Under the control of a toddler

It’s good to feel loved and needed, right? It’s a nice secure feeling when someone, without saying it, demonstrates that they can’t live without you, that they need you and only you, always.  Or is that some kind of emotional abuse? Is it actually a small tyrant exerting control over your life?

Like when your two-year-old will not let anyone else do anything for her, not even open her car door.  If someone like, say, her papa, opens her car door, she screams ‘No, Mama do it,’ and if the door is not immediately closed, breaks down into heart wrenching tears. Because surely, only Mama knows the correct way to open a door (it involves pulling on the handle, in a manner that is – in some undetectable way – different from the way anyone else can do it).

Like when your two-year-old trips and falls, mere feet away from her loving adoring Papa, who wants nothing more than to console her, but she backs away from him, screaming, because only Mama is allowed to pick her up, even though Mama is on the other side of the house, fully occupied with other tasks.

Like when your husband is able to successfully transfer your sleeping toddler from the car, carries her into the house and settles in with her on his lap, staring at her adoringly, but she wakes and sees whose arms she is in, and a full on meltdown occurs, because only Mama is supposed to hold her, and she makes that hysterically clear until Mama runs in to rescue the sobbing mess and the poor man who is trying to deal with both the physical contortions of the flailing child and the stabbing emotional pain of knowing that he cannot console her.

It’s harder for Will than it is for me.  I can sigh and bow to the whims of the little dictator, I can fulfill my role as the only butt-wiper and wound-kisser, and I know it is only temporary, and one day she will be a teenager and reject both of us.  It is poor Will who suffers, poor Will who just wants to be able to interact with his child without being faced with screaming rejection.

Welcome to the hopefully not-so-terrible twos

Dear Mellow,

You’ve just turned two.  You are amazing.

The last time I sat down to write you a letter, you hadn’t yet taken your first steps.  Now you run and jump and dance and climb (and hit and bite and scratch, but we won’t talk about that).  You are so fast.  Sometimes you hold your arms out behind you and run with your head down, because that’s what you think a butterfly looks like, and you want to be a butterfly.  Sometimes you put a toy or a napkin between your legs and shout “neigh!” and stumble around until it drops because you imagine yourself riding a horse.

I was worried, when you were born, that you might be overshadowed by your big sister.  She takes up so much energy and attention, but you assert yourself and make sure you get your share.  “Look me! Look me!” you call, always wanting to show us something new.  “Mama, put phone away,” you tell me when I’m distracted.  You love for us to watch you and you love to show off, spinning in circles and running fast.  You’re an artist too, and you proudly present me with your scribbles, which you always describe as a snake, a duckling, or an airplane.  That’s what those lines look like in your eyes, and, at least with the snake, you are somewhat accurate.

You and Wildling are not just sisters now, but friends as well.  Did you hear Wildling last night when I asked her who was her best friend? She immediately pointed to you.  You are the Starling to her Robin, the Orko to her Teela, and the Anna to her Elsa.  You never picked those roles (and you aren’t too happy about being Orko ; “No, Wi-wi, no, two Teelas! Both Teela!”), but you follow along because you love to play with her.  I see how you watch your sister and follow in her footsteps.  Sometimes I wish you didn’t, like when she won’t try a new food and says “blech” and you immediately push the food away, even if you’ve already eaten and enjoyed it, and  you say “blech” too.  I wish you wouldn’t listen to her when she tells you there’s a ghost in the room and it’s going to chomp you up, though technically you don’t really listen, since you’ve developed a fear of goats coming into our house to devour you.

You are fiercely independent, and that drives your papa and I crazy sometimes, but we also love it.  I love that you get into the car by yourself (except on days we’re running late, and then I am frustrated with you) and insist on buckling your own chest strap.  I love that I can tell you to go get dressed and a few minutes later you walk out of your room fully clothed.  Granted, your shirts and pants are often inside out and backwards, and sometimes I’m confused by the number of layers you’re wearing.  Fashion tip: You don’t need a diaper and panties and pants and shorts and a skirt and a dress all at the same time.  It’s a bit much.

Sometimes you smile and say “love mama,” and I don’t know if you understand what love is or if you’re just repeating something you’ve heard, but I don’t care, it makes my heart melt and I love you, too.

Happy birthday, Mellow.  You just keep getting better and better.

Love,

Mama

My Mellow

When Wildling was twenty months old, she was speaking clearly, and in complete sentences. If you asked her how she was doing, she’d say things like “I’m fine, I’m cool.” Mellow is twenty months old. She can ask for ice water, or “icccce wah” as she pronounces it. She can tell us when Wildling is screaming by pointing and saying “Ahhhhhhhh. Wi.” The “Wi” is very calm and deliberate, she wants us to know that she’s not the one actually throwing a fit, it’s her big sister. She can say Mama and Da-da and Wi, and a few other small words. But that’s about it.

