Friday, November 1, 2013

Tweets you were saved from...until now

If you follow me on any kind of social media, you recently found out we are pregnant! We are feeling blessed and super excited. The tricky thing about that first trimester: for most women there is a lot going on -- cravings, nausea, waiting, wondering (in my case a fair amount of staying off my feet due to doctor's orders) -- but you are usually not publicizing your good news quite yet. Hence all that good twitter fodder goes unpublished.

It's probably better -- for you. How many tweets do you need about how I am now eating like a man or how I'm tired and crazy? Honestly!

Well, need it or not, here is a little bit of what's been going on behind the scenes for us -- in 140 characters of less. All but one of the would-be tweets below are from me with my shiny new twitter handle: @valerie_photo.

You know your husband's been taking good care of you when you finally make your own snack and think, "I better not mess up his kitchen."

I treated Josh to pizza, burgers, froyo & Shipley's donuts all in the past 3 days due to the baby I'm growing. Well, I ate all the pizza.

Really? The rubber band trick on my jeans already?! #secondpregnancy

This one from @jjellis: My adorable pregnant wife says, "I should've asked for two Whoppers!" The huge burgers people, not the smallish chocolate candy.

I should've made a second sandwich while I was up. #pregnancyhunger #pregnancynonenergy

Gavin said, "I'm gonna eat a lot of breakfast, and then I'm gonna have a baby."

I'm such a slob when I'm nauseous. #pregnancyproblems #sorryhoney #stilljustgonnasithere

Nauseated...whatever... #pregnancyproblems #grammarproblems

My breakfast from CfilA tasted weird. Of course, sugar snap peas taste like soap and tap water like fish, so... #coulditbeme #pregnancy

Freshly-squeezed lemonade for president! #pregnancy #cravingsatisfied

For more of this and stuff of actual substance, you can follow me here: @valerie_photo.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What (very few) things are working

In the same 24-hour period, I got
a pouty "Why?"
an "I want Daddy!"
and an insistent, "But I got to do that yesterday..."

Seems like a great time to take note of the few things that are working for us in toddlerville these days.

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been "Little things that help behavior (1.5 to 2 years)" where I open by saying, "I had to put that little qualifier in the title --1.5 to 2 years old-- because I have a feeling some of these behavior helpers may need some tweaking (or an overhaul) now that Gavin is two." I hate to say, "I told myself so, but..." No, really. I am hating that I was right about that.

We still use all the techniques from that original post (except I totally dropped the ball on "fold your hands," and I'm not sure how hard I'm willing to work to get it back). It's not that those techniques are unsuccessful now, it's just that they're not the charms they once were.

It seems like I now live in a world where defiant, whiny or stubborn behaviors are not just means to an end, they are ends in themselves. Disobedience is not for a particular purpose. It's for fun.

You've heard me say there are good things about every age, and that is true of this impossibly independent stage, too. In addition to saying "no" and "I never get anything..." he also sometimes hugs me and says, "You're my best friend." And yesterday he asked to lay on the couch and watch football with Daddy, which included lying on his chest, asking about the teams and sighing contentedly. Yes, there are many ways life is good right now. And adorable. And hilarious. Still, snarky happens. Here are a few of the things that are

Catchy phrases
Somehow ending a request with "Know what I mean jellybean?" or "That's the plan man!" just makes it easier to swallow. Anything I can do to add a little humor or cleverness to our daily routines is a usually a plus. Unless he's feeling particularly oppositional. Then nothing is funny.

Letting the animals say it
A little background on this. Lately, he loves playing make believe with his stuffed animals. Who knew? My little guy who would not be entertained with anything plush for the first 2.5 years of his life asks for Kitty to watch him play trains, and he cuddles Pooh Bear and gives him "medicine" when Pooh bonks his head (after being thrown by Gavin, of course). Anyway, he LOVES when I talk for the animals when we play. ("Oh Gavin, I like your castle!" in a high-pitched voice while moving Monkey's arms to clap.) Well, to my amazement, he also transitions from one activity to another much better if Kitty suggests it! Putting on his shoes is delightful if it's Pooh's idea. Cleaning up his toys is never more fun than when Monkey asks him to.

Three notes on this: 1) I have to start with the animals suggesting. If I tell him it's time for shoes, and he refuses, bringing the animals in as back up...well, it won't work, and it would make me look pretty desperate. I'm not a fan of looking desperate in front of my toddler. 2) If when he hears Pooh say, "Time for shoes!" his face doesn't immediately light up, it's probably time to try something else. This technique works because it's funny, spontaneous and catches him off guard. Something gets lost when Pooh has to start insisting. 3) As with most things, overuse is likely to decrease effectiveness.

Keeping it fun with physical antics
Lately, I've been reminding myself to infuse lots of wrestling, tickling, tossing around and general physical silliness into our day. This is meant to be a preemptive. In fact, all of these tricks are meant to prevent an episode rather than fix one, but this one in particular is less of a tool to use in a time of need and more of a way to constantly fill my child's love bank. Many times, kids misbehave because they just plain feel bad -- physically or emotionally. It's important to figure out those things that help them feel loved and then practice them often. For all kids, eye contact, focused attention and (appropriate) physical touch are ways they can receive the love we feel for them. (Some kids are resistant to these things, but they still need them.) This and more are touched on in How to Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell. I have to warn you that the writing is somewhat repetitive, but there is some good content. I was glad I pushed through to the end.

For Gavin, tickling and physical silliness are like a healing balms. I can see his demeanor and his outlook on the day changing for the good as we wrestle and play. Anything that can do that for him is like gold to me. 

I don't do it nearly enough, but when I do, I ask God to help Gavin feel his love, to help him act in ways that are impossible without God, to give me wisdom and energy and to help me communicate God's love and ways clearly and compellingly. Sometimes I see a difference right away, and that is such a blessing. But when I don't, I am blessed when I remember that prayer is not just about God changing my situation, but also about God changing me. I am so grateful that God cares about the biggest and smallest parts of my day and that He's not content to leave me the way I am. He cares for us, friend. He hasn't left us alone in toddlerville.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Baby Dedication Letter - A Guest Post of Sorts

A few weeks ago, our friends dedicated their adorable two-year-old son (name omitted for his privacy) to the Lord. They wrote him this letter, which they read to him in front of the church. It floored me. It was so sweet and personal and profound. They have graciously allowed me to share it with you. 

I love the way their letter highlights the goodness of God, their son's personality and the individualized instruction they desire to give him in the Lord. It is precious to me that they want to be careful not to fit him into a predetermined mold or even create a carbon copy of themselves, but rather grow someone who's faith is vibrant in the Lord in the context of the person God made him to be. I believe this captures much of what Proverbs 22:6 is talking about, and in a very beautiful way:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

I hope you enjoy the letter as I have. I know I will be praying many parts of it for the context of who God has created him to be.

(For a bit of background: in our church, we treat dedication as more of a commitment on the part of the parents and church family to love and guide the child in the way of the Lord, rather than as a guarantee of the child's right-standing with God. We believe when the child is older, they still must choose for themselves whether to follow the Lord.)

Oh, and notice the love tags in the first line. Love them!

Dear Son,

You are our silly goose, our cuddly bear, our wild monkey, our little rascal, and we love you more than we could have ever imagined. You are a perfect gift to us. You bring us happiness. We are blessed everyday by your enormous smiles and sweet giggles. Your joyful personality attracts everybody. We are encouraged and in awe of your carefree spirit. You make us laugh all the time! We love watching you enjoy life, from jumping at the playgrounds, splashing in the pool, kicking soccer balls, sharing a spoon at the yogurt shop, popping water balloons in your face, to letting the world know whenever you spot a bulldozer.  The list could go on, but life though your eyes is pure joy.

From the day you were born, we’ve felt enormous commitment and responsibility to make your world safe, beautiful, and happy.

Spending time with you clears our mind to see past the stress and worries in our life.
God knew just right person for us.

Now that you’re two, our focus as parents shifts from just meeting your basic needs to being intentional about how we raise you. We’re committed to creating an environment free of fear, where you can make mistakes and try new things and find out how to be fully you.

We want to teach you that everyone is valued and loved and we treat everyone with kindness and respect.  We’re committed to having fun together as a family.

We’re committed to giving you opportunities to find your passions and to teach you about the love of Jesus.  Every step of this life seems impossible without trusting that God is in control of your life. 

Your family and community of friends will have a lasting impact on your life. Our family will always love and support you (even though some live far away), and you are also blessed to have a strong family-like community nearby. We will continue to surround you with those who model Jesus’ love. Our hope is that our family and our community of friends will be a safe place for you. We will be your mentors. We will support and guide you, and live as examples for you.

