Alrik turned three when we were on our trip to London. It was as if a switch was flipped. Gone is our easygoing toddler and in his place is a kid who wholeheartedly digs in and melts down multiple times a day.
At first we wrote it off as jet lag and disrupted sleep, then a possible cold, then adjustments to our sleep schedule on our return. Finally, we just had to admit it: This is how he is right now.
|This is a boy screaming that anyone else got food except for him. How dare we!|
Clearly he deserves ALL THE PLATES.
I'd say it's our comeuppance that he was such an easy baby and toddler, except that we had plenty of the drama with Mikko's baby and toddler days to last us, but maybe that's just how it is: You can choose one phase to be easy, and the rest are going to push you.
I'm not talking whining and whimpering, either. Oh, no. These are full-out, bloodcurdling screams, or his entire face crumpling as he opens his mouth wide in a whole-throated, whole-lunged wail — that then lasts fifteen minutes or more. These are obviously big emotions — over what, to us, seem like little things.
One common complaint is anytime we wipe his nose, and he's had the sniffles. "Put the boogies ba-a-a-ack, Mama!" he'll sob. There is no placating him. Another is if we run out of anything, ever. Telling him we don't have that item right now but will make a trip to the store to get some more would work just peachy for a reasonable person, but it has no effect on a three-year-old. "But I wa-a-a-ant it!" he cries, off and on for hours.
The fifth inciting incident of the day recently was putting back a book he was browsing at a store before we checked out and left. It was a cheap board book, somewhat beaten up already by other browsing tots, and I had no intention of buying it — and foolishly assumed that neither did he, that he would enjoy it in the cart and surrender it amicably upon leaving. Ha ha ha! I'm so dumb.
I eventually had to enlist the help of the checkout clerk so we could make it out of the way and let the long line continue on behind us. Alrik handed it over, reluctantly, but broke into his trademark wail and collapsed bodily in the cart. "Oh, sure, make me the bad guy," joked the clerk. I wanted to reassure her that she needn't worry — that I was forever and always the bad guy.
When I lifted him out of the cart, still screaming at the car, he tried to dart back through the busy parking lot to get to his precious book. Meanwhile, Mikko was pulling me in the opposite direction, toward the nearby toy store. His allowance was burning a hole in his pocket, and he wanted to see if he could find an enticing Matchbox car for a dollar. I tried cajoling Alrik toward the toy store, reminding him he could play with the train set therein. No dice. "I need my book!" he screamed, and kept screaming.
I was not feeling at my most patient. I'd already tried the usual distractions and reasoning tactics, to no effect. I couldn't in the moment think of a peaceful resolution besides getting the heck out of Dodge. I considered buying the stupid book, but I wasn't sure how to do even that without a whole lot of hassle. I called Mikko back to us, apologized that we'd have to skip the toy store today, and picked up Alrik to head back to the car. Alrik was not amenable to this plan, in case anyone was wondering. He made that clear on the way to the car, in the car, and nearly the whole ride home. Mikko alternately tried to calm him down, quite sweetly, and chastised him for making him miss his chance at the toy store.
I'd earlier mentioned to Mikko that we could make a rare stop for a donut on our way home, but now I was second guessing this plan. Alrik had calmed down enough to breathe, so we all talked it out: Was he calm enough to go to the donut store? He seemed so. I routed our car there. But when we pulled into the parking lot, Alrik rebelled again: He didn't want to go to the donut store. He didn't want a donut at all. He wanted to go home. I'd been envisioning a peaceful moment at a table inside, sipping milk and nibbling on a donut after watching the donut machines at work, but I turned us through the drive-thru instead. Mikko ordered two donuts, and I ordered two, and Alrik ordered nothing. "Get him one anyway, Mama," Mikko pleaded with me. "He'll want one later." I was obstinate: He said he didn't want one, and I wasn't buying him something he was just going to spurn. By the time we got home, it would be his bedtime anyway.
But for now, we still had the grocery store ahead, with a long list to get through. We scored a little green car shopping cart at the entrance, and the boys clambered into the front to drive (how long will they both fit?). While I was still feeling brooding and irritable over the earlier tumult, the brothers were happily getting along and chattering to each other peaceably in the tight space, as if to mock me for my continued thoughts about putting Alrik up for sale in one of the aisles. ("Anyone want a slightly used three-year-old?")
We made it through the checkout and out to the car without any more meltdowns (from any of us), and then Mikko brought it up: The donuts. Should he eat his donuts now or wait till we got home? And did Alrik want one?
Well, shoot. "You don't have one," I told Alrik. "You said you didn't want one." We were too far from the donut store now to go back.
"He can have one of mine, Mama," Mikko said.
"If you want to," I said. "He doesn't need one if you don't want to. He said he didn't want any."
Mikko kept talking about the donuts all the way home from the grocery store. I finally told him to stop talking about them unless he actually, really did plan to give one to Alrik; otherwise, it was just mean. We could wait till Alrik went to sleep and eat them then.
"I want to give him one," Mikko said to me. "I just don't know if it's ok. You said he didn't get a donut because he was being so screamy and didn't want one, but I said you should get him one anyway. Don't take this personally—wait, what does 'don't take this personally' mean?"
I tried to explain it.
"Don't take this personally," Mikko continued, "but I told you so."
I burst out laughing. "You used it correctly," I assured him.
"Anyway, I don't know if it's ok, because you said you don't want to do nice things for Alrik when he's screaming because he has to learn his lesson that he doesn't get nice things when he's being screamy. But I want to give him a donut now."
"You can give him a donut if you want to," I said.
"But then he won't learn that lesson."
"He'll learn the lesson that even when he's screamy, people do nice things for him," I told Mikko. "Maybe that's a better lesson."
For both of us.
P.S. A great book about showing unlimited grace and love in the midst of meltdowns is Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. I can only assume that Mikko has read it — and that I need to remember it better!
P.P.S. We all shared the donuts.