Yesterday, my toddler and I faced off in a battle of the wits—a Wizards’ Duel. Emotionless. Demanding only mental agility.
The toddler had left their water cup in a puddle of sand on the sidewalk where we had paused to (in the toddler’s words) “have circle time” and “go to the beach.” That the sand was one of those skids of dirty gravel left behind in depressions in the road demonstrates the extent to which the toddler has been deprived of variation in both company and locale. I don’t take full responsibility for this. We are living in a pandemic, after all.
In any case, we had spent fifteen minutes hovering around the aforementioned sand puddle on our way from the playground to the car. The toddler looked like a survivor of the Dust Bowl, and I had to pee. Furthermore, I had the two-month-old in the front pack, which–though it advertises itself as ergonomic—hobbles the wearer such that they cannot, with any agility, bend at the waist.
So, when I told the toddler to pick up the water cup, it was because I was bored, bulging at the bladder, and physically unable to pick it up myself.
I didn’t anticipate that this would be a problem. They had been carrying the cup happily enough up to this point. In fact they had insisted upon it.
Needless to say, I was wrong.
I was wrong because this time it was my idea and not theirs.
“OK, Zowie! Get your cup!” I said like a fool.
They regarded me from under disdainful brows. “No,” they replied.
“Let’s go!” I said, cheerily enough. “Time to go home. You need to carry your cup.”
“No,” they repeated, with unperturbed serenity.
I stood there considering my options. On occasion, the toddler mistakes these pauses for intransigence on my part and gives in. Alas, that was not to be today. I went with:
“You’re going to leave it here? For another kid?”
The toddler is attached to this particular cup because of a gurgling noise that the sippy top makes as it refills with air post-swig. They are taken not precisely with the sound itself but with the reaction that it elicited from me on one occasion—a raised eyebrow that they found particularly drole. Nevertheless, their reply came:
To emphasize their meaning, they turned on their heel and started in the direction of the car. Naturally, I doubled down.
“You want another kid to have the cup with the Good Noise?”
“… Yes,” they replied again, happy as you please. We were each maintaining an emotionlessness that bordered on sociopathy.
Still, I am confident that we both knew in this moment that the other was full of shit.
It was no longer about the cup. It was about outwitting the opponent. As in the best wizarding rivalries, I had raised my own nemesis.
“Alright,” I said with feigned regret, and followed them towards the car. “I guess you won’t have water at our picnic.”
The picnic was a last-minute inspiration. An on-the-spot fabrication. It was a blanket and a baggie of grapes that I had stuffed (bless me) in the backpack on our way out the door.
But the thing you must know about the toddler is that they are passionate—downright zealous—about consuming food outdoors. And getting your child (or anyone, for that matter) to do what you want them to (I told you: sociopathic) has everything to do with finding the salient reward or consequence. I had landed on it.
They stopped, and I pounced. “Do you want your water bottle for our picnic?”
“… Yes,” they said, slowly, and then more emphatically: “Yes.”
Back the toddler ran to the cup and nestled it in the crook of their arm. “Come on, Mama,” they said. “To our picnic.”
Perhaps I should not have felt such relief at disarming a wizard so many years my junior. But they are a worthy opponent, skilled at exploiting my weaknesses. And mine is a mind addled by age and the sleep deprivation that they so cunningly sustain.
So I did feel relief. And a measure of pride. I sheathed my wand and proceeded to the picnic.