Zoey is into babies. She can make anything a baby — a rock, a used tissue, a piece of broccoli. “Oh, look at my baby,” she’ll coo while cradling a snot filled tissue in the palm of her hand. “Isn’t she cuuute?” Then she’ll tickle the baby’s, uh, “chin” and whisper, “Cutchie-Cutchie-CooooOOOO!” Our days basically consist of Zoey following me around and saying, “Wanna play baby, Mommy? Huh? Wanna?” Or, when I say no, of Zoey dumping a doll into my lap and declaring, “Mommy! Your baby is CRYING! You better DO SOMETHING!” And, if that fails, Zoey will cram her nose into the baby’s rear end and yell, “Ew! I smell POO in YOUR BABY’S butt! Change his diaper. NOW.” She looks at me with such shock — like I’m the worst mom in the history of the world because I am not moved into immediate action to change a fake diaper filled with the fake poo of a fake baby*.
Zoey’s current favorite baby is a recent addition to the household. The baby came with a hat, a blanket, a bottle, and the baby sings a song. Zoey has declared this baby to be “very very special.” Zoey, in a stroke of minimalist genius, has named her . . . Baby. I’m not a huge fan. Baby does not generally make the world an easier place for me. In other words, Baby is a pain in the ass.
It started small. Baby was curious — she had to stick her hands in the basil plants and whoops! a bunch of dirt happened to make its way out of the pot. Then baby decided that she needs her own place at the table at EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. Of course Baby needs her own plate of food and, because she is “such a leeetle baby”, she needs her food cut up. Small. In the correct shape. Baby is also not a big napper. Zoey throws up her hands in exasperation, “Well! Mommy! Baby says she does not want to nap so I can’t either!” Ah, what’s a mother to do!
But then the real trouble started — Baby began to branch out. She became curious about knives and toilet water. And, apparently, Baby is the one who dumped out an entire bottle of shampoo on the floor of the bathroom. Zoey shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well! Baby needed to get clean so she had to do it.”** Baby and her caretaker got to bond over the injustice of a time out.
Then Baby got mean. Zoey, who speaks fluent baby, came up to me and whispered, “Mommy, Baby said she’s gonna get you.” I smiled, thinking it was a game, “Oh! Not if I get her first!” and then I pretended to tickle baby. “No,” Zoey gasped and wrenched Baby out of my reach. “Baby does NOT like that. BE CAREFUL, MOMMY.” Zoey put her hand on my back as if to comfort me, “No . . . Baby said she is going to get you — like baaad people.” My mind flashed to a movie preview I had seen once while babysitting back in 1988 and all I could think was, Just like Chucky. I am a horror movie wimp and this movie preview scared me so much that I still remember it; I’ve never even seen the whole movie. “Um, well,” I stammered, “Uh, that’s not very nice of baby, is it? Maybe you need to put her in time out.” Yeah, like time out in the trunk of the car tonight so she can’t hack me up with a butcher knife while I’m sleeping.
Zoey thought about the idea of putting Baby in time out. I could see her thinking thinking thinking and then wham! there it was, a look of barely contained glee. My evil/genius idea had taken hold — Zoey realized she could have (wait for it . . .) PARENTAL POWER. Zoey pursed her lips together and muttered, “Yeah, yeah, that could be goood.”
There was a brief pause where I could feel my daughter doing what any good mother does: gathering the unseen forces of the universe — the deep hush before the storm. And then, “BABY. GO. TO. TIME. OUT.” She pointed her finger and everything. Zoey plopped her bad baby down on the stairs (the designated time out spot) and then came and sat beside me on the couch. She absently patted my knee, sighed, and said in broken-down sort of way, “It can be hard when your baby is not so good. But then you put them in time out, right?” I nodded my head wisely. Zoey continued, “And then you let them out and hug them and go on, right?” At that moment, while Zoey’s hand rested on my knee, there was a tightness in my chest and something inside me cracked. Just a small crack — the kind that makes things seemed fragile and loved. And I realized that maybe the world is sometimes a hard place for both of us.
* It should be noted that I spend a fair amount of time (as in hours) each day playing baby. You know, just in case you were imagining that I never play baby and were wondering how I could be so cold and heartless what with my real baby growing up so fast that she’ll be graduating from high school any minute and I’ll be watching her walk across the stage while dabbing my eyes in the front row of a gym that smells like socks and adolescent boys going, oh how I wish I had played baby more with my baby! So, yeah, I play. And I am a very good fake diaper changer BY THE WAY.
** It should be noted that during this incident, Zoey was supposed to be sitting on the potty doing her business which, sometimes, she refuses to do if she does not have privacy. So I have to pick between having a the kid crap in her pants and letting her be in the bathroom with a shut door. Clearly I picked the latter.