I knew we were jinxing ourselves right from the start. From like an hour into Charlie’s life, we all started talking about how sweet and calm he was.
“What a tiny precious angel.”
“Look how happy he always is.”
“He’s so good! He’s never any trouble at all!”
That was the kind of crap we were all going around saying. We looked down at our newborn baby boy, poked his plump cheeks with our parent and grandparent fingers, and sighed the sighs of the truly #blessed.
But with two older kids, this wasn’t my first rodeo. So one day about a month after Charlie had arrived, when my mom was holding my son in her arms and rocking him to sleep, I had this real gut feeling that I was playing with parenting fire here. All of this perfect baby jive was going to come back to slap me in the face, I just knew it.
Charlie faded into dreams. Then my mom looked up at me and smiled and whispered at me,”You’re SO lucky that he’s got such an even temperament! Just imagine how much harder it would be for you now, Serge, if he was a little wild child!”
I shook my head no. “Don’t go there, Mom!” I wanted to shout at her. “Don’t jinx this whole thing!”
But I was too late. She heaved it all on me at once.
“You’re a single dad now, with THREE kids! So just imagine how terribly difficult it would be if Charlie was a nightmare!”
At that exact moment I swear I was the only one who saw Charlie’s eyes open wide from his nap and beam right through my skull with baby laser quickness. It only lasted a moment, but I saw it and I know I saw it! The jig was up. Charlie, the wee zen baby, was letting me know there would be hell to pay before long.
And man oh man, was he right.
I’m not superstitious.
But then again, maybe I am.
The fact of the matter is that everything has changed drastically. The other shoe has dropped. Sweet Child o’ Mine has ended, and Welcome to the Jungle has kicked in.
It’s the oldest tale in the annals of parenting, and it raises the oldest questions too.
Where the hell did my angel baby go?
And what the hell did I do wrong?!
Three minutes with Charlie Hustle.
He’s having a Popsicle because he sees his older bro and sis having a Popsicle and that’s the new way of my world. Charlie sees the Popsicle thing happening and he unleashes a torrent of high-pitch screams and wails, preempting any possible show of refusal or rational bargaining on my part with my son.
It doesn’t matter that it’s almost his bed time.
It means NOTHING that his Popsicle eating skills pretty much suck, that he drips and smears sticky colored juice all over the house with a kiss-my-butt attitude of carefree neglect.
I give him the Popsicle not because I love him dearly and want him to feel equal with his older siblings (I love him/I don’t care about the equality), but rather to silence the hot lung fire station sirens that Charlie possesses in his chest. To refuse would mean Earth smashing squeals of desperation.
No thanks. It’s almost 6 PM and I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve hit the parenting wall. I jam a grape Popsicle in his grubby fist; he looks up at me with devil eyes and we both know that he is off to the crazy person races.
I watch him scurry across the floor towards his siblings who are running around and dancing to the Curious George theme song. (Certain songs, I need never hear again when this is all over.) But Charlie flies right by the other two and lets out a Civil War battle cry, doesn’t put on his brakes at all. He slams into the front door, and I watch the Popsicle fall to the ground followed by its tiny owner.
He screams. He laughs. He holler’s “Uh oh!” as he lays there on his butt and the Popsicle oozes all over my landlord’s floorboards. I am speechless. It all took less than four seconds flat, from gaining possession of the Popsicle to it landing on the ground.
His mind: it fascinates me. His mind: it’s killing me fast.
I watch to clock Charlie’s reaction. Which way will he go? Will he let the laugh take over? Or will he stick with the cry? His moods are the ephemeral moods of a straight-up psychopath.
He rises to his doughy legs, wobbles, and pumps his arms in the air. Tiny Rocky Balboa. He picks up the Popsicle/doesn’t look at it even though I know there are at least 500 hairs and crap on it now. Instead he looks straight at me out in the kitchen, and he jabs the dripping mess right back into his pie-hole with a snarl and a screech.
I get nervous. He’s back in action. Please God no. It doesn’t matter. No higher power or strong wind or whatever can control a Terrible Two.
Charlie, the former peaceful baby, runs full force across the front room and slams into his older brother and two Popsicles hit the ground. Henry, 4, stumbles, turns, and shoves his little brother away like the street thug we’ve all been forced to become since “The Transformation” took over.
Charlie growls like a wild animal and picks up his Popsicle — which, let’s be honest here, is now just a filthy melting glob of mess — and stampedes straight at me across the room, a small missile partially launched from my own loins a couple years ago — until he plows into my only clean pair of pants on Earth. I watch his face melt into the last of my Levis. He’s all winter snot and Popsicle and leftover dinner still crusted in the corners of his mouth.
I can actually feel the seven-inch stain of stains being born down on my right thigh.
I have to laugh. You must laugh at times like these, you know. You must pretend to dig it. You must pretend to be a bigger person than you really are.
“What a kid!” I bellow out loud.
How strangely beautiful to watch young people come alive, even if it means we all must face the Terrible Twos.
I try. I try to see the bright side of everything here at the end of another long day of childhood insanity, as Charlie Hustle raises his bright blue eyes to mine and beams the sheepish beam of the handsome outlaw. He groans like an angry bear. I grin back down at him, half-heartedly, exhausted and resigned.
“I love you, you freakin’ animal,” I tell him.
And with that, he buries his face back into my legs and bites me harder than I’ve ever been bitten before.
The jinx is alive.