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The Trimester Reports, by Cheeseburger Brown - on owning and maintaining a baby human being.
Eighth Trimester Report

"Fishth! Fishth wa-wa!"

That is the sound of my toddling daughter identifying the conceptual parallels between a fish in a fish-tank and a turtle in a jar. "Fishth wa-wa!" she declares, one pudgy fist gesticulating dramatically at the television.

"Yes, you're right," I tell her. "A turtle in a jar is a lot like a fish in a tank."

"Wa-wa," she emphasises, in case I missed that point.

"Yes, the turtle also likes to live in water," I reply.

Satisfied that I have been suitably impressed by her discovery, my daughter wanders off to point at houseflies flitting around the window. "Bugs! Bzzzzzzzt!" she informs me with authority. I nod and smile, and sit down with my laptop. Though I had thought this series was finished, I find myself pecking out this: my Eighth Trimester Report.

There have been other trimester reports; this is the eighth one. There is no seventh. I skipped it. You may direct your complaints to my shiny metal ass.

Ingrid is now fifteen months old (that's just over a year for you civvies). When we began our story she was but a zygote -- now she runs around, gives hugs to dogs, sings songs about bugs and feeds herself lunch. She can climb stairs and throw coins into a fountain. She knows that birds fly, and that dessert tastes better than dinner. She knows how to put a shirt on, but she needs help getting it over her head.

Her favourite substance is water, which she identifies all around her in its various forms. When it rains outside she points to the window and yells "wa-wa!" and when our newest puppy pees on the floor she dances in the puddle and yells "wa-wa!" too. Recently, she has learned that she can actually make her own finger shiny and glistening with wa-wa, just by sticking it in her mouth first. To her delight, she has discovered that she can be a source of wa-wa, too, from this and other, more intriguing orifices.

Houseflies and ladybirds are "bugs" and so are crumbs on the floor, if they're small and dark. If you squish a bug and juice comes out, that's "wa-wa."

Things you shouldn't touch, like stoves or cactus plants, are "hot." Pebbles are an example of "rock" and so are paving tiles, concrete and asphalt. Muddy areas are correctly identified as being made up of "dot."

I'm "Dada" but as of just recently so is just about any man. Any woman has become "Mama", too. Apparently, this is a normal stage of linguistic development called Over-generalization in which children attempt to apply the nine or ten words they're familiar with to -- well, everything else. This also explains why turtles in jars are being identified as "fishth" in "wa-wa." To the toddler brain the equation is simple: close enough.

Ingrid has discovered that the world can be named, and that with names she can communicate ideas about the world to all her friends -- dogs, cats, dolls, visitors and her own private gods, my wife and I. Ingrid is fairly convinced that my wife and I are responsible for the universe at large, and sometimes becomes frustrated when we fail to exert our authority at her pleasure.

"Bird!" she'll say, pointing out the window, tracking it across the sky.

"That's right," I'll say. "That's a bird. C'est un oiseau."

"Aga!" she'll then demand, making the American Sign Language hand-gesture for again over and over.

"Papa doesn't control the birds, darling," I'll say apologetically.

"Aga!" she'll insist, redoubling her signing vigour. She becomes annoyed with my refusal to do her bidding, but it quickly passes when she spots a distant flock of birds on the horizon, shrunken to mere points by distance. "Bugs!" she cries. "Bzzzzzt!"

She is becoming less shy about demonstrating her frustration. When it's time to come in from playing in the yard she's apt to express her displeasure by sitting down in place and pouting, refusing to take my hand. Last week, she added to this routine by shaking her head firmly no, copying the way we shake our own heads when we warn her not to touch something. "Hot!" she'll declare, which is her way of saying it is forbidden (a lesson learned from being admonished away from the fireplace).

But my wife and I don't have much tolerance for pouting, or whining, or her rebellious sitting as a form of passive resistance. We are scared to death of raising a spoiled little princess, so our patience for this sort of acting out is short. These days, all it takes is for one of us to say her name in a menacing tone -- she responds by standing up and taking my hand, a dramatic scowl on her lips. "Hot," she may comment disdainfully, in case we weren't sure of her opinion on the matter.

And who can blame her? Playing outside is fun.

Feedings have become much less of a chore than just a few months ago. She no longer requires her food to be pulverised ahead of time, nor shovelled into her with a rubber-tipped spoon. Instead, we just slice up chunks of whatever it is we're eating and put it before her on a plate. She will industriously insert the meal, by fist or by tiny fork, pausing now and again to sip from her water-cup. The dogs prowl beneath her chair, eagerly snapping up and wayward scraps. If she's still hungry at the end of it all she'll yell "Aga!" and slap her palm in clumsy ASL.

When she wants to be carried she'll yell "hup!" and stick out her arms. My wife and I are acceding to this request less frequently now, because she's more than capable of self-locomotion. Ingrid has seemingly inexhaustible stamina, and is happy to walk around for much longer than I am. She would be upset not to be able to explore the world on her own accord. If I tried to pick her up and deny her the fun, she would likely frown and say "Hot!"