And lastly, we dream that you will know joy and happiness. That you will want to help others and join in God’s work to make this world a better place. We dream that you will discover and say “yes” to the person that God has made you to be. We dream that our family will continue to grow together and that you will always feel the same closeness and tangible love that you experience now.

With love,
Daddy and Mommy

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

For the love (and letting go) of the pacifier: Part 3

Other than my typing, the only sound I hear right now is my dog snoring.

Um...So what???

So this: My son is silent...asleep...without a a big boy.

So...I will bask in the joy of this milestone a few moments longer. It is absolutely in my nature to spend time and energy thinking, praying, worrying, earnestly praying, planning, fretting, remembering to pray again (you get the idea), but then when the problem is solved, the result is good, the prayer is answered like I had hoped...I say a quick "thanks" or an excited "yes!!!" and move on to fret about the next thing. SO in my nature.

No, I need to spend as much time enjoying the moment as I do planning for it and as much energy saying thank you as I do making requests. (Inhale...Exhale...)

When I last posted, I was anticipating a second try at laying him down for a nap without Daddy and without a pacifier (the first try was a disaster). Anticipating may be too kind a word (see above list...planning, fretting, remembering to pray again). I was playing it out in my mind all morning, and I wasn't feeling it. His urge to get sympathy from me is so strong right now that though he had gone down great for Daddy, Aunt Andrea and then Daddy and me together, I just had the feeling he was going to try to pull something. What incentive did he have not to?

But I had an ace up my sleeve. I decided if it was going to work, I had to use it preemptively -- I couldn't wait to see if he would be fine without it. Now, it wasn't a completely foolproof plan because it involved some delayed gratification, which is very tricky at this age. However, I knew this particular incentive was huge for him, so I thought I would give it a try.

He had been asking to go to his friend Madeleine's house for several days. Gavin knows Madeleine from church. She is a very mature and sweet 7. She apparently has that "it" factor for toddler and preschool boys. I think it has something to do with the fact that she pays attention to them and talks to them and (at our most recent play date) develops lesson plans for them compete with games and hands-on activities. Are you getting the picture here? According to her mom, she doesn't mind that the toddlers follow her around and hang on her every word (read: she likes it). She plays great with Gavin, so I like it, too.

Though he didn't know when, he knew we were going to her house soon. So at lunch, I pulled out the calendar and drew a heart on Thursday (today is Tuesday) and told him that we were going to Madeleine's house in a couple days, but first he had to lie down and take a nap like a big boy with no crying. I showed him how many days away it was, and I was clear that we were not going when he woke up -- we would go in two days. But first he had to lay down like a big boy. He seemed convinced immediately, and I could tell it wasn't one of those I'll-placate-Mommy-now-but-I-am-already-making-plans-to-rebel moments. I think he really intended to do it.

Of course, intending and doing are two entirely different things. When I was laying him down, he did start to insist on a pacifier and feign apathy about Madeleine's house, but I very quickly reminded him of our plan, repositioned him, said I loved him and walked out. No tears. Woohoo!!!

It took him forever to fall asleep! But no tears. Some of my friends who had been praying were texting and emailing with me while I waited, and of course, I was sending updates to Josh. When Gavin finally got quiet and fell asleep -- I am not going to lie -- a few happy tears escaped my eyes.

He's been doing great ever since (a whole one day, but I'm optimistic). We are still dealing with cranky mornings, but once we start breakfast, he's usually good. I hope we get back to morning cuddles and smiles soon.

Thanks for coming along with us on this journey to a life without paci. Not that I don't love you and everything, but I think you'll understand when I say -- I'm glad it was a short one.

Other posts in this series: Part 1 and Part 2

Monday, July 15, 2013

For the love (and letting go) of the pacifier: Part 2

In Part 1 of this short series, I talked about how I prepared to help Gavin say farewell pacifier. But the initiation of our "You're a Big Boy Now" Campaign actually started with Gavin. A month or so ago, my mom had told him that soon he would be old enough to say goodbye to his pacifier and give it to a baby. He mentioned it every now and then, and one morning, out of the blue, he said he wanted to give them to the babies now. After expressing interest and reserved pleasure, I asked if he was ready to take a nap without his pacifier. He thought about it and said, "I give them to the babies later." Even though he wasn't actually ready, he brought it up without any prompting, so I thought -- maybe this is a good time.

