Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Terrible Ones. {And eating my words.}

Someone could have warned me, you know.

Or maybe some have tried to warn me, but I've been too busy naively thinking We're totally going to dodge the bullet on this one. Our soft-spoken, dainty little puddin' will never throw tantrums or act toddler-y. She's too mature for that. 

Of course I don't really think those things, but we sure were completely blindsided last week. Because I really was under the impression that we had at least until Lyla's second birthday before we encountered real defiance. I mean, aren't they called the terrible twos?

That's just one bad case of false advertising, if you ask me.
Kind of like the paradox of "morning" sickness.

But seriously though. Our sweet Miss Beans recently decided to catch us completely off guard and confront us with behaviors we weren't prepared to deal with until well into her teenage years.

And I'm just going to come right out and say it. Last week humbled me in a tail-between-the-legs kind of way as I found myself eating every word I've ever said {or mostly thought} about other parenting "tactics".  And you have to remember I was a teacher. A position where you have prime view of all parenting styles. And where you see the very best and the very worst in kiddos. So my unwarranted not-yet-a-parent opinions ran rampant as I often thought I will never let my kid _____ or My kid will never act like that because I will be strict and he/she will know who's boss. 

Never say never, my friends.  

I was a pretty strict teacher, and I feel that I am/will be a strict parent. And by strict, I really mean structured and have clear expectations. Every time my principal came into my classroom, she'd tell me that she rarely saw classrooms run so smoothly,  and that it was clear my students were engaged and learning at all times. If I successfully wrangle a classroom of nearly 30 children, I thought to myself, parenthood will be a breeze.

I ought to go back and slap that girl.

Parenthood is difficult. And although I'm still a very firm believer in rules, consequences, structure, and letting your child fail, I still have no clue what I'm doing. Because it really is one lifelong learning curve. And the moment you finally master one thing, your kid does a complete 180 and leaves you back where you started.

In the dust. 

And we've just begun the toddler years.

Fortunately, we've been blessed with a pretty laid-back tot. Lyla has always been such a mellow, easy-going kid.
Until the moment she is NOT.
She has about a .03 second tolerance window between happy-go-lucky to downright monster beast. She breathes fire when she is hungry, tired, or uncomfortable in any way. So she is pretty much a typical toddler. And her frustration-filled moments are always fleeting, as she immediately resorts back to her sweet angel self with a simple distraction or a tickle of the tummy.

That is, until last week.

At first, it was comical. We've simply never seen such irrational behavior. For instance, one second Lyla was rocking and kissing her baby and the next she was a hysterical hot mess pushing and hitting Samson while yelling "NO". All because he brought her his toy. {Like he has every day for the last 16 months.} Or when her banana was on her placemat instead of her plate and she burst into tears. She cried so hard, we had to remove her from the table. Or when she refused to put her shirt on and started screaming and flailing her arms. I firmly grabbed them while she fought and tried to keep flailing, and I told her we do not throw tantrums . Once I relaxed my grip, she stopped fussing, looked up at me, and slo-o-o-wly lifted one arm in the air. Just to test me.

And what did I do?
I burst out laughing, of course.
{not recommended}

Last week was full of dreaded firsts. Flailing arms. Balled fists. Throwing herself on the floor. Shaking her head and saying "NO". Holding her breath and making her body shake. Falling apart at the slightest frustration. Hitting. Disobeying. And throwing food out of anger.

Well what do you know?
My dough-eyed angel demonstrated normal-ish toddler behavior last week.

Sadly, the majority of these haggard tantrums have revolved around food. And I can assure you, our child eats plenty {at least double what I eat}. But even with an already-full plate, she desperately pleads to "EAT" and signs "MORE" until someone gives her more food. Even my mother-in-law had a difficult time last week and described Lyla's newfound actions as confusing because everything was so completely uncharacteristic. She *gasp* had to take an apple away until Lyl calmed down. You know things are bad when GiGi takes something away. Especially when that something is food.

Also uncharacteristic were our desperate attempts at "discipline". I mean Gabe and I tried everything. We were stern and told her "no". We put her in timeout. We took away food. We slapped her hands. We calmly redirected her. We forcefully held her arms down. We ignored and walked away. We lovingly told her we understood her frustration. And we lost our patience. More than once.

And I had two unforgiving moments where I ate my proverbial words. The judgmental ones where I foolishly thought I knew how to parent before I, in fact, was a parent. Weak Moment #1: I lost my temper and shoved a mouthful of carrots into Lyla's mouth, resulting in the biggest crocodile tears I've ever seen. {and not just Lyla's.} Weak Moment #2: I gave in. I was tired and vulnerable, and I caved. After saying no the first time, I finally gave our screaming child what she wanted. Which I'm pretty sure was her 17th Ritz Cracker. {So that right there was two I will never's: giving my child what she wants only after she screams louder and providing snacks that are are something other than vegetables.}


Now that we've conquered our most difficult parenting week to date, I'm quite confident it was simply an off week. I found myself fiercely clinging to the usual scapegoats: tired? teething? tummy ache? And I nervously tried to convince myself that yes, yes she's teething. There's no way that this new child is my permanent child. Luckily, I think my hunch was at least partially correct because yesterday morning was the first morning in over a week where we didn't have a 20 minute melt-down before 7:00 a.m. And then she willingly gave me not one, but two kisses before bedtime. The kind where she had to walk over to me to dish them out. And tonight, she was back to saying thank you and lovingly petting the dogs.

So maybe there isn't a toddler apocalypse upon us as I suspected. Lyla really was having an off week and naturally acted out as a toddler only knows how. I simply think we've reached the infamous independent threshold. The one where Lyla can't quite communicate what she wants and refuses our help, but still desperately needs our help. She's testing her abilities, but especially her limits. And bottom line, she's trying to figure out these new feelings of frustration.

Lucky for me, Baby Center couldn't have been more timely. Today I received this in an e-mail. It reassured two things 1). That my daughter is completely and totally normal. 2). That Gabe and I have some work to do in the discipline department {as we did two of the things that you must never do when disciplining: lose your cool and give in.}

But at least I can walk away with a slightly deeper understanding of parenthood.
That its learning curve is infinite.
That you do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Even if that means doing something you swore you'd never do.
And when that fails, you try something else.

And then after all of the above, you eat your own words.

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