Cheeseburger Brown CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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The Trimester Reports, by Cheeseburger Brown - on owning and maintaining a baby human being.
Tenth Trimester Report

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"Want watch movie, Papa. Pease!"

That's right. That is the sound of my small but frisky daughter, who just a blink and yawn ago was the size of a Sea Monkey. She's giving me crib eyes and coming over to hug my knee, because she knows I'm a sucker for cuteness. "Pease! Pease movie Papa."

"What do you want to watch?"


She knows that I know that this means Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), but to be absolutely certain I've got the point she goes on to snarl menacingly ("ion!") and then cackle in her highest register ("bad-bad witch!"). At the conclusion of this performance she climbs up on the couch and faces the television. "Okay, sit. Papa movie."

Who could resist such a request? While I pop the DVD into the player I hand her the sleeve to play with. She touches the faces of each of the characters on the cover and names them, quoting some of her favourite passages from the film. These usually involve bits where somebody falls down, because she's sweet on slapstick. "Boom!" she narrates, and then laughs.

She roars along with the MGM lion and the movie begins, her attention rapt. "Toto," she whispers with reverence. I take advantage of the distraction to pull out my laptop, to issue this Tenth Trimester Report.

If you've missed the previous trimester reports here's the basic idea: a tiny person came out of my wife twenty-three months ago, and we've taken to calling her Ingrid. In the beginning she was just a sort of semi-animate meat log, but now she's more like a trained monkey. You know -- she can sing and dance and chatter and wear clothes, but she still soils herself. It is a time of transition.

Ingrid now stands almost three feet tall, and weighs around 35 lbs. In just over a month she will be two years old. She has a head full of rapidly lengthening blonde hair which curls at the ends. She is right handed. When she's excited she tries to skip. She pees into the toilet. A few weeks ago she started telling people that she loved them: her list begins with my wife and extends through the family to trail off somewhere around a stuffed bear named Bo and her boyfriend Buzz Lightyear.

(Buzz embodies two qualities that make him irresistible to Ingrid: he can fly, and he looks a lot like her first love, Captain StarKing from Space Attack!.)

Ingrid can count up to five things, and can distinguish singular and plural forms of words. Everything she says is in the present tense.

She understands that text encodes speech, but can identify only a sprinkling of letters (and is hazy on their associated sounds). She traces her finger along lines of text and imagines what they might say, muttering aloud as she explains the story to Bo.

Bo the teddybear is her best friend. She pretends to change his diaper, and check his temperature. Sometimes she scolds him for being bad, but usually she praises him for being good. She puts Bo down for naps on the floor, and tucks him in with a tea-towel. When she is drifting off to sleep she rubs his ear softly against her cheek, and when she is naked she rubs it against her vagina. She spins Bo around to give him rides, and offers him sips from her drinks. The lessons we try to teach her she passes on to Bo.

Ingrid knows full well Bo is not a living thing, but she treats him as one. She understands on some level that he is an analogue of herself, a prop for practising the human arts. Re-enacting being taught seems to crystallize her own learning. Bo is a foil for emotional, intellectual and social play.

I shudder to think what would happen if we lost Bo. My wife had to backtrack through a Christmassy mall last week to find the wayward teddy: it was a close call. We do have back-up animals -- Yellow Bear ("Yewwo Bo"), Big Bear ("Bi'Bo") and Grey Bear ("Gay Bo") -- but I have a feeling the switchover could be turbulent. It breaks my heart how much my daughter loves him. There are crazy things I would do to retrieve Bo. I'm too embarrassed to admit the lengths I'd go to.

Oh, Bo.

Ingrid wakes up at seven o'clock. If she's feeling especially pushy she might climb out of bed, slip down the ladder from the tiny loft, and patter into our bedroom to poke my wife in the face and sing, "Maaa Ma," until we wake up. Most of the time she just hangs out in her room and plays until somebody comes to get her.

She naps substantially only once a day now, usually in the afternoon, but takes an hour of "quiet time" before lunch during which she plays by herself in the tiny loft, reading books or chatting with her stuffed toys.

Outside of these periods of peace she runs around like a headless chicken. It's hard to keep up. She goes out into the yard and stomps around the mud, looking for snail shells and throwing pebbles. She pursues cats up the hill and dogs around the tree, ululating at the top of her wee lungs. "Chasing!" she cheers.

She still loves the birds. Dense rivers of them twist through the sky in long stripes and chevrons, migrating south as the autumn deepens. Ingrid stands in awe, arms at her sides, transfixed. "Bye bye, birds," she calls. "Goin' away."

She's very big on clouds now. She may have been big on clouds for a long time, but it was hard to know what she was talking about until she found the words to wonder about the "sky bubbles." My wife put two and two together, taught her the word cloud and it's been a subject of interest ever since. Ingrid says that some clouds are "bumpy" and other clouds look "soft." She is also a fan of the sky in general because it houses associated curiosities like the sun and moon (which she recognizes in stylized or realistic form) and stars ("twinko twinko"). Also, Ingrid tells us that the sky is "boo" and clouds are "bight."

Ingrid loves her kittens, Hush and Pitter. When she's spent the day away from the old schoolhouse they're the first mammals she wants to see. She carries them around and hugs them. She lies on them and tries to tickle them. When they groom their paws Ingrid licks her forearm.

She still doesn't cry very often, so when she does cry it's like an air-raid siren to my wife and I. It means something is actually wrong. I recently walked in the door after a long day of being an idiot to find my wife comforting a loudly crying tot as she wondered with my brother-in-law why she was carrying on so after falling. "Kids cry, I'm sure she's fine," said my brother-in-law. My wife had her back to me, so Ingrid was facing me. She looked up at me and opened her mouth to wail anew, with blood drooling over her lips and dripping on my wife's shirt. "I think she hurt her mouth," I contributed.

The other day she seemed to be crying "for no reason" but turned out to be running a fever. (Her cheeks turned red and she became lazier than a country drunk. She sprawled on the couch and watched Mary Poppins (1964) in one sitting, whining and fussing when things didn't go her way.) So when she cries, we pay attention. She is seldom playing us -- at this point.

The fever gave her nightmares. She woke us all at four o'clock in the morning, quaking in my wife's arms as she pointed into the dark corner of the tiny loft and chattered rapidly and unintelligibly about some shadow-lurking evil. She sounded like that chick in The Fifth Element (1997). "Big badda boom!" We couldn't convince her to go back to bed, so we started our day when the farmers do. Yay.

I'm still tired.

Usually Ingrid sounds like an alien from a Star Wars movie, in that there are islands of clear, English phrases surrounded by gulfs of static. When we ask her to speak more slowly we can often decipher the half-words buried in the murmurs, but it's more often lost on us completely. For example, when I fetch her after her nap and ask her about her dreams, a typical reply might run like this: "Yeah, deams Papa [untranscribable] dog in the box go get [untranscribable] bad-bad kitten [untranscribable] and running-running and got [untranscribable] boom!"

So I laugh like Jabba the Hutt. And so does she. "Ho, ho, ho!" she rumbles in her high little voice. I smile. The appearance of understanding is important -- she wants very badly to convey what's in her mind. "Do go on," I tell her.

She still can't dress herself, but she tries. She puts socks on the ends of her toes and hangs shirts around her shoulders. Then she pulls the socks off and puts them on her hands and pretends they're puppets. "Heyo, Buppet!" they say to one another as she flexes her thumbs. And that's how she gets dressed.

Ingrid loves to draw. She lies on her belly and sticks out her tongue as she pushes the crayons around, telling us about what she's drawing. "Sit's Buzz," she tells me, scribbling inside a loose circle. "Buzz flies aroun' an' aroun', aroun' an' aroun'," she narrates, adding some broader spiral strokes. "Buzz!"

She often asks my wife or I to draw a "happy guy" -- or smiley face -- which she can then colour in. And without too much cultural brainwashing she's decided that her favourite colour is pink (though she is also fond of "geen"). Pink simply speaks to her. Most happy guys end up pink, when Ingrid's at the helm.

When Ingrid has been bad and knows it she puts her pinky to her mouth like Dr Evil. This is her official "I'm appropriately chagrined, see?" look. If she knows she's been really bad she tends to prance around the room spanking herself on the haunch while chanting "bad-bad gil!" -- which needless to say makes it difficult to maintain a straight face, let alone righteous wrath. She's only been spanked a few times and without cruelty, but it obviously made an impression. "Bad-bad gil, Ingid -- bad-bad!" she sings.

She's getting pretty good at letting us know when she wants to go pee on the potty, but so far toilet-bound number two is a lost cause. If you see her squatting over and frowning with effort as she farts and ask, "Are you going poo?" she'll shout "No!" and then run away.

Ingrid loves to bathe. She plays with her rubber ducks ("quack-quack!") and plastic helicopter ("hemicopy fly, dubba-dubba-dubba!") and is only mildly cranky about having her shampooey hair rinsed, now that she's figured out how to close her eyes and bow her head. That part still isn't a lot of fun, though. "All done?" she asks hopefully, after every pour. When the plug is pulled she lies down in the tub to watch the water spiral down the drain. "Aroun' an' aroun'," she says to me. She sticks her finger into the twisting silver funnel and disrupts it. "Where go?" she asks, furrowing her brow. "Where go, votex?"

When she is carried out and lain on her back to be dried and dressed she always makes the same observation: that both ceiling fans (like the one in the upstairs washroom) and vortices of water (like the one in the draining tub) rotate. Rotation is currently Ingrid's favourite mode of spatial transformation. She thinks anything that goes around-and-around is the cat's pajamas. Machines that have revolving parts are big favourites, as are dance moves where people spin (Ingrid enjoys self-intoxication via spinning, herself).

There are a bazillion other cute things she does, and I can't hope to capture a tenth of it. There is too much to remember, let alone relate. Toddlers are an adorability-based improv show that runs live, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. They let themselves fall into your arms without looking, and surprise you by taking a tender moment out of rambunctious play to gently lay their head against your chest and bask in your warm, mammal vibe.

Their trust for you is absolute. Their love is pure. It's like crack.

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CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah Cheeseburger Brown
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