Poised on the verge

Well, seems we’re set pretty well on the whole Almost-Three thing.

Butter has composed his own song and sings it loudly in all scenarios: backseat, library, market, backyard.

“Bob the not builder
Can we not fix it?
No, we can’t.”

For all those who haven’t had a three-year-old, that song is the epigraph to your instruction manual, a book in which the pages are stuffed with only coping mechanisms and a benediction that if you make it through you’re clearly one of the Chosen.

My dear Two-and-Three-Quarters has further decided that “no” and “yes” are for two-year-olds and now answers questions either “Poopy Yes” or “Poopy No.”

To everyone. See above references to public places and relatively staid audiences.

Yes, I’d say we’re doing pretty well on the “are you ready to be Three” checklist. Now I just need some sign from him that he’s aware of the importance of this new phase.

Could the signal I’m waiting for be that he threw a massive fit today because he wanted more sandwich? Probably, since the second half of the sandwich was in his hand during all the writhing and keening. And when I told him to that he had sandwich in his hand and isn’t that silly, and told me, “But Mommy, when you say ‘no,’ I say ‘yes.'”

And there it is.

See you some time in the summer of 2014 when I come up for air…

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Toddlers are…

Oh, dear sweet Two-and-a-Half. You’re so delicious. What amazing life skills you have developed.

It shows impressive planning skills to wait until Mommy’s not looking and then do what she just asked you not to do. My! Your scientific mind is certainly in prime display while rolling trucks down the stairs. I know I’ve cost you the  Nobel in Physics by stopping you. But right now it’s not safe. No rolling trucks down stairs.

Hey. No throwing them, either.

Oh, how clever you are to think of ways to achieve your goals yourself. Yes, the refrigerator handle is a pretty handy foothold when you’re trying to get into the freezer for ice cream. I have an idea, too, that’s probably less to your liking. Maybe ask a tall person for help. I know. That would preclude your eventual gold medal in pole vaulting.

You, sir, model quite impressive forethought and patience to ask for a spoon, then throw food at your brother when I go to get it. And again when I turn to look as the doorbell rings. And again when I close my eyes to sneeze. You’re going to be an internationally renowned ninja master if you can teach others not to blink for fourteen hours, too.

I marvel at how prepared you are, already, for college.  How you can sit there an concentrate on carefully removing the screw from the battery door on your train despite having not napped in four days is simply beyond me.

But really, I most marvel at your fine-motor skills. Only an experienced jeweler or a well trained surgeon could take toy pliers and, pinch by pinch, remove most of the potting soil from that palm tree in the living room. And heap it onto the arm of the couch. And call me over, quite proud of your accomplishments. Sorry I gasped and said “uh-oh.” I’m sure that questioning your crowning glory has scarred your for life. But I had to sweep it up. That, my friend, is a no touch.

Even when I’m not looking.

Hey. Did you hear me? Or are your training to be in Congress?

Okay, Listen up.

Seriously. You have to listen to me this time. I am a parenting genius for today only, and I must share.

I found the secret to ending a tantrum. More specifically, a two-year-old’s tantrum.

Both my kids have very strong opinions. [Shocking.] The eldest used to yell at people at the supermarket if they looked at him. “THAT LADY NO LOOK AT ME!” Every person in the store. Screamed at them. I learned to shop at 10pm by myself when that kid was Two.

One of his longest, most intense tantrums was in the car. He started yelling “That car no on road! MY ROAD!” He yelled and screamed and sobbed for almost an hour that the cars and trucks on the road must get off his road.

And I talked nicely the whole time. I patiently explained how roads worked, and taxes. I explained that he could use his money, as a grownup, to buy his own road, but for now we had to share. “I understand,” I said. “I want them gone, too. But they have rights.” I told him about rights.

Not one single word worked. Not even the taxes part. [Again with the shocking revelations. I’m on a roll.]

[Wait, you’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You would have ignored him, I’ll bet. Yeah, aside from my inability to go that route, this kid was un-ignorable.]

Cue the tantrums of the youngest. Wow that kid has lungs. And opinions. And the helplessness that launches a thousand tantrums.

