Toddler Tuesday: Possession

When I was growing up, my dad used to call me by the dog’s name, the dog by my sister’s name, my sister by my mother’s name, and all sorts of other combinations. I thought he was insane.

Turns out, he was just a typical parent.

Now that I have young ones of my own, I can understand the brain misfires. I don’t know how many times I’ve referred to one of my kids as “Corgis!” or started to admonish one of the corgis using one of my children’s names.

Case in point. I recently had the opportunity to have a Moana party with my daughter–who is almost 3–from 3 a.m. until 7 one morning.

It started like this.

I woke at 2:55 a.m., just before the witching hour. It was still early for my son’s nighttime feeding, but my subconscious knew something was up. Wailing on my daughter’s audio monitor told me I was right.

I headed toward her bedroom, wondering what horror would confront me when I opened the door. A nightmare? Too hot? Something else?

“I puked!” she screamed, the voice echoing over the monitor and into the hallway. I cringed.

My nose immediately stuffed up. I think it’s one of my Mommy Powers. Any time she throws up, my nose stuffs up so that I literally can’t smell anything. I think maybe it’s evolutionary.

My mind raced with thoughts of what the next twenty-four hours might be like.

I got her in the bath tub and hosed her off, using the shower head attached to a long hose. Thank goodness for this shower head, I though naively.

Then fate laughed at me.

The diverter peg on the spout of the bathtub, the one that lets you switch to the shower head, broke off. Ker-plunk, into the tub.

“Son of a–”

“What, Mommy?” her innocent voice asked as she sucked back a lingering tear from her traumatic awakening.

The peg had snapped. There was no fixing it. My toddler’s eyes questioned my frustration.

“Do you feel sick?” I asked, trying to distract her.

“I’m not sick,” she said. “I just puked.”

She is two years old. I didn’t quite trust her capacity at self-diagnosis. My mind raced again. When she had the stomach virus at age 1, she was small enough to be placed on a towel and sleep until the next explosive wave. Would she be amenable now to being confined somewhere? Somewhere easy to clean?

“I’m not sick,” she insisted.

My mind raced with possibilities. I wondered how many times she would puke. I wondered whether I or my husband or the baby would catch it. I cringed, thinking about the “cookie game” she had played with us just hours earlier, passing a giant cookie around and having us all take turns having a bite. Surely we would all be sick. My mind and body prepared for a long night of cleaning and worrying about a sick child. And what if I got sick while she was still sick? And what if my husband got sick while we were both sick? Who in the world would take care of everyone?

I threw out the broken faucet peg and finished cleaning using buckets, dumping warm water over her head and hair in lieu of the shower head.

She looked up and smiled. “This is so fun!” she cooed as warm water from a bucket cascaded down her back.

I froze. My mind and body simultaneously relaxed and tensed. This was not the smile of a child sick with the stomach virus. This was the smile of a child who had awoken to a one-time sickness…and who was now wide awake.

At 3 a.m.

I finished cleaning her, and she splashed in the tub some more while I placed towels all over her mattress…just in case.

“I got your bed all changed and set up again,” I said. “I put towels on your bed in case you–”
She was already shaking her head. “I had a nice sleep,” she said, her smile growing. “But I’m awake now.”

I could see it in her eyes. She had hours of playtime in her. She was almost fully charged. Like a phone plugged in to 80%–a phone like that could last the whole day. I was nowhere near 80. I feared I’d doze off, no matter where we were.

“How about we camp out in the bathroom?” I asked. That way, if I fell asleep and she got sick, it’d be easy cleaning. “Pretend” camping is one of her obsessions, but my voice didn’t sell it well enough. “I mean, we could spread out towels, and make a pillow out of a rolled-up blanket, just like the cowboys do,” I said with more enthusiasm.

Her eyes remained skeptical.

“We can watch Moana,” I said.

Almost there.

“On my tablet.”

And I had her.

The first time we showed her The Nightmare Before Christmas, she literally screamed the whole time. “That’s Jack Skellington!” she cried in delight when he appeared. And when he was off screen, it would turn to “Where’s Jack? Where did he go?” It was the most challenging viewing of that movie, ever.
Moana was different. Safer. She’d always watched it silently. I set up a pillow and blanket for myself in the hallway and prepared to doze off.

She started out giggling and yelling at the screen. Then, at least every five minutes, she tried a new tactic. Did she know I was trying to sleep? Was she intentionally trying to engage me? Keep me awake?

Or is her subconscious a genius?

At least once every five minutes, she asked a question about a movie she’s seen more times than is healthy. The sad thing is, I’ve seen the film almost as many times, and I could answer her questions with my eyes closed.

“What’s that orange thing?” (A flower.)

“What’s she standing on?” (A boat.)

“What’s he having?” (A tattoo.)

Unfortunately, I could not answer in my sleep, so I had to stay up. For the entire film. Because she didn’t fall asleep. Not even a little.

After we made it through the whole movie and she didn’t fall asleep, I told her I’d better feed her brother. It was around 6 a.m., and although he didn’t always need to feed at that time, I wanted to be proactive, just in case it turned out she was actually sick. Better to feed a peaceful baby on my own terms. So, while things were calm, I told her to stay in the bathroom and relax.

If you have kids, you see the problem. I blame the number of hours I had been awake. If you don’t have kids, or don’t yet, I’ll give you a hint: you should never tell a toddler to just sit somewhere and relax. That’s like inviting a vampire into your home. Why would you do it?

I closed the bedroom door while feeding her brother, just in case she really was sick. It’s a well-known fact that doors keep out germs, right?

I didn’t hear any sounds coming from the bathroom, and although silence is terrifying in a toddler, I thought for sure she’d fallen asleep.

When I came back out she was doing what you see in the picture below. She had gone into the storage compartment of her step stool. Every single big hair tie she had placed around her wrist. Every single tiny hair tie she now wore around her fingers. And the medium sized ones were around several fingers like spider webs.


Wild eyes of a toddler, or possessed by a demon? There are none who can tell.

I didn’t say anything, but she has become quite adept at reading my eyes. And my eyes asked, “What’s happening?”

She looked up at me with a deranged twinkle of passion in her eyes. And she said, “I don’t understand what I’m doing.”

The clarity of her response, coupled with very little sleep, coupled with the fact that it was absolutely true, and coupled with her very passionate facial expression, made me crack up uncontrollably. And then she joined in. And we were both laughing for like five minutes straight.

And that’s essentially why my dad always mixed up our names. And why parents look frazzled all the time. And why a man dressed as Frankenstein at a Halloween event recently told me he liked my costume—he thought “frazzled mother” was a good choice. It’s that toddlers simply act, and even they don’t know why they do it.

As a mentor of mine once said, just try to live in the moment, take a step back from it, and enjoy the “free entertainment” while it lasts.


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