Even after a year, the sight of a purple, plastic Buick in the sink gives me a start. Except for the wheels, I might have thought it was a new kind of soap. For a moment I'm puzzled. And then I remember: I have a little boy who will be a year old next week. It's his car.
The learned books will tell you the estimated time of arrival for all developmental stages. You know: "Follows moving object, 4 months. Says da-da, 9 months. Pulls cats' tails and roars at the subsequent commotion, 1 year." What they don't tell you is a father's developmental stages.
When exactly does he stop casting that obsessive first glance at the chest of his sleeping child, just to make sure he is breathing? (Four months.) When does he begin to distinguish among the different cries -- I banged my knee, where's Mom, I want lunch -- in a baby's repertoire? (Eight months.)
And when does the reality of a tiny being, descended magically into his life, finally become fixed in a father's consciousness? Fixed, like his name, like his other identities, so that his memory no longer needs the prompting of automotive artifacts. My research is incomplete, but I know it must lie somewhere beyond one year.
Daniel's stages are proceeding apace. In the last week, two discoveries. First, the joy of throwing. I spent part of a recent afternoon watching him systematically empty his playpen. He had just figured out that if he releases his grip on an object as his arm goes through an arc, he can turn everything in reach into a projectile. The room came alive with the sound of plastic.
The discovery that he could give flight to objects -- not just balls, but nuts and cups and cereal -- has multiplied enormously Daniel's already considerable powers of destruction. These powers, so great and so uncharted, suggest that traditional ways of recording a child's progress are inadequate. Height and weight, I grant, are important.
But how much more so a concept the nuclear scientists have developed for the exquisite quantification of destructive capacity: throw-weight. Think how useful would be a medical chart that said: "Daniel Krauthammer. Height: 28". Weight: 26 lbs. Head circumference: 20". Throw-weight: 2 megatons. Keep away from large objects."
Within the last week Daniel has also started walking, the "drunken sailor" walk, a bewildered ballet of breathtaking and wholly unintended skips and pirouettes. These first steps filled me with a feeling of terror and wonder I could not quite place. My wife immediately did: "Like watching a tightrope walker. No pole, no net." His billowing Pampers, thank God, do make a fair substitute for a net.
The life of a 1-year-old boy, however, is not all learning and destroying. For proof, I refer you to a publication of the American Psychiatric Association. The guidebook to its most recent convention provided, amid shuttle-bus schedules and a list of corporate sponsors, an offer of day care: three programs, depending on age. For the youngest, ages 0-2, the activity schedule was as follows:
8:00 a.m. Morning rest
8:30 Exercise -- verbal and nonverbal
9:00 Free play
10:00 Burping and talking
11:30 Roll and play on floor
12:00 Noon Feeding
1:00 p.m. Burping and talking
3:30 Eye-hand coordination exercise
4:00 Nap (NOTE: Diaper check is done every 15-20 minutes.)
Now that's living. Take away the nervous yuppie's "eye-hand coordination exercise" -- a 1-year-old's entire waking life is an exercise in eye-hand (month) coordination -- and you pretty much have my son's daily appointment calendar.
If you ever needed evidence that life is all decline, this is it. He'll never have days like this again. Soon "morning rest" (at 8 a.m.!) becomes gulping breakfast. "Roll and play" turns to violin lessons. "Burping and talking" -- a lovely combination -- becomes reading and writing, satisfying, yes, but in a wholly inferior way. And "nap time" disappears altogether.
It gets worse. Next, roll and play and burp and talk become sign and meet and file and pay. And then you need your naps again, but they are no longer permitted. And after that --
I would go on, but it seems someone has put a giant velour green pea in my bed. Who could possibly. . . .