A few days later, when I told Gavin I had gotten some books about pacifiers from the library, he came over in a trance-like state. Did I mention he loves his pacifier?

I was thrilled that Gavin liked Bye-Bye Binky. Overall, it's a cute book. When Nori, the main character, loses his pacifier, his friends find it in various places (unbeknownst to him) and think it is something else -- a ring, a hair clip, a swing, etc. When the protagonist finally gets it back, he realizes he doesn't need it anymore, ties it to a balloon and lets it go. The story is light, fun and lets parents fill in the blanks of their child's specific situation. I don't quite get the part about the curly-tail catapult, but okay -- whatever.

So we started talking about how he is a big boy and how it's time to say bye-bye to his pacifier, so his teeth would stay nice. We brought out a calendar on which I had highlighted the next three days. We said, "This square is today. This square is tomorrow. Each square is a day. Today is over. Let's check it off. Can you help me make a check?" He thought that was so cool. Then I pointed to the highlighted days and said, "You can pick one of these days to say bye-bye to your pacifier. Do you want to pick tomorrow, the next day or the next day?" Wisely he chose the day furthest away, which worked well with my plan because it was a Friday. Each night we would check off the day and talk about what would happen on Friday. He smiled every time he said, "I'm gonna say bye-bye my pacifier." I knew the tears would come regardless, but as I said in the last post, I wanted him to feel positive, prepared and supported.

Enter the moral compromise of the story: Gavin wanted to say bye-bye to his pacifier by letting it go up with a balloon -- like Nori in the book -- and we said yes. Ugh, I can't believe we did that. We really do love birds and the environment and everything. I guess desperate parents + a possible way out = poor judgment. Don't worry, it all works out for the birds in the end. Keep reading.

The next day we read the book more and also watched part of the Elmo video (Bye-Bye Pacifier: Big Kid Stories with Elmo). I thought the story in the video was drawn out and rather tedious. It may be interesting for parents or kids with longer attention spans because it explains all the ways Elmo tried to get rid of his pacifier and what finally worked. I knew there was no way he would sit through the entire thing, so I just played the song and portion of the story that described the final solution. It's a cute, catchy song with elements of empathy and reasoning. It got stuck in my head for way too many hours.

When Friday came, the three of us went to buy some helium balloons. That was fun in itself! We got four balloons for the two pacifiers and two for him to play with after the lift-off.

We decided to do it at home in our backyard (fewer witnesses for our environmental folly). We let Gavin hold them, and say, “Bye-bye! I’m a big boy now.” He let them go, and they flew over the fence...

...right into the neighbor’s very tall tree.

Hmmm…Gavin looked up. There are the balloons. There are the pacifiers. Not quite the climactic moment we were envisioning. Thankfully, he was so excited about being a big boy, it did not ruin the plan. He just looked up every now and then and said, "I'm a big boy now. I said bye-bye to my pacifiers." He played in the backyard while Josh and I argued with whispers and facial expressions about whether or not we should get them down. I was against. (He’ll be fine. We don’t have anything that will reach. I’ll tell him the squirrels will use them for their nest. I don’t want you to fall and break your neck. It’s so hot and humid that we hardly go in the backyard!) Josh was for. (If he wakes up and sees them there, all bets are off.) Josh was right.

Without going into detail, let me just say he got them down using all the mechanical engineering skills you’d expect from a sociology major (his words not mine). So it was a happy ending for the birds and the environment (and our backyard neighbors). Once rescued from the tree, we had to kill four innocent balloons. Tragic, I know, but they had served their purpose, and we couldn’t very well have them floating around the house the next day. No, they had to go. We did suck the helium for fun. Total sidebar: Josh’s voice is not affected by helium. I’m thinking about checking the color of his blood. (Cue Twilight Zone theme.)

When we started our before-bed stories, Gavin asked for his pacifier out of habit. We reminded him that he is a big boy now, and we said bye-bye to them. That went fine until it was actually time to lie down. He protested and whined and whimpered. We gave one more hug, and he lay down, but not more than a minute after we left the room, he started whimpering again. We let him go for five minutes, and then Josh went in, assured him and left. (We decided on Josh going because before we left the room it was obvious that he was trying to get sympathy from me.) We didn't hear another peep from him. Overall, pretty good! We were pleased.