I’m not worried about her linguistic development. She’ll get there eventually. It feels like it’s taking longer, because she talks now the way Wildling did at barely a year old. But she’s fine. She’s normal. She’s on track.

What I don’t like though, is how other people reassure me that they’re certain that Mellow is fine, that Mellow will learn eventually, that even if she’s not talking, she’s still clearly intelligent. I know all of these things. I don’t need to be reassured. Mellow is bossy and opinionated and she will lead us by the hand to whatever she wants and then put our hand on what she wants us to do. She dresses herself, and even though sometimes she’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt as pants, that’s ok (also, I fix it). She poops in her potty without fail every single time. She sleeps through the night. She eats whatever we’re eating and doesn’t require special meals. She smiles a lot, and dances and follows her big sister around like an adoring puppy.

Mellow is an amazing child. I don’t need anyone to reassure me of that. I’ve always known.

Parenting tips from Mellow’s Mom

People ask me for parenting advice sometimes. I’m not sure why, since I’m usually the one carrying a screaming kid out of a public place, and I certainly wouldn’t want advice from me.  It would be different though, if Mellow were my first born.  I would have had awesome advice to give to my fellow struggling new parents.  Observe:

Question:  Dear Melinda, my child is a picky eater. I can’t get her to try new foods. What should I do?

Answer: Have you tried offering her the food? That always works for me.  Just hold it out to her, she should eat it.

Question: Dear Melinda, I’m trying to get my baby to sleep through the night. What should I do?

Answer: Trying laying her down.  If she is in a horizontal position, she should sleep just fine.

Question: But what if she wakes up in the middle of the night?

Answer: A simple pat on the back and a soft whisper of ‘go back to sleep’ should do the trick.

Question: Dear Melinda, oh potty training guru, my child has terrible poop blowouts that get all over the place. What should I do? I’m so tired of cleaning poop off her clothes.

Answer: I’m so glad you asked.  There’s a simple fix: when your child gives off signals that they want to do their once daily poop, just put them on the potty.  Easy as pie.  Of course, you’ll have to clean out the potty, but that’s not so bad.

Question: Dear Melinda, teething is horrible.  My baby cries so much and seems to be in pain. How can I help her?

Answer: Have you tried picking her up? That’s my go-to move.

As you know, however, Wildling was born first.

Question:  Dear Melinda, my child is a picky eater. I can’t get her to try new foods. What should I do?

Answer: Find something she likes. Anything.  If she likes one food at all, feed her that. All the time.  Soon you’ll end up with a toddler who eats nothing but cold pasta with garlic salt on it, but that’s ok, because at least you know she’s eating something.

Question: Dear Melinda, I’m trying to get my baby to sleep through the night. What should I do?

Answer: I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with this concept.  Can’t help. S-l-e-e-p?  Even if I sound it out, I don’t recognize that word.

Question: But what if she wakes up in the middle of the night?

Answer: Do you mean the exact middle of the night? And do you mean that’s the only time she wakes? Give her effusive praise for not waking up every hour-and-a-half.  Tell her you love her and beg her to repeat the behavior sometime, anytime, please please please, even one more time.

Question: Dear Melinda, oh potty training guru, my child has terrible poop blowouts that get all over the place. What should I do? I’m so tired of cleaning poop off her clothes.

Answer: Hey, this one I can get.  Let her run around in a diaper.  Watch carefully – when she heads for the corner of the living room that you should designate ‘poop corner,’ wait for her to finish, and clean her right away. The freshest messes are the easiest.

Question: Dear Melinda, teething is horrible.  My baby cries so much and seems to be in pain. How can I help her?

Answer: If you breastfeed, you need to come up with a way to keep your boob permanently lodged in her mouth.  That’s the only way. If you don’t breastfeed, I guess stick a boob in her mouth anyway? She just needs something big and soft to gnaw on.  Ignore the pain.  It’s better than the alternative, which is constant screaming, flailing, and never sleeping again.

 

Toddler translation errors

I used to think that Wildling just doesn’t listen to me, but I realized something: she does listen. Unfortunately, there is some kind of translation circuit in her head that is processing what I say in the wrong way.  After studying this phenomena, I have discovered the following common translation errors:

I say: Please put your shoes on so we can go to the store.
She hears: Please get your heavy winter boots because it is only 110 degrees outside.  And also, please try on every single sock in your drawer so that you can have the perfect unmatching pair to wear under your heavy boots.

I say: Eat your dinner, please.
She hears: I have poisoned one item of food on your plate. You must poke at all of it suspiciously, then start crying and demand new food (unless you want to eat it and risk being poisoned).

