Toddler Life, Chapter 128: Staying with the Grandparents

Let me preface by saying that I love my son dearly. He is a searing beacon of joyfulness and hope and all things good, and it is my greatest aspiration that I could become half the man he seems to think I am.

But, I am probably going to kill him.

I’m not gonna lie, the kid has it rough right now (as rough as a kid who has everything he could hope for and doesn’t even have to clean up his own room yet can have it, I guess). He’s adjusting to having a baby sister in the house, which has got to be confusing for his tiny lizard brain. He’s also in that “terrible twos” stage where every snack he’s not allowed to have means he’s going to starve to death, every fun thing he’s not allowed to do means he will never have fun again ever in his life, and every moment he’s not surgically attached to my leg or my wife’s is a moment in which there is no happiness in the world (more importantly, the room) for ANYBODY. He is needy, he is demanding, he is a phenomenon of auditory wave production: he can, on demand, produce sounds that are either so loud they have no business emanating from a human who stands knee-high, or sounds that … god, how can it be described? Imagine a mosquito buzzing right next to year, and that mosquito is also scratching its nails down a chalkboard while playing a kazoo off-key and droning in some discordant minor key, “DADDY, WANT POPSICLE”. It’s a sound and a tone that makes me wish I did not have ears. How he learned to produce this tone I have no idea, but HE MUST BE STOPPED. I am sure that if the government could somehow weaponize a toddler’s whine, no military in the world would stand against us for fear of the psychological trauma that the sound can cause.

Luckily, my parents are magnanimous old souls, and they lie to me and tell me that he always behaves fantastically for them, so they agreed that he could stay with them for a night or two.

Let me be clear: I’m not trying to foist my child off on his hapless grandparents. They asked for him.

But I’m not here today to write about the kid. No, I’m here to talk about a night without the kid.

Toddlers are like tiny black holes. They drift around, sucking up your energy and time, occasionally throwing toothbrushes into the toilet and sticking lollipops on the backs of the cats. (Black holes do that stuff, right? I may have gotten distracted.) But you can get used to living with just about anything. We can tune out most of his whining. We eat fast and without tasting so that we can finish our meals in less than the time it takes for him to fidget with a few pieces of broccoli and start demanding popsicles so that we can field his tantrum. We step over and around and through the messes he’s left all over the house, somehow having blinded ourselves to them, as if the entire area of the house that is less than six inches above the ground is an enormous SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem) field (thanks Douglas Adams!). That’s just our life. Every couple of days (…or every couple of weeks) we’ll clean house from all the insanity that he causes, and we live with it.

But tonight, he’s gone. And the house is so wonderfully, terribly peaceful.

There are no tantrums. No screams to go outside. No tugging and yelling to get up and play (“DON’T SIT, DADDY”). No haphazard and wanton destruction of the room: no toys strewn about, no magazines knocked in the floor, no tiny puddles of milk and juice and unidentified sticky substances underfoot.

Have our lives ever been this quiet before?

We went to dinner, my wife and I, taking sprout the second with us in her carrier. I can remember (vaguely) taking sprout the first with us to restaurants, shortly after he was born (in other words, shortly after our Life Before Children — a time so darkly lost in history it can scarcely be remembered), and thinking how stressful it was to eat out with a child. Then he grew to be a toddler and it got even worse. Now? A newborn in a carrier? We’re on vacation! We sat across from one another at dinner, enjoyed a little bit of quiet conversation, and then stopped trying to fill the void and just enjoyed the motherfargoing SILENCE.

Silence. It’s such a simple thing. You never think about it when you have it in spades. Living alone? Early married life? You can have all the silence you like, you can go crazy on it. When you have a kid — a toddler, no less — you begin to forget what silence even means. Silence might as well be Narnia. Mythical. Impossible. Imaginary. You get snippets of it — an hour while the kid naps, a blissful moment while the kid plays in quiet with a new toy, a handful of seconds after you close the door and walk around to the other side of the car — but you don’t get to enjoy it. There is no stretching of the legs, no draining of the tension in the neck, no softening and unclenching of blood vessels or anuses. You live in fear and dread of the next tantrum, the next shout, the next dropped cheerio that turns out to be the next great calamity.

We eat dinner in silence. We drive home in silence. We do the dishes, pick up some toys around the house, get ready for bed, in perfect, blissful silence. It’s glorious. Wondrous. And we miss the kid.

For all the noise and all the messes and all the noise and all the tantrums and all the noise and all the disagreeing and did I mention the noise, the house feels empty without him in it. Were our lives ever this quiet? How did we ever deal with this much quiet?

I am fighting against my basic urges. I am trying to enjoy the time without having to worry about him, without saving him from pitching himself down the stairs or from impaling his eyeball with a fork or from cracking his skull on the coffee table, without listening to his fits and his whining, but I can’t. Something in your DNA wants to have the child near even when having him near makes you want to kill him.

Thanks, mom and dad, for taking the sprout (the terror, the speaker of demands, the destroyer of rooms, the scatterer of toys) for a couple of days. Keep him as long as you want. But not too long. We miss him over here.

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