In the mornings, we usually cuddle in the glider before starting our day. He woke up asking for his pacifier and would not be comforted -- even by Daddy! No cuddling today. Good thing I had those new hot wheels cars. Instant mood changer!

Naptime Saturday was harder. He didn’t want to lie down. We let him cry for 10 minutes. Josh went in, settled him and left. No problem. Repeat at bedtime that night.

Naptime Sunday was a different story. Josh left in the afternoon to work on his dissertation, and I had nap duty by myself. When I left the room, he started crying. I was going to let him cry for 10 minutes and go in to reassure and then leave again, but at 8 minutes he got quiet – the miracle I was praying for! Just when I started to feel sad that he had cried himself to sleep, I hear him. Is that whimpering, humming, singing? It was hard to tell. After a while, it escalated. I went in, reassured, left – further escalation. Rinse and repeat. At some point, Gavin decided forget sympathy, I’m going for all out autonomy – no nap today. I called Josh to ask him to come home. My hero came in, calmed him for two minutes, left the room. Silence. Sleep. Nap ensues. Thank you, Lord.

So at this point, I’m low. Very low. I knew there would be tears, but not this. And it seemed like it was becoming a pattern. I knew it couldn't last forever, but how long? My friends said three days -- that's tomorrow! It doesn't seem like it's going to be better tomorrow. Ugh! What to do?!

So I prayed and thought. I was in the same turmoil as when he'd go through sleep transitions (rebellions) in his newborn days, so why not use the same plan? Make someone else do it until his habit changes. Unfortunately, I was the catalyst for the crying and protesting, so I decided it was best to remove myself from the equation for a few days. (Yes, I know how blessed I am to have help -- believe me, I do.) So my new plan was: Sunday night, Josh does bedtime with Gavin solo. Monday, he naps at my sister’s house while I work.

Both Sunday night and Monday afternoon went great (yay!!!) -- not a single tear. Monday night I decided Josh and I would do bedtime with him together like normal. We had a very fun bedtime. He was in a good mood. I was feeling it. It was going to work. Then after I laid him in the crib, he was like, "Wait! Mom's here. I should see how far I can take this." I firmly reassured him, and Josh gave him his blankets and bears. I know Daddy being there helped interrupt the downward spiral. "Sweet dreams" were exchanged, and we were out. No crying! Hallelujah!

So I sit here and type, moments away from a celebratory froyo. My next big hurdle is laying him down by myself with no crying (his crying or mine), which I will have the...excitement...of doing tomorrow, and at naptime nonetheless. I am hopeful for a good result. I'll let you know.

Other posts in this series include: Part 1 and Part 3

Sunday, July 14, 2013

For the love (and letting go) of the pacifier: Part 1

This story begins early one winter morning when Gavin was less than two weeks old. My mom had come over to help and let Josh rest. Gavin had just nursed but was still very fussy. We tried every soothing technique we knew. And then I just did it. I grabbed the pacifier the hospital had given us and popped it right in his mouth.

Now we had been trying to wait on this step as long as possible -- so as not to introduce nipple confusion. We knew it was just a matter of time before we'd give it a shot. This child had such a strong sucking reflex and a strong mouth. Oh yes, a pacifier was in his future. It was only a question of when.

When Josh woke up later that morning, he was surprised to see Gavin with a pacifier (which he later insisted that we never call paci or binky or anything else). I just said, "We decided we're doing the pacifier now." He looked confused like maybe he was so sleep-deprived that he forgot that entire conversation. No honey, not you-and-I "we." Me-and-my-accomplice "we."

And so it began. Pacifier. I'm a fan.

But we knew the time would come when we would have to wean him off of it -- a day I was dreading. Somewhere around 18 months we made the slow but pretty easy transition to keeping it in the crib and only using it for sleeping. Our doctor said he could sleep with it until age 3, but my friend cautioned me about waiting too long because she said if he's not physically desperate for a nap, he may start dropping his nap when his comfort item is taken away. I am interested in keeping the nap as long as possible, so upon this advice, I started thinking about how we would wean him. A few months later, after he turned two-and-a-half, we decided it was time.

I knew there was probably no way to avoid the tears, but I also didn't want to spring it on him one night. I wanted him to feel positive, prepared and supported. (And just in case you were wondering -- no, he is not the kid that is just going to give it up one day on his own. I wish. He loves this thing. He is not attached to any other object.)