Yesterday we drove past a front-end loader. And an excavator. And a backhoe. (I know, right? Why the backhoe if you have the other two? Why have the two standalone tools when the backhoe is all things to all projects? Why the redundancy? Dunno. Wish I did.)

All three trucks were stopped. We paused, we looked, we evaluated. We let the little guy give the cue to move on. (We’re not crazy. We wait ’til he says “bye-bye” to a construction site or we’re Dead.In.The.Water. Even the kindergartener knows this.)

After we leave, the Almost-Two starts demanding more trucks. Loudly. A tantrum is a-brewin’.

“That’s all, Butterbean. You want more trucks but I can’t make more trucks.”

“YES!” he shouts. “More!”

The older one just shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No more.”

Well, that’s it. Little guy is gone. In his place is a raging sobbing machine who will not rest until he sees more trucks. Especially since his brother said “no.”

So I try my favorite tantrum technique—empathy—but ratchet it up seven hundred fold.

“Aaaaaargh!” I yell. “I want more trucks!”

He calms down to listen.

“I like trucks” I shout, “and I want more!”

The Almost-Six protests. “Mom. You don’t even like trucks.”

“I know, buddy. But watch this work.” I continue. “I LIKED those trucks and I want MORE! And I’m mad there are no more trucks. ANGRY!”

The littlest gets it. He joins in a bit, he adds his two cents. He calms markedly. Finally, as I repeat that I’m angry, the toddler yells his sound for “angry”. All three of us bellow a barbaric yawp.

And the tantrum is done. I feel great (though hoarse). The older guy is relieved. The younger guy is satisfied.

So all I’m saying is: don’t ignore and don’t explain. Join in. It feels good, they feel heard, and all is happy and good in no time.

If you’ll excuse me, I think TED might want this lecture now….

[Update: one hour after I posted I got emails that this genius invention of mine is already a thing. In a book. By some parenting expert person. Figures, of course. The one moment I have parenting success could have come earlier and more frequently if I read a book, an event that happened before kids but hasn’t since.]

From my toddler to yours

Today we have a guest post from our almost-two-year-old, Butter. He was inspired this morning to start composing this. And since I started this blog when his brother was just a bit older than Butter is now, I thought it would be a nice beginning to The Years That Require Some Coping Mechanism.

Take it away, Butterbean.

***

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Everything. Except when they try to do things for you. Blech. They don’t know anything. Why would I want shoes or socks or pants? If you don’t want shoes or socks or pants, just tell them. Loudly. They’ll give up. And then, guess what? No shoes or socks or pants!

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Dumping. And Throwing. Today I asked the Cuddle Lady to get me a game so I could dump out all the plastic disks into the box, then dump the box into my truck, then dump my truck into another truck, then dump all the disks on the floor. When I asked her to put them back in the bags so I could dump again she said “yes.” I like “yes.” I also like “uh-oh.” Uh-oh means people pay attention and say gentle words and clean up for you.

I don’t like shoes or socks or pants.

Want to know what’s fun about being almost Two? Chalk. Today the Cuddle Lady game me some chalk and I dumped it on the floor. Guess what? Chalk makes More Chalk if you dump it. I took my More Chalk and put it in the cup thing that goes with other cup things in my drawer of cup things. Then I poured the More Chalk into a different cup thing. Then I dumped it on the floor. Guess what? Even More Chalk. Back into the cup thing and into the other cup thing and onto a table and onto the floor and into the cup thing and then guess what? Some of the Even More Chalk was dirt! Lello dirt and purpu dirt and boo dirt and orja dirt! I pinched that into the dirtpan then dumped it on the table. Then I put stickers on it. Stickers with BEES! Then the Cuddle Lady said it was time for pants. Boy, was she wrong. Uh-oh, Cuddle Lady. Time to clean Even More Chalk.

Know what’s fun about being almost Two? Lunch! The Cuddle Lady calls not-quite-bathtime food at the table “dinner” and morning food at the table “breakfast” but food walking around the kitchen or in the yard is “lunch.” Lunch means no shoes or socks or pants. Lunch is yay!

