I was nestled on the couch in the living room, surrounded by a jungle of stuffed animals and ancient dolls, and it struck me that I had completely lost all grasp on reality when I turned to a puffy, gray elephant and said, “I think we’ve been had,” as if the creature would nod its head and agree.
You see, ever since Emmeline discovered that she could not only say “no” but also that it meant something, I have been using a collection of stuffed animals to make her do the everyday tasks she has suddenly turned stridently against.
“Emme, please put your books away — it’s time for a nap.”
“OK, fine, well frog and I are going to put them away and you can’t help. Come on frog.”
I usually made a great show of the frog and myself scampering to the bookshelf arm in arm, stacking books and sorting titles as if we were on some magical picnic at the library instead of performing hated chores.
“Oh frog, you are doing such a great job. Very well done … frog.”
It never failed that after a few seconds Emme would come crashing over, push frog out of the way and begin stacking books herself, casting wayward, suspicious glances at the interloping amphibian. I imagined her thinking something along the lines of “Who’s the sucker now, frog?” and I had to bite my lip, afraid I’d give her the answer. Because, in reality, these stuffed creatures were the best parents I’d ever seen. They could coax her into any task and magically produce the kind of manners that would make Judith Martin sound like a burlap-clad hillbilly.
“Emme, please help dad do the dishes.”
“Alright then, you just stay here. Elephant and I have some pots to scrub.”
It’s a curious spectacle to see a plushy proboscidean elbow-deep in a sauce pan, working a sponge, but it’s an even more curious sight to see a 19-month-old rush into the kitchen to take over.
“No!” she screamed at the witless animal before shoving it aside and picking up the soap.
Last night Dana made Emme a new stuffed animal — a white Scottish terrier with peppermint piping — and Emme had become so enamored on the creature, “Mimi,” she called it, that I’m fairly certain the dog will soon have her making drug runs across the border. It is simply that effective.
On the 45 bus this afternoon, we were slumped in the back row during an increasingly crowded trip, and it was all I could do to keep Emme from kicking her neighbors or turning upside down and launching herself under the seats. So I pulled Mimi from the backpack and gently placed her on the seat next to me.
“Oh Mimi, you’re sitting like such a big girl dog. Nice job.”
In an instant, Emme righted herself and glared at the dog. Then she commandeered the seat and shoved the canine into my lap.
“No,” she informed the well-meaning puppy, “Emme sit.”
“Oh I’m so sorry, Mimi,” I whispered to the dog. “But if Emme wants to sit in her chair and not move — at all — well then there’s just nothing I can do.”
Of course, there are downsides to commingling with animals. Emme has come to believe that her father enjoys the company of small furry toys, even when he’s not using them for blackmail or manipulation, and so if we’re reading on the couch together she’ll suddenly stop mid-sentence and run to fetch a rabbit or a frog or the puffy, gray elephant. When we got home this afternoon, she festooned my lap with a veritable zoo of creatures to keep me busy.
“Thanks Emme, now we can all read a story.”
“No! Dad dad.”
“Dad dad read!”
I told her to hop on my lap and we’d finish the book, but she insisted that I stay on the couch and read to the animals without her.
“Listen, kid, there’s no way on earth I’m going to read to these things if you’re not up here with me or if I’m not doing it for some malicious reason, like trying to make you read to them so I can go check my email, OK?”
“No! Dad dad read!”
She handed me a willowly monkey, a giraffe and a zebra and then hopped off to her room to play, while I sat on the couch with my new menagerie of friends and the embarrassing truth that when it comes right down to it, there really is no need to answer the question after all. I picked up the gray elephant and shook my head.
“Who’s the sucker now?” I asked it, and then patiently waited for an answer.