Spontaneity in the Age of the Toddler

Once upon a time, the wife and I took off for a spontaneous holiday to the Maldives with no preparation and no planning. On a whim, we flew out to the middle of the Indian Ocean for a week with just a hastily packed backpack where we had the adventure of a lifetime.

Now with the daughter, it takes us 45 minutes of prep to go to the grocery store down the street.

Other parents had warned me about this — That getting out of the house once the baby comes is hard — but in what went on to become famous last words, I thought “How hard can that be?”

We’ve been invited to a toddler’s second birthday party. It’s a lovely Saturday evening, and we have about 45 minutes to get ready and get out of the house if we want to eat cake.

T minus 45 minutes
The wife gathers the daughter and starts getting her dressed.

For the first 16 or so years of my life, I lived under the implicit assumption that you have to necessarily wear whatever is at the top of the washed clothes stack — I didn’t realize people actually picked out clothes to wear in the morning until I met my girlfriend (now my wife) whose morning getting-dressed algorithm is what computer engineers call O(n³). It involves combinatorial matching of 4–5 dresses, 3–4 pairs of shoes and 6–7 pairs of earrings which, for mathematicians keeping track, is between 72 and 140 combinations that have to be individually evaluated before an “outfit” is selected.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that the daughter seems to have inherited this trait. She likes to leisurely meander through her wardrobe casually evaluating clothes like I used to meandered through comic book stores during my teenage years. The first 5 minutes are spent trying to decide what she’ll wear, with the wife pressuring her to “just pick something, for God’s sake”. (I’ve noticed the wife has switched over to the “get dressed quickly” team since our daughter came along, probably because she encountered what it’s like to be on the other side of a person browsing their own wardrobe for hours on end.)

Complicating matters is the daughter’s strong dislike of wearing pants, which often becomes an exercise in distraction, with a rotating set of toys designed to grab her attention long enough while I stealthily put on her pants.

Much fighting and cajoling later, she’s finally wearing a complete outfit.

T minus 30 minutes
I am a connoisseur of unusual skills. For example, with a pen, I can write sentences in the English language right-to-left and mirrored, so that when you hold up the piece of paper to a light source, you can read the sentence in the correct order. I haven’t had much use for this skill, but I find the joy of being able to do it justifies the significant hit my GPA took during college while I perfected this skill.

Since the daughter has come along, I have acquired another unusual skill. I can run behind her with a comb while she screams and scampers about, hold the comb steady as if it’s attached to a gyroscope and brush her hair, all while the daughter and I chase each other about the house.

While this process takes 10 minutes or so, it does achieve the stated goal (of eventually) having a head of brushed hair.

T minus 15 minutes
The daughter is insisting that she wants to drink water out of a glass. This is almost certainly a bad idea, and the wife warns me as much, but I decide that I’m going to hover over her and hold the glass at her mouth to make sure she doesn’t spill it on herself. The daughter is OK with this arrangement, so I hold up a glass of water gingerly up to her, and she proceeds to drink it in an orderly fashion.

“See, not so bad. We’re well ahead of schedule” I say to the wife.

I’m trying to hold the water level in the glass steady, but it accidentally rises just a tad to dab the tip of her nose. The cold water touching the tip of her nose results in the daughter depositing the subsequent sneeze straight into the glass of water, which, of course, spills out all over her. The sneeze startles me, and as I reflexively try to pull back the glass of water, it drenches her a second time spilling all over her dress.

T minus 14 minutes
Back to square one. We rush through the whole process one more time, this time using a parental veto on many decisions that the daughter wanted to make. The increased speed with which we’re dressing her only serves to foul the daughter’s mood, and she starts resisting getting dressed, which results in our using additional parental vetos, which results in a further deterioration of her mood.

We’re in the death spiral of crying now, heading straight for the tantrum cliff.

T minus 7 minutes
The daughter has descended into a full blown tantrum. She’s flat out refusing to wear her shoes.

T minus 6 minutes
I fetch “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” book in an effort to improve morale. This works to some extent, as the wife is able to put on her shoes while she’s engrossed in the book. Unfortunately, the daughter wants to finish the book before we go out, so I rush through the pages, skipping some of the foods the caterpillar eats. It’s going to be a pretty malnourished butterfly when it comes out of the cocoon.

T minus 2 minutes
We’re all almost ready. We all step out, lock the house, head towards the car, I forget the car keys, run back to the house, unlock the door, car keys are not in their usual place, discussion with the daughter about where she hid the keys, crawl under the couch to retrieve them, re-lock the door, run back to the car.

I get into the car as the wife puts the daughter into the car seat.

T minus 1 minute
The daughter proudly declares “I am Poop”.

As a part of her potty training, we’ve encouraged her to tell us when she’s soiled herself and needs a diaper change. The daughter has picked the very catchy “I am Poop” as her catch-phrase to let us know when she needs a diaper change.

A quick round of rock-paper-scissors game between the wife and I decides that the wife is going to dash back to the house and change her.

T plus 4 minutes
We’re finally off.

T plus 5 minutes
Realize that we forgot her diaper bag. The wife and I try and calculate the odds that she’s going to poop again. Using my sophisticated mathematical modelling (“She JUST pooped”), I calculate that it’s unlikely that we’ll need the diaper bag for the 2-odd hours that we’re going to be out. The wife insists that we shouldn’t tempt fate, reminds me of all the times I’ve been wrong about this, and insists we go back.

T plus 6 minutes
Back at the house, pick up diaper bag.

T plus 7 minutes
We’re finally off, take two. Daughter settles in the car seat, singing to herself as she looks out of the window at the traffic.

The wife and I nostalgically wax about the time we spontaneously flew out into the middle of the Indian ocean, how awesome and special it was and try to re-live the spontaneity through those precious memories, telling each other the stories of those incredible adventures.