Despite what countless others before me insisted to the contrary, when I was pregnant I postulated that any kid born to me would be the exception to all the classic pratfalls of childhood, like nose picking, an unhealthy obsession with belly button lint, and adolescence.
However, as if on cue on her second birthday last month, my daughter put the final nail in the coffin of my theory and buried it seven feet underground (the extra foot for emphasis) as she became a professional two-year-old.
At around six o'clock that evening I opened the refrigerator and scanned its contents, musing out loud, "What should I make you for dinner?" It was at that moment that she spied the leftover cake from her birthday party.
"Cake?" she squeaked.
"No, silly girl," I chuckled. "We don't eat cake for dinner."
"Cake! Din din! Cake! Din din! CAAAAAAKE!" she howled.
She spent the next 10 minutes sprawled out on the kitchen floor weeping in front of the refrigerator, tears spurting down her cheeks and snot shooting from her nose with all the force of a BP oil well.
While I know from personal experience that a piece of cake can legitimately evoke a great deal of passion and emotion, hers certainly wasn't the reaction I expected from a child who has historically opted for peas over French fries and bananas (yes, several of them) over chocolate pudding.
As it turns out, that was just the first in what is becoming a long line of food-related tantrums. A few days after that my dad and I took her out for an ice cream cone, and about 11 minutes, 9 licks and 23 shirt stains later, it accidentally dropped to the ground. Instead of getting her a new one, we kind of shrugged and told her it was all gone.
For what seemed like an eternity afterward, she wailed, "Eye crim cahn," so we attempted to buy her silence with an ice cream bar from my parents' freezer when we got back to their house. While devouring it, however, she continued crying, "Eye crim CAHN." Apparently the Popsicle stick failed as an acceptable substitute for a wafer cone.
As her ability to communicate verbally expands exponentially, many of her outbursts seem to be linked to her inability to express herself even more clearly. Unfortunately for her, when we figure out what she's trying to say, it doesn't necessarily result in a satisfaction guarantee.
"Watch tee bee?" she often asks, now that she's figured out how.
"No TV right now," we usually tell her, particularly if she's already coming off a Barney marathon.
"Watch tee bee! Watch tee bee! WATCH TEE BEE!" she'll sob, shaking the remote at the direction of the television as if it'll understand intuitively what's she after and turn on and to Sprout, despite the crucial fact that none of the correct buttons are being pressed.
The people who live next door and those in neighboring towns are now keenly aware and equally distressed when there's an active moratorium on television in our home. We're looking into buying new eardrums in bulk to see if that'll take the sting out of the inevitable "your daughter is responsible for my acute hearing loss" class-action lawsuit.
We were clicking through pictures of her favorite subject (herself) on my computer on an airplane last week when the pilot instructed all passengers to power down their electronic devices in preparation for landing. Feral cats and certifiable lunatics are capable of more grace and dignity than my daughter showed at that moment.
"Pictures baby! Pictures baby! PICTURES BABY!" she screeched as she wriggled out her seat belt, kicking, hissing and shrieking for a full 20 minutes.
The women in the row behind us were sympathetic, telling me in soothing tones, "This is worse for you than anyone else."
The people sitting in the row ahead of us appeared to disagree, turning around frequently to shoot daggers from their eyes, shake their heads and cluck their tongues. It probably didn't help that when I swung out of the way when my enraged daughter tried to pull my hair, she succeed instead in grabbing what there was of it on the head of the man in front of me.
That kind of wrath isn't limited to airplanes and photos.
"Drop bunny!" she's been bawling lately when she throws her plush toy on the floor of the car.
"Drop BUNNY wabbit! Drop bunny WABBIT!" she'll then scream so as to clear up any confusion in case I might have mistakenly thought she was referring to an old-fashioned television antennae or a soft-core porn model instead of her stuffed white one with whiskers and droopy ears.
When I risk crashing into the median by turning around to retrieve it, she'll grab it from me, cling to it, bite its nose and laugh through her tears like she's reuniting with her long lost lover in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Until she throws it down again.
Every time I've thought she's been transitioning out of a particularly unpleasant phase, those same parents who predicted it in the first place seem to take an evil joy in letting me know that as bad as that one was, it's only about to get worse. Three is the new two; four is the new three. So much to look forward to.
But at least I take a secret delight in knowing that as challenging as my kid can be, theirs always seem worse. Just like I always knew it would be.