The most yay is potty. Being almost Two means taking off your pants, and sometimes taking off your pants and sitting on the potty. If you tell your Cuddle Lady or Poky Face to stay away while you’re on the potty, then when you’re done you can throw the potty. And guess what? Throwing the potty is even more fun than dumping the potty! Everything flies out of the potty.

Flying out of the potty is yay!

Uh-oh. Cuddle Lady says pants. And dinner. Pants and dinner are not yay. Time to make more uh-ohs so Cuddle Lady will talk gently and forget about pants. While she’s cleaning the potty throwing, I’ll climb up to the table and dump dinner.

Bye-bye!

Perspective

A sweet family member saw some pictures of Peanut on facebook the other day and said something to the effect of “I don’t understand how someone so cute can be such a terror…”  And I need to clarify, for my own sake (and for his grandma, who reads this blog and did a damned fine job raising Spouse)

Peanut is wonderful. Sweet, gentle, spirited, intense. But compounding that is the fact that he’s three. Before that he was two. Right there, ‘nough said, right? Two can be like having all the poles on your batteries reversed as they are attached to your watering eyeballs. And three can be like peeling off your skin and diving into grapefruit juice. And I just can’t take it. Doesn’t mean he’s actually a terror that Spouse and I talk, daily, mutually, about a 4:30 bedtime for Peanut. He’s not the problem. WE are the problem. We grownups who can’t seem to find the patience and willpower and energy to make it through 15 hours of this every day.  Without a break. Without formal training. Without the benefit of a spare in case we actually sell him to the gypsies. (Anyone know if they’re buying, btw? And where to find them? I know the economy is tough and I don’t know the going rate, but…)

He’s not a terror. We are terrified and terror-stricken and terrorized. But it’s not the boy’s fault. I wish I knew whose fault it is, because I’m all about the blame and the downside and the cloud within the silver lining. But until I find some perspective, my friend is right. It’s a good thing he’s cute.

Tantrum of monumental proportions

Ah, I love a good tantrum. (Not seriously.) And we don’t get enough of ’em around here. (Seriously.) Toddler are supposed to frequently spiral out of control, overwhelmed because they feel helpless, glimpse the capricious nature of this world, and begin to realize someone else is in charge of them. Now that I recall the reasons for winding into a tantrum, I’m thinking of having a one or two myself.

But Peanut has only had two or three absolute meltdowns in our short (to me; eternal, to him) history together. So we’ve been getting off lucky. (Not really. Every kid, and I believe this, brings his or her own challenges. The tantrum freaks sleep all night; the daytime teethers sleep all night; the nighttime teethers are cuddly all day; the total nightmare children potty train at 15 months. You name the tough issue, I’ll remind you of a reason your child is a dream. Bring on the sextuplets.)

Oh, this tantrum two nights ago one beat them all. Made up for lost time. Was like whiplash all over again. Fill in the aphorism that makes it seem good that we lost two hours of sanity and several years off our lives for finding a happy resolution to last night’s fi-freaking-asco.

Screaming and writhing that he doesn’t want to do something is normal. We talk him through it; we’re firm but fair. We don’t traumatize him, but we don’t let him walk all over us, blah blah blah. He goes willingly every time because we’re wicked wily with the various positive parenting techniques. I didn’t read three-hundred-and-forty-two parenting books for nothing. I have at least five good tactics to try before I lose my patience. He gets the small choices, we get the big choices. “You choose the shampoo, but yes, we’re washing your hair one night this week.” You know the drill. And it always works, if we summon up the hours’ worth of patience it takes to navigate from dinner to bedtime. That two hour stretch is honest to god the longest freaking stretch in my life, every day. Visions of Turkish prison…give me a stint in a Turkish prison any day. NOT Gitmo. I’ll take a toddler over human rights abuses. Let’s be clear about that.

So he’s screaming and writhing going into bath. Screaming and writhing coming out of bath. No amount of negotiation or compromise seem to work. He chooses the soap, then shrieks as though he’s being stabbed as I come near him with it. [We don’t scream inside. If you scream one more time you don’t get stories tonight.] He chooses the bath toy, then flings it at my head when I say we have three more minutes. [We don’t throw toys because they could hurt someone. If you throw any more toys they go away until tomorrow.] He chooses the towel then bangs on my head as I dry him off. [We don’t hit. If you hit me again you get a time out.] It’s a lovely night.

