Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

July 30, 2001

Lucy learns a lesson

The strangest thing is happening.

Lucy is starting to understand words – and not just single words, like dog, biscuit and daddy. She understands entire sentences. Just yesterday morning, while sitting on the couch, I said, “Lucy, where is your ball?”

Lucy left her spot in front of my knees (she fights the dog for this prime bit of real estate) and swiveled her head until she spied the squishy little soccer ball she’s been playing with lately. She crawled to it as fast as she could, then dribbled it back to me.

I just about dropped my cup of coffee. Lucy plays fetch!

Perhaps this shouldn’t have flipped my wig. Fetch is a logical progression for a creature that can sit up, beg and roll over, which she does religiously when I am trying to change her diaper. If only I could paper train her, she would make a very fine little dog.

But she isn’t a dog, of course. She is a person, and much more complicated to train. And so I will not be able to apply all the wisdom of the Monks of New Skete. As I teach Lucy, I will have to use techniques that work on humans.

This makes things so much more complicated. With dogs, you can guarantee obedience and fidelity – even happiness – with a pocket full of kibble. Although Lucy would dearly love to eat pet food from the bowl, I don’t think a taste for it is going to get her into Harvard.

“Lucy, if you finish this Calculus problem, I will give you a liver snap,” is an offer she will, in all likelihood, refuse by the time she gets into high school.

So, how can I be a good teacher, if most of my teaching experience is limited to keeping the dog off the couch – something I’m not very good at, anyway?

I don’t know. But I’m doing my best, and there are some results.

For example, Adam and I have taught Lucy how to find our noses. When I ask, “Lucy, where is Mommy’s nose?” she points to my nose almost 100 percent of the time. She sometimes sticks her finger up my nose, so I have to take off points for this. And she has not yet managed to locate her own nose, which means I still have to remove her boogers for her. Still more points off the total. But this is a fine accomplishment for a child who is not yet 11 months old. She has an entire lifetime to learn how to pick her own nose.

She is also learning to recognize that quintessential barnyard animal, the pig. Using her stuffed pig as a reference, she can point to the pig on the page of Barnyard Dance most of the time. This piece of knowledge will be essential if she is ever to appreciate Charlotte’s Web, Babe or the world’s finest breakfast meat, bacon.

The juxtaposition of a lifestyle that loves both the living pig and its meat will, no doubt, help her understand the concept of hypocrisy. When she understands that, she won’t protest when I tell her that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, while I skip it for a skull-sized mug of coffee and one of last night’s brownies.

But I would be wise to focus first on simpler concepts.

For starters, the concept of “That Hurts Mommy.” This applies largely to my nipples. Biting and twisting hurt. So does using the nipple to pull oneself up into the standing position. Lucy does not yet grasp this concept. If she did, she would stop grasping me where it hurts. I hope. Perhaps she’s trying to teach me something about the irony. If this turns out to be the case, I will have much to write about later on, when her vocabulary is larger.

I would also like her to understand the difference between laundry that has been folded, and laundry that is OK to wave like a flag. For some reason, Lucy finds stacked and folded laundry the most seductive, and she spends a little time every day unloading the napkins and placemats from their little cupboard.

Her technique has improved steadily. She is now agile enough to unfold things faster than I can get them folded, which leaves her plenty of time to crawl into the kitchen to eat cat food while I am refolding. Ultimately, though, the unfolding enterprise is counterproductive. If she spent less time unfolding in the first place, she would have more time to plan a successful cat food caper. The usual outcome, unhappily for Lucy, is that I swoop her up just before she sinks her mitts into the bowl. Time management, Lucy.

Adam wants her to learn another lesson in the food category. He calls it, "That's Lucy's Food." When Lucy eats bananas, for example, she likes to give some to me, some to Adam, some to Misty, a little gobbet to the cats and a meaningful offering for the Floor Gods. She also likes to spackle the cracks in her high chair with it. This is very generous of Lucy, but it also means she hasn't eaten, and the room and all its inhabitants needs cleaning – again.

But this lesson is probably less important than “That Is Dangerous!” I can tell this phrase only confuses her lately. Every time I say it, she continues to play with the lamp cord underneath the desk. Would it really be safer for me to work by candlelight? The world is a strange place when that is true.

Perhaps she’s not confused, though. I’m starting to suspect she’s ignoring me. I have these little curtains in my office, with long cords that are a known strangling hazard. Lucy loves playing with them. Every time I say, “Lucy, that is DANGEROUS,” she turns and twinkles her eyes at me, with the throat-sized curtain pull in her mouth. She actually uses it as teething toy, which is why “remove curtains from office” is on my list of things to do.

While we’re on things Lucy should learn, but won’t, I will add: “Don’t You Think It’s About Time for Bed?” I am really getting into fantasy territory here, I know. Lucy hates going to bed. She hates naps. We can no longer get her anywhere near her crib without starting off a shriekfest. (As breakfast is the most important meal of the day, shriekfest is the most important communication device.)

When I think back to the time I could lay her gently in the crib, and she would turn her head, close her eyes and float off to sleep, I have to bite my fist. Little did I know then that Lucy would later fall in love with the world, and would fight hard to stay conscious every minute of the day.

She is showing some signs of improvement in this area, thankfully. This morning, just before 3 a.m., I was tucking her back under her blanket after a little drink of milk. As is my habit, I stroked her back, waiting for her breathing to grow slow and regular. It wasn’t happening. Lucy kept jerking her arm up, fiddling with the covers.

What’s she doing? I thought. And then it hit me. Lucy was trying to cover her teddy bear. I slid the blanket over both of them, and Lucy turned to the bear and said, “Hi,” with the sweetest little voice in the world. Then she fell right asleep.

It was the most loving thing I’ve seen her do, and it hit me right then and there that Lucy already knows the only lesson that matters. Walking back into my room, with a lump in my throat, I thought, “Where did you ever learn that?”

As it turns out, putting Teddy to bed is something she learned from Adam. Why am I not surprised?


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