Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I'm not to the terrible twos yet as commonly referenced, but Mikko is 22 months old. That's a lot of twos, right?
We've noticed lately an increase in his frustration levels and a corresponding increase in his dramatic responses to those frustrations. Are they tantrums? Maybe sorta. I don't feel like labeling them, particularly since I haven't yet seen the stereotypical movie kind where the kid flings himself on his stomach and kicks his legs about. Mikko flings himself on his back. Much different.
(Side note: When I was, I don't know, five or so, I decided to show my parents I meant business by having a Tantrum. So I matched what I'd seen on the screen or from other drama queens (who knows from whence my inspiration sprang) and tried the full-out prostrate kicking. And felt like a total faker fool. I wonder if my parents knew? I remember they weren't much impressed.)
Mikko has always been what we might delicately call "dramatic." Or intense. Or, as his Grandma so gently puts it, he has so much personality. Or, as parenting author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka titled her kindhearted book on the subject, he's spirited.
I've written before, a bit shamefacedly, about how we failed to live up to the Yequana ideal of baby as floppy rag doll as espoused in The Continuum Concept. We've equally failed to live up to the pinnacle of Attachment Parenting success, which often comes across as a formula: Wearing your baby + Cosleeping + Breastfeeding + Responding promptly = Happy, easygoing baby. I hear many a proud and happy AP mama claim that her baby is so low-key because of the way said baby was treated as an infant ("My baby never cries because I always respond," etc.). Maybe it's true — maybe those babies would have been perfect hellions if treated conventionally. Maybe my Mikko would have been more "dramatic" if we had done conventional parenting. Frankly, I think there's truth in both those statements.
But, a lot of it is just personality. And I'm cool with that.
So what does this have to do with tantrums?
I've become aware of parents starting to "discipline" their toddlers around this age, and I don't see the point (don't get me started on the Supernanny's naughty step), but I think I might understand the origins.
Because I've determined that Mikko's background as an intense baby and his current slower-than-average verbal development have turned out to be united blessings in disguise.
As he transitions more into the age where everything can spark off a flare of temper, Sam and I have the history of seeing him get angry about everything and anything in his short life so far. First it was birth — boy, was he mad about that! Then it was the colostrum — not flowing fast enough, thank you very much. The nurses were dismayed at how much he screamed his first night — and so was I! Then it was peeing, whether in a diaper or a potty. He hated the sensation of peeing; he hated being held over a potty; he hated being in a wet diaper; he hated having his diaper changed. We couldn't win! We did, however, get used to it, such that we had a reassure a friend that, no, he did not have a urinary tract infection; that was how he always reacted to a wet diaper.
When your little newborn gets angry, you can't attach blame to your baby for his reactions. You might blame yourself (I know I fell prey to that sometimes), but clearly your week-old infant isn't screaming just to get your goat. I think that's fairly well accepted now, even in mainstream circles, despite the continuing cry-it-out trend. Most parenting experts on all sides agree that babies that young don't have the developmental wherewithal to be manipulating you yet and that you should respond appropriately. Now, I'm not saying every parent follows this advice (still), but I think it's now a no-duh precept.
It's when the babies get older and start interacting that you start hearing parents ascribe adult motives to innocent behavior.
"He looked right at me while he put his finger on the outlet."
"She smiled after she knocked over my plant."
Looking right at you, of course = defiance. Smiling in this case = evil genius plotting world destruction with glee.
When, of course, looking right at you actually = checking for your reaction, and smiling = trying to connect by choosing a response to see if it's appropriate, while looking at you for your reaction!
But I think it gets even worse once babies can talk. Because, now, hoo boy, they must be all growed up and understand everything.
And so you get parents who interpret tantrums not as understandable frustration with not being able to make the world work the way these burgeoning young things want it to, but as intentional and adversarial misbehavior, of crossing a line that (I believe) they didn't know was there to be crossed.
So I'm glad Mikko's not that verbally adept yet. It keeps me humbly considering him still to be a baby and not a malicious mastermind. He must not know that taking all my makeup out of the drawer might be not just an exploration of color and texture but an inconvenience for me, or that pouring his drink on the sofa might not be just a fun experiment in liquids and gravity but an unholy mess for me to clean.
Here's hoping I'll keep that perspective once he can verbalize his intentions and motivations, even if they're at odds with mine.