Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toddler challenges

Today, Marko was a little crabby, so I took him over to the computer and let him watch old videos of himself. This is always a hit, especially if Daddy or the dog is in the video too.

Watching him crawling around, climbing up things, made me feel all sniffly. He was SO little! And cute! And ... let's face it ... a lot less trouble. I remember feeling terrified back then of how much trouble he'd be in a few short months. Nowadays, I tend to take for granted that he needs a lot. But now I look back and think, "I could just dump him on the floor with a few toys and he'd be contented for hours! Life was so easy back then!"

Because toddlerhood is a bit more challenging. And it's always something new. Sometimes, he just wants books, books, books, and nothing else. The moment I pause, it's "More keep reading? More keep reading?" And other days he wants to run madly around the house shrieking. Some days I have my work cut out for me just trying to keep him from taking a nap at 4 pm. (If I fail at this, I WILL be sorry. He always wants to nap at the worst possible times, and even at the best time, any nap will mess with night sleep so I have to fend off nap attacks wherever they appear.)

For awhile, all he wanted at bedtime was a lullaby. Now -- and by now I mean "this past week, and who knows how long he'll be like this" -- he never likes the songs I pick. He wants "different song, different song, what song you want, say yes." (In other words, I'm supposed to ask what song he wants, and he'll say yes when I pick the right one.) After a dozen attempts, each met with wailing because it was the wrong song, he'll decide on one. And then he'll argue with it. Like this:

Marko: Fish song!

Me: The fish in the sea is happy --

Marko: No the fish in the sea is happy!

Me: As off through the waves they roll.

Marko: No as off through the waves they roll!

Me: ....

Marko: Fish song! Fish song! Fish song!

So, sleep has been a little elusive. I think I'm not catching him at the exact right moment for bedtime. This is my lesson every time we have sleep issues: when it's the right moment, sleep comes easily. When it's the least bit too early or too late, it's a struggle.

His amazing language development has suddenly become more of a hindrance than a help lately. His enunciation just hasn't kept up with his vocabulary. When all he knew was "more" and "all done," it was pretty simple. I could tell which was which. But now he has to answer in a complete sentence, and those sentences all sound alike! Like this:

Me: Do you want a tomato?

Marko: N'want a tomato.

Me: Was that "want a tomato" or "no want a tomato"?

Marko: N'want a tomato.

Me: No?

Marko: Yes!

Me (scratching head ... was that "yes, I meant no" or "yes, I want a tomato"?): Ummmm... well, here's the tomato if you want it.

Marko (sudden fit of shrieking): Nooooo tomaaaaaaato!

Me: I'm going to scream.

Marko: No I'm going to scream!

I can't remember if I've mentioned here before his annoying but occasionally hilarious habit of contradicting everything I say when he's grumpy. He just says whatever I said, plus "no." So, "No I have to go potty! No I really do have to Marko! No you're driving me crazy!" gets said kind of a lot.

After a long spell of seeming to mostly get over his obsession with my hair, except for some gentle holding of it when falling asleep, he has fallen for it again. He MUST. HAVE. HAIR. When he's going to sleep, he won't be happy unless he has two fistfuls of it, which he pulls on, twists together, and gets tangled in his fingers. This keeps him awake, of course, but if I try to take it away there are anguished howls, flopping around, and even less sleepiness. During the day, too, he's always climbing onto my lap, looking all innocent, and then one hand goes questing around for hair. Once he gets it, he starts to fidget and then really tug, first with one hand and then with two, until I go crazy and pull it away from him. Then he gives the howl of a lost soul, like I have just burned his teddy bear (if he had one he cared about) before his eyes and flops around like a fish.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic. I am. But ... sometimes it just is not possible to make this kid happy. As a mother to a happy child who is usually cheered up by very simple things, it's a very frustrating feeling. And sometimes the thing that will make him happy is more than I'm willing to give. I've had to wrench toys away from him when we're leaving a friend's house, to set him down when he wanted to be carried because my back won't take anymore, to deny him my hair because it really hurts, or to stop offering him every food in the refrigerator because he has already turned them all down already. I hate being the one to set off the scream-fest. I feel like I must be a bad mother if I can't come up with a solution he will be happy with, like I used to.

On the other hand, though, I'm realizing more and more that it is normal for him to scream and cry when he's frustrated. It doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong, and it doesn't mean he's doing something wrong. He is a little person in a big person's world, and he wants to have control over things he can't actually control. His attention span is long enough that a different toy or a new game is not going to distract him from the tragedy he's experiencing. That tragedy is the same one we all experience sometimes: I wanted something really bad and I can't have it. He feels, with his immature and uncontrollable emotions, the same way a high schooler feels on getting dumped by a boyfriend or rejected to a first-choice college, or the same way an adult feels when the job they really wanted went to someone else. He doesn't know his problems are small, or that he'll feel better in five minutes. All he knows is that he is unhappy.

This knowledge has not given me the miracle tantrum cure. My "tantrum method" is the same as always: offer hugs and comfort, but don't force them. Usually, lately, he doesn't want them. So I have had to just sit by and let him scream for awhile. Once he's subsided a bit, I usually will sit with him and read a book, which helps calm him down. (Incidentally, I can see why moms who nurse longer report that the "terrible twos" aren't so terrible. I bet a quick nurse would perk him up better than anything, if we were still doing that. I don't regret weaning him, because it's really what I needed to do, but I can sure see the benefits of going longer.)

I have noticed that some days, I rave to everyone about how smart he is, and how much fun he is, and how awesome 21 months is, and then other days I moan that things used to be so easy, and I'm so tired, and I have had it up to here with the whining. And I've also noticed that there's a direct correlation between my descriptions of him and how much sleep he's gotten. He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to sleep. But I'm not in total control of how much or how well he sleeps, unfortunately. He still does sometimes wake up at night screaming, sometimes because he rolled out of bed but mostly for mysterious reasons known only to himself. And then the next morning, he's a crab, and wants to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, and doesn't want to sleep the next night. So we have "readjusting" days very often, which means a crabby day where he would like to nap and isn't being allowed to. I try to remember where he's coming from with the crabbiness. It isn't that he's a grouchy kid as a rule, but he does have a shorter fuse when he's tired (as do I).

Perhaps you can tell from what I've said so far that it's been a pretty rough week. But there are plenty of nice things to report lately, too. He still astounds me with his amazing brain. We can read a book TWICE, and have him remember a few words from every page. He can identify tunes that we whistle, even songs he hasn't heard in weeks. Just today, he recognized Are You My Mother in a picture, even though the dog peed on our copy in October and we threw it away. And he totally cracks me up when he parrots what everyone says. When I'm on the phone, or talking with friends, he will seem not to be listening, but he quietly repeats the tail end of each sentence. I always laugh when I see him sitting, playing with his blocks, whispering, "A really big deal," or "that's hilarious" or "oh gee whiz." It's all getting filed away in there somewhere. We have to watch what we say!

Another sweet thing lately is his desire to be a part of whatever I'm doing. He wants to HELP. I've given him a sponge to clean the cupboards, and he will spend an hour scrubbing away (as long as I do it too). He likes to put away items in drawers, to fetch rags (this is a skill I let him practice all the time, because it'll be SO helpful when the new baby comes), and to put specific things in specific places I tell him about. And he never gets tired of sitting on the counter with his feet in the sink, turning the water on and off for me while I wash the dishes. (It kind of freaks me out to have him up there -- but I stand close so he can't fall, and wash and put away all the knives before I let him come up.) I figured I might as well teach him a love for dishes early. The sooner he can take over that job from me, the happier I'll be!

Potty training is going well, though not perfectly. He has an accident or two a day, but that's usually it. Plus, I'm not running him to the potty constantly. Sometimes he actually walks over there all by himself and goes without saying a word. (For this to work, obviously, I have to leave him all day with no pants because he can't take care of those by himself. But that is not a big deal to me.) And when I do put him on the potty myself, I don't have to camp there all day. He either goes pretty quick, or he wants to get up again. He knows what to do when he sits down. This is such a big deal. The third achievement is that he stays dry for quite a long time when we're out and about, so I don't usually have to worry much at the store or at church so long as he went before we left. On longer trips, I stuff the potty in the diaper bag and whisk it out when we get where we're going. He's happily gone at the library (in the family bathroom, of course), at friends' houses, and at the midwife's office (where he impressed everyone). When he's feeling cranky, we have more misses because he just doesn't feel like sitting on the potty, but even so, we're making gradual progress and I'm happy with it. If he stays for months at this level, I think I'd be okay with it.

So, there's life with a 21-month-old for you. I'd be lying if I said I don't heave a sigh of relief every time I walk out of his room at bedtime, SO HAPPY to have the rest of the evening to spend apart from him. But I'd also be lying if I said I'm anything but crazy about him. Every day we get lots of snuggles in, and I think I enjoy them more than he does. He's a sweet, sweet boy who shows me something new to love about him every day. I don't want to be anywhere else but here with him.

1 comment:

Sarah Faith said...

That's the cutest thing ever, "What song do you want say yes." Haha so funny!

The "n'tmato" thing is very familiar. I had one whose Yes was "Nyeah" and no was "Nyow" lol!! It was impossible to tell if you failed to catch the very last part of the dipthong.

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