(Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash)

My nephew is a firecracker. And not the sedate, sizzling kind. No, he’s the kind who comes wrapped in a tight, trim package, sheathed in fancy plastic and promising simple, wholesome fun for the whole family. He soaks in all the energy around him and lights up like a firefly in the twilight. You think he’ll crackle merrily, maybe even go off with an adorable pop, so you step in close to watch the fun.

Until you actually cut him loose. He gives this giant gummy grin, then soars and explodes in vivid technicolor. Your ears ring, your breath hitches in your lungs, and when you blink, the afterimages dance inside your eyelids, laughing at you.

He is a firecracker. And I say this with absolute wonder and awe.

His mom just started a residency program up north in Oregon. His dad works full time. Significant change # 1.So little Vedh is chilling with us (aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandparents) for a couple of months until there’s a viable daycare option for him in Oregon. Now, he also came down with a nasty cold about three weeks ago, making him all kinds of grumpy and exhausted. Significant change # 2. And because of the cold, he couldn’t attend his local playschool and stayed home for 2 weeks. Significant change # 3.

When you’re 20 months old, with all the energy in the world, three significant changes can really rock your boat. Which is what happened to Vedh. He went from a cheerful, goofy toddler to a toddler who had to look into other avenues to spend his energy. Adults in his position would probably have taken up running or dancing or some such hobby.

After careful consideration of all the pros and cons, Vedh chose biting and hair-pulling. Those required no extra tools,  could be accomplished any time, and best of all, it got him a giant, loud reaction from his victim, which tickled him to no end. Win-win for Vedh.

Once the runny nose went away and he seemed like himself, Grandma dropped him off at preschool. He was welcomed with open arms by his teacher. “I missed you!” she cooed. A second later, her smile vanished when he pulled a good chunk of her hair. “Ouch,” she said, surprised. Vedh responded by smacking her gently and padded away to play with the dollhouse.

At this point, Grandma decided to tiptoe back to her car to avoid any further embarrassment. After two weeks of being bossed around by a toddler, she needed to go lie down. And plus, he was back at his beloved playschool. Finally, things were getting back to normal. At least that’s what she told herself.

Evening came (too) soon, and it was time to pick him up. Grandma peeked into his classroom, where all seemed quiet. “Whew,” she thought. “Looks like the day went well.” She went in, hoping to find him playing in a corner.

Nope. Not even close.

He was flopped dramatically by the play table. His teacher appeared to be negotiating something with him and obviously failing. Back arched, toes swinging away, and puffed out cheeks. The standard toddler rebellion pose. The teacher looked up at Grandma. She appeared to have aged ten years.

“Nothing to worry,” she murmured, with no real conviction in her voice. “Just a small tantrum.”

Grandma had two choices. One – admit that this was a common occurrence at home, so solidarity, sister! Two – feign surprise at her golden grandchild being a little terror. Without a second’s thought, Grandma chose the latter.

“Oh wow!” she said, crossing her fingers behind her back. “Never seen him do that at home.”

At this point, Vedh noticed Grandma. “EEEE,” he squeaked and jumped into her arms.

Grabbing his backpack, Grandma waved goodbye.

“Bye, darling!” said the teacher. “We will see you tomorrow! Can you wave bye? Can you wave bye-bye?”

Now Vedh would usually have waved without any prompting. An old trick he’d mastered months ago. But now, the teacher was starting to annoy him. Did she think he was one of those loser infants who couldn’t even sit up? He was 20 months old, darn it! Where was the RESPECT?

Face all scrunched up, he shimmied down from Grandma’s arms. Then, putting one chubby foot in front of the other, he walked up to his teacher and grabbed her leg. Smack? Or scream? Which would drive the message home? In the end, he decided to keep it simple. Why mess with perfection?

So two things happened at the same time:

The teacher assumed Vedh was coming in for a hug. Her face softened, and she began to crouch, no doubt planning to hug him back. At that same instant, Grandma realized what her grandchild was up to. She saw his teeth make contact with the teacher’s long, billowing skirt. He was going to chomp on her thigh.

Every cell in Grandma’s body reacted instantaneously. Neurons fired messages in her brain, and those messages ran down to her muscles, kicking them into action. She leaped forward and grabbed the little boy before he could make contact with skin.

Completely unaware of how close to a flesh wound she’d been, the teacher ruffled his hair.
“Oh, he loves you so much,” said Grandma. Maybe there was still a way to give this a positive spin. “He wanted to give you one last hug before he left for home.”

The teacher beamed at Grandma. Grandma smiled back. They both turned to look at Vedh.

Which is when they saw the problem. One of the folds of the teacher’s skirt was still firmly clasped between his teeth. Then, with eyes as dark as coal, he grinned at both of them and clapped. “Buh bye,” he said, chewing softly on the fabric.

Grandma insists she doesn’t wish to go into details about what happened next. She has a vague memory of yanking the skirt out of his mouth and pressing an apologetic hand on the teacher’s shoulder. And that’s when Grandma swears she ran to the door, toddler in tow. I’m sure there must have been some sort of conversation with the teacher before she left. But when I press for details, she gets that steely faraway look of a woman who wants to forget.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my nephew’s personality in a nutshell. He’s devastatingly charming, cute as a button, and will melt your heart with one of his cheeky smiles. I love the little guy to bits and would step in front of a bus for him any day.

But he’s a firecracker. A firecracker with teeth. Don’t ever forget that.

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