Toddler Time

It's 8:18pm, and I'm exhausted. I had a shower at 6:30pm and was ready for bed shortly after that, but I still had The Beaner to wrangle. (He went down about 15 minutes ago, the earliest he's gone to bed in weeks.) I've been Beaner wrangling all day, actually, though it wasn't quite as bad as it sounds. I think the fact that it's Black Friday had primed me for going with the flow; my expectations of getting anything on my list accomplished were already lower, so it was easier to relax and just spend time with the Beaner. (My normal mode is to try to get errands done while dragging him along, which isn't always the best thing for either of us anymore.)

My original plan was that we'd take two cars out in the morning so that Grandpa could buy toys for The Beaner's birthday (which we are celebrating with all four grandparents tomorrow), and then I'd stay at the mall with The Beaner, and Al and his dad could continue on to the golf course, where they were scheduled to play 18 holes at noon. That plan was foiled when Grandpa insisted we all go in one car and then come back. Of course, Grandpa's plan was somewhat foiled, too, when it turned out that the Toys 'R Us he was hoping to visit had become a Best Buy. We finally located a small, independent shop in Oakton, and Grandpa proceeded to buy The Beaner a HUGE truck, a medium-sized Lamborghini race car, and an Edward train from the Thomas stories. Al, who hadn't seen the train and the race car, also bought The Beaner a 1:32 (I think) scale VW bug. It was a little overwhelming.

We came back to the house, and Al and his dad left for golf. That's when I asked The Beaner if I could make him the promised eggs for breakfast ("no!"), and if he wanted to go shopping ("no shopping!"). Ugh. Go with the flow. Go with the flow. Go with the flow. I started flipping through the Weekend section of the Washington Post, and I noticed a feature on model train displays. I found one at Union Square in DC and formulated a new plan: We'd take the Metro from Dunn Loring to Union Station, see the model trains, eat lunch, and return. When I ran this by The Beaner, however, I got, "no ride onna train. Stay at gamma and gampa house." Are you sensing a pattern here? I asked him if he wanted to ride the train or go shopping about every 15 minutes, in case he changed his mind (as he often does), but I always got the same answer: "No. Stay at gamma and gampa house."

So we stayed in the house and played with the new VW for a while... and then he asked to go out to the car and get the Lamborghini. We played with that for about five minutes, and then he wanted to go back out and get the truck. TOO MANY TOYS, I thought. It seems like we're totally setting ourselves up for a raging case of Terrible Twos by giving him everything he wants and more for his second birthday; I can't imagine he'll appreciate what he has—or bother to take care of it—if Grandpa or Al or I am there to buy him something else. It made me feel icky. So I told him no, we weren't going to go outside and get the truck, that we had enough toys to play with inside.

That's when he opened the door anyway. "[Beaner]," I said firmly but still quietly, "we're not going out to get the truck. Close the door." "No," he said. Uh oh. "[Beaner], close the door." Beaner: "NO!" Oh, CRAP. Here we go: I've got to figure out how to get the upper hand here without yelling or wrist-smacking or otherwise losing my cool. How do I communicate that it is not acceptable to talk back like that, and get him to do what I want? I still have no idea, but this is what I did: I marched over to him, got down on my knees behind him, and hugged him so that his arms were pinned to his body. I told him he needed to listen to Mommy. I told him that it was not acceptable to shout—at me or Daddy or Grandpa or Mira, to which he added "or Jess". I told him he needed to shut the door. He told me no again, softly, and I said, "we're going to close the door right now." And I held out his hands for him and pushed the door shut with them. Whether this laid any groundwork for the future (positive or negative) I know not, but the episode ended there. He was smiling and playing with me again within seconds.

A few minutes later my mother-in-law announced she was going to take a nap, and I used this as an excuse to convince the Beaner that we should go out driving in the car and watch Elmo on the DVD player. (With no grandparents available as an audience, I figured he might find staying in the house less appealing, and I was right.) I drove to the mall, only had to search for about 5-10 minutes for a parking space, and then carried the Beaner down three flights of garage stairs to a mall entrance. On the way down, he said, "Ride the train?" Uh, Beaner, we're at the mall. "No mall. I wanna ride the train." Really? Because if I'd known that, we would have gone straight to the Metro station instead of fighting for a parking space. I told him we'd go into the mall for a few minutes, and then we'd ride the train. He said OK and added, "want french fries."

Luckily there was a steak & fry place at the entrance we used, so I had a cup of fries in his hands within a couple minutes. (Yes, since I was following Al's advice of just Spending Time With The Beaner and Not Trying To Do Anything Else—his secret to successful single-parenting when I'm out of town—I also decided to follow Al's M.O. of buying him whatever crazy crap food he wanted. I do understand that this completely contradicts the toy philosophy I outlined above, and that it might be putting my son's health in jeopardy to boot.) After that we shuffled at toddler speed to the Gap. There's something very Zen about moving at .25 mph and stopping every few feet to fish out a fry as hordes of holiday shoppers are rushing around you.

