The recipe said to set the oven to 450 degrees, which in hindsight seems high. I dropped my lunchbox, set my laptop on the kitchen counter and began my nightly ritual of cobbling together dinner and bartending for tired kids (one apple juice, one ice water, one whole milk with a splash of Vitamin D).
The noisy air was pierced by the faint smell of burning plastic. I opened the door of the preheating oven, saw the melting bags of Halloween candy sizzling on the rack, and everything came flooding back. As I quickly and quietly scraped strands of Laffy Taffy off the oven floor and grabbed melting Dum Dums with a potholder, I cursed myself for choosing such a stupid hiding place.
And I silently shook my fist in Phoebe’s general direction (she was in the living room, blissfully dismantling a magazine), because it was her fault too.
Because she is so. Incredibly. Destructive.
Phoebe had managed to find the girls’ giant Ziploc bags of candy on multiple occasions, carrying them around the house and tearing at them like a hungry vulture. Earlier that morning, frustrated and late for work, I had grabbed the bag out of her hands and thrown it in the cold, dark, empty oven.
“I’ll figure this out when I get home,” I told myself. The famous last words of an exasperated and infamously forgetful parent.
When Emilia was small, she was…adventurous. She peeked inside cabinets, pulled at the pages of books and explored the house like your typical curious toddler — a level of innate curiosity that still defines her today. But it was nothing a little childproofing couldn’t fix. We locked the cabinets, plugged the outlets and pushed our ottoman in front of the stairs. This assortment of real and symbolic barriers seemed to do the trick.
When Grace came along, it seemed clear that everything was getting easier. Grace liked pulling Tupperware from one of our cabinets, but she was indifferent toward the stairs. She stayed away from the outlets. She generally played it safe.
“We’re home free!” we thought, our hubris leading us to assume that babies get incrementally easier. We figured number three would be some sort of angel-robot who destroys nothing. Explores nowhere. Ignores everything.
Instead, as you can assume, Phoebe has been our craziest, wildest, most fearless and destructive baby to date. She has breached every barrier we’ve created, picked childproof locks, thrown my wallet (and who knows what else) in the trash, and torn apart more books, pictures and precious documents than I can count.
A friend once compared young toddlers to the raptors in Jurassic park — methodically tapping at the fences, testing for weak spots. Phoebe is like a caffeinated raptor. Caffeinated and astonishingly joyful.
Perhaps the only thing that has helped Matt and I hold onto our sanity as Phoebe tears our house apart and gives us dozens of daily heart attacks is the fact that she is so damn happy about it. She grins at us from halfway up the stairs, laughs as she dumps 64 crayons onto the couch, cackles as she removes her diaper and sings while she smears lotion all over the floor.
Her heartwarming delight almost makes up for all of the property damage. Almost.
Someday, she’ll be older, wiser and able to channel her wild tendencies into something more productive, like field hockey or performance art. In the meantime, every time I duct tape a cabinet shut, pile another large piece of furniture in front of the stairs or give Emilia a surviving piece of Halloween candy — pulled from the ashes of her once abundant collection — I am reminded that, as parents, we can never get too comfortable.
Somewhere, a smiling baby is waiting to take your arrogance and joyfully tear it to shreds.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.