We're All Damaged

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Matt Norman, Silencer of Toddlers

Every summer, the wife and I travel to my in-law’s place in upstate New York for a family reunion weekend. When I first started attending these things, they consisted mainly of adults drinking and playing golf. Over the last few years though, we’ve added a new element into the mix: children. A lot of them.

There’s a one-year old girl. She’s adorable, but she’s just learned to walk and so she needs to be stared at 24 hours a day. We collectively took our eyes off of her for five seconds on Saturday and she tried to eat what I think was goose crap. There’s another girl, too. She’s four and has the most awesome Long Island accent in the history of children. Trying to imitate it on a blog is impossible, but hearing her ask her mother for a sip of coffee is something I’ve been replaying in my head for 48 hours straight.

It’s the boy though, my two-year-old nephew, who I can identify with the most. He’s a skinny little kid with a dramatic cowlick who, like me, is prone to unprovoked spells of hysterical crying. This weekend, I was milling around in my in-law’s kitchen, stepping over dogs, when I absent-mindedly ate the last chocolate chip cookie.

“I want a cookie, too,” he said, suddenly, from down below. I’m considerably taller than he is.

“Oh, dude, I’m sorry,” I said. “That’s the last one.”

I don’t have children yet, and so I deal mainly with people who aren’t two years old. I was expecting a shrug, perhaps an “Oh well, no biggy.” What I got instead was a look of sheer outrage, followed by a quickly escalating series of sobs.

“I want a cookie,” he insisted. “I . . . want . . . a cookie!”

“No no. I don’t . . . I mean . . . there aren’t any more of them. They’re gone.” It probably didn’t help that while I was saying this I was chewing that last cookie. It really was delicious.

He stamped his feet, frightening one of the dogs away, and then he held both hands over his eyes and cried and cried. He cried the way people cry in movies, when the actors are trying a little too hard. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he seemed to be shouting, thrashing about there in his Cars t-shirt and blue Crocs.

My first instinct was to run away, to dive into the closest available car Beau-and-Luke- Duke style and drive toward the Canadian border. But, after a deep breath, I was able to compose myself. I’m three months away from having a child of my own, and so I looked at this as a learning opportunity. I crouched down to his level and did my best to smile through the screaming. I gently removed his hands from his face and looked into his eyes. “You know,” I said. “With the economy the way it is, not to mention all the wars and the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, is this really something we should be crying about?”

To my surprise, my nephew immediately stopped his tantrum. His arms fell to his sides and he looked at me, frowning a little as my words sunk in. “I know, right? Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?”

“Cookie,” my nephew said. And then he walked away.

Yes. Cookie indeed.


  1. Way to hold your ground. Sure, he turned his back on you, but the line in the sand was thick and deep. Well played.

  2. maybe he stopped crying because as you lent in to him mano a mano to comment on the politico/economic state of the world he smelled your breath and was simply commenting on that sadly. He sounds like a great one anyway- at least he stopped!!