I say: Quit messing with your sister.
She hears: I’m paying attention to your sister now. If you want me to pay attention to you instead, please knock Mellow over and take her toys away.

I say: Hey, that’s Mellow’s toy. Give it back to her!
She hears: That’s Mellow’s toy – unless you can take it from her hand and keep it out of her reach for five seconds. Then it becomes yours and you can have it forever.

I say: I’m trying to get your sister to fall asleep.
She hears: I fear your shrieking skills are waning. Can you please practice them right now?

I say: Seriously, get out of this room! I am trying to get your sister to sleep!
She hears: There are a lot of electronic noise-making gadgets in here. Will you please test the batteries and the volume control on all of them right now?

I say: I have a pounding headache.
She hears: Headaches are monsters that live inside our heads.  Please be a hero and scare this one away by yelling in my ear as loud as you can.

I say: Bathtime!
She hears: You will win a prize if you can succeed in getting more water outside the tub than there is in it.  A really big prize. Possibly a pony.

I say: Bedtime! You need to get in bed now!
She hears: I am going to lock you in a dark room so the rest of us can have awesome-happy-party-fun-time in the living room.  If you come out of the bedroom at least ten times, we’ll give up and you can join us.

I say: I love you, Wildling.
She hears: You can get away with all of the translation disasters as discussed above (and more!), because I love you and will forgive you no matter what.

Forty-Five minutes of life with Wildling

The Scene: Breakfast table. Wildling is eating a bowl of Oaty Bites and milk.  She is wearing a long-sleeved swimsuit (because what else would a child wear to breakfast?).

The Catastrophe: Some milk spills from the bowl and onto the table.  Wildling fears it might get on her swimsuit.  She decides to remove the swimsuit.

The Second Catastrophe: It takes too long to pull her arm out of her left sleeve.  She panics.

The  Solution:  Mama helps remove the sleeve from Wildling’s arm.  Foolishly, Mama walks away.

Timeline of the Tantrum:

Minute One: Wildling has begun to cry and flap her right arm around, because it is still in a sleeve.

Minute Two: Wildling becomes increasingly desperate. She seems to think that waving her arm and shrieking will magically remove the sleeve.

Minutes Three through Five: Wildling cries and waves her arm.  “Mama! Mama!”  Mama replies “Use your words, Wildling. What do you need help with?”

Minutes Five through Ten: Wildling sobs hysterically and waves her arm in the air.  She continues to cry for help, but will not state why she needs help.  Mama reminds her that she has to stop crying and ask for what she wants.

Minute Eleven: Mama gives up and carries Mellow into the playroom.

Minute Twelve: Wildling notices Mama is no longer four feet away.  Her shrieks become ear-piercing.  She enters the playroom and throws herself down two feet from her baby sister.

Minutes Thirteen through Twenty: Wildling cries hysterically.  “Help me! Help me!  Mommy, Daddy, help me!!!”  Mama asks when Wildling started calling Papa ‘Daddy’ and points out that he isn’t here.  Wildling pauses in her fit to glare at Mama, then returns to “Mama, Papa, help me!”

Minute Twenty-One: Wildling falls silent.

Minute Twenty-Two: Mama asks “Wildling, are you ready to use your words now and ask for what you want?”

Minute Twenty-Three: Wildling says “No!” and begins her desparate sobbing again, all the while waving her right arm in it’s sleeve.

Minutes Twenty-Four through Twenty-Seven: Hysterical sobbing.

Minutes Twenty-Eight through Thirty: An exact repeat of Minutes Twenty-One through Twenty-Three.

Minute Thirty: Mama says “Wildling, I’m tired of listening to this. Let me know when you’re done crying,” and leaves the room.  Wildling screams “No!!! Don’t leave me alone!” and tries to follow.

Minutes Thirty-One through Thirty-Five: Mama holds the door shut while Wildling screams on the other side.  Mama briefly wonders if the neighbors have called the police yet, but decides that since this is approximately the thousandth fit like this, if they haven’t called the police already, they probably won’t.  Plus the neighbors on the west side moved out last month.

Minute Thirty Six: Wildling gives up and moves away from the door, but is still crying very very loudly.  Mama goes into the living room and begins reading a book to Mellow.

Minutes Thirty-Seven through Forty-Three: Wildling cries.

Minute Forty-Four: Wildling opens the door and comes near the living room.  She realizes that Mama is reading her sister one of her books.  She chokes off a last sob.

Minute Forty-Five: Wildling realizes that she can, by holding the wrist, remove her arm from her sleeve herself.  She does so, wipes her eyes, and walks over to the couch and announces “I want to read the book too.  I’m going to sit here now.”

End Scene.