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  • Kate: The Early Years

    Note: I wrote this essay when Kate was 18 months old. She's now 13. Interesting how we knew something was up even then, isn't it?

    She walked at nine months. She had twin siblings before she turned a year.

    It’s no wonder my daughter Katharine made it to the “terrible twos” several months early.

    We are now in that period of parenthood that my seasoned, been-there-done-that friends refer to as the “teenage preview.” They shake their heads and say, “Just wait ‘til she turns 13.”

    At times, I wonder if my wife and I can make it until she turns two. Little did we know that parenting a pair of infants would be a breeze compared to chasing a toddler with an attitude any high school sophomore would be proud to possess.

    Part of it is the circumstance. With three children under age 2, life around my house is never less than interesting. Going to the bathroom can require an act of Congress and a signed letter from the president. And with Katharine in her present phase, you never know what you’ll find when you get there.

    I’m more convinced than ever that the “terrible twos” are a simple way of identifying “toddler schitzophrenia,” the developmental stage all parents must endure. I just wish they had “toddler Prozac” to help the parents cope.

    One minute, she’s wonderful, working the room like a career politician.

    “Hi, I’m Katharine Cook, candidate for leader of the toddler party. My platform is more beanie weenies, less Spam for all. Glad to meet you.”

    The next is like listening to an air raid siren, battle lines having been drawn when I tried to take something out of her hands.

    “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. For the next 60 seconds, I’m going to let out a scream that will make you think the entire area is under nuclear attack. Please stand by.”

    And so it goes.

    For her parents, moments of quiet have resulted in near “I wonder what she’s gotten into now” paranoia.

    And yet there are moments when I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. 

    With the insanity around my house, it is easy to forget Katharine is only 16 months old. She’s had to change rooms, move from a crib into a bed, and share the attention with twins who — by virtue of their unique nature — naturally snatch a spotlight that once was exclusively hers.

    Partially because of all the changes, Katharine is remarkably self-sufficient for her age. She’s at the phase where she absorbs words and actions like a large sponge sitting at the bottom of a vast ocean. And yet, as much as it makes us cringe, it’s also easy to understand why she occasionally enjoys sitting on her sister’s head. She’s still a baby herself.

    In those rare quiet times, however, all it takes is a certain look to make you forget all of the bad stuff. Her eyes, which are as expressive as her mother’s, alternately make me swell with pride and reach to my face to feel the tears roll down my cheeks.

    Recently Katharine has started waking up in the middle of the night. And even though it usually takes her mother to get her back to sleep, I have made several half-groggy attempts to soothe my daughter.

    In the small rays of dim light provided by the blinds in the bedroom window, I start to rub my little girl’s back, much like I do with her mother. As I watch her eyes move slowly, alternately opening and shutting, I flash forward to those teenage years my friends talk about.

    On some nights, I project even farther into the future. High school. College. The day she has my grandchild. I wonder briefly if her daughter will be as beautiful as she is.

    But that is a lifetime away. A lifetime that will pass much too fast. Ahead is a childhood that I hope we both can enjoy.

    If we survive it, that is.