By: Darren Miller
Illustrations by Paul Smith
He pointed right at me.
“Me!? ‘ I responded.
He kept pointing.
More pointing. Then, his eyebrows got closer. Like he was concentrating real hard. Or, as I later came to realize, like he was real pissed that our generation hasn ‘t done anything to mitigate the causes of climate change.
And a new word came out.
My eyes lit up.
He giggled. I called my wife in. She didn ‘t answer. I yelled louder. Nothing.
“Don ‘t move, ‘ I said. He kept giggling. I dashed out of the room to wake up my napping wife. She rushed back with me to the baby ‘s room, both because I ‘d told her our son was saying real words for the first time, and because I left him alone in a room across the house like a fucking jackass.
“You!? ‘ I said, now with all stakeholders present.
He pointed at me. “You! ‘
“Me ‘ ‘
“YOUYOUYOUYOUYOU ‘ Oh God he was doing it again. It ‘s just noises.
But then, it changed.
“YOUYOUYOU YOU… FAULT… ‘
“My… fault?… ‘
They say once your baby says his or her first words, the rest of them come quickly thereafter. In my son ‘s case, this was a pretty overwhelming experience.
It ‘s not that I wasn ‘t prepared for him to suddenly communicate in a new way, after months of desperately trying to get me to figure out what he needed with less useful tools. The thing I didn ‘t expect – and don ‘t remember reading in any of the baby books – is that as soon as his first words came out, he immediately and eloquently began to hold my entire generation accountable for climate change.
He ‘d been saying “sounds ‘ constantly. At first when he stares at you and yells “BABABABABA… ‘ over and over again, it ‘s kind of fun, but it gets old quickly. Once he got the hang of it he ‘d clearly do it just to screw with us. I ‘d try to ask my wife a question and as soon as I started talking he ‘d just yell “BABABABABA ‘ over me so she couldn ‘t hear me. I ‘d stop, he ‘d stop. I ‘d try again, and “BABABABABA ‘ again, til I ‘d eventually give up. He was good. He was smart. Maybe I should ‘ve seen all this coming.
This fateful Saturday I was watching him roll around his room, trying unsuccessfully to stand, eat shoes, et cetera, when he stopped and looked at me. And that ‘s when it happened.
“My… fault?… ‘
Holy shit. We were having a conversation.
At this point my wife was particularly interested for some reason.
“What ‘s dada ‘s fault? ‘ She asked.
“You too, ‘ he returned. The kid was on a roll.
“Me too? ‘
“All of you. ‘
I looked around the room. It was just the three of us.
“No, idiot. Adults. ‘
My wife and I just stared. What was happening?
I tried to go with it.
“Um… all adults? What did we do? Are… are you hungry, buddy? ‘ I don ‘t know why I asked that. I just… I don ‘t know.
“No I ‘m not fucking hungry. ‘ This was the first time he cursed in his life, if you don ‘t count “idiot ‘ as a curse word, but given his age, I think you can and you should.
He continued, “I ‘m pissed that your generation is just doubling down on the previous generation ‘s mistakes and not forcing political structures and large scale organizations to stave off the cataclysmic effects of climate change. ‘
Yeah. This kid was on fire.
“Hungry, ‘ he scoffed. “You think I ‘m fucking hungry. ‘ (second or third swear, depending on how you ‘re counting). “Waste of my time. Literally. ‘ He drooled, down to the floor.
At first, I took this all very personally. After almost a year of my wife and I caring for this baby – and if I ‘m being honest, trying to teach him “mama ‘ and “dada ‘ so God forbid maybe his first words could be an expression of love for his parents (and if I ‘m being super honest, yes, teaching him “dada ‘ slightly more so I could win whatever that self-concocted competition was, like the asshole that I am) – what actually comes out of his mouth is this? I mean… What the fuck, man?
For the record I didn ‘t swear out loud. But I guess he probably did get that from me. Ugh.
I tried to respond. “Hey, buddy, I know it ‘s hard to try to understand a thing like- ‘
“Don ‘t patronize me, ‘ he started. “I spent the last ten months teaching myself how to read and speak, then stealing your phones to learn about the complete shit show of a world you brought me into – something I had no say in, by the way – and I sure as shit didn ‘t do all that just to be babied. ‘
Then he spit up. One of those big ones. Got all over his mouth and his onesie, and on the rug. He started giggling and putting his hands in it.
I froze. My wife of course had baby wipes on her and took care of it immediately, because she ‘s extremely good at this. And she was probably proud of herself; she ‘s done most of the legwork on this baby, and it turns out he ‘s some kind of genius. So I guess it ‘s kind of cool in that way. But now we were being held accountable for our entire society ‘s biggest problem. And that ‘s less cool.
So I tried to mount a defense.
“Look, mama and I are on your side here. We ‘re against the choices the people in power are making, and we try to do our part to live ‘ green, or whatever. I know we could do better, but- ‘
“Oh that ‘s cool, ‘ he interrupted. “Let ‘s just put ‘I know we could do better, but ‘ on the earth ‘s tombstone when it dies before I lose my virginity. ‘
“Hey. Language. ‘
“What? Virginity? ‘
“No, just– ugh. Look… There ‘s a lot of politics involved. Very rich and powerful people put a lot of money into controlling the people who create and maintain our laws, and more money into convincing their supporters that they ‘re right to be skeptical of ‘ ‘ He ‘d already started crawling in the opposite direction, completely arbitrarily.
