The Toddler Report, Part 1

Now that Noah is over two years old, it’s time to check in on the ol’ Parenting Handbook! I think I left it on the shelf over here… no, hmm, that’s weird. Maybe on the coffee table? Nothing?

Oh, here it is: jammed into the couch, marked up with crayon, with the dust jacket missing forever. (No wonder that cushion felt so lumpy.)

Okay, let’s see, two years old? That would be about Chapter 25… doot doot doo… ah, yes, here we are:

“Don’t let your guard down for a single minute, you fools!
Parenting Handbook, Chapter 25, Paragraph 1

The three of us have certainly survived this far, but it’s not always been a cakewalk. On a terrible twos scale of tantrum-prone toddlers, I would say Noah is probably mercifully on the low end, but he delights in giving us our fair share of “teachable moments.”

For instance, there are the struggles with food. Paradoxically, some days he will eat like a horse, and then apparently stores all the nutrients like a camel so he can coast through another couple of days powered only by the occasional drink of milk and the odd pretzel or cracker. Sometimes he has no problem eating the equivalent of a can of green beans, three or four chicken strips, a cup of hummus, and a few servings of fruit; other times, he’ll whine for a banana, peel it by himself, then immediately throw the whole thing on the floor (or the sink or on the table – basically anywhere but his mouth), while keeping the peel to throw away in the garbage can.

This is apparently very normal behavior for toddlers, and since he’s in the high-90th percentiles on size and weight, he’s clearly not malnourished. So we’ve just learned to roll with it on the days he doesn’t want to eat, serving him only one dinner at the normal time and letting him go without if he doesn’t touch it. It hasn’t affected his sleep at all, either: just a few tears when he claims he wants a yogurt but it’s already time for bed.

We also have been brave enough to venture out periodically as a family to various restaurants and family events. By and large, he’s done very well in this area too, as long as we can keep feeding him and are supplied with plenty of distractions. (The aforementioned food fluctuations always seem to be waived if we’re in a restaurant.) Woe be to us, though, if we forget to pack enough snacks or toys, or have no straws to bend into fun shapes, or no dry-erase-marker books for him to scribble in and erase joyfully.

Even when Noah’s being quiet and munching along happily, during these outings there’s a part of me, just under the surface, that is a ball of tension waiting for the inevitable moment when he realizes he’s had enough, demands to “geet down,” and no amount of bribing will satisfy him. Despite our best planning and multiple escape routes, we’ve definitely reached that point a few times. So we’ve learned to pick our battles and only go out when we’ve got extra help, or when we’re okay with the possible outcome of one of us sitting with Noah back out in the car while he finishes melting down.

And then there’s the bedtime routine. Typically, he loves bathtime, and lately he’s taken to creating whirlpools of bubbles by splashing around the tub in a circle, almost like a standard top-loading washing machine. Then it’s time for a fresh diaper, PJs, cleaning his nose, and (most recently) brushing his teeth before reading a few stories and going to bed.

But with so many variables in this routine, there some nights when he just doesn’t feel like doing something. Usually it’s brushing the teeth (he’ll want us to do it first and then will still refuse to do it after we’ve made a big show of how fun it is to brush), or putting on a diaper (he’ll hide in his towel on the changing pad or kick around like a newborn foal trying to find its footing, except the only thing he “finds” is “Daddy’s breadbasket.”) This is very tough and often frustrating, because:

  1. We’re all already tired,
  2. He knows it’s going to happen every night, and…
  3. We know that we’re only a few minutes away from the sweet freedom of being freewheeling adults again, if only for a little while, even if 80% of the time that means we’re just going to fall asleep on the couch in a half hour.

So, we’ve learned to just laugh and smile through it, appeal to his innate desire to please us and/or be a “big boy,” sing goofy songs, and adopt some wrestling holds when necessary. Sometimes, I can see the wheels turning in Noah’s head as he gets bored with resisting and then just decides to do what we want him to do. Other times, we have to threaten a bedtime with no books and no snuggling (and we’ve carried out this threat a couple of times).

And then there’s always The Parenting Handbook, Chapter 2, Figure 1.

So, as an extension of our early findings during Noah’s first year, we’ve realized that as parents you have to adapt to your surroundings and all the escalating challenges.  Sure, I’ve got a few more gray hairs in my increasingly-glorious beard that Gina loves to point out, but we also haven’t forgotten how to have fun. For every fifteen-minute-long tantrum on the floor, there are other times when Noah surprises us by making up his own song to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”  For every kick in the misters, there’s a fun round of piggyback rides. For every accidental fall off a piece of furniture that he shouldn’t have been climbing on in the first place, there’s a Spider-man-like deployment of “Dad hands,” where I catch him in mid-air.

And for every cry with real (not alligator) tears, there are twice as many smiles. And wouldn’t it be something if we could keep it that way for all of us?