had gone to sleep, I saw the vacuum and remembered the birdseed again, but there was no way in hell I was going to risk waking the kids by running the vacuum. Did I say that emphatically enough? No. Fucking. Way. I'd rather sleep on the spilled birdseed than risk waking the kids. I'd rather eat it. So, I left the vacuum out, figuring I'd do it the next day.
Days passed. Work, school trips, allergist appointments, emergency tooth extraction appointments, work, meetings, sibling smackdowns, work, fevers, overdue bills, overdue library books, first holy sacraments, preschool show and tell, work, domestic civil wars, strep tests. Every night, once the kids had gone to sleep, and I'd done the dishes (or nagged David to), emptied the lunch boxes, prepped for the next day, returned pressing emails, and showered, I'd walk into the living room and see the vacuum still there. Waiting for its chance to shine.
"Well, I"m not going to run the vacuum now," I thought,"not when my sanity hinges on all three kids staying asleep for a few hours."
So for five days, the vacuum remained in the living room and the birdseed got more and more embedded in the rug. On Friday, the kids and I got home at 5:30, leaving a few hours before bedtime, no homework, no pressing emails to return.
"It's go-time," I said to the vacuum.
I plugged that baby in and I sucked that birdseed up, feeling buoyant with a dizzying sense of achievement.
"I did it!!!" I thought. "I've met my goal! And, most importantly, I CAN CROSS THIS SHIT OFF FMY TO-DO LIST!!!!"
It's a sad state of affairs when it takes you five days to vacuum up birdseed -- and even then, you're amazed that you actually did it. Even then, it feels like a minor miracle that you were able to squeezz that five minute activity into your schedule.
Let's hope no one ever spills a gallon of milk on the floor. We might still be wading in it two weeks later.
My daughters have devised a new game of pretend. It is called, simply, "Goblin."
The game is simple. Terza, age 3, is a baby named Goblin. She is not, as I initially thought, a goblin baby. That would be absurd. Instead she is a human baby that has distinctly goblin-like characteristics, including growling, crawling on all fours and a generally aggressive disposition.
Seconda is her owner. Which is to say, her master.
You can see where this game is going. Seconda orders Terza around. Terza obeys. Terza is delighted. Second is delighted. I am mildly disturbed but they are amusing themselves so I say nothing. Seconda is a benevolent master, more maternal than anything else. She has a gentle scolding tone to her voice, but never issues a harsh rebuke.
It's all, "Oh no no no, Goblin! You know better than to bite the table!"
and, "Goblin, it's feeding time! What do you have to do if you want your bottle? That's right! Sit down."
and, to me, "You'll have to excuse my baby Goblin. She likes to bite people."
Goblin has no voice. The metaphor is not lost on me. Though I can't say Terza minds. Quite the opposite.
The other day, Seconda gave herself a character upgrade. She put on her communion veil and her communion glove and shiny, brand-new silver party shoes ("are these designer?" she asked baffled me). Goblin also got an upgrade, though not as lavish. She hasn't received first holy communion, after all, so pickings are slim. Seconda pranced around the apartment, with Terza trailing right behind her, on all fours, barking and growling and looking positively elated.
I find it's best not to think too deeply about the fucked-up power dynamics one sees played out in pretend play. After all, isn't that what pretend play is for? And isn't that was big sisterhood is all about? I remember my sister singing back-up for me in our two-girl band for our entire childhood. Did it traumatize her for life, and give her an inferiority complex? Well, probably. But, on the plus side. it also gave her grit galore.
Nicole is a parenting writer who contributes essays and articles for magazines like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Babble. She lives in Brooklyn with three children, one husband and a morbidly obese goldfish.