Warning: Slow Children at Play

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My kids are slow. I don’t mean mentally, although it doesn’t bode well in the long run that they share my DNA. For now, they possess an animal-like cunning I haven’t seen since the raptors on “Jurassic Park.” In a typical encounter, one kid distracts me while the other pounces on my back. For me, keeping their fingernails trimmed is a matter of life and death. But the swiftness they show when running down prey disappears the second my wife Lola and I need them to hurry. They understand when we’re in a time crunch, but they use that knowledge solely for evil. That’s what I get for reading them Machiavelli instead of Dr. Seuss. Their level of cooperation is inversely proportional to how quickly we need them to go. If we have all day, they’ll gamely do whatever we ask with unnecessary briskness. But when we’re already running late, I’ve seen faster reaction times from statutes.

If I see a child who can run 15 miles per hour, the last thing I’ll do is slow down. I don’t want to be mauled by a human-cheetah hybrid.
This selective slowdown is most noticeable when we rush our kids through their morning routine. When I tell my 3-year-old Betsy to get dressed, the only thing she does quickly is change the subject. Even my simplest requests are met with a series of unrelated scientific and philosophical questions ranging from “Why do you have hair on your face?” to “When will you die?” The subject of my demise comes up so frequently I took her off my life insurance policy. The last thing I need is for her to get creative with how she pays for college. It’s tempting to appease her innocent curiosity, but just like everything else with children, it’s a trap. Each question leads only to more questions, and it’s not until I give up my vain attempt to answer them all that I notice she spent 45 minutes putting on one sock. If left to her own devices, Betsy would take days to get dressed. She’s already a woman.

My 1-year-old Mae isn’t any better. She understands everything we say, but her responses are limited to one-word answers and massive temper tantrums indecipherable to everyone but her. It’s hard to know if she throws herself on the ground because I overlooked a legitimate threat to her safety or because the barrette I gave her wasn’t quite the right shade of purple. The pressure to have the latest fashions starts early these days, but I won’t give in. No matter how much she begs, I refuse to buy her a Prada handbag to help her fit in with the other toddlers.

She needs a $400 clutch to store her valuable collection of Happy Meal toys and dead bugs.
Mae still wears diapers, which gives her veto power over everything we do. Even if we’re on time, she can cancel an entire outing with a bio-disaster that takes out her diaper, her outfit, and whoever is holding her. There’s no way to predict that kind of fecal eruption. Daycare doesn’t tell me when she last defiled their nursery, so my first indication she’s been holding it in for days is when she unleashes everything right as we walk out the door. It’s amazing how quickly that new baby smell gives way to the distinct odor of raw sewage.

On most mornings, I can’t tell which of our kids is slower. It’s like watching a race between a sloth and a footstool. To speed up the process, Lola tries to bargain with them, but it’s never a good idea to negotiate with terrorists. Betsy’s demands keep going up until she expects a candy factory and a unicorn for doing us the favor of brushing her teeth. I take the opposite approach. Both kids are still small enough to pick up, so when we run out of time, I simply fling them through the grooming process. Dressing a child who doesn’t want to put on clothes is the closest I’ve ever come to wrestling an angry wolverine. I have the bite marks to prove it. I usually win, but the kids’ outfits end up mismatched, torn, and inside out. That doesn’t bother me. I call it a win as long as daycare doesn’t send our children home for being naked. I officially mastered this whole parenting thing when my standards hit rock bottom.

We run into a similar speed problem when we eat. Betsy’s favorite way to enjoy a meal is to stare at it until it decomposes into dirt. Maybe she plans to use that soil to grow a food she actually likes, or perhaps she simply doesn’t need calories to survive. So far, she seems to sustain herself entirely on my frustration. For a while, I made her stay in the kitchen by herself until she finished her meal, but she just sat there silently until bedtime without eating anything. She’s like the Gandhi of not cleaning off her plate. Her passive resistance is all the more perplexing because we’re not exactly making her eat Brussels sprouts. The last battle of wills was over chicken nuggets and breaded cheese sticks. The only way the cuisine could’ve been more kid-friendly is if it was a pile of sugar. Even forcing Betsy to put the food in her mouth isn’t enough. I have to actively coach her to chew or she’ll just leave it in her cheeks. I’ve seen her keep the same bite in her mouth for close to an hour. That’s not an exaggeration. She might be a hamster.

Before I googled them, I thought Brussels sprouts were pink ovals. Apparently I was thinking of ham.
Mae takes the opposite approach. She has no interest in what’s on her own plate, but she’s fascinated with what’s on everyone else’s. She assumes that since she’s the youngest and smallest, we must give her the worst stuff. Her suspicion is commendable but ultimately misplaced. She roams the table, eating whatever she can grab when we’re not looking. If we’re not careful, she’ll finish off Betsy’s entire meal, which causes an immediate crisis. Our oldest daughter doesn’t want her food, but she doesn’t want her little sister to have it, either. Maybe she’s not hungry because she already filled up on spite. The fighting between the two of them makes dinner take even longer. I’ll be dead and buried before it’s ever time for dessert.

Everyone tells me this stage will be over in the blink of an eye, but so far the opposite seems to be true. My kids move so slow they actually make time stand still. I’ll be stuck with a preschooler and a toddler forever, which should be forbidden by the Constitution’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Kids supposedly grow up too quickly, and I sincerely hope that’s true. This part can’t end fast enough.