Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Zoe vs. the Dashed Expectation

It's not a super power. All parents of toddlers develop this ability. We can see into the future. Though only from a short distance. A ten-second window wherein we recognize that The Thing That Must Happen to make Dear One happy is not going to happen, but only mere moments before he or she realizes it.

I see a small child breaking my crystal ball.

For those ten seconds, time behaves strangely, both slowing down and speeding up. Perhaps in that time which is no time we will experience flashes of happier moments, or times when we faced our own disappointments, large or small, and bore them with an equanimity to be admired, held up as the standard for others who've been through similar disappointments. Perhaps we faced these trials with a stiff upper lip. We shrugged, sighed, made alternate plans. Laughed even. (Remember laughing?) We congratulated ourselves on our flexibility, or, if we weren't flexible, resolved to work on it in therapy, speaking of which, now that we could use therapy, having real problems---such as substantial anxiety revolving around money as well as the awesome responsibility of forming a human psyche---we have neither the time or the disposable income. 
The last time I experienced this dubious super power, I was walking Zoe home in the pouring rain. In my left hand I held an umbrella, while with my right I struggled to keep the stroller straight over uneven ground and incomplete curb cuts. Right wrist aching, I made a mental note to Google "carpal tunnel syndrome" for the list of symptoms. Meanwhile Zoe sulked in the stroller, kicking desultorily at the rain guard. She is opposed to the rain guard on principle. It impedes her view, therefore it impinges on her personal freedom. Occasionally she would "drop" her sippy cup into puddles so that Mommy could bend down and scoop it up---umbrella pinned between ear and shoulder as if it were a phone, which if it were would keep her just as dry---briefly consider pretending the cup was lost (a lie Zoe never buys for a minute), before handing it back in drizzly defeat.
So, I'm a bit distracted, and more than a little drenched, by the time we turn onto our block and, flash!: a vision of the future. Zoe wants out of the stroller. Because this is what we ALWAYS DO. 
It's part of the nightly routine that when we reach our block Zoe is allowed to get out of the stroller and "walk" the rest of the way home. (Walk can mean so many things, none of which is walking. It can mean run, skip, jump, dawdle, sit on the ground, bang on a garage door, pick up a rock, discover it's not a rock, wonder why Mommy is making that horrified face.) 
It's only 300 feet, give or take, but in this span dwells a lifetime of steps. Especially if you want to climb up the stairs in front of each house (Zoe does!), and then run up and down each driveway (Zoe does!). Why should this routine change just because the rain's coming down so hard and so fast it's making the Biblical rain Noah had to contend with look like a sun shower? 
So I "see" the tantrum before it manifests. It springs fully formed from my mind like Athena did from Zeus's noggin. (I just used my classical education for the first and last time---yay! Those loans were totally worth it.) And then . . . enter the storm.
"Out! Out!" comes the little voice, feet kicking even more emphatically against the rain guard.
I say, "I'm sorry, you can't get out tonight. It's raining."
More urgent: "Wanna get out!"
"I'm sorry. I know you want to get out, but it's raining and you'll get wet," I say, in a Very Reasonable Tone, like the one Keanu Reeves used in Speed to get the Hispanic gentleman to relinquish his firearm. This doesn't work either. And this stroller can't slow down! Though at this point I know nothing will stop the explosion.

A toddler is made to explode. That's its meaning. Its purpose.

"OUT!" Zoe screams, followed by the full-body freakout against the stroller harness, like the Hulk, only less green and more furious. She straining her bonds. The whole stroller's shaking. I'm speeding up. Who cares if we go over 55? Blood is already on my hands. I just need to get to our apartment door. It won't stop the screaming, but at least it'll be dry.
If parental precognition were truly useful, it would've kicked in several minutes earlier, when I would've had the opportunity to deviate from our usual course and approach our apartment building from a different direction, one unfamiliar to Zoe, and not weighted with any expectation. But I'm living in the Mommy Zone, which, kind of like the Phantom Zone, exists outside the space/time continuum, an outlaw dimension, where toddlers rule.

According to Zoe, being trapped in the Phantom Zone
is nothing compared to the restrictions of the rain guard.

Zoe: 14; Universe: 0


  1. Bwahahahahaha! Any post with an action shot of Keanu Reeves is made for me!

    This parental superpower lasts a lifetime (or at least into the teen years in my experience). Unfortunately, that 10 second window is never *really* enough to avert disaster, just brace yourself and be ready for the outcome. That's not nothing, but I'd love to have a two minute warning! (or the power of invisibility...or super strength--either one) :D

    1. Haha. Invisibility would be a good one too. She always finds me wherever I go to hide!

  2. Man, I could just feel the sweat and rain dripping off your brow in that one. I am completely, completely on your page. Henry and Zoe would get along swimmingly.

    1. I appreciate your sympathy! Such tiny people to have such giant wills.