He whipped his head back toward me. “You don ‘t have to explain your mess to me, ‘ he burped. “I ‘m the one drowning in it, just like this house will be drowning in the ocean before I graduate college – which, by the way, is a whole other conversation for another time. ‘
“What? College? ‘
“Yes, college. Our entire education system. ‘ He was now trying to pull himself up into a standing position using the bars on his crib as he spoke. “It ‘s a mechanism built for empowering people toward progress has turned into just another way to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. What a joke. ‘ He lost his grip and fell back on his butt. His face contorted like he was about to cry. But instead he just said, “forget about it, we ‘ll talk about that later. ‘
Then he pooped.
“I shit myself, ‘ he said proudly. “It ‘s a real blowout, it went up my onesie and everything. I need a new diaper. ‘
This is when my wife bailed. For the record, I don ‘t blame her.
“I gotta go back to sleep, ‘ she mumbled. “I don ‘t have the energy for this, I ‘m sorry. Weekend custody. ‘
‘Weekend custody ‘ was our running joke about me taking the lead on taking care of the baby on weekends, because I ‘m away at work during the week. It was a very sharp use of the bit and I give her credit for that.
Of course the baby didn ‘t have a ton of patience for our fun parenting bits. And I was losing patience for him too. But just then, he started crying. And maybe it was a calculated maneuver, but I felt pretty silly being upset with a baby just for being a baby.
So we continued the conversation at the changing table.
“It seems pretty simple to me, ‘ he contended, as I undid his diaper, revealing a truly impressive reservoir of sludge. “Over 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that it ‘s real and very likely due to human activities. ‘ I pulled out a bunch of baby wipes and got to work as he lectured. “To quote NASA, ‘ he continued, ” ‘Responding to climate change involves two possible approaches: reducing and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – mitigation – and/or adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline – adaptation. ‘ And that obviously starts with reducing the source of ‘ ‘
“Well look, ‘ I interrupted. “If it was a guarantee that the people that make the laws listen to scientists, I think we ‘d all be a lot better off, but unfortunately ‘ ‘
“What ‘s more convenient, ‘ he asked. “Big Oil and others paying off congress so they don ‘t need to take responsibility, or the people electing that congress and siding with Big Oil when it ‘s convenient to keep their own jobs, and waiting for laws to change before they change their own habits? You missed a spot. Thank you. ‘ He smiled.
Maybe this was a fair criticism, but I ‘ve long held the belief that individuals and families can really only do so much, and it ‘s entire organizations that really need to implement policy changes to make the impact we need. I had to explain this to him somehow.
“Maybe that ‘s fair criticism, ‘ I started, “but I ‘ve long held the belief that ‘ ‘ And he peed in my face.
I squinted just in time. And I can ‘t put this one on him. It wasn ‘t the first time I ‘d fallen for this, and it wouldn ‘t be the last time either. I should ‘ve had the shield up (a baby wash cloth on his crotch that usually doesn ‘t do much good anyway, because he just pulls it off and waves it around proudly like it ‘s his nation ‘s flag, but it ‘s better than nothing).
I was just too engrossed in our conversation about climate change to remember to stop him from peeing in my face. That ‘s on me.
“I ‘m peeing, ‘ he said. “I ‘m still peeing. ‘
He was right. It didn ‘t have the same force as before, so it was hitting my chest, then my stomach, and so on til I gathered myself enough to block it. But at that point it ‘s really just on my hand, and all over the changing pad, so what ‘s the difference?
“Jeez, buddy, did you have to do that? ‘
“Oh, I ‘m sorry, did you have to destroy the entire planet? Did it ever occur to any of you idiots that I might want a kid to pee in my face someday? Or did you just look at yourselves and every sorry excuse of a generation before you and think ‘hm, we suck at this, let ‘s just try this once more and call it there, humanity had a nice run ‘? ‘
“That ‘s a little dramatic ‘
“Is it? I ‘ve read the facts. You should all get pee in your face. But honestly I didn ‘t do that on purpose. I have no idea how to control my bladder. ‘
He ‘d made a mess. I didn ‘t pay enough attention, and the mess got worse. I could salvage the changing pad, but all clothing present – his and mine – were a lost cause. My son had created his first experiential metaphor to prove a point. In that moment, we were both covered in his urine, but I think we were both proud of him.
When your baby pees on the changing pad, cleanup becomes a real uphill battle. Like climate change, when you create such a horrible mess, the consequences compound exponentially. He wouldn ‘t just need a cleaned changing pad and change of clothes. We were entering Full On Bath Territory ‘.
Not only that, but I still had the diaper to deal with. We use cloth diapers. They ‘re better for the environment, if anyone ‘s keeping score here. It ‘s gotta be worth something, right?
So as I put the extra work in to clean this disgusting reusable diaper that ‘s better for the environment, my son made his first double entendre:
“You ‘re not helping, ‘ he said flatly. He was still sitting in the leftovers of his mess that I couldn ‘t clean up. “Figure it out, ‘ he said.
I know a lot of parents will tell you this, but I really mean it. My son is very advanced for his age.
Honestly he ‘s kind of pretentious, though.