Gavin loves books, and he is pretty suggestible if the idea comes from a book, so I started reading reviews for every pacifier book I could find. Based on what I found, it seemed most of them spent a good deal of time helping the child limit pacifier usage only to sleepy times. Well, we were already there, so I kept looking. The only one I found that really seemed to meet our needs was Bye-Bye Binky by Brigette Weninger. Unfortunately it was out of print and going for $49 or more on Amazon and auction sites. (When I was lamenting this to my parents, my so-sweet, very-frugal dad blurted out: "Fifty bucks! Give me that pacifier. He'll only cry for a day." Ha ha -- funny dad.) Thankfully, I found it for free at our local library. (While I was there I also got Little Bunny's Pacifier Plan. Gavin never wanted to read it, but it seemed to coincide well enough with our situation that I gave it a shot.)

I also bought my first kid's DVD: Bye-Bye Pacifier - Big Kid Stories with Elmo. Before this video, Gavin still hadn't really watched TV yet. We originally chose not to introduce TV before age two based on Brain Rules for Babies (see my take on the book here), but then after he turned two, I just never made time to look into what shows I wanted to him to watch, and he never seemed interested, so we never made it a priority. Anyway, I thought this video would be a special treat.

The last couple things in my arsenal: pictures of Gavin's slightly older friends who had given up their pacifiers already (before and after pics), a pack of hot wheels cars I had picked up at a resale shop and a calendar with markers.

See how it all comes together and then falls apart and then (hopefully) comes together in the end, as this short series continues. (You can subscribe by email or to the RSS feed or follow me on twitter @valerie_e.)

Other posts in this series: Part 2 and Part 3

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not just the negative

In my last post, I lamented that Gavin didn't want to play with me anymore. Just boss me.

In my effort to bring "not just the negative," I thought I'd write to say that the very next day was a bit better. And it's been getting better ever since. We have actually played together, especially over the past week. Not as equals, mind you. I mean, he's still the boss (make no mistake). But it has been fun to join in his make-believe and actually have some of my game suggestions approved!

Just look what we've been doing:

Pretending his scooter was a bulldozer to push the blocks and pretending his arms were a crane to lift the blocks and build a building. All while wearing his "construction man" hat.

Playing pirate ship -- "Land, ho!"

The crane truck is towing the Lego car, so the mechanic can "take a look." Funny how after it's fixed, the crane truck still tows the car home.

Sometimes the little boy pictured helps put out fires, but mostly he plays on the ladder. There's our "control tower" in the background.

 It's been fun playing with my cheery guy. Don't get me wrong -- he still loves to say no and knows how to throw a fit, but I'm glad to have the bright spots of "play" as a part of this two-year-old cocktail again.

In other news...there's no way to know if Gavin had his first dream today, but there is evidence that he did have a dream today, and it's the first one I've known about. He woke from his nap saying, "Mommy, Mommy" in a whimper (not unusual). I walk in and he's still lying down (not unusual). He says, "Mommy, I want to hold a truck," in a sweet, pathetic, urgent voice (very unusual). I repeated his request to make sure I understood, and then not having a truck at hand, I offered a race car. He then started working his way to a standing position saying he was ready to get up. It's so cute to think of him dreaming about trucks. And I didn't need particularly well-honed dream interpretation skills to surmise that the dream was triggered by that morning's play date with a boy whose room is "car heaven" -- many plastic bins full of cars and a wall of storage cubes with large, realistic trucks and construction equipment. If that doesn't inspire a little boy to dream, I don't know what does.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mommy is SO yesterday

I have about a thousand (read: six) potential blog posts spinning around in my head, but I am starting with the one I'm in the middle of right now. The terrible twos...

Yep, it's happened. He is closing in on two-and-a-half, and I guess toddler bliss can't last forever.

I should qualify this by saying anyone outside our family of three would call them the "quirky" twos. After a night of babysitting, my own mom looks at me wide-eyed when I asked how he did. "I can't imagine him doing anything wrong!" she says. This is somehow paybacks because her own mom used to say that of me -- the first grandchild. My grandmother's comments left me pretty much convinced that I had been a perfect child...until now...when I realize...I just had her snowed.

Now, my husband Josh is definitely a little closer to the action. He may call this phase the whiny twos or the impossible twos or the I'm-so-over-the-occasional-tantrum twos.

As the mom, I have the privilege and the burden (don't forget the anxiety and exhaustion) of experiencing the "terrible" right under my feet, sun up to sun down. I know the fact that he will test me more and learn how to push my "buttons" faster comes with the territory of being the person he spends the most time with -- a privilege I do not plan on giving up any time soon. And that dynamic has existed his entire life. When he was five weeks I went to a support class for nursing to get help with a couple different things -- one of which was his squirminess. Of course, he nursed beautifully during the class (like when you take your car into the shop, and it stops making that indescribable noise...anyone?). I mentioned that I did seem to have more problems when I was home alone nursing than when my husband or mom were there. They said, "Oh, that's normal. They always act up more for mom." I was like, "Already?!" Yes. Already.

I would lament to Josh during Gavin's various infant stages that I got more unpleasantness from him than anyone else did. He would empathize but also remind me that moms always get the most cuddles and the best hugs. It was true.

But will it remain true?

Here's what I mean. Yes, we are experiencing whining, fervent negotiating that quickly turns into demanding, screaming (if you know him, I know you don't believe me right now) and the occasional short-lived tantrum. Those things cause me quite a bit of anxiety. It's really the anticipation of them that is the worst for me -- knowing that any given request may trigger a flywheel of insistence and irrationality.

But even more than that, I feel like I am losing my playmate. My mommy status seems to be changing from my son's "favorite person to be with" to his "favorite person to boss around," which wouldn't be so bad except the bossing usually includes him telling me that I can't play with him. Do I sound like a second-grader at recess or what?! "He won't play with me!!" I know. I know. It sounds so silly, but it is kind of getting me down in a way I wouldn't have anticipated. Probably because it's coupled with these typical two symptoms and an unprecedented love for play with Daddy. (Unprecedented is a strong word here because he has always loved his daddy.)

I'll just stop right here and say this is a tricky post to write without a slew of disclaimers. So here they are:
-- No, I'm not saying everything about "two" is terrible.
-- No, I would never call him terrible, nor would I describe his behavior that way in front of him.
-- No, I'm not jealous of his love for my husband. I know I am insanely blessed that Josh is such a great dad and that Gavin adores him.
-- Yes, there are plenty of good times to be had, and actually, he is still amazingly cuddly with me. (At least for now, I still do get the best hugs.)
-- Yes, I know this is a phase and that independence is a normal part of development.

Today, it just felt like I was getting all of the negativism without the sweet looks and funny jokes and playfulness that usually take the edge off.

So I was down in the dumps. During naptime, I asked God to help me and started looking at some trusted parenting sites and even a few child development thesis papers to try to get a better picture of what play with mom is supposed to look like at this age. The answer: it depends on the mom, the kid, the day, the environment... There are few right or wrong answers. (Okay I did find a few wrong ones -- don't use sarcasm, cut-downs and controlling commands during creative play -- all "givens" for my readers, I'm sure.)

The most comforting reminder I found: It is normal for toddlers to assert their independence in a variety of ways including during play. Since I am his primary caregiver, he might be trying to signal that he needs me less. I'm sure he is learning something critical by running his train up and down the tracks, so maybe he just needs to concentrate on that. Maybe he sees me being directive in so many things (let's get your shoes on, time to eat, be careful on those steps), and there are a few play arenas where he wants to call the shots.

As I was jotting down a few notes from my reading, I made an impromptu list.

These are the things I’m allowed to do with him lately:
  • Play musical instruments, dance, marching band (I am to avoid singing at all costs...sigh)
  • Puzzles (though he doesn’t prefer puzzles lately)
  • Legos
  • Sometimes pretend play with pirate ship or stuffed animals
Things I am not allowed to do:

  • Play cars
  • Touch the train unless he needs help when it has fallen
  • Play sports

This actually helped. First of all, it reminded me that--in general--when you're down in the dumps, exercising your left brain (math, organizing) can help lift you out. Also, asking for God's help is always a good idea. Finally, putting things down in black and white helped me realize there are still things he likes to do with my participation. Shockingly, it's not all doom and gloom as my pre-prayer, pre-nap, dark-chocolate-almond-milk-chugging self once believed. Hope. It's a beautiful gift.

Unfortunately knowing these things and writing this blog will have no impact whatsoever on the likelihood that I will encounter a tantrum tomorrow. However, hope is a powerful outlook-changer. I'm glad to have some in my mommy bag now.

For more on getting up out of "the dumps," check out this blog from a lady I really respect: