Object Permanence is a Bitch
For several months I was amused by Baby’s lack of understanding that things don’t disappear forever when they leave our sight. True, you can debate the esoteric nature of the concept; philosophers among us would argue we can’t prove they do, we do, or anything does. What I do know is if Mac disappears into the realm of nonexistence every time he goes downstairs, then I’d really like to know what unseen universal force is leaving copies of Whisky Advocate around and flushing the toilet 4 times an hour.
Back to the baby. At first it was funny that the baby thought everything disappears. Ha ha! Look at the baby, he’s such a noob! Then we went through our alarming Separation Anxiety phase, which is still in effect but only with Mac. Now, with the revelation of the entertainment center, a new and dangerous phase is upon us: Object Permanence.
Baby clearly demonstrated it for the first time when he went back to see why he couldn’t make the pretty doors slide now that they are padlocked (yes, actually padlocked) shut. He knew there should be only a dowel, but it’s gone (I keep it in the garage as a powerful reminder that underestimating my offspring could one day cost lives. My life if he ruins our only functioning TV, his life if he tries to open the liquor cabinet and pour out daddy’s scotch). Just a few minutes after the dowel fiasco, I saw him try to stick a finger in a socket. Wackiness ensued:
Put the childproof cover on it. He still wants the socket. Pull the drapes over it. Still wants the socket. Move an end table in front of it. Tries to climb through the end table to reach the socket. Bring him a toy. Tries to stick toy through end table, under curtains and into socket.
What is your deal with this socket, son? As Mac and I race to cover all of the other sockets, it hits me. He remembered where the socket was. And just like that, I can no longer count on making things “disappear” by removing them. I hadn’t eliminated our pre-baby household death traps, only consolidated them. Oh my god, I have an entire house of things I disappeared so he wouldn’t play with them. The basement is a graveyard of stuff I didn’t want him to touch so I made it go away. I don’t mean a few Ming vases, I mean I disappeared HUNDREDS of things I couldn’t bother to childproof. I’m the goddamn Chilean dictator of household detritus.
For a hot minute it seemed that childproofing would be a pain, but at least we could count on him understanding that things exist even when we can’t see them. However, it turns out my child has SOPD, Selective Object Permanence Disorder. He remembers some things with perfect clarity. He knows where the sockets are, how to pull on the cords Mommy keeps trying to hide/secure, where the cat left tasty wads of hair that obviously need to be sucked on. What he doesn’t remember, and I try not to take this personally, is that Mac doesn’t disappear forever when he goes downstairs.
I’m not kidding. This isn’t something that mildly annoys our child. Every time, and I mean EVERY TIME Mac leaves the room or walks towards the stairs our child screams the scream of the damned. How can he have such specific separation anxiety? I can be HOLDING him and he still screams like he’s been abandoned to the wolves. That kid isn’t just mad dad is gone, he’s grieving that his beloved father is lost forever and ever. Who can blame him? Mommy moved tons of shiny and sharp things down there and they never came back.
So, concerned for the baby’s mental health (and our eardrums) Mac started running the Third Rate Rapper Sequence I spew all day. That nonstop update of each achievement, intent, thought, or action that parents deliver in the third person. “Daddy needs to answer a work email! Daddy is coming back in a second! Can you hear me? Daddy is walking down the stairs AND I STILL EXIST!!
Of course that doesn’t work, so now he takes the baby with him and the baby sits in the office/small appliance/exercise equipment graveyard we call the basement. Mac puts him in a playpen and then tries to get something done. This should work, because Mac has proven we can go downstairs and not cease to be. But the basement has a bathroom. How does the baby know the bathroom is the same as the basement? He doesn’t. Once you close the bathroom door then you’ve disappeared again. He screams again, mourning with all his tiny, broken heart. So Mac is delivering an even more personal TRRS with gems like “Daddy is RIGHT HERE! You’re not even ten feet away from me! Daddy HAS to keep the bathroom door closed or if the neighbors look through the screen door they can see right inside the house to where Daddy is pooping and that would make Daddy SAD.”
I know. I know the next step. We’ll only be able to prove we don’t disappear in the bathroom if he’s in there with us. But I can’t grasp why he remembers the socket still exists in the bathroom but we don’t. It’s a metaphysical, religious, philosophical conundrum. Perhaps the only way to ensure he remembers Mac exists is to try to childproof him. Then we KNOW the baby will never forget he’s there.