It is, of course, almost Halloween. What was once perhaps the most bitchin’ of holidays became, as I got older, utterly trite has once again become totally awesometacular again simply because we now have a child. Sam is finally getting old enough that we can dress her up, and unlike before, she can actually enjoy it. This we had two costumes again, the first of which we strapped her into so that I could take her to this little kiddie party at the local community center. I give you Purple Fairy Girl:
Sam was totally stoked to go to this thing, and since Ger was at a yoga class that night I got to take Sam by myself. It was mostly little games and crafts that were done in exchange for fun-sized candy bars. I guess when you’re two years old a rousing game of “Drop the Bean Bag in the Bucket Right There In Front of You” really pushes your nascent dexterity to the limit.
They also had one of those inflatable structures that you can jump around in, kind of like a trampoline only marginally less dangerous. Sam was initially dubious of this gas-filled behemoth, but when she eventually asked to try it, I took off her shoes and tossed her in there. There was a big sign on the side of the thing that very clearly said “WARNING: ONLY TWO CHILDREN AT A TIME” but that really didn’t stop parents from just flinging kids in there by the dozen. Soon the laughing, undulating mass of costumed kiddies was so thick so as to preclude any sense of safety. I saw Sam totally clobber no less than three kids before I could get her out of there.
The other Halloween related activity for the weekend was a visit to a farm owned by, inexplicably, a major dog food manufacturer. There were, of course, dogs and dog food to be seen. But there was also a hay ride and a haunted house that Sam seemed to enjoy. Some stuff in the latter scared Sam or utterly confused her, forcing me scoop her up let her bury her face in my neck while I hurried her towards the exit, but she actually asked to go through it twice. My daughter the fear junkie.
On the whole, though, I have to say that Sam is an easy going kid –sometimes a bizarrely easy going kid. She rarely throws fits and follows our shrill advice about staying away from hyenas most of the time. Still, she’s entered into the years where this part of her nature has to compete with the forces of basic biology and childhood development that help her push back on the world and learn to get through parts of it on her own.
Take the other night, for example. Ger was out and I was one-on-one with Sammy, having just gotten her out of the bath and trying to get her ready for bed. Sam wasn’t exactly going with the flow, probably thanks to the Halloween sweets she’d snarfed just an hour earlier. When Sam is in such a mood she’s apt to bellow “I’M NOT COOPERATING!” and then proceed to illustrate her point in every way she can come up with. Think Ghandi, but more aggravating and not quite as motivated by concern for her fellow man. I had managed to get her dried off, diapered, and half of her pajamas thrust over her flailing torso, but when I tried to put on her pants she broke away from me and bolted for the bathroom.
“I want to brush my teeth first!” she said, scrambling up her stepstool and reaching for the toothbrush that had been prepared with a healthy dollop of unnaturally blue gel.
“Sammy, come on. Put your pants on,” I protested. “This is the drill. You know the drill. Respect the drill!”
“Nooooo! I want to brush my teeth first!”
For what seemed a long time we stopped there, locking eyes with each other. She in the bathroom with her toothbrush, cocked and ready to be jammed into her mouth, and me crouching on the bedroom holding a pair of pink pajama bottoms at the ready. We were like two substantially ridiculous cowboys, all tensed up and facing off, but with stuffed animals as our audience instead of good townspeople.
“Samantha,” I said, using her full name and that certain tone, just the way my mother had always done with me, “put on your jammy bottoms first.”
“No,” she said, locking eyes with me and leaning closer to the glistening toothbrush.
A lot flashed through my mind at this point. This had nothing to do with Sam’s love of dental hygiene and everything to do with a power play. She was deliberately pushing the limit and testing my authority just to see if she could get away with it. And I, in turn, was faced with a parenting problem that could not be solved by simply loving her, keeping her away from hyenas, or doing anything else that was obviously in her best interest. If I wanted her to accept my role as an authority figure in her life, I would stop her, punish her, and force her to do it my way. Such respect and deferment could serve quite well in keeping her safe and passing along my values to her as we go on in life.
But on the other hand, I want my daughter to eventually learn to push back on authority when it’s warranted. I want her to rely on her own judgment and instincts instead of always just rolling over and doing or thinking what she’s told. Sure, she’s not even three yet, but what if those foundations are laid early? If that were the right call, I’d let her brush away and put on the rest of her jammies whenever she darn well felt like it.
But I was stuck. I didn’t know which was the right thing to do, so we just stood there for a few more seconds, looking at each other and waiting for the other to make the first move.
I decided to compromise just as Sam decided to call the question. She thrust the toothbrush into her maw and started brushing vigorously as I sprang forward with the pink jammy bottoms. I didn’t stop her from brushing, but I grappled with her kicking legs to put on the pants while she squawked protests through gobs of blue foam. I heard the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in my head as we did this. A minute later she was completely dressed and rinsing out the last of the toothpaste. It had turned out to be, in fact, a lot more efficient that way than doing the two activities separately and Sam didn’t seem to hold any kind of grudge.
“Come on, Sam,” I said, turning off the bathroom light. “Pick out three books and I’ll read them to you.”
“Maybe,” she said as she trailed after me, “you’ll read me FOUR books.”
And so it goes.