So the other day at the grocery store, my four-year-old daughter Brontë once again showed signs of an unfortunate phase I thought we’d gotten past.
Let me explain.
As any parent can tell you, having kids is a mixture of heartwarming, hilarious, and insanely trying moments. While every kid is different, they all seem to go through phases so frustrating, so utterly nerve-shredding, that parents hope and pray they can make it through them without duct-taping their kids to the back porch before grabbing their keys and tearing off in the car, blasting rock music and shouting, “WHEEEEEE! FREEDOM!”
I exaggerate, but only a little.
Brontë’s worst phase had to have been the Great Poop Art period spanning 2013-2014, when she was roughly one and two years old. Back then, she would casually reach down the back of her diaper to scoop out handfuls of poo, which she would then paint into massive murals all over the house.
She really got into it, focusing intensely as she massaged poop into the wall and all the crevices of her crib. She would poop mural the bathtub, poop mural her bedroom and poop mural the backyard whenever the spirit moved her. No amount of shrieking, yelling or time-outs seemed to slow her down.
I don’t know whether she was inspired by curiosity or anger, but I can tell you what finally stopped her. One evening, I returned home from a mom’s night out to find Brontë’s bedroom wall completely covered in fecal swirls (apparently, dad had missed this).
That was it. I sprayed the wall down, put a sponge in her hand, and told her to get busy cleaning. I made her scrub the caca nightmare for half an hour before mopping up whatever was left, and THAT, dear readers, was the last time Brontë involved choco-pants in her artistic endeavors.
Poop Art was the worst of the worst, but the second worst phase was probably the one where Brontë thought it was great fun to flip mom’s shirt up in the grocery store.
Maybe because Brontë was breastfed, she didn’t think boobies were a big deal. Toddlers love being naked anyway, and don’t get why adults make such a fuss about it. Many times, John and I had to rehash the “being naked is private” lecture with her after Brontë had once again ripped off all of her clothes and run bare-ass naked through a park or restaurant or dentist’s office.
But one day, Brontë figured out she could really get a rise out of mommy by pulling up mommy’s shirt in the frozen section of Safeway. What fun. All Brontë had to do was wait for the right moment, when mom was lost in thought comparing different tomato sauces, for example, to whip out her tiny hand and start pulling.
Mom would hysterically grab at her shirt with one hand and try to restrain her toddlers’ hands with the other, shouting for Brontë to quit while other shoppers pretended not to see anything. Brontë thought this was the most hilarious thing she had ever witnessed in her two years on the planet and it took me weeks to break her of it.
But I finally did, and everything was quiet through all of age three. And four, until the other day…
Brontë and I were at the local Whole Foods. She was facing me, perched in the kid seat of our shopping cart, and I was staring at the vast pasta section while trying to figure out where they put the bucatini.
“You’re tall, mommy,” she said.
“Yes, a little tall. Very tall compared to you right now, but you’re getting taller,” I said.
All of a sudden, her eyebrows bunched up in a look of pure determination as she plunged both fists under my shirt and shot her hands upward. I thrust forward from the waist, trying to move my torso with my shirt without jettisoning my child in a runaway shopping cart, and yelled, “STOP IT!”
“YOU stop it!” Brontë shouted back while using every ounce of her strength to wriggle her arms back toward my collarbones.
“CUT IT OUT!” I yelled while trying to grab her blurry arms. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”
“I’M…” she started. “I’m…”
“I’M MAKING DINOSAUR ARMS!” she screamed in exasperation.
I blinked at her in pure bewilderment. Dinosaur arms? What the hell!?
When it finally hit me, I couldn’t help but smirk. Suddenly, I found myself caught up in the classic parental dilemma of not wanting to encourage bad behavior while simultaneously not wanting to discourage raw genius. Maybe I could help her realize her creative vision in a safe way.
“Umm…” I said, “How about I make the dinosaur arms?”
She nodded and relaxed as I snaked my own arms beneath my shirt, popping my hands out the neck hole: “RAWR, I’M A T-REX!”
Brontë laughed hysterically before snaking her little arms up her own shirt and popping her fists out the neck hole: “I’m a baby T-rex!”
We rawred at each other for a bit while snorting, stomping, giggling, and convincing nearby shoppers to give us a wide berth, since we were clearly lunatics.
And I breathed a sigh of relief.
Brontë wasn’t trying to publicly pants me again; she was just realizing that her relatively small arms on my tall body would make a terrific Tyrannosaurus Rex impersonation. That’s exactly the kind of brilliant, outside-the-box thinking I can’t bring myself to shut down.
Even if I should. Or shouldn’t. Who knows?
We went home and made our bucatini and played T-Rex tag the rest of the night.