Justin, Junior

Monday, January 31, 2011

Once a No-No, ALWAYS a No-No

He's obviously up to something
Before I had a child, I would avert my head whenever I saw a toddler or child throwing a fit in public. The mother, usually a bit unkempt and harried, was a little contemptuous to me. “Get a grip, lady,” I would think, if the fit was a bad one. “Maybe you should do Wal-Mart a little less and try parenting a little more.” No sympathy, right? The only little ones I had experience with were my sister’s 2 children, who are beautifully behaved. (She recently assured me that they, too, threw their fair-share of tantrums, but I doubt my perfect niece or nephew ever did. They’re too sweet for that...Aunt Baba knows better.)

Basically, I never once thought that the tantrum wasn’t directly related to something that the parent was doing wrong.

I was wrong.

It’s not that I don’t make my fair share of parenting mistakes, because I do. But when it comes to what is a no-no, I’m very consistent. Once a no-no, always a no-no. It’s pretty easy, since most of the stuff that I term a no-no is potentially dangerous. It’s never okay to play with an electrical outlet, or go swimming in the toilet. I’m consistent. But I am afraid we’ve entered the golden age of tantrums. My son is officially 13-months-going-on-3. He is stubborn (like his daddy), strong-willed, and too damned smart for his (my) own good…pair that with big blue eyes and a smile that makes you want to give him whatever he wants, well…this is hard.

I had the occasion to be the mom that people turned their heads from not that long ago at K-Mart. It was the second store we went to that day (and the last). My son doesn’t care for the car seat (after all, it’s hard to move around when you’re strapped in), and although he’s usually pretty content in a cart (there’s stuff to look at), he had apparently had enough. One second he was fine, and the next he was shrieking his head off. I panicked, immediately certain that some sort of metal piece from the cart was poking him, or he had pinched his finger in something, so I quickly unbuckled him and pulled him out to examine him. He arched his back, kicking both legs, and suddenly increased in weight by about 708%. One worker stopped and asked, concerned, “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know!” I replied, and then had to kneel because of my son’s convulsions - I was afraid I was going to drop him. As soon as he saw he was near the ground, he jerked away from me, stood up, and began to toddle down the aisle, clapping and laughing. I tried to corral him - he thought it was a game. I finally captured him, carried him giggling all the way back to the cart, and when he realized my intent, it was another back-arching, screaming, “no-no-no” fit. No one stopped in concern this time - people made a wide berth around us. By the time I got him crammed into the cart (I had to like physically bend him, he was so stiff), my hair was messed up, we were both red-faced (and a little teary) and I had actually worked up a sweat.

People were looking. I was that mom. I was every mom I had ever rolled my eyes at.

His newest trick is to say “good” whenever he’s doing something that he knows is not good. I still can’t decide whether he’s trying to convince himself, or reassure me, but whereas silence lasting longer than 47 seconds used to make me stop whatever I was doing and check on him, the word “good” can now bring me running at warp speed. (And mind you, I’m usually only about 10 feet away from him, but he’s fast.)

He finds Daddy’s cell phone charger? That’s good. In the 2.7 seconds Mom takes to switch out laundry from the washer to the drier, he decides it’s good to get his own snack…in this case, a box of pancake mix. That was good, too. Opening up Daddy’s sock drawer and taking every sock out is really good. We like to do that every chance we get.

And it’s getting harder to redirect him, now. I can’t swiftly swap out the cell phone charger for a rattle the way I could when he was younger. When I do that, he literally stomps his feet, makes what my husband and I call “scrunchy fists” (hands held out, rapidly opening and closing in the universal sign of “I want!”), followed by a mixed string of “No no no” and “Good! Good!” that usually culminates in tears…and not just any tears, but flings-himself-on-the-ground, hides-his-face-in-the-carpet-because-he-has-the-meanest-mom tears.

And sometimes the hardest thing to do is not laughing at how smart or funny he is. The other night, I was on the phone with my sister and my cell phone was almost dead. So I plugged my phone in and sat on a kitchen chair. My son, as usual, was within close proximity, and seeing what he thinks is the ultimate plaything (yes, we have a real issue with cell phone chargers here), promptly unplugged it.

“No-no,” I said firmly, plugged the phone back in, and quickly handed him a toy, which he examined briefly before dropping it and once again unplugging my phone.

“No-no,” I said again, more firmly…just a few short weeks ago, the first one would have been enough. Once again, I plugged the phone back in and handed him a toy.

He dropped the toy, edged very close to the charger, and held completely still for a long moment. Holding completely still is very hard for him, so I knew he was up to something. Keeping up a narrative for my sister, who was cackling with glee at her naughty nephew, I watched as my son veeeerrrry slooooowly, so as not to capture Mama’s attention, lifted one chubby, precious finger and placed it lightly on the cell phone charger and held it there.

No-no!” I said. “That could make an owie! You are making Mama sad!” Again, just a few sort weeks ago, “making Mama sad” would freeze him in his tracks. Not so much now.

To give him credit, he did pull his finger away on his own. But then, I watched in disbelief, biting my lips to keep from cracking up (my sister, herself laughing but telling me “Don’t laugh! You can’t laugh!”) as my son used a chair to help balance himself as he lifted one leg, and, with a look of intent concentration, placed his foot upon the cell phone charger.

I got off the phone. I unplugged the phone from the wall outlet and plugged it in at a higher, out-of-Junior’s reach outlet, whereupon he promptly began stomping his feet, made a frantic series of desperate scrunchy hands, and, in general, let me know just how displeased he was with my behavior. I ignored it.

I have had a few moments of weakness…a few times when I have thought, “The cell phone charger isn’t plugged in - what harm could it do?” or “Well, if he eats his fill of pancake mix, then I don’t have to make him lunch.” But then my mind fast-forwards 5 years, and I see my 6-year old son raising holy hell in Wal-Mart, but it’s even worse, because he now has more words at his disposal. And then my mind fast-forwards another 10 years, and I see my future 16-year old son stomping his feet and making scrunchy hands at a Camaro or something, and I find it easier to stick to my guns.

Once a no-no, always a no-no….no matter how cute your kid may be.