Life Skills 101: Tent, Nap + Snacks…Whew! What a rough week. So glad it’s over.
my on-the-brink-of-four-year-old child just told me (threatened, was it?) that i would not be his best friend if i didn’t let him have ice cream for breakfast!
he wasn’t mean about it. but he was as sincere as a little one who’s coming to understand the “suchness” of friendship could be. he really wanted that statement to mean something to me.
i held back the laughter. (the ridiculousness of it all: K is cute and funny when he pouts and rationalizes; he’s persistent in his requests for sweet snacks at inappropriate times; we have this debate several times a day!)
i then probed deeper, talking with K about feeling sad or mad or disappointed at not getting what he likes when he wants it. i asked him what it meant that i’m not his best friend. but he’d already changed his mind, climbing into my arms for a hug.
here begins another teaching moment for the family in patience, fairness, friendship, teamwork and kindness. always exhaling…to invite mindfulness to the madness.
We were standing in the grocery aisle when K said it. I turned to look at my not-quite-four-year-old son and, with disbelief, asked, “What did you say?”
“I’m bored, Mommy,” he repeated. “I’m not having any fun right now.”
My jaw dropped as if K had actually uttered that other 5-lettered curse word. Seriously, how did he even learn about the concept of boredom when it’s not in my vocabulary?! (The answer popped up between my silent bouts of huffing and teeth-sucking: TV or D-A-D, of course!)
After I recovered from the shock, I assured him that I understood shopping wasn’t his top choice of activities (despite his previous excitement over getting to cruise around in the plastic car attached to the shopping cart). Then I immediately told K he was not allowed to be bored! Seriously. He’s too young and imaginative: this child of mine who nearly goes into a trance over the simple joy of pushing his fleet of cars around the bed for hours on end—molding the sheets and blankets into mountains, ramps, and parking lots.
I mean, have mercy on your dear mom—a/k/a your human jungle gym, running buddy, puzzle partner, play date coordinator, and master problem solver who does her best to engage you in stimulating activities to help you burn energy and learn new/interesting things. This is no small feat on a regular day. Now add the relentless surge of winter storms from the Polar Vortex, which has limited the time we can play in the snow, and the battle against cabin fever can become excruciating. Oh, and, mustn’t forget to multiply it by occasional bouts of must-have-Mommy-by-my-side-at-all-times. EXHALE.
Since then K has tossed out the b-word a few more times. Thankfully, it’s only taken a little bit of quizzing about his ideas and feelings to divert the restlessness toward a satisfying creative outlet. But, man! I had really hoped we would have a few more years before our kid started complaining about boredom.
I ADORE this! It’s just the kind of sunshiny reminder we need from our little rascals.
K took one look at his plate and exclaimed that the noodles looked like the picture in the book where you puke! He was so excited to show me and dashed upstairs to grab How The Incredible Human Book Works so we could, he suggested, “compare.”
K is forever pulling out my yoga mat to “exercise” or spontaneously busting a yoga pose. We love Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani), especially when settling down for bed. So today I thought it be fun to enlist his help (and stave off cabin fever) to create a fun photo to include in an announcement about my class cancellation.
I thought it might be a passing mood. K nibbled the bun around his burger, flipped it over to peel away the bottom bun, devoured it, flipped it back and polished off the top layer of his ketchup-soaked bun.
“Sometimes I don’t like the meat when it’s big like that,” he explained.
THAT was nearly a week and three ketchup sandwiches ago! And he’s asking to make more–“with ketchup and nothing beneath it.”
Let me first state that I do not subscribe to the common expectation that a toddler’s transition to the age of two will be terrible!
Even at the height of my son’s spontaneous emotional swirl-nados, I steadfastly refuse to be trapped by what I see is a trite label and myopic view in child development that doesn’t foster deep, compassionate understanding. Yes, there will be tantrums! Frequent and at times seemingly relentless. But there are far too many magical moments (and, in general, enough madness) in parenthood to flat-out condemn this developmental phase as a requisite breath-holding, loin-girding battle of the wills.
