Sunday, October 16, 2011


Learning to communicate with Little Bug as a toddler has its ups and downs.

A few nights ago, I was trying to get him to clean up his room. We put on the clean up songs, and I went to work, but everything I put on top of his toy bin he knocked off as soon as it got there. I picked up 26 alphabet blocks and put them in their tray, and down they came. I organized stacking rings on their posts, and off they went. The more I cleaned, the more mess we had.

I stopped and tried to figure out what was going on. I did consider the entirely reasonable question of whether he wanted his room clean--but I think he did, since that always comes before the bath, which is the high point of his day. I turned to him, and asked with some exasperation what was wrong, looking across the disturbing clear top of the toy bin, and the wreckage all around us--beads on wire toy, stacking cups, great piles of overturned blocks. What do you want? I asked. By now we had gotten to the up-tempo salsa "Hora de limpiar" song, and my son was vibrating with the beat. He picked his way to the bin and launched in an amazing drum riff, head down, hands dancing.

Ah, I thought. I see toy storage, he sees a really big, beautiful drum. Of course cleaning up means clearing it off.

It's hard to get on the same page when you are reading from different books.

I saw the 5-year old version of this in a conversation on a crowded path near the beach in Maine.

"Look, mama, dog poop," said a little girl.

"We need to walk quickly," said her mom, unwilling to acknowledge the dog poop but noticing the people piling up behind them.

"Poop, mama!" said her immoble daughter.

"Come on now, we need to keep going."

"POOOP!" she shrieked.

By this time, only the knowledge that I never want my parenting critiqued in public kept me from telling the mom that she was going to have to talk about poop if she wanted her daughter to move from the spot where she was fixed.

This tells me that impossible communication with a youngster with a different, essentially unrelated agenda should not be considered an isolated event. This is going to go on for years.

Sometimes, though, the toddler brain is not just on a different wavelength. It is completely incomprehensible.

For example, Bug hates getting pants on. There is no reason for this that I can discern; he's happier once they are on, warmer and better protected from scrapes. But getting them on is a major wrestling match. Once we were in a parking lot with a messy diaper, and it took two of us to get new pants on him--one to hold his flailing, hollering body up in the air, the other to position the pants so he could be dropped into them. The Neilds have a song about this--one that only the parent of a toddler could understand. The enemy called pants, pants, pants, the lyrics go. If you put those pants on me, I will cease to be so sweet...if you pull those to my waist, I will make a nasty face. The enemy called pants, pants, pants.

This tells me that the problem is not limited to our toddler. It's from someplace we could call planet toddler.

Another planet toddler moment: he has started to whine. He points to something, then engages in a high-pitched, super-annoying whine to tell me that this is what he wants. I was trying to talk him out of it.

"Little Bug," I said brightly, "what could you say instead?" I understand this is not totally fair. The kid has I think 5 words and about a dozen signs. If he could say, "I want to flip on the light switch," he probably would have. But the whine is going to make me start banging my head against a wall.

He considered my question gravely for a couple of seconds. He pointed at the light switch, and then blew in my face twice. I almost fell over laughing. I carried him to the light switch.

But then there are these moments of communication so perfect it breaks your heart.

Yesterday, his Mama Jennifer called to him that it was time for his nap. He got up from a book on making paella that he had been sitting and contemplating, and ran over to the stairs. Then he saw me and ran back to give me a hug good-bye. Then he very seriously and carefully crawled up the stairs, and got back on his feet at the top. Then he ran down the hall, waving his arms in the air and shouting "Na-na, na-na, na-na" (nurse) and got into the bed.

It turns out, though, that the maternal brain has moments as incomprehensible as the toddler brain. I missed my recalcitrant Bug.

As I watched him organize and plan all these different steps to get to his nap, all I could think was, who is this big guy, and where did my baby go?

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Little Bug said, or signed, his first sentence today. Jennifer and I were planning to take a long walk with the dog, and debating stroller vs. baby carrier. Bug piped up and said, "Na na" (nurse) and then signed "eat" (and then go to) "sleep."

It's bad when your toddler is nagging you for more naps.

He also has instituted nightly baths, which I felt he could go one or two nights without. But how do you answer someone who is 13 months old and signing "bath" and “more”?

It is of course possible that this baby signing thing is over-rated, that it just makes them bossier sooner. For instance, the baby books all say that sometime between 12 and 18 months they can start to follow two step commands (pick up that block and put it in the bin), which he can. But nobody says--because most folks sensibly don't give their toddlers strategies to talk at that age, when their mouths still can't do it--that they can begin to GIVE two-step commands at this age. But I got up today into the greyness of a rainy morning, and Little Bug paddled over to his room in his feet-y pajamas (because he was sleeping in our bed, natch), looked at me and signed (turn on the) "light" (then the) "music."

Ridiculous. (Dancing boy made up his own sign for put on the music: pumping his little hands back and forth by his ears. Gotta dance, mama, gotta dance.)

He has the most astonishing desires for the very things toddlers are supposed to hate. This morning he rejected pancakes for breakfast in favor of black beans, soy milk, and gorgonzola cheese.

It's now becoming clear what direction his terrible twos will take. He will be throwing temper tantrums at the co-op for more vegetables. