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: