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illusory freedoms

At first they don’t do much and you root for them to learn how to roll over, sit up, and crawl. And as soon as they do, you realize how good you had had it up until that point. Years fly by in a constant battle of wits as you try to stay one step ahead of your child’s curiosity and propensity to injure him- or herself. No matter how much you baby-proof the house, it’s a given that, even at one or two years old, your child will outsmart you and figure out how to inflict some self-damage. Three years into our so-called suicide watch with Munchkin, he’s just upped the ante.

First, he finally acquired enough strength to open the refrigerator. “You are not food! You are NOT food!” D heard this odd phrase echoing around the house as he returned from work one evening to find Munchkin deep in the refrigerator, the fridge door mostly closed, and our nanny chiding Munchkin in the only way she knew how: “You are not food! You are not food!!! If you don’t get out of the refrigerator I will eat you!”

A few weeks later, Munchkin figured out how to turn a key in the lock and promptly locked himself in his room. Of course, turning the key one way did not necessarily mean he could unlock the door, and S spent a tense hour and a half trying to feed and entertain Munchkin through the crack between the door and the floor until the Embassy locksmith arrived to liberate the little man. A few weeks later Munchkin managed to lock both himself and our nanny in our room – even from the inside, the door requires a key to open if it is slammed shut, and our nanny was powerless to effect their release without the key.

At three, Munchkin has also grown wily enough to no longer trust us implicitly. “I want to check” is a phrase he has begun to deploy with increasing frequency. Heading to the pool one afternoon, for example, he demanded to snack on cheddar bunnies. D had only packed sliced apples and carrots and told Munchkin as much before inquiring which he preferred. “I want to check,” Munchkin replied and, though he was clearly hungry, waited until D parked the car and let him rummage around in all the bags before satisfying himself that healthy snacks were indeed his only options.

Like good advice in a parenting magazine, S at first thought she could keep Munckin from playing with his food, but quickly found the battle not worth waging. “Give me a whale,” Munchkin will demand, watching intently as S breaks off a piece of sliced turkey. “That’s not a whale,” he’ll announce – “It’s a pig!” Or maybe a running bunny. Or a snake. Or a ghost. “Maybe it’s a dinosaur,” S will venture. “It’s sleeping in my belly,” Munchkin will retort after gobbling up his food.

Even though he now speaks mostly in complete sentences, Munchkin continues making up words at every turn. “It’s wobbling” is a recent favorite, which Munchkin says whenever he watches water boil. Although he speaks clearly in English, his pronunciation in Russian continues to push the boundaries of creativity; sometimes, when D is not sure what Munchkin is saying, he’ll ask for the word or phrase in English. “Gitomatomees. I want my gitomatomees!” This one had D completely stumped, until S came to the rescue and figured out that the Munch was referring to his stuffed platypus – a birthday present from his aunt, which had recently arrived in the mail.

And then there are phrases that need no translation at all that lodge themselves in our memory: “Do you know what?” Munchkin asked S as he headed upstairs for his nap, “Papa gives wet kisses…and I like it…and it hurts!”

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