Bad Habits - Like taking candy from a baby - February 03 2005

Don't bite the hand (or breast) that feeds you

On Wednesday, I bit my daughter. To the corporal punishment-obsessed, it might not have seemed too far out of line. After all, she had the last piece of Snickers bar clutched in her tiny chocolatey hands, taunting me. So when she stretched out the piece of candy toward my face, I had to act quickly. She offers food the way Stalin sent people to the gulags - almost whimsically, and you never know when she'll change her mind. She is, after all, just 14 months old. A demographic not famous for its attention span.

So I bit. I noticed the thumb and finger on the side of the bar. I missed the little digit just under all that snacktime goodness.

She screamed. I screamed. My boyfriend rushed in, snatched her up and shot me a look like I was some underachieving Andrea Yates. If I had had a protective shell, candy or otherwise, I might still be inside it.

Thankfully, like the emergencies of most 14-month-olds, it passed in a few minutes — no marks, just hurt feelings and a mother who now understands that taking candy from a baby isn't always as easy as it sounds.

But my day of biting wasn't over. That night, my boyfriend's mother called to say that my generally friendly, though boneheaded and territorial, mongrel who is (make that was) staying with her, had attacked her dog.

Was it over a Snickers bar? No one knows for sure why the fur flew. While the dogs emerged from the scrape unharmed, it scared the bejeezus out of my boyfriend's mom, who took a few bites to the leg trying to separate them. So now we're still without a house, but we've added a tooth-baring dog to the traveling circus.

My life is beginning to sound a little too much like a Steinbeck novel: drifting, savage nature, depression. If a slow-witted guy who likes to talk about rabbits starts hanging around, I swear to Christ I'm on the next plane to Cabo.

I've also come to understand how an experience like a fire can deal some people a knockout punch. When you're vulnerable, you seem to invite calamity. It's like life sees you stumble, and it can't wait to deliver the overhand right to the head. Bam! Like George Foreman vs. Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle.

It also reminded me of the time long ago - another dark moment in my personal history - when I bit my god-poodle's ear over a candy bar. It wasn't a tussle or any sort of dominance game. Not that I was above that kind of behavior, but because I would have lost: That 5-pound poodle was the boss, big-time. It was, however, a good dream gone bad. We were napping and up through the ethers of my mind floated the dreamy image of a giant Nestle Crunch bar smothered with peanut butter.

I did what anyone else might reasonably do; I lunged my sleepy head forward and started chewing. Oh, I don't know who was more shocked - me or the dog - when we woke to find me chewing on her little black ear.

And what, 10 years later, here I am confusedly biting again over the food of the gods. But this time I was so distraught I nearly swore off chocolate. And I've definitely sworn off eating food from my baby girl's hands.

Later that night, though, she put me on notice. While nursing away, she paused and gave a little bite. Then she looked up and laughed, if not sinisterly, at least mischievously. A laugh that said: You may have gotten a finger, but look what I have access to. The message was clear: All was forgiven, but not forgotten.

She'd better leave those alone, though. I'll need the casabas if our Joadian saga should take us to California.


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