Sugar and Spice and Ghost Peppers That Will Burn Your Eyes Out
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, Gioia, I got the same ominous warning from friends and strangers alike: get ready. I must have been told a hundred times how second children are more rambunctious, more fearless, that they develop more quickly than their older sibling, blah blah...all of which means that they’re generally more trouble. I would smile genially but inwardly roll my eyes, letting my mind wander to more pressing concerns like how bad the stretch marks would be or whether I would poop on the delivery table. I approached their cautionary tales with as much gravitas as I did any other unsolicited parenting advice, which is to say: none. I wish I could go back in time and appear like the ghostly spectre of Christmas future and slap my dumb face.
Don’t get me wrong. Gioia is many wonderful things: clever, playful, affectionate, funny, and a prodigious eater (trust me, that last one is a blessing). But at times she is also a grade-A dick. She helpfully announces her displeasure by drawing a fortifying lungful of air and unleashing an unholy shriek from hell, the shrill kind which clangs a tuning fork in your brain that reverberates until the end of time. If you frustrate her by, say, thwarting her ardent desire to run into oncoming traffic, she’ll pick up the nearest object and chuck it sulkily away. Never a dramatic hurl, mind you...just a little toss and a look at you as if to say, “You go get that if you want it so badly, clown.” She slaps the dog, she tears pages out of books, she throws whatever she can into the toilet. I won’t even tell you all the things she’s swallowed. And she gets up to all this mischief in the proverbial blink of an eye. I let my attention stray for the merest fraction of a second and she’s standing on the dining table, holding a vial of anthrax.
In many ways, I’m glad she’s so spirited. I know she’ll never have a problem advocating for herself, which gives me a profound sense of relief because that’s such an important attribute for girls in particular. But man alive it does not make parenting her easy. Her demands are arbitrary and relentless. Just earlier today I stopped to check a text message and Gioia began a deafening volley behind me of “MAMA! MAMA! MAMA!” I turned around to see what was so urgent, and she pointed at her big toe. That’s it. Just showing me she had a big toe.
Some days I'm able to see the comedy in my dealings with this tiny dictator and I have the bandwidth to provide her with the time, effort, and attention she desires. But on other days I’m so depleted from the cajoling, the panicked lunges toward whatever dangerous or destructive scenario she’s gotten herself into, and the heroic attempts at patience as she tests me and tries my last nerve, I feel like Rose on that door in the middle of a frozen sea, except instead of Leonard DiCaprio I’m clinging to it’s my sanity.
So here’s what I would say after smacking the ever-loving crap out of myself: “Ok, here’s the good news. This feisty child is going to be the happiest little blessing. She’s going to make the family feel complete in a way you’re not even anticipating. Your heart will swell at the sight of your two daughters playing or cuddling, as you picture a lifetime of friendship and support between them. But don’t ignore all these smug bastards telling you to gird your loins. Because Molly…you in danger, girl.”