You might wonder why I would tell people my nephew has Tourettes when he actually doesn’t.
First, and there’s no way to put this nicely: toddlers are liars. If you don’t know one, you won’t understand, but they’re completely untrustworthy, the whole lot of them. If someone told you otherwise, it was probably a toddler. They were lying.
They don’t lie the way politicians do, with carefully parsed phrases crafted for vagueness, so deeply embedded with duplicity that they can pledge support and dodge culpability in the same sentence. Nor do they lie like teenagers, who tend to favor focused precision in their efforts to deceive the parental bullshit detector. Toddlers are special – they lie boldly, broadly, wholesale fictions fabricated to achieve their short-sighted aims.
My nephew is not the exception. Last time I took him out for breakfast, Rook – don’t look at me, I didn’t name him – told me he didn’t like toast. Toast. I called bullshit on that. Not only had I witnessed the kid eating toast a dozen times, but c’mon, who doesn’t like toast? The reason they invented gluten-free bread is because that subset of the Venn Diagram of Life couldn’t live without toast. Suddenly this kid has a palette too refined for crunching into a buttery piece of white bread? I ordered him the toast.
Then he tells me used to like toast, but not anymore, which is a stealthy tactic to take with an intermittent uncle. He wasn’t wearing the same sneakers he was last time I saw him, so maybe this had changed, too. I wanted to make him eat it, like I’d seen my sister make him eat his veggies, but what if I brought him home and his parents revealed that he couldn’t eat toast and went scrambling for the Benadryl pack? My strong stance would look more like a stupid pose. Besides, I’ve never been able to make the kid do anything, so I try to avoid situations that force a battle of wills.
So I bring him home and explain the incident, not too thinly veiling my disappointment that they’re raising a kid who doesn’t like toast, and my sister laughed. “Of course he likes toast,” she said, amused that the kid had pulled one over on his uncle. I’ll be honest, that’s kinda twisted. I thought God or Dr. Spock recommended a firm line on lying – it’s wrong before it’s funny – but I could see the kid enjoying his mom’s laughter. That’s why today shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Rook and I were on one of our Adventure Days, and he wanted to go to the tram. It would be our third time riding, so adventure was a stretch, but it’s cheap fun, so that’s what we did. At first, the car – sort of a retrofitted Airstream trailer – rises at an improbable angle, then it swings a little as it goes over the guide tower, then settles into a smooth two minutes of tourism gold. On the way up we took the obligatory photo and I told him the names of the different bridges, but the kid can’t tell a blueberry from a blackberry – but that one’s blue, too – so I didn’t expect my description of the nuances of each bridge would stick.
We get up to OHSU, walk the viewing deck dotted with cool little statues, and eventually I say it’s time to go back down. He tells me he can’t, the swinging of the car makes his tummy feel funny. I assure him that I understand, but also, that we’re on basically on top of a mountain and we’re parked at the base. “No” isn’t a philosophical position one can take in this situation – you suck it up and get through it. Unfortunately, his parents hadn’t taught him the phrase “suck it up and get through it.”
Here’s a secret I shouldn’t have to tell you about uncles who don’t have kids: they aren’t parents. I’ve seen a hundred moms and dads contend with screaming toddlers who demand to get there way. Scream as loud as you want, they say, oblivious to how much everyone within earshot loathes them for dispensing that advice. For me, screaming is kryptonite. It draws the kind of attention that makes me wither, so when Rook started elevating the volume of his resistance, my goal shifted from getting to the car to getting him to be quiet. He never comes off as the brightest kid – he’s been to the ER to have raisins removed from his nose, twice – but he seemed to figure out that his volume has a direct impact on the content of our conversation.
But this situation wasn’t like the toast incident. You don’t like toast, fine, don’t eat it, but we’re at the wrong end of a mile-long wire, kid. The bus doesn’t go to the bottom of the tram – why would it, they have a tram for that – so it would mean busing into downtown and transferring to the streetcar and even that leaves us a quarter mile from the car. That would be a two-hour detour to avoid a two-minute ride. I explain this to him and he’s shaking his head to every word. He says he has never liked the tram – lie – and threw up once after riding it – lie – and what I’m doing is bullying and that’s wrong. That one might not have been a lie.
So I switch my tack and ask him how he’d like to solve the problem. He has no plausible solutions, and I spend ten minutes debunking his suggestions – helicopter, zip line, not having come in the first place – until he finally says to call mom and have her come pick them up. I agree to that one, not telling him that when I do, I’ll have quite a lot to say before I get to the part about needing a ride.
I call her and explain that her failure to instill in her child any sense of respect for elders has resulted in the petulant little brat requesting that she drive up Marquam Hill to retrieve us, or at least him, since I’m going to take the tram back to my car. She laughs again – apparently everything amuses my sister – and I tell her I’m serious.
“Jesus, Tommy, he’s three. Pick him up and put him on the tram. Any other questions?”
I explained about the screaming.
“If someone gives you shit, give ‘em my number. You’re coming from a hospital, tell people he’s sick. Tell them whatever, just manage the situation, dude.”
So when the next tram arrived, I hoisted the kid into my arms – spoiler alert, he screamed – and get aboard. “Sorry about the noise,” I said over the din of his screeching. “The kid’s got Tourettes.” I don’t know if there are degrees of that condition, but I wanted to claim the high ground just in case. “Full-blown Tourettes.”
Yes, it was a wholesale fiction fabricated to achieve my short-sighted aim. Two can play at that game.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.