The Bad Seed

Those of you who have been following the antics of America’s Worst Mother&#153 and her posse of poppets (Sand Dab, Tempranillo, Diopter, and Puck) may remember two weeks ago when daughter Diopter started showing signs of incipient juvenile rebellion which Meghan convinced herself was the result of a fever. This week the ugly truth rears it’s head:

“Dee-dee?” Molly inquires in her most sugary tones, “Do you have my watch?”

“It’s my watch!” Phoebe replies crossly, hugging a large orange satchel closer to her chest and nearly knocking over her juice.

Molly’s face darkens. She drops her things and advances on the dining table. “Give it to me.”

“It’s mine!”

“Give it to — Mummy!”

“Phoebs,” I say, “Please give Molly her watch.”

“Okay,” the tiny thief replies all mildness, as if unaware of any controversy. She rummages in her bag, pulls out a small stuffed rabbit, the sash to a terrycloth bathrobe, a dog-eared ABC book, the permission slip —

“There it is!” Paris shouts.

— and finally the watch, which she hands to her elder sister. Molly receives the object with exasperation. “Mummy, will you please explain to Phoebe that she is not allowed to take things from other people’s desks?”

“My darling,” I say, drawing succor from my coffee cup, “I have. And I will. Again.” Like King Canute in heels, I have been trying to hold back the tide of thievery, the flood of pilfering, that threatens to wash away all our household’s most precious and useful items. I speak, of course, of Phoebe, the toddler tsunami.

Now we know that Diopter is the fourth little Gurdon but we can’t help being reminded of Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child:

From Publishers Weekly
A smug, conservative couple’s fifth child (after four model children) inspires fear and horror. “The implications of this slim, gripping work are ominous,” wrote PW. Lessing indicts those in authority who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the violence inherent in mankind.

Back to the Gurdons:


My yells draw the curious looks of well-groomed children and parents unloading their vehicles with the serenity borne of not having a juvenile delinquent in the family.

“Phoebe,” I say urgently, crouching before her, “Never, ever take anything from Mummy’s desk ever again. Do you understand?”

“Okay, Mummy,” she promises gravely, and then flashes a wide smile, and just for an instant I think I perceive — though it’s gone so fast I can’t be absolutely sure — that this smile is ever so faintly tinged with a cool-eyed awareness that she, in the guise of an adorable platinum-haired three-year-old, has once again succeeded in outsmarting me, a much-less adorable and slow-moving senior figure, by half-persuading me that she didn’t know perfectly well what she was doing when she pinched my passport off my desk and slipped it into her pocket (though she cannot of course know precisely what a passport is), when she did.

“That’s all right then,” I say a little shakily, and zip the precious document into a compartment in my handbag.

“We’d better — ” I am starting to urge, with a glance at my watch, when, fatally, Phoebe drops her hand ever so casually over her pocket.

“Aha!” I expostulate like a gray-whiskered detective in a period drama. “What else have you got in there?”

Long-lost business cards. A roll of 37-cent stamps. My Visa card. I exchange horrified looks with Molly and Paris, and address the volatile bandit with a reasonable, now-give-me-the-gun attitude.

Somehow I’m sure that give-me-the-gun attitude may come into play quite soon at what will eventually become known as the Ms. Morrow’s Academy for Extraordinary Toddlers Incident.

Then we’ll just shake our heads and mutter, “Yeah. It’s always the quite ones…”

Next week: “Jeremy Diopter spoke in class today…”

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Yeah. Like I would tell you....