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"I Hate You!"

My daughter Margaret thinks that I am a poopy doopy snorty poo who wees in her butt. That's a direct quote. And no, she is not a seaman first class in the Seventh Fleet. She's a (usually) charming 3-year-old. Her salty opinion stems from the fact that I would not let her have a fourth ice pop this afternoon.

Oh, mean is the mommy! Oh, fickle is the preschooler! Oh, devastating is the first time the (other) love of your life, flesh of your flesh, apple of your eye, spits out the dreaded sentiment, "I hate you!"

The exact phrasing doesn't matter. (Though the more precocious the child, and the more older siblings he or she has, the earlier the H-word seems to appear.) It's the vitriol. The contempt. The turncoat nature of the business.

Where did this come from, we're left wondering?

Our love fest had started out so blissfully. Right on schedule, at six weeks, Margaret had bestowed her first gratifying feedback, an unmistakable smile of delight whenever my big head crossed her little line of vision. A few weeks later, we advanced to outstretched arms. Later, she'd snuggle her head on my shoulder, the perfect warming pad to cure whatever ails you. Toddlerhood brought the full flowering of unbridled affection, the way only a toddler can give it  -- puckered lips, python embraces, body-slamming hugs.

And that, as it turned out, was just the problem. Everything about 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds is larger than life. They're big-time happy, big-time sad. They can also be big-time cranky and big-time mad. You know the expression "wearing your heart on your sleeve"? A young child wears her heart more like an oversize T-shirt: It's impossible to miss; it overwhelms her tiny body.

Combine these emotions with a budding vocabulary and you get phrases that make you want to laugh as much as cry. ("You meanus weenus!" was one memorable epithet.) Factor in the realization that words aren't merely satisfying to say. They have power. ("More crackers!" "I don't want to!" "No!") Words get things done. Words make your point. Words can hurt.