Last Friday in music class the mom next to me quietly said, “Criss-cross applesauce.”

Her daughter, a sweet little girl with a bright smile and perfectly pert pigtails, promptly went from sitting with her legs wide open to crossed, Indian style.

At first I was impressed, mostly because she told her daughter, who’s a few months older than mine, to do something and she actually did it. When I tell mine to do something, she acts as if the batteries in her imaginary hearing aids have died a sudden and tragic death.

“I see your lips moving but strangely, no sound is coming out,” she seems to say as she nonchalantly continues doing whatever it is I have expressly instructed her not to.

After my envy wore off, I got a little anxious. It hadn’t fully occurred to me until that moment that I should be teaching my 18-month-old baby to start acting otherwise.

Part of me wants to preserve for as long as possible her child-like spirit, like the one that made Sarah Palin feel it was appropriate to write notes on her palm and refer to them while giving a nationally-televised keynote convention speech. After all, if a 46-year-old woman can still attend pretend tea parties, shouldn’t my toddler be allowed to continue engaging in imaginary and puerile activities, too?

On the other hand, I do recognize that there’s a fine line between charmingly infantile behavior and behavior that necessitates a call to child protective services, and I’d prefer if we managed to avoid crossing it. To my credit, I’ve halfheartedly tried to get my daughter to start saying “please” and “thank you” over the last few months. She still hasn’t grasped “please” at all and says “thank you” (or, rather, “ta ta”) only when she hands me something she doesn’t want, like a bite of a peeled apple that she’s chewed but realized right before swallowing that it still has a piece of skin on it the size of a head of a pin, therefore rendering it no longer fit for consumption.

It’s just hard to be on Mom Cop duty all the time. Having recently discovered her belly button and the throngs of admirers who heap joyful praise upon her when she flaunts it, my daughter has taken to walking around with her shirts and dresses pulled up over her head. But while she gets cheers, I’ve gotten not a few horrified glares from others who act as if I’ve named her JonBenét, tattooed eyeliner on her lids and forced her at gunpoint into posing for a Hooters calendar.

The way I see it, though, is if she can’t flash her little pot belly now, it could be years before she’s legally permitted to do it again, and since I’m hoping she’ll fare better in life than starring as a faux-socialite in a hot tub on a VH1 docu-soap, I think it’s best if she gets public displays of nudity out of her system before she starts nursery school.

At least I’m now begrudgingly admitting that it’s probably time she starts using utensils in earnest, lest we risk an episode like the one in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie’s kid brother, Randy, eats his mashed potatoes as if he were a pig, using only his mouth.

She’s already made it abundantly clear she’d like to feed herself with a fork or spoon, it’s just that when she has trouble scooping up Jell-O or spearing scrambled eggs, she does occasionally resort to putting her lips directly on the snack cup or plate and ladling the food with her tongue. I’d applaud her resourcefulness if I didn’t know that somewhere Dr. Spock is shuddering with disapproval.

The other day she pulled the ball finial off one of the posts at the foot of my bed.

I looked at her sternly and in my best adult voice asked, “Are you supposed to play with that?”

She dropped it instantly and put her chubby little hands over her eyes, effectively disappearing in plain sight, as far as she knew. She couldn’t even keep both eyes concealed for too long, either. Sneaking a glance at me by lowering one hand while thinking she was still 100 percent hidden behind the other was too hard for her to resist.

I had to let her remain unseen, if for no other reason than to congratulate her ingenuity. I mean, who among us doesn’t wish they could break a rule and then instantly and conveniently vanish by simply covering their eyes? Really, it’s the next best thing to an invisibility cloak, and until the new Harry Potter theme park opens in Orlando this spring, she’s got it all figured out.

And since that’s the case, then who am I to mess with a good thing?

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