When Josie’s grandparents come over they are invariably impressed with “how smart Josephine is.” This remark often follows watching her put a lid on a yogurt container, stack a block, or put a stuffed animal in her stroller. These are certainly tasks which would have been unimaginable a year ago, when she was only starting to gain control over her flailing arms and throwing up more than a frat boy on a Friday night. However, a toddler’s apparent intelligence is inversely proportional to how much time you spend with them.
Toddlers like to show off for grandparents. Wouldn’t you if smiling people clapped and dispensed cookies and candy as rewards for looking cute? Seals do less tricks for fish at SeaWorld. Also, from the perspective of grandparents, their visits always precede a certain amount of time, so any new changes are immediately apparent and regarded as progressively intelligent.
These changes, however, are the result of mind-numbing repetition for parents. The most common affliction of the stay at home parent has to be boredom. While the toddler’s little brain is working at light speed making new neural connections with every time going up and down the stairs hanging onto your hands, your brain is slowly decomposing into a gelatinous substance resembling mayonnaise. Going up and down stairs for half and hour isn’t exactly challenging for you and I when we’re sober – we got it down. What all of us adults have forgotten is how LONG it took all of us to master basic skills that make daily life possible. New parents are reminded of this every day. Sometimes it’s hard to quash the little voice in your head that screams, “Good God! Why haven’t you figured this out yet!? For the twentieth time: it’s two shots of Irish whiskey, one shot of sweet vermouth, one shot of couintreau, a dash of bitters, THEN you shake it with ice!”
Grandparents don’t see this. Any new skill acquisition comes after days or weeks of repetitive failure. Bill Cosby liked to conclude that the only thing that could explain his children’s behavior was brain damage. How else can you explain watching your daughter descend into a blubbering mess after ‘cuffing’ her arms behind her back with a plastic lei. I can only shake my head and wonder if I’ve forgotten dropping Josie on her head when she was a baby. Like the other day: I watched her pretend to drink from a plastic mug that she had just been scooping dirt into not 30 seconds earlier, causing, of course, dirt to go all over her face and into her eyes. And if I didn’t give her brain damage, then bonking her head into the coffee table almost daily should have by now. I’ve watched her take a fork to “scoop the door” and “feed it” to the dog – imaginative behavior at best, but more likely delusional. And of course she speaks gibberish all day, pees herself constantly, and cannot dress herself. If she were an adult she would be institutionalized.
Every once in a while, though, parents are rewarded with a breakthrough that they will put on display the next time the grandparents are over. The other day she emerged out of her room with her shoes on and I was really impressed. Putting any clothes on without my help would be amazing – life changing really. I cheered, got down on my knees to hug her. She ran over with a big smile and as I lifted her up I noticed that they were on the wrong feet. Hey, I’ll take it, but she’s going to have to wait for the grandparents to come over if wants a cookie for it.