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The Unrepentant Grinner

I remember when my girlfriend Abby’s
second son was right around 18 months, and began entering into the
whole testing-boundaries-and-starting-to-need-discipline thing.
Josh is four months younger than Maddie, so I’d just started
dealing with that myself, but of course Abby had an older son and
had already been through it, so she wasn’t quite as
blindsided and bewildered – who is this child and what have
you done with my good-natured, placid baby? – as I was.

All the same, Abby had a bit of baby shock when Josh hit that
stage, because he was so different than her older son Isaiah.
“I swear, Jen,” she’d gripe on the phone,
“Isaiah was never this rebellious. Josh will stand there,
stare right at you, and deliberately do something you know is wrong
– grinning this huge ‘ain’t I a stinker?’
grin the whole time.” I had this clear picture in my head of
the little stinker, and counted my blessings that Maddie was not
like that; she may have disobeyed and known it was wrong, but it
was always with this furtive, guilty look on her face – the
whole “I know it’s bad but I can’t help
myself” look.

As Cora rounded the corner of one year, I
saw we’d start on discipline much earlier with her than we
did with Maddie, largely because Cora already saw the discipline in
action and learned by example. So I naively thought that we’d
squeeze through the terrible twos - more accurately termed
“the terrible eighteen months to four years old”-
relatively easily, a serene obedience descending preternaturally on
Cora’s personality. But the reality?

Let’s just say I’ve become well familiar with that
li’l stinker grin.

It must be a second child thing – second children seem to be
bolder, more certain, more willing to take risks, more certain of
themselves. Which at least partly would explain why Cora is
absolutely fearless in all things physical, and shows absolutely no
concern about something being off-limits or forbidden to her.

Cora will walk up to, say, the stereo – or, even worse, the
Playstation 3, extend a finger to hover over the buttons, look at
me with a charming smile and say, “No, no, no?”
“That’s right, Cora, no, no, no,” I’ll say
firmly. Her grin will simply deepen as if to acknowledge that
she’s so darn cute I’m powerless to stop her, then
deliberately push the buttons. Even after I march over and remove
her from the object, she’ll merely shrug – “Oh,
well, worth a shot. What’s next?” Or I'll hear Maddie
yell, "Mom, come see what Cora's doing!" and I'll run into the
living room to see my youngest sitting smack dab in the middle of
the coffee table, grinning from ear to ear.

I’ve never encountered such sheer, unapologetic unrepentance
before; even as a toddler Maddie would look chastened and subdued
when removed from a bad situation. Cora’s got this infectious
grin, this sense of living life to its fullest, even in the midst
of building a pyramid to reach the forbidden plate of cookies right
in front of Mommy’s face. Her remorselessness now is
charming, but still dangerous, and I can see we’re in for a
long, rocky road. Even when she’s censured and has a
privilege taken away as a consequence – say, she was helping
me bake and had to get down off her stool because she
couldn’t keep her fingers out of the dough – she seems
to think the fun was worth the price she paid. She’ll smile,
climb off the stool, and move on to the next challenge, a sort of,
“Well, I got busted, and fair’s fair so what’s

That’s my girl – Carpe dulcis. Seize the sweets.


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