Lend me a hand?
Just two weeks ago, we were holding out our hands to JuggerBaby, either to assist an unsteady gait, or to lead zir the way we needed zir to go. Ze would sometimes take our hands and wobble along with us. Other times, ze tucked zir hands close to zir body with an “Ngh!” clearly refusing to be led. “I can do it! (but I won’t)” you see, on zir face.
Overnight, it seems ze can walk without wavering, without hesitation, though ze has zero concept of the proper way to navigate stairs and stay upright. Ze is now even running with that peculiar pace that wee kids use. Shoulders nearly up to zir ears, entire torso swinging left and right wildly, angled nearly 45 degrees to the ground.
JuggerLB extends a hand expectantly. Makes eye contact, and as hand clasps hand, ze sets zir feet firmly, preparing for my resistance. Sometimes I cooperate and follow. Sometimes, I play limp noodle and resist. Ze is prepared for this, and digs in zir feet like a pro tugger-of-war. The stubborn is strong in this one.
I see a future of our wills clashing and smile. It’s inevitable to have some clashing but I hope that at least some of the time, they’ll be teaching moments: teaching zir how and when to stand up for zirself and be zir own advocate when it’s time for zir to spread zir wings and fly solo.
JuggerBaby has graduated from needing to be tickled (physically) to laugh and now finds the humor in things on zir own. We play games, like “bring me all your toys”, or “destroy everything” and either because of my expression, or my exclamations, ze will burst into laughter and try to get me to do it again. Role reversal of the best kind.
A friend said of toddlerdom: say good-bye to anything staying in its place ever again. I did the mental equivalent of plugging my ears and shutting my eyes and pretended that wasn’t coming my way.
Sure enough, nothing is safe any longer. We often hear footsteps: pat. pat. pat. pat-pat-pat PAT-PAT-PAT as ze makes a dash for our bedroom and my nightstand. My side of the room has been off limits for months but now it’s too hard to keep zir from it. If you give chase you hear a cackle peel out as ze makes the final end run, bouncing off the dresser, crawling over Seamus’s bed, scaling the boxes to Baby-Ninja-Warrior zir way to the treasure trove that is my nightstand and bookshelf.
Every day and night, ze tries to check the nightstand just in case there’s something different there to inspect, taste, and steal.
It’s amazing how such a little package can contain so much defiance and attitude. Ze knows the rule is that we sit when we eat, even if it’s just a quick snack and sitting on the ground. Ze sits just fine at a size appropriate table and chair at daycare.
“Sit down and have a bite.”
Squats, opens mouth.
“Sit ALL THE WAY DOWN. I refuse to be responsible for you getting stabbed in the face with the fork.”
Plops down with a scowl. Bounces back up on zir heels before the fork is fully out of zir mouth.
And heaven help you if ze really wants something and you’ve said no. You’ll get a long stare, then ze will attempt to grab it anyway. Dodge the attempt and scolding “no” riles zir further and ze lunges again. This time for the nearest Mom flesh, not zir desired object, in order to sink seven sharp vindictive teeth in.
A strangled shout of “STOP THAT YOU DO NOT BITE ME!” is met with an unwavering glare and another attempt to bite. Never turn your back on zir. Ever.
Pure pigheaded defiance, this one.
I remind myself that this is probably normal and assuming that ze lives to adulthood and I survive to see it, this pigheadedness and refusal to be cowed will likely serve hir well in this world of ours. A lot of ifs, if you ask me, but here I am, being patient, deep breathing and rubbing bite marks out of my arms.
The things we do for our kids.
We’ve tried this dozens of times but JuggerBaby has always held out against our bargaining. At the beginning, we would stand firm and insist that ze needed to eat as directed but we learned that a more flexible approach combined with some firmness and some humor made mealtimes a lot more bearable.
Ze remains a fan of dropping food overboard but now that ze is starting to understand simple cause and effect, I’m enforcing a new rule: if food is tossed, you’re done. Whether ze has had a full meal, or two and a half bites of zir snack, ze gets booted from the high chair the moment food is tossed on the ground.
After several repetitions, ze has gotten much better about it but that doesn’t mean meals are consumed with grace and alacrity.
We had burger night and ze was 100% focused on the juice boxes on the table. It was my treat, I usually drink water, but PiC wisely set one out for zir. The trick was in getting zir to eat food instead of sucking down the whole juice.
By the way, when I make burgers, I make baby sized burger patties especially for zir. It’s a thing I’m proud of. Next we need baby sized buns.
I dictated that ze had to eat TWO BITES before getting to sip the juice. I held out two fingers, and counted out loud, very firmly. At first, ze was defiant and insistent, shaking zir head NO at me very firmly and pointing at the juice. I replied, nope, two bites or no juice and went back to my meal. Ze called for the juice box again, and I repeated: 2 bites. Ready for one? Ze glared, then relented and nibbled on the burger bun. I praised the bite, “that’s one! One more.”
Ze chewed, mulling it over, then silently accepted when I offered another bite. Then decided to go for the gusto and launched zirself at the burger and snatched a dino-sized bite. We were on!
Ze willingly ate 2 bites per sip of juice for a while until I suggested a 3:1 bite to juice ratio, at which tyranny ze balked and decided ze would rather not eat or drink than to accept such unreasonable terms.
FINE. After I went back to the 2 bites rule, ze even relaxed enough to enjoy the burger normally, and stopped demanding the juice. I guess you can train a toddler!
It’s still hit or miss, honestly, but it’s a start!
Vegetables have been the least popular food group now that JuggerBaby has to chew all zir own food. I hate well-cooked vegetables but crisp vegetables are harder when a baby only has the tearing teeth and not the grinding teeth. We compromised with slightly more limp specimens than I like and we’re seeing more veggies go in the mouth without making a surprise reappearance.
When they’re sauced, ze will even clamor for more, so that’s motivation for me to stop being lazy with only steaming vegetables and learning to make a sauce.
We’ve decided not to care about zir very odd habit of dropping food into zir water cup, like a crow trying to raise the water level, or dipping zir food into water like Kobayashi with his hot dogs. If you want to eat waterlogged food, that’s fine with me.
We’ve also decided not to care about zir imitating Seamus at mealtimes. It’s faintly ridiculous but ze is still determined to eat and drink like big brother, cramming zir face into zir food bowl without using zir hands. It’s hard to decide if ze thinks ze is a puppy or that Seamus is human because ze does not act like he’s like any other dog.
Chatting with a neighbor while JuggerBaby struggled to pick snacks out of zir snack box, our neighbor offered to help zir out and quickly solved the puzzle. I didn’t mind, I just commented that normally I stand back and observe until JuggerBaby has exhausted all zir ingenuity and asks for help. And even then I might just point out a possible solution and encourage zir to keep trying.
Ze is still quite young but I want zir to develop a firm confidence in hir ability to eventually crack even the toughest nuts, occasionally with help, and learn that early frustration and failure aren’t good reasons to give up.
With food and books, ze is willing to batter the problem into submission but we see zir give up quickly with concepts like shapes and colors. Pondering how to fit one shape into another shaped hole, often ze will bypass the problem by opening the top of the container or hand it to one of us with an imperious “ah!” This may pass but it won’t if we don’t give hir the freedom and push to keep trying. It’s not that I worry ze will be seventeen and still unsure of the difference between a sphere and a hexagon. I worry that at seventeen ze will hit the base of a mountain, metaphorical or otherwise, and give up before ever taking the first handhold.
I’ve no idea how early children develop and firm up their willingness to face down frustration but I hope this all adds up.
:: Do all kids imitate animals when they’re young? Were you an independent kid? Did that carry over to adulthood?