So we’ve gotten teeth brushed and we’re reading books. (Naked reading is now the compromise to get teeth brushed. I’d rather have him grow up with strong teeth than always be fully clothed. I went to college with The Naked Guy. I don’t care if Peanut defies society on its Puritanical norms. I care if his oral hygeine becomes a familial liability. Spouse’s abyssmal record on that front makes me try even harder on the next generation.)

“Okay. We’re reading three stories tonight. This is one…(as the next one approaches) this is the second story and we’re reading three tonight. So one more after this…(as the next one approaches) This is the last story tonight. After this story we’re all done. Look at Mommy’s eyes. Say that when this book is all done, we’re all done stories. (He looks at me and screams at the top of his lungs.)

C: Mommy told you no screaming inside. Quiet voice inside. If you scream again we’re all done stories.
P: [looks at me, decides, and yells as loud as he’s able.] AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
C: [surreal calm descends as I know if I get sucked in, the kid is getting the kind of beating that we don’t believe in but often fantasize about]: All done stories. We don’t yell inside. No more stories.
P: [crying] Please one more story.
C: No. Mommy said no more stories if you scream. Time for potty and bed.
P: [Sobbing] Please one more story.
C: No. Time to say goodnight.
P: [Stroking my face, kissing me] Please one more story. (Where did he learn that trick? It’s gonna help in college, methinks).
C: [Looking at Spouse over Peanut’s shoulder and mouthing “I really want to read the story.”] No. Stories all done.
P: [screaming and sobbing] Please one more.
C: No. We’re all done. You cannot scream and get stories. It’s time for pee and goodnight.

So he hits me. I tell him that’s not okay. He yells. I tell him that’s not okay, either. He cries, I pick him up, he slugs me. I put him down he is wracked with sobs and begging to be cuddled. I pick him up, he hits me. I put him down he screams. I go into the bathroom. He follows me, screaming and sobbing about the book, about sorry, about some other stuff I don’t understand. I help him on the toilet and he beats on me, repeatedly, while peeing. That’s some trick, I think. I tell him to stop it, he does. I tell him to wash his hands, he yells. I wash his hands, he screams. I put him down he shrieks to get up. I cuddle him he hits me. I put him down he screams. Spouse walks into the room, Peanut sobs “Daddy go ‘way.” Apparently, no pee, no wash, no window, no light, no door, no nothing but another book. If we turn off the light, he screams that he wants to turn it off. If we turn it back on, he screams that he doesn’t want it off ever.

The cat has been nervously trying to help since the whole fiasco started. He always comes running when someone cries, and since Peanut hasn’t been at cat level for much of this, the feline protector feels helpless. Finally, Peanut gets down to get his book and beg for one more story and the cat goes to comfort him. Peanut swings at the cat and hits him with the book. Spouse and I draw the line.

“You cannot hit cats. You can’t hit animals. That’s not okay. Timeout.”

We try for at least a minute to enforce the timeout and can’t, so we close Peanut in his room. He pounds on the door and sobs. We cast sad and supportive glances at each other. After ten seconds we go back in. “Cuddle.” As soon as I pick him up, Peanut hits me. (I’m getting really tired of this. I’m getting ready to hit back. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…you just better hope I don’t drop my guard, buddy, because having on my gentle-parenting game face is all that’s keeping you from a good, sound, slapping.)

We try cuddling, we try timeouts, we try talking, we try just turning off the lights and closing the door. Each time he begs for a cuddle (which is his code for “help, I’m overwhelmed by feelings.”) Then he sobs while he hits. Mmmmm. Not enough Calgon in the world.

Repeat ad nauseum for longer than any human being should cry or be cried at. Finally, I try to shake things up. Barring beating the living crap out of him, I can’t decide what will change this cycle. He needs help out of this tantrum because he’s totally out of control and hysterical, and I need to think of something. So the next time he hits me, I fake cry. Really disappointed cry. “Why would you hit me when I love you” kind of cry. Gorgeous acting.

He gasps in horror and cries in terror. And he tries to make it better. He strokes my face and kisses me, cries, and waits.

