When she was just an infant, I trained my daughter to ask for my car keys. It seemed like a good idea at the time, too. In retrospect, I think that the first year of fatherhood should count as some form of legal insanity.
I admit that I’m a softy; she won me over pretty much immediately. For the first few months I would even quip that, as soon as she pouted at me for the first time, I wanted to hand over my credit cards and car keys right then and there.
I only meant it as an expression though, like “I might explode if I eat another bite,” or “I’m soaked to the bone,” or “I’ll do the dishes later.” It wasn’t supposed to be true. I didn’t actually want her to have credit cards and keys. That would just be silly. She couldn’t have used them without leaving the house, and if she left the house she might meet boys.
But I didn’t want her to cry either, and that pretty much always got me into trouble.
One day we were out running errands, and they were taking longer than I had planned. My daughter had to spend the bulk of the time in her car seat, and as time passed she let me know how dissatisfied she was with the arrangement. She was subtle about it though, in the manner of a sleek and stealthy jungle cat. Imagine being in a small car with an unhappy tiger, and you’ll get the idea.
Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anything to do. The law required that I put her car seat in an inconvenient place, facing the wrong direction. That way, when I tried to soothe her, I might have to twist around like a gymnast with no spine, but my daughter wouldn’t get hurt in the resulting accident. I couldn’t take her out either, both because it was illegal and because my car was a mess. She would have been safer riding on the roof. (Also she might have really enjoyed it. Is it bad that I’m giving myself ideas?)
Then suddenly it occurred to me that she liked shiny noisy things. If I could give her a shiny noisy thing, she might be able to entertain herself long enough for us to get home.
Happily, on the day in question, I had a supply of shiny noisy things: my keys.
I should explain, however, that my keys are special. I don’t have some little ring with a couple of useful keys. I have a complicated, almost feudal system of interconnected gadgets held together by karabiners and machismo. They’re one of the few things about which I’m either sentimental or proud.
Either way, what I should have thought at the time was, “This is a bad idea. My keys are dangerous, and giving them to her would set a bad precedent. Instead I should give her that shiny piece of metallic garbage on the floor.” (Not that that last bit ever happened. You can’t prove it.) What I did think was, “Maybe giving her my keys will get her to stop crying.”
And that’s really all I wanted, so I separated the bulk of my key system from the key I needed to drive, and gave the whole big business to her. I at least had the presence of mind to clean it off with a moist towelette first, but I should have been more concerned with heaviness and sharpness than dirt.
You see at that time my daughter had a well defined method for exploring the world. Whenever she encountered something new, she followed the same three steps: try to eat it, hit daddy in the face with it, repeat until hungry. My keys were new to her, and she followed the pattern with enthusiasm.
On the plus side, I learned that the “drool on the face” experience adds no real value to the “pointy key in the eye” experience. In the future I won’t feel pressured to combine the two, because I’ll know that I won’t be missing out on anything special.
My daughter learned that being sad earns keys. She’s entirely too fast about such things, and she can summon convincing sadness without any effort at all. Soon she wanted them whenever she was in the car, and then whenever she saw them, and then whenever she happened to remember that they existed.
The last bit had the promise of utility, because she could unerringly find them even when I couldn’t, but the former parts are just trouble. What sort of father wants his daughter to start asking for car keys before she’s even a teenager? (For that matter, what sort wants her to ask when she is a teenager?) What sort of father wants to give his daughter a chance to figure out how to unlock doors before she’s one? (She nearly did, for the record. If she had only been an inch taller….) What sort of father wants his daughter to remove his face?
Apparently, my sort. On the plus side, I also taught her that she needed to give my keys back to me if she wanted me to lift her out of her car seat. She was so charming about it. As soon as I would open the car door beside her, she would hold up the keys excitedly as though to say, “I’ll trade you!” And she always seemed so proud of herself for understanding the system.
Ok, who am I kidding, I still can’t resist her. I’m just lucky she only asked for keys.