Five-year-old: “Mama, can I help open Ellie’s medicine?”
Me: “Sure baby, just hold it upright. Don’t let it spill.”
Five-year-old: “Mama, I can’t open it. The cap just spins!”
Me: “Oh, right. That’s because it’s a childproof cap. And you’re a small child. Someday, when you’re an adult, you’ll be handed many keys to adulthood, and one of them will be the classified formula to opening the childproof cap. (Whispering:) Actually, if you promise never to tell anyone, on a day even well before you become a proper adult, Mama will privately divulge to you the mysterious, ancient secret to the childproof cap…”
For all the difficulties of raising young children — the tedium and trauma and expense and years spent in hostage negotiations over cartoon-character plates and plushies and particularly colored glitter markers — each of us, I think, savors more the Things That Make it All Worthwhile. Perhaps it’s the cuddles, or the tax deductions, or the way their tiny fingers seem manifestly created to clean gun barrels and sew knockoff designer bags for export.
I have a long list of these, and they vary with each child, but at the top of both lists is that without fail, each of my daughters says or does at least one thing every day that makes me laugh hard enough to forget everything else in the world: The pocketed crayon that ended up in the washer (and dryer) with the winter coats. The coming Asteroid Armageddon. Kardashians v. Teen Moms: Bread or Circuses? The Pyongyang generals’ apocalyptic Powerpoint presentations of West Coast obliteration to a nodding Kim Jong-un. That the choice my husband and I made years ago — that he would be the breadwinner, and I would stay home to raise our children — now makes him fear they are closer to me.
All life’s laments, real and imagined, dissolve in view of that silly little face, those dancing limbs, jokes and malapropisms. They’re so delightfully ridiculous, children… really, if you’re not wildly amused by yours on a daily basis, there’s something deeply amiss: you’re either clinically humorless, or yours are broken (and fat luck with digging up that receipt, the return policy is the worst).
It’s ages before I’ll reveal to her the secret of the childproof cap — for safety of course, but more so we can add it to our arsenal of games: big, whimsical eyes and a cupped ear beseeching the storied privileged information, at which she knows I’ll convulse with laughter.
There are days I think back to the hour they came into this world, and of all the hard work and trials and difficulties and occasions since when firing them from a cannon seemed the only logical response. And then I think: I made this… helped to create a human being capable of making me forget everything but this happiness — if only for a moment, for as many possible moments a day. I realize that of all I have accomplished or may in life, I will never create anything more exceptional or significant.