waaaaait for it

You can always tell the first-time parents by their eager desperation. They're parenting, like, way harder than they need to.

They're the ones explaining the difference between up and down to a 3-month old. Using words. "Okay Rutger, look up, up high in the air! Up means that it's above you, higher in relation to where you are. Like a mountain or a tree. Those things are up, when you are down on the ground. Now if you were up above the tree, like flying in an airplane, then the tree or mountain would be down, do you see? Rutger? Are you even listening to me? Okay, now is my hand up or down? Is it up? Is my hand up? Up in the air? Over your head? Rutger?"

Jesus. I'm exhausted just listening to it.

The other telltale sign of a first-time parent?

Pride.

Irrational, bubbling-over pride in their baby's magnificent, gentle, loving personality. Faith in that personality's permanence.

"Brody just loves sharing," one beaming mother tells another, watching her 6-month-old boy hand a rattle to a little girl about the same age.

That shit drives me banaaaaanaaaaas.

What bothers me isn't the mother's pride in her baby's sweetness. No, it's the nasty underbelly of pride that sticks in my craw. (PS, I googled "sticky craw" and was really hoping for something gnarly. I got a fisherman's supply store selling "Craw: Smelly Jelly Sticky Liquid." Win?)

Yes, it drives me crazy when I can hear the silent comparison, the judgment of me and my 2-year-old.

"Brody just loves sharing..." unlike that selfish little horror-monger over there. He just ripped a beach ball out of that little girl's hands. His mother must be stupid. Or lazy.

You don't even have to say it. I know you're thinking it. Because I was once like you. I humble-bragged about my Chicken. I remember boasting that "my Chicken is just not into..."

biting
hitting
throwing food
pushing
parroting swear words
nap strikes
hating the car seat
watching TV
temper tantrums
stealing toys from other kids
stealing food from other kids
running in the street
grabbing for the oven
taking off his own diaper
clinging to me
having nightmares
eating dirt

Yeah, guess what, Katie-of-18-months-ago? He's INTO IT NOW. ALL OF IT. He's into it DEEP.

And yeah, you're right. Your baby loves sharing way more than my toddler does. You know why?

It's because your baby is living in a magical fairy-glitter unicorn sprinkle chocolatey-dipped wonderland of magical mysterious giggles and fancy pants. It's called the place when he's physically able to see a toy, reach for it, grab it, move it, and release it, but is not yet emotionally sophisticated enough to grasp the value of ownership, or understand that once he's given it to someone else, that toy is now unavailable for future play.

In other words, he's a fucking baby.

My selfish little horror-monger? He's a fucking toddler. He lives in a world of every tot for himself. Kill or be killed. A place of screaming, weeping, running and falling, bloody lips, dinged-up shins, grabbing hands, tiny sharp teeth, and the strongest, fastest, loudest, hardest kid wins. It's like The Road but with cheese crackers.

His understanding of social conventions is just sharp enough to make him dangerous:

I want it. 
I take it. 
I have it. 
It is mine.
You want it? 
I push your throat.
SUBMIT.

Basically, he's a mafioso.
Or a hedge fund manager.
Or Robert De Niro in every movie ever.

He isn't old enough to understand why sharing, giving and taking, is important for building relationships. He's just old enough to get that sharing means "I don't have it anymore."

And having feels good. Just ask people who buy houses they can't afford or 18 slightly different black shirts (guilty.) So when my toddler, who cannot yet understand the importance of sharing, is forced to return a toy that he ripped from the moist little paw of another kiddo, he flips his shit.

I'd flip my shit too, if I didn't feel social pressure to be polite, and if I didn't have the perspective to recognize that all living creatures have needs and desires just like I do. Humans have an instinct for self-preservation, and kindness, at its core, is no more than a down payment on future security. Selflessness is not altruistic; it's a necessary, learned social glue that trades the sacrifice of immediate pleasures for the promise of long-term stability, loyalty, and repayment.

The thing you have to know about your baby is that it's only a matter of time before he's into the same fucking shit my toddler's into, and it's only a matter of time before my toddler is into the same fucking shit I see the elementary school kids into.

If I've learned anything, it's the power of the word "yet," and the value of respecting the utterly incomprehensible abyss of my child's predilections and personality.

What I should have said, had I been wiser the first time around:

"Chicken isn't into biting. Yet. But hey, who knows, right? All kids do it at some point."

I still catch myself bragging, in my mind, about how great my Chicken is, how unlike those other kids. We'll be at a park and I can't help it. I think, "my son just isn't into that."

A partial list of things Chicken just isn't into...

putting things in his nose
playing with his own poop
banging his head against the floor
getting out of bed over and over again to ask for another glass of water or another song or story
begging for toys at the supermarket
begging for sugar cereal at the supermarket
needing to wear the same Superman cape and pair of cowboy boots every day and night for a year
yelling "penis" in public
repeating back everything you say in a whiny voice
unclipping his seat belt
wiping his boogers on mirrors
coloring on the walls
kicking the backs of airplane seats
lying
stealing
riding a skateboard down a slide
killing worms/ants/spiders/slugs just to see what happens
sports
peeing in receptacles other than the toilet
bath strikes
saying mean things to people
hitting his brother
holding his breath to get what he wants

...Yet.

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