Columns

2006.12.28 Toddler terror

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

By JEFF PICKELL

“Some spiders are nice. That’s when I call them my friends. But sometimes they aren’t friendly. That’s when I have a problem with them.”

That’s what I told Carter Nofziger. He’s a toddler. When you talk to toddlers, you really have to distill your diction to the essence of what you mean. You know, like exactly what I didn’t do in my last sentence.

I occasionally wheel and deal with toddlers during my work here at the Observer and it’s never an easy thing. That’s why I have the utmost respect for area parents, especially parents who happen also to be daycare workers or preschool or kindergarten teachers.

Toddlers are bizarre and altogether mystifying creatures. In conversation, they jump from one topic to the next erratically and often nonsensically. They also spend as much time upside-down as they do rightside-up.

In fact, when I talked to Dean and Zach Rogers about Thanksgiving last month, the greatest challenge of all was to get them to stop doing backflips long enough to answer my questions.

Carter’s mom Felicia used to work at the Observer and she stopped in to visit yesterday. With Lincoln logs and sidewalk chalk and all kinds of neat toys that I’m not allowed to play with, the office is well equipped to accommodate little-uns. However, Carter seemed to be in a conversational mood. And an eating one.

My coworker Rich was in the office finishing up his Monday afternoon duties and had brought along a bag of carrot sticks to munch on. Carter immediately homed in on those. In between rabbit nibbles, he explained how he loves vegetables and how carrots are his favorite vegetables.

“I don’t like tomatoes,” he said.

Then he noticed the apple on my desk.

“What’s inside this apple?” he asked, tapping it against a stack of notes. These are the kind of questions that mortify me. How do you explain what’s inside an apple to a toddler? I shot Rich a puzzled, desperate look.

“Well, I guess apple. Apple is inside of apples,” I answered.

“Yeah, applesauce,” Rich agreed.

“How would you like a worm to come out of one of those?” Carter asked. I began to feel like I was being interrogated.

“I don’t think I would like that,” I replied. “I don’t like eating worms.”

“I like worms,” Carter retorted. “Worms are my friends.”

“I see,” I said, clearly on the defensive. My palms began to sweat. “Worms are a little too slimy for me.”

“You are my friends,” he said. “So I can tell you. Sometimes they scare me. Do you like spiders?”

What was Carter getting at? What was he trying to imply? I could tell he was trying to throw me off with this absurd line of questioning. I answered with the statement at the top of this column.

“Is that the basement?” he continued, pointing to the wall. “Is the monster still there?”

“All right! All right! I confess! I did it!” I cried, falling to my knees. “I did it all, I swear! It was me and me alone! You cracked me! For crying out loud, you cracked me!”

Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but toddlers tend to put me on edge. David used to inhabit my desk before I started working here, and he filled it with all sorts of interesting doodads, one of which is an old bean of some kind. I had the hardest time explaining to Carter that I didn’t know what kind of bean it was, but that it wasn’t a good idea to eat it.

He wasn’t convinced, and made as if to put it in his mouth.

“No! No! Don’t do that!” I said. “It’s the kind of bean you put in your pocket, not your mouth!”

My ploy worked, and Carter set about finding a pocket to stuff it in. I’ve found that toddlers have a much better understanding of “yes” than “no.” That is, it’s more effective to tell them what you can do with something than what you can’t do with it.

Still, for all I’ve learned about toddlers, I just plain can’t trust myself to keep an eye on them. They’re too cagey. Too unpredictable. I’m too distractible.

But I better shape up my act. I had the pleasure of seeing my brother John and sister-in-law Stephanie on Christmas. Johnny Five is becoming a noticeable bubble in Steph’s belly, so it won’t be too long before Toddler Pickell is finding new modes of curious mischief to get into at Uncle Jeff’s house.

Me, I never got into much mischief as a toddler. I kept myself occupied by staring pensively at the wall and chewing the varnish off my crib.

At least, that’s what my mom says.

    – Dec. 28, 2006 

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