What happened to my precious little angel?

Part of me thinks I live in a haunted house.

I’m not sure if “haunted” is technically the word I’m looking for here, now that I think about it. What do you call it when a demonic presence has infiltrated all that you once thought was good and pure and innocent, and instead possessed...

That’s the word. “Possessed.”

You see, I’m beginning to believe that my 3-year-old daughter — the proverbial “apple of my eye” — is now merely a vessel for something far more sinister. What once came from her was a steady stream of adorable coos, surrounded by an eye-liquidating torrent of gas. That later transformed into some broken English, and still more gas. Lately, it’s just been a 24/7 barrage of phrases that either contain the word “no” or “hate” or “New York Yankees” or some other combination of truly dark and evil words. And, yes, even more gas.

I’m not sure what happened to my little princess, if, in fact, she is not possessed by the devil. I’ve been assured by friends and relatives that every kid goes through phases of being impatient, or rude or spinning his or her head around in circles while a voice from the very bowels of Hell spews forth some...

But I digress.

Not my angel. I settled myself in a little coccoon of denial when my wife would tell me about how sinister young Riley would turn when I left for work. “Come on,” I’d say. “She’s 3. I’m confident you can handle it.” 

When I came home last Friday night, Riley was screaming “I don’t want to [something or another]” at the top of her lungs while stomping into her bedroom and my bride was hiding in a corner — a flyswatter in one hand, and a bottle of wine clenched tightly in the other. There was a look in her eyes that told me one of two things was about to happen: Either my better half was about to have a nervous breakdown, or “Daddy’s little girl” was going to get demolished with that flyswatter, and then Mom was going to get demolished from that bottle of wine.

“How about,” I offered in my most adorable voice (which, by the way, is amazing), “I take Riley to the zoo in the morning, and you have a day to yourself?”

You know that look the superhero gets from the civilian when he saves the day? Yeah, I didn’t get that. What I got was more of a combination of a grin and a sneer — let’s call it a “greer.” Or, maybe, a “smin.” Either way, I was feeling more than a little scared when it dawned on me that the look I was witnessing was being zeroed in on me. I shuddered violently when I heard, “Yes. That is a wonderful idea. You should definitely spend the day with your little princess.”

And then she laughed and laughed and laughed as she picked herself up off the floor and made her way down the hallway.

I was admittedly a little nervous at her response, but still completely confident that I was more than capable of spending a day with a 3-year-old who is dependent on me for food and shelter. I’ve headed into combat with some of the saltiest, toughest United States Marines you could imagine. I’ve squared off with people literally twice my mass in both sports and bar-room brawls. Hanging out with my precious, sweet Riley was going to be a walk in the...

Mine fields. It was a walk through mine fields. Mine fields guarded by lava-breathing sentries, armed with bazookas that fired out miniature lava-breathing sentries, and protected from above by a flock of ill-tempered dragons who were equipped with laser-guided missiles. 

She argued with me over where I chose to park, since I had to park in a different lot than normal because of the bigger crowds trying to take advantage of a rare gorgeous day last Saturday. She argued with me about not letting her ride a goose outside the entrance to the zoo. She argued with me about turning right, then completely flipped out when I agreed to turn left, instead.

She refused to leave the flamingos, and acted as if I just sold her favorite stuffed animal for a pack of smokes when I eventually pretended to walk away from her. When I got down on one knee and told her we could just head home and clean the house if she was going to keep acting like this, she quickly apologized, told me she loved me and started walking away from the flamingos.

Ha! I beat her. I just needed to be respectful and direct with her and she came right around, acting like that perfect little angel that had made me fall in love with her more every single day of her life. This parenting thing is easy.

And then we found the alligators. 

She loves alligators. If she could spend her entire life surrounded by alligators, dinosaurs, snakes and sharks, she would be completely in her element. When we came up to the display, she spun her head around to look at me and had a smile that made my hear melt immediately. She had found her happy place, and I was the man who had brought her to this slice of Riley-Nirvana.

After a few minutes, it began to dawn on me that she was in no hurry to leave this spot. After about 20 minutes, reality struck that I was going to eventually tell her that it was time to leave the alligators, and that it will probably not go well. About 10 minutes later, I was carrying a screaming bundle of rage while tiny little feet were splitting my ribs into pieces and I was openly wondering if I could find an exorcism-providing priest on my iPhone who does house calls to meet me at the zoo.

Of course, fast-forward 90 seconds and I was Riley’s best friend in the world again — a situation that left me both befuddled and relieved at the same time. I learned a lot that day, and most of it focused on the fact that I know nothing. Again.