He doesn’t know what to do. He stops crying within 20 seconds. He cuddles, he breathes (finally). I let him choose songs and I sing to him. I rock him. I talk nicely to him. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to hit.

And at the end, as we’re putting him to bed, I tell him I love him. He says, “Mommy no like hitting. Mommy like Peanut.”

I tell him all the time that I love him, that I even love him when he hits, but that I don’t love hitting. I love him happy and sad, I love him angry. I love him reading, I love him running, I love him hitting. I don’t love hitting, but I love you.

Apparently, he listens.

New Sheriff in town

Okay, buddy. For the next few minutes, I’m going to channel the parent you’re bringing out in me. All my attachment, gentle, loving parenting is getting me nowhere fast, so here’s the mom I’d just LOVE to be this week, since you hit a major warp-speed, two-and-a-half jerk-fest. Here goes:

No more compromises. No more respecting your wishes or trying to find a way for you to control things. I’m sick and tired of this bullshit.  From here on, you will brush your teeth the first time I ask you. This is not a new concept, we’ve been doing it twice a day since you were four months old. Brush ’em! Now. Life is not full of sunshine, butterflies, and blueberries. We have some chores, too. Do it. You will put on your freaking clothes and get out the door without negotiations and meltdowns and threats and nonsense. They’re just clothes, dude, and everybody else wears them without much fuss. Choose you own, I don’t care. They don’t have to match or be seasonally appropriate. Just fucking put something on and let’s go. This simply can’t take an hour anymore. We’re two under-groomed people in temperate climes, my friend, and it should take more like 15 minutes to get you out the door.

You will wash your hands at whatever water source is closest after you pee or when you declare it’s time to eat. We will no longer try every sink in the house and then decide the cats’ water dish is the best place to clean our hands. It’s handwashing. It doesn’t have to be satisfying or fun or interesting. I’m not singing any more handwashing songs, I’m not thinking up clever questions about soap. Wash your goddamned hands and leave me alone.

Yes, we are going to share. Stop telling me we’re not going to share. I don’t care about age-appropriate, I don’t care about socialization. Give that kid your fucking shovel and shut up about it. You have two more right there. Yes, you will share your toys. Yes, you will share your food. Yes, you will share your house. No, you don’t have to share your mommy, though at this point you’re lucky to still have a mommy, so shut up about that, too.

You WILL get in the stroller, and you WILL enjoy it. I know you’re a sling baby. I know you didn’t get in a stroller more than a dozen times your first year. But I need to go for a run before my brain explodes, so get in the damned thing. You may have a snack, because you always get one, and, today, like every other freaking day, we will run to a playground so there’s something in it for you. Stop freaking telling me what to do and what not to do. I AM the boss of you and you WILL listen. I bend over backwards for you three hundred times a day. It’s your turn. Get in the goddamned stroller. Now.

I’m tired of wanting to yell at you after I repeat something gently and kindly eight times. So screw the first seven. I will say something, and if you don’t listen I’ll scream at you until you do. Got it? And I’m now going to be one of those parents who yells at you to stop crying. Because, seriously, this whole “not in control of my emotions,” “easily overwhelmed,” “new at the whole give and take of social obligations,” “trying to find my place and sense of personhood in the big world” thing is getting really old. You’re two, for heaven’s sake. Can’t you grow up?

Finally, there is no more “one more.” I’ll tell you how many stories, how many minutes, how many turns, and after that you’re done. Not one more. Not one more then one more, or as it’s been lately, one more, now one more, now one more, finally one more. Fuck this nonsense. What is wrong with you? I said ten minutes, I said five minutes, three minutes, two minutes, one minute. I got down on your level, I used nice words, and I made sure you heard me. All m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-i-n-g done. Got it?

This is some bullshit, little boy. And at your graduation, wedding, and investiture into the Supreme Court, THIS is the speech I’m giving. Not some cute story about how loving you can be, or how wonderfully you often listen, or what lovely stories you invent when we’re just hanging out talking with each other. I’m telling everyone, including your prom date, your first love, your boss, your bass player, your dissertation professors, and your kids what a complete a-hole you were this week.

Better yet, I’m telling Nana. That’ll get you.