What these natural growing pains require are deep breaths, gentle words, easy smiles, open arms, sympathetic hearts and creative minds. The magic is revealed when we greet the madness with such mindfulness and, whenever possible, humor.
“No” and its variants are running neck-and-neck with “Mommy” as the utterance we hear most frequently. Be it emphatic and loud, soft and sweet, plaintive or matter-of-fact, our growing list of the ways in which K expresses his
resistance—er, preference—currently includes:
Not all of these “no” moments are cause for alarm. Many, I must admit, are hysterical to me—and I get so tickled that I can hardly suppress my laughter! In those laughable cases, my mate and I typically find it easy to redirect K’s attention and energy. If his persistence cannot be ignored, we are not above negotiating with Altoids (our newest useful tool) to allay potential meltdowns and encourage cooperation from our mint-crazed kid.
But I mindfully gauge my response to each situation (namely, turning away if I’m particularly giggly) so as not to invalidate K’s feelings. When I notice that he’s beginning to struggle with his emotions, I ask whether he needs help, a hug or both. Any of those are effective in the easiest scenarios.
Of course, we parents wouldn’t stretch and grow into our wise and skillful selves if we only had the easy. In the toughest moments K’s alter, The No-Bot, emerges to unequivocally and inconsolably refuse all aid!
Now comes the deep breathing…and, I give K the space to work it all out: He’ll clomp upstairs and fling himself onto the bed, hiding under the covers whenever I check in. Or, run off to pout in a corner or shut himself in a closet or the bathroom. Yes, all of these dramatic gestures from a child on the cusp of two years old!
Even in the midst of this I remain amused and amazed by how well this child of mine knows his own mind and fearlessly expresses it. Most important, I recognize and respect that K is a little person who doesn’t yet know what to do with all these big new feelings and ideas blooming inside. It’s not necessary, helpful or appropriate to exhaust myself by demanding his obedience. As a connected parent, I understand that when children don’t “feel right” they have difficulty demonstrating the behavior we deem “acting right” and learning to manage feelings is a slow and gradual practice (for kids and adults alike).
This wide open perspective serves us both: K learns that he can freely and safely experience a full range of natural emotion such as frustration (the most common because he can’t do or have something), anger, discomfort, fear or confusion without punishment. I not only foster trust and compassionate communication between us, but also exercise patience and conserve energy. I model the calm behavior and, slowly and gradually, nurture those seeds of calm in him.
So I wait nearby, quietly assuring him that I understand and am ready to help, to hold, to hug.
Then that moment of intensity passes. K settles into my arms. I rock him and sing the calm down song until his breath comes smooth and steady. (Ah, the magic of songs and education-based kids’ programming that can be used as empowerment tools for parents and their little ones. Another jewel for magic + mindfulness: Anh’s Anger.)
Now I know he’s ready to listen. I replay the scenario and translate his feelings into simple words: you wanted to do this, mommy said that, you felt mad…and so on. Sometimes, I take him to stand before the mirror so he can see how his feelings look. I tell him that it’s okay, that he’s growing and learning, and still needs help from mommy and daddy.
I look into K’s eyes and say, “Gimme your nose!” Giggling, we rub our noses together in an Eskimo kiss. Into this simple, loving gesture I breathe my willingness to receive all his no’s with mindfulness. K’s transient outburst is already forgotten. Centered and at ease once more, he zips off to the next new experience.
These two gorgeous lines (tweeted by someone in my cipher) sprang to life in the shape of my puddle-hunting, snow-munching, nature-loving son! In them I see a beautiful meditation celebrating the transition from winter to spring.
spring when the world is mudlicious…
…when the world is puddle-wonderful…
And, on the brink of spring in Michigan…when the world is snowlightful!
Read here in its entirety: [in Just-] by e. e. cummings: The Poetry Foundation.