Friday, May 6, 2011

The Tenacious Twos

            We ran circles around the yard with two soccer balls and Joshua happily yammering in the middle with a third ball, the one with a leak, that he would climb onto so that his belly was on it and he could put out his arms like he was flying. Celia kicked her ball over to the compost pile, which thankfully mostly consisted of freshly cut grass, because she promptly changed course and plopped herself directly into it.
            I stopped dribbling and watched my kids for a moment, enjoying the sun on my face and feeling thankful to be out of the office for the day. Celia was picking up dead grass from the pile and slowly covering her entire body with it. Joshua saw me looking at him and gave a bright-eyed giggle before crawling over to me.
            With Michelle off exercising, it struck me that I’d better start cooking dinner.
            “Celia! Let’s make dinner!”
            Celia pulled herself out of the grassy mess and ran inside as I closed the door.
            “What do you want for dinner?” I asked her.
            “Lunch!” Celia declared.
            I laughed. Celia grinned at me, not knowing what exactly she’d said that I thought was so funny, but proud that she’d managed to do it again.  
            “Alright. I’ll make a parmesan béchamel sauce with pasta like I did for lunch. Only this time I’m going to use mushrooms! Are you going to help?”
            “Yes!” Celia was bouncing and eager.
            But mere minutes later both kids were wailing at me, wanting to be picked up, given attention, cuddled and coddled and loved. For awhile I’d pick up one of them, but then the other would get jealous. Cooking with one arm is tough enough, but with two arms occupied, it was hopeless.
            I mused to myself, “How exactly does one cut a mushroom with one arm?” I began to appreciate one-armed people in the world, and tried to figure out what possible strategies and methodologies would be most helpful. I thought back to the popular book from the 1920s called something like Cooking Techniques for the One-Armed Housewife. That could be very helpful indeed.
            I finally gave up and put Celia in front of her favorite cartoon, Dora the Explorer. With one kid out of the room, cooking became manageable, and I was able to finish and plop Celia’s food in front of her before she complained of hunger. Every time I’ve let her eat in front of the TV, I feel somewhat guilty, but the practical side of me is so thankful at how easy it is.
            I watched Celia happily eat and thought back to how wonderful she’s been this week. “Maybe the “terrible two’s” are over for her?” I mused. Or maybe they never existed at all.
            Michelle and I were talking about it, after a man I’d met playing soccer said his kid was in the terrible twos from two till four. Michelle said, “You know, I think it’s not properly labeled. It should be called the ‘tenacious twos.’ That way, you still think they’re doing great when they’re exploring life’s boundaries.”
            I wonder if, rather than the kids being so terrible, we look at it as an opportunity to use proper parenting techniques to help them get out of the phase more quickly. Michelle and I were discussing it last night, and how our goal has been to focus on how good Celia is, not how bad.
            There was one day where she wanted to build a fort out of cushions. I had to work, and Michelle was exhausted from a night of waking up with Joshua too much, so instead our two-year-old was put in front of the TV. Within twenty minutes, she had ripped important papers, pushed her brother and peed on the floor.
            Michelle called me, exasperated, and told me what had happened. I said, “Well of course! Nobody made her fort with her! You’ve got to get her out of the house and do something positive. Now.”
            Michelle hung up and did exactly that, and they all had a marvelous day at the end of it all. But it could have easily gone the other way. When a kid is acting up that much, it’s tempting to want to punish and reprimand them, tell them they’re bad, and make them want to express themselves in a way that will be responded to – more negative behavior.
            It’s up to the parents to break this cycle. And more often than not, when we do break it, the negative behavior vanishes. At the end of the day, Celia really is a good kid, and wants to do the right thing. It’s our job to help her live up to that, and to not get too picky about the little things.
            This morning, I was rushing the kids out the door to take Celia to daycare, and my brother’s dog came running out to greet us. He was confused, because we were already in the car and just rolled down the windows to say hi instead of petting him. My brother made him sit as we drove off, and Celia said, “Daddy! He’s like, ‘What?! I haven’t eaten yet!’”
            I smiled and furrowed my brow. Why the heck did she just say that? It seemed so odd, coming from the mouth of a two-and-a-half-year-old. But then I thought back to the last few minutes and realized, she was just repeating me! I’d said that very thing right before her, but my muddled early-morning-brain had already forgotten.
            I laughed and said, “You know Celia. That’s probably true.”
            I was struck that she’s a little sponge, soaking up everything we send her way – the words and sentences, as well as actions, attitudes, perspectives and habits. All that we’re doing right now, whether it’s our reactions to her, or our ways of showing affection, are being noticed.
            She’s recently started the nasty habit of getting out of bed at bedtime. At first, we made a big deal about this, and gave her stern faces and fiery eyes when we put her back in bed. But then, Michelle and I talked about it and realized, that’s not going to help. We need to be straight-faced, no emotion showing, and quietly put her back. If it takes ten times, we do it ten times, but eventually she’ll sleep.
            We tried it, and have had enormous success. The first night, it did take eight times, but after that it’s never been more than one or two, and now, every time we put her back in bed, we tuck her in nicely, give her a kiss, and say we love her. We didn’t wait for her to grow out of the bad behavior, we broke the cycle ourselves with our calm, rational, loving actions.
            When she acts poorly, or however she acts, it’s in our best interest as her parents to not get angry or do anything aggressive. We’re the parents here. We need to be in control, calm, and loving. All the negative behavior and emotion that comes out of her needs to stay with her. And so far, when we do it this way, we’ve found that she grows out of it much more quickly.
            I was telling Michelle that these are wonderful days. We need to cherish them, because they pass quickly. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the crying, midnight wakings, and negative behavior, and want to get the whole thing overwith. But it’s a delightful time in the kids’ lives and in ours. We need to appreciate it today.
            My friend’s mother just passed away a few days ago and it reminds me that life is precious and short. Kids are only kids for a short while. Tenacious or terrible, I’m going to cherish whatever it is my kids are going through. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

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