Our daughter has never done anything by half measures. For example, other children seem to have a continuum of action, whereas our daughter has always had merely the two extremes: sleep and wrecking ball. When she’s happy, she’s a charming giggling angel who bounces around as though her happiness lets her defy gravity. When she’s shy, she tucks herself away like a curly-haired little turtle until she nearly vanishes in a puff of cartoon smoke. When she’s upset…. There really isn’t a way to do justice to either the volume or physical power that she hurls around. She’s like a tornado carrying a brass ensemble and three fire trucks.
She comes by this trait honestly; it isn’t as though my wife and I excel at subtle and restrained expression. We just didn’t anticipate that she would combine our personalities to produce one that was bigger than the sum of its parts. If our lives were a movie in which we were mad scientists, at her birth there would have been a scene of us cowering in her titanic shadow, whimpering, “What have we done?!” Then she probably would have killed us and terrorized local villagers until they discovered that she was afraid of fire. In real life however, we lived and she terrorized us instead. Also she likes fire, but that’s an altogether different story.
By the time she had grown into a toddler, my wife and I had actually developed a repertoire of skills for directing her enthusiasm along helpful channels. It frequently required our combined strength and guile, but I figure that’s why God let us outnumber her two to one. For every little hand that reached for trouble, there were two big hands there to prevent it.
That made the contest just about even. To be clear: we needed two hands for every one of hers and we knew it. I don’t know why we didn’t think about what would happen when two of our hands were occupied with ice cream.
Maybe we were too frazzled to think at all by that point. Our peaceful dinner had dissolved into madness, and the entire restaurant buzzed with restrained tension and poorly muffled accusations. We were pretty desperate to enjoy the comfort that ice cream represented. I’d gotten fudge and brownie sundaes for us both; with enough fudge and ice cream, we could convince ourselves that the worst was over and that people might eventually forget us.
Unfortunately, as soon I sat down with our delicious sugary rescue, the math was against us. Even if we just held the ice cream, we would only have hands enough to stop one of my daughter’s little mischief machines. If either of us tried to eat our ice cream, the other would be completely out-numbered and thus doomed.
I’d like to say that we realized this before our daughter did, but I can’t. In fact, as I look back on it, I have the odd suspicion that she arranged the entire evening so that she could gain precisely that advantage. She had a twinkle in her eyes as though we had fallen into her trap. For some reason that will likely elude me forever, we decided that the best solution was to give her some of the ice cream. She might have tricked us into that as well.
What followed was kind of a blur, although the aftermath was clear enough. Let me tell you what I remember:
One of the most famous scenes in cinema is the shower death in Psycho. People who have never seen the movie still recognize that scene and can imitate it, sound and all. That’s what my daughter did. She gleefully drove her spoon into the ice cream again and again, punctuating each strike with a high pitched squeal of delight.
Ice cream went everywhere. We, our table, and the area around us were covered in it. At first we tried to contain it with napkins, but we hadn’t anticipated that we would need them by the truckload. Soon we were just sliding the ice cream around with sticky paper. We looked like we had been in an ice cream explosion.
Our daughter was the only person happy about it. Everyone else in the restaurant had gone silent. They stared at us as though we were weird ice cream felons, or perhaps just disastrously unprepared parents. (We not combine the two? We were weird, disastrously unprepared, ice cream parent felons.) I think the restaurant staff was torn between begging us to leave and demanding that we stay to clean up.
We tried to do both. We cleaned what we could–our lack of hazmat equipment limited our progress–then fled. We didn’t even finish our ice cream.
Thus ended the single worst public dinner we’ve ever had. My wife and I were in shock for most of that evening. Our daughter laughed the whole way home, or at least until the moment when she abruptly fell asleep. I suppose that’s what sugar does, but I’m inclined to think that they were laughs of triumph and the sleep of sweet victory.