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The curse heard 'round the parking lot

Ben Hanson, Parenting Perspectives columnist

Keen observers, toddlers are not. Or so they would have us believe.

Con artists, I say.

They trick us into believing they lack any measurable attention span by effortlessly ignoring our pleas to wash hands, to stop eating the dog food, or to give the poor Christmas tree at least a fighting chance at staying upright.

From what I've seen, it's just a long con. It's a toddler game of lulling us into a weird sense of parental apathy that makes us think nothing we say will ever break its way into their conscious awareness.

Over time, talking to these two-foot-tall brick walls, we forget that we actually have to watch what we say. As impenetrable as their little heads may sometimes seem, they're as porous as a sun-baked sponge when the right words come raining down.

For example, weeks before the big day arrived, I unintentionally handed my son, Macklin, an early Christmas gift — a new word. And, oh my, was he ever so thrilled to unwrap it.

Here's how it went down ... literally.

You may recall the rigid blanket of ice that settled over the FM area in early December, turning all forms of pavement into the stuff of nightmares for hips over the age of 50. The whole town became a skating rink. It was so slippery, I've heard rumors of cars that still haven't come to a complete stop.

Although the weather outside may have been frightful, my nephew's Christmas program inside Longfellow Elementary promised to be mildly delightful. So, like the good uncle I am, I got Mack dressed and headed to the north end of town so he could watch his cousin's big show.

The parking lot was already full by the time we arrived, which meant I had to get creative. Which meant illegally parking by a dumpster. I suppose it was karma, then, that swept me off my feet. Foot, rather ... I never did get the second one down. I don't think I've ever moved quite so fast, so involuntarily, so forcefully. The collective mass of every molecule in my body came down in one violent plop onto my left hind quarter.

"Damnit!" I wholeheartedly shouted through clenched teeth, entirely forgetting I was steps away from a building full of gradeschoolers. And my own 2-year-old, who was still strapped into the backseat.

Now, Mack hadn't made a sound the entire 20-minute ride, let alone a fully articulated vocabulary word.

But when I stood up to survey the damage and check for gawkers, as if poked in the side by Loki himself, the boy turned his head toward me, smiled ever so slyly and let out the cutest, knowing-est "damnit" you'll ever hear ... all without breaking eye contact or shrinking his grin.

Whether it was the horrible pain now coursing through my body or the unapologetically proud look on his face, I couldn't bring myself to get upset. I could barely bring myself to my feet. Instead, I took it as a reminder that the child is always listening, whether or not he acknowledges it. And if I'm being honest, I was also a bit proud myself.

Mack has displayed above-average wit on many occasions, but that day he showed off an understanding of suspense and delayed gratification. To silently, patiently wait for the perfect opening to deliver a one-word punchline ...

That's master-level stuff. I love him so much.

Ben Hanson writes about being a father and other very random topics at benhanson.areavoices.com and MrFullTimeDad.com. He can be reached at mrfulltimedad@gmail.com.

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