When we are out in the world I see lots of kids who do things that are entirely outside of my experience, like refusing to walk. It isn't rare to see children her age crying or carrying on in public, throwing tantrums and going red in the face with rage. I really don't know why we don't have to deal with such things yet, but I'm damn thankful.

When Ingrid does misbehave, like climbing up on the fireplace or taking things off my desk, we tell she's a "bad girl" and command her to undo the act. At this point she is usually surprisingly cooperative. She'll mutter "bad-bad gol, bad-bad," under her breath and grudgingly hand over the forbidden object, or retreat from the forbidden perch. When we scold the dogs Ingrid is eager to join in on the authority side of admonishment, wagging her finger at the chastised pooch and saying "bad-bad gol, bad-bad" in a serious tone.

When she is determined not to comply, she usually turns tail and runs away which, while cute, is exasperating. Or, more sneakily, she waits until she thinks you're not looking. If she goes after a forbidden object in this way, she earns a slap to the back of her hand. If she endangers herself by repeatedly trying to climb into the fireplace, she earns a spank on the bum.

My wife and I were both spanked as children, though in different ways. I was spanked once, hard, to impose upon my memory certain important moments of learning (like when I tried to drive my Big Wheel out from between two parked cars without looking, and was nearly creamed by a Buick). My wife, in contrast, would be put over her father's knee and spanked repeatedly (for any number of violations of parental law, depending on her father's mood). We are favouring my family's approach: when Ingrid puts herself in danger, we smack her ass so that she's sure to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. This has happened twice so far, both times involving fireplace tomfoolery. She will not be put over anyone's knee, as we feel this adds an unnecessary element of degradation.

Ingrid understands many more words than she can speak, of course. Her vocabulary is nine-tenths below the surface, like an iceberg. She knows how to "spit" foreign or forbidden objects into my wife's palm (like the security dongle for my 3D software), how to "come here" when called (though if she's sure you're going to stop her fun she turns and runs the other way), how to "bring that to Papa" (she helps me tidy up the yard) and she will distribute kisses and hugs on request. She knows "gimmie five" and "I'm going to chase you!" and "be gentle with the cat", too.

"The cat doesn't like it when you pet him like a dog," I say, demonstrating the appropriate softer approach to feline affection.

"Cot," she identifies proudly, trying to emulate my gentle petting.

"That's a good girl, Ingrid," I say.

"G'gol!" she agrees, confirming my assessment of her character.

And she is a good girl. She never protests when it is time to nap, and if she wakes up before someone has come to fetch her she plays quietly in her crib, talking to her stuffed animals and singing to herself (she still naps twice a day, solidly after breakfast and for a brief spell before dinner). When she's waited too long she tends to throw her best stuffed friend, Bear, over the rails as if to seek help -- this is her substitute for crying. If we see Bear on the floor, we know that her patience has been severely tried. But as I said, she is happy to play with her toys alone, but she is gregarious when she's around the other children at the play-group hosted by a parent-run cooperative working out of the basement of the village church. "How old is your first?" the other mothers asked my wife the first time Ingrid came.

"Ingrid is my first," said my wife.

The other mothers were surprised. "But she's not shy at all -- look at her mix with the other kids like that. It's remarkable."

"Is it?" said my wife, smiling hesitantly. "I didn't know."

"She's so confident."

My wife shrugged. "She's a happy chick."

Ingrid's happiness is contagious. If we're feeling low or sad nothing perks us up more quickly than wrestling with her on the bed, or tickling her little feet. We chase her around making growling monster noises, and get drunk off her easy, high-pitched laughter. "No one can make me smile like she can," says my wife, eyes dewy with emotion; "no matter how I'm feeling."

And now I sit in Mexico, a zillion miles away from our smallest friend, pecking out this report as I sit in the sun and miss her terribly. I see other people with their tiny friends, and my heart melts. I make faces at them when their parents aren't looking, and delight in their smiles and giggles. I stick out my tongue and pretend to hide. I look at them askance and give an expression of surprise, basking in babyplay. "You sure do have a way with little women," says my wife. Then she sighs. "I miss my baby!"

Our hearts ache for her. It is a different kind of love. I hate to be yet another jerk who says this, but it's true: if you don't have children you have no idea. It isn't something I can tell you about. It isn't something anyone can explain. It's a part of your heart you didn't even know was there, no matter how deeply you have loved before.

We slide a credit card through the phone and bumble through the Spanish operators until we get a line to Canada. Ingrid is staying with the veterinarian's wife while we're down here attending my brother's tropical wedding (you tend to forge a close relationship with the vet when you have as many animals as we do). The vet's wife gushes. "She's the perfect baby!" she exclaims. "She has yet to so much as cry."

My wife talks to Ingrid on the phone, cooing and singing and delighting in her every inarticulate response. By the time the call is done our plan has backfired: instead of mollifying our yearning to be reunited with our daughter, the feeling has redoubled. "I miss my baby!" my wife cries mournfully, so I hug her.

During the flight home we are alternately baked and frozen as the crew experiences some difficulty maintaining the cabin temperature. We've asked for blankets, but they don't have any. "I m-miss m-my baby," shivers my wife, sweating.

My ears haven't popped yet, so to me she sounds as unintelligible as Charlie Brown's teacher. "What?" I say.

We have been delayed due to the Mexican ground crew's inability to figure out how to insert a wheelchair into the baggage compartment. The captain had been obliged to come out and noodle it with them for ninety minutes, while we bake inside the still and heavy air of the cabin. When we do finally land in Canada, it turns out that their ultimate solution has been to break the wheelchair. The quadriplegic lady at the front seems dismayed by this news. A member of our party, an Italian lawyer of enormous stature named Prosciutto, squeezes down the aisle and offers the lady his card. "Call me," he says.

"Rip 'em a new one, Prosciutto!" comments by step-father. My brother's best man giggles.

I collect my sweaty hat and frozen carry-on bag. "Idiots!"

My wife and I find the strength to stand and slowly file out fuelled by thoughts of imminent child retrieval. It is a tickle behind our sternums that keeps us awake and moving. At the exit stands the co-pilot and captain with a smiling steward. "Thanks for flying JetsGo! I hope you'll fly with us again."

"Not bloody likely."

My father-in-law is more colourful, exploding into spittle fanfared ire: "It vass not wery comvortable back there for us, no! It vass up to you to make a dechission, and you vailed to make the right one in time, no. Like a bunch of Mickey Mouse monkeys are running the plane, ja!" (Trust me, for a Canadian this is fairly harsh criticism when rendered in public en haut voix. The crew is uncomfortable and embarrassed. Aha -- got 'em!)

Tiny homing beacons flashing inside of our brains, my wife and I grab a few hours sleep back at the old schoolhouse before taking the long country drive to the home of our veterinarian. We drive fast, and the world around us is reduced to a blur of yellow-green spring, all sparkling gorgeousness and gorgeousity. Dogs jump and yap at us from all sides as we push our way into the house. "Ingrid should be waking up from her nap anytime now," says Loojie, the vet's wife.

In the bedroom, in the crib -- a small child very much like my own.

She is taller. Her hair is darker, and thicker. And her face is shaped differently. The child looks at my wife with mild disapproval. She blinks, rubbing her eyes. Slowly, recognition dawns, but no enthusiasm. She takes in my wife, and then takes in me. "Hi," she says.

Over the next quarter hour she warms up a bit, giving us hugs and wanting to take us around the livingroom to tell us about she new things she's learned about. "Lao-er," she says, pushing her face into a daisy and blowing out through her nose. After a while she lets me hold her hand while we walk around. "Birds," she says, pointing to a ceramic robin. "Duck," she says, pointing to a painted lamp.

By night she turns cranky and cantankerous. When she can't have her way she cries about it. She stamps her foot and sits in place. She shakes her head and pouts and whines. She is difficult about going to sleep, and we have to put her down twice.

The next day she is also surly.

But by the third day we have been forgiven, or whatever else that may have been troubling her has passed, and our familiar, charming Ingrid is back -- but, with startling new powers. Not only has Loojie taught Ingrid what sounds are made by various animals ("What does a cow say?" "Moo!" "What does a dog say?" "Wow-wow!"), but Ingrid is now using two-word combinations for her questions ("Where baba?" or "What dat?"), representing a substantive leap in her linguistic kung fu.

Her favourite animals have officially become birds and fish, and she is delighted by toy facsimiles thereof. She carries them around announcing "Bird!" to anyone who will listen. "Fish!" she cries with new clarity. She had developed a renewed and vigorous love for identifying birds and fish in illustrated or cartoon form, as well. If nothing else, this craze will hopefully help diminish her monomania for bugs. (I'm not sure if I mentioned how she eats the bugs. She does. Crunch-crunch-crunch. She makes a face, because the ladybirds are bitter.) My mother brought her a stuffed dolphin from Mexico, which she squeezes and coos over. "Fish!" she declares with affection.

Now I am used to the new face she has grown into, a spurt of development we missed while we were away. She has new shoes, which is cool (thanks, Loojie!), and she calls them "shoosh" which is very cool. And, hands down, Ingrid's coolest new feature is that she will now (at her discretion) inform you when she's soiled herself, by grabbing her behind and resignedly but firmly declaring, "Bum!"

(Did you know that small humans were this sophisticated after just over a year of life? I didn't. What a programme!)

We are heading into the ninth triad of moons since the idea of Baby even came into our lives. This stage seems like old hat, now. We provide the elements of survival, and we're repaid with infinite cuteness. We try not to let her get away with too much manipulation, so she won't grow up to be an ass-hole. She likes to sing and dance, smile and kiss -- so we figure she's happy with the arrangement so far.

I will continue to issue these reports intermittently, as circumstances require. The next time we travel we'll likely take Ingrid with us -- that might be a ripe time for a report, say. The first time she makes me cry on purpose, maybe. Or her first period or something ("...Dictating by laserphone, this is my Forty-seventh Trimester Report..."), provided I have not by then been muzzled by Ingrid's own request.

In conclusion, I would like to declare this my sloppiest report ever. Thank you, and good night.

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