The Gap turned out to be far enough down one arm of the mall that after buying some underwear and stopping to hydrate The Beaner ("water, please", he said while I was getting my receipt), I abandoned all hope of making it to Gymboree and just shuffled back the way we'd come toward the exit. We made some woman in a Volvo very happy by vacating our parking space, and then we headed to the Metro.

I won't detail our parking adventures at the Dunn Loring station (they involved a Wonderland-type conversation with a parking attendant wherein she instructed me to go into the station to buy a parking pass... so I could come back and park and walk back to the station to actually take the train); suffice to say that we did eventually get parked and onto the platform. The Beaner yelled, "ALL ABOARD!" when he saw that a train was already in the station (heading the other way), which was good for a laugh. I taught him to watch the platform lights, which flash when a train is approaching. I showed him where to sit, and how to listen for the ding-dong that means the doors are closing. He discovered the window himself, and he delighted in looking out it until we went underground after East Falls Church. In short, the Metro ride in—including the transfer at Metro Center—was quite pleasant. So were the viewing of the model trains at Union Station, and the way The Beaner requested "pretzel, please" when we entered the food court.

the beaner and me on the metro shortly before the guard made them step back

His behavior took a turn for the worse when I treated him to a milkshake and then tried to take a sip myself. I didn't really want any, but I thought I should drink some because it was quite large—too large for a small child. He cried and grabbed the shake from my hands when I moved my mouth toward the straw. I said, "[Beaner], don't you want to share with Mommy?" Beaner: "No." Me: "Please share with Mommy. I just want a small sip." Beaner, sharply: "NO!" DOUBLE CRAP, I thought, here we go AGAIN, and this time in public. I decided to play the "it's either half or nothing" card. I told him he could share, or he could watch me throw the milkshake in the trash. He finally let me have some, but grudgingly. He whined and reached for the shake every time I picked it up... until he started getting full, that is, and he realized that there was more than enough left for both of us. At that point he started handing the shake to me and saying, "here ya go, Mommy." (By this time, of course, I'd had far more than I'd ever wanted, just so I could get him to practice sharing.) Eventually we each took a final sip, and I threw out the shake with 1/3 of it still left in the bottom of the cup. (I got his OK on this; I didn't do it as punishment.)

hogging the milkshake

There were definitely a few other moments when, if I'd been trying to get actual errands done, I would have been tempted to shout at him or drag him along or otherwise lose my cool, but since I was going with the flow and moving on Toddler Time, I turned those moments into games instead. When he pulled on my hand and refused to get off the floor, we played a floppy noodle game that sent him into fits of giggles (and eventually got him walking normally again). When he didn't want to hold my hand, I turned it into a run-and-stop game of tag. And so on. It made for a much more enjoyable day. I can't run on Toddler Time every day, of course, but I'm thinking I should be setting aside at least ONE day a week to do it—errands and housework be damned. With all the changes that have been going on in The Beaner's life lately, and with a new developmental stage approaching, it seems like the best thing we can do for him and for ourselves is to really be in the moment with him as often as possible.

Posted by Lori in parenthood at 9:48 PM on November 24, 2006


Have you tried good old misdirection? As in, he wants to do something you don't want him to do, so it's like, "Ooh, look over there, shiny thing!" Which could be any other thing he likes to do that is more acceptable to you than whatever it is you don't want him to do right that second.

I think you're exactly right - being in the moment is key. We spent a chunk of yesterday pretty much just staring at each other and making faces. He's been knitting his brow a lot lately, which cracks me up, so I knitted mine back at him, whereupon he laughed, first, then knitted his even more. So I raised mine (wish I'd gotten a picture of him trying to do that), and on and on. Despite the fact that he was squeezing a muffin in his hand at the time, and the crumbs were going everywhere, and I wanted badly to stop and de-muffinize the situation.

Posted by: ratphooey [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 25, 2006 6:00 AM

You did great. I could feel the tension building and then you defused it.
He's at what I call the PushMe-PullMe developmental stage (which will continue, by the way, till he's about 22!). He's exerting his will as part of defining himself and learning boundaries, but he can't do that without help.
Getting down on his level is the way to go. Even better if you can do it so he has to look at you.
Don't laugh, but that book by SuperNanny is a winner for these issues of will. Her techniques preserve the child's self esteem and the parent's sanity. I really recommend it.

Posted by: byjane at November 25, 2006 1:31 PM

I do this too, throwing out the idea of getting anything useful done or paring WAY BACK on what will get done in order to have everything happen on Toddler Time. Sometimes I think about "the Surrendered Wife" and feel like I'm being The Surrendered Mother, and that can't be a good thing. But usually it just means that we get only whatever is actually important done and both enjoy our day.

Posted by: sconstant at November 30, 2006 8:09 AM

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