Sometime in the last year, I went from
waiting on caring for a toddler to spending my day with an interesting small person who can hold a conversation. That rocks my world.
If you’re really interested in knowing how hard my first few months at home were, you’re welcome to search the archives for “tantrum” or “meltdown” or “sanity.” It was awful, all the more so because I didn’t know to expect this at 3. No one tells you your child will turn into a demon at 3 (saying this is how I start many conversations on the playground). I didn’t realize a kid could have successive tantrums for 12 hours straight. But, slowly, it turned around.
The progress isn’t as dramatic as it used to be (when she would wake up a much more advanced thinker than she was the night before, or we could watch her processing information and puzzling through it) but is still amazing. We still go through stormy development periods, but they don’t seem to last long, and each time she seems to recover faster. Also, I know one is coming when she starts stuttering – it’s a tell that’s worked every time.
She’s still a perfectionist, and will probably be stuck fighting it her whole life. She has no tolerance for cognitive dissonance. She now has a little tolerance for being told “no,” although not much. She notices when M and I tell each other “no” in conversation, or when other mothers tell their children “no,” and she marvels at it; she is starting to understand it isn’t a personal attack on her.
She shares and take turns so much better than she did a year ago. She plays pretty well with 5-year-olds, although they seem baffled by this kid who is their size but acts like a 3-year-old. This is a huge relief, because one of the things I worried over when we pulled her out of school was that she’d lose her ability to play with other kids.
She’s charismatic and engaging. When we go out, she’s showered in compliments. It embarrasses her.
She still doesn’t ask “why” questions. She’s not cognitively there; she’s more interested in the rules and structure of things, rather than whys. It’s fine. We spend a lot of time on rules and physical properties of objects and classifications.
Through the magic of Electric Company DVDs, she’s gotten interested in letters, words, and sounds – all classification stuff she loves. First word she recognized, outside of her name: “No.” We spend a little time every day making words with magnetic letters, but only briefly, and only at her request. She has zero interest in doing anything M or I want her to – it has to be her idea, all the way. Totally her father’s daughter here. (Well. OK. I might be a little like that, too. But M to the nth degree.) So I don’t push it, but when she shows interest, I’m right there on the floor with her in front of the dryer, pushing letters around.
She asks, “May I” and “Can I” questions that are impossible to comply with, like, “May I hold that dinosaur later?” We used to give measured and reasonable answers, but that was exhausting, so now we say, “Later.” We say “later” about 200 times a day, because the questions come fast and furious. Maybe I’ll be relieved to be asked “why,” after all.
One thing that I continue to marvel at is her ability to stick to her guns when M and I are telling her she’s wrong, or are misunderstanding her. Because you know what? If the kid is kicking up a fuss about something or is correcting us, 5 out of 6 times, she’s right. This is the other, brighter side of the coin to the child who screamed bloody murder and required two adults to hold her down while glass was being extracted from her foot. I love her will and I hate her will.
As a mom, I think my job is to give her people skills and get her ready to go to school. She is learning about dinosaurs and birds and eggs on her own initiative. I don’t push any of it (and it wouldn’t work if I did). I’m more interested in teaching her patience, self-control, getting her fine motor skills down, and getting her to cope with the vagaries of life and being around other people.
So what do I do with her all day? She gets some educational TV when I need peace. We play with gears and marble tracks and blocks and trains and puzzles. (My rule on kid toys: must be interesting enough for me to want to play with.) We cook. We do art and play-doh and stamps. We go on adventures in the city: this isn’t just to keep me sane, but it’s practical for P. I’m trying to get her to understand that things don’t go our way all the time: we miss a streetcar, the restaurant is closed, the store doesn’t have what we wanted to get, we don’t see the ducks. Also, we’re learning street signs, how to safely cross busy public streets, what the rules of the road are, that sort of stuff.
We go to the science museum and the zoo, where most of the exhibits are above her head, but we have to deal with crowds and rude people and taking turns. It reinforces my belief that other people’s children are monsters, but I figure it’s good for P, an introduction to what school will be like.
We go to playgrounds. We walk at least a mile most days. And I make sure she spends a little bit of every day bored. I get a huge kick out of watching what she does: sometimes she “reads” books. Most of the time she gets her Playmobil dinosaurs out and plays with them. Sometimes it’s blocks.
I don’t go out of my way to avoid triggers with her. Instead, I try to expose her to them in a controlled way. It seems to be working. What would have caused a screaming fit a year ago is now (usually) greeted with, “It’s OK, Mama. We’ll try again later.” When she can’t get it together to say that, I name the emotion and frame it: “You’re disappointed that you didn’t get to see the ducks. Sometimes the ducks are here, and sometimes they are somewhere else. We’ll try again another day.” I feel like a total tool saying that while she’s having a screaming fit, but you can only do so much.
M works with her on computer stuff in the evening. She has an old mini laptop that runs Ubuntu and has a paint program, a go cart racing program, a Mr. Potato Head program, and other various and sundry kiddie apps. M set up a huge queue of funny YouTube animal videos that she’ll watch. They both sit on the bed with their respective laptops.
When we have problems, they’re mostly tied to fatigue. She falls apart and gets out of control when she’s tired, and we can exhaust ourselves trying to control her when she’s in one of those states. There is screaming (hers) after which I expect the police to knock on the door. They usually end with her in tears and righteously angry (because she has been restrained or had her toys taken away), after which she will fall asleep. Not ideal.
Brushing her hair still sucks. It usually involves my accidentally spraying detangler on myself and having to chase her.
Getting her to eat is also a royal pain. She will usually eat one decent meal a day, but I have no way of knowing which meal that will be, or what she will want.
Hard days are still completely exhausting. She feeds off of emotional energy, so the more worked up she is, the calmer and more uninterested I have to appear: when I’ve just been kicked or something has been thrown or broken, it’s really, really difficult to feign serenity. In the last year, I’ve had my patience complimented a number of times. If you know me IRL, this should make you laugh, because you know that patience is not among my strengths, or at least, wasn’t. While I was working on teaching her to take turns, P has taught me patience. It hasn’t been fun, and it isn’t pretty, but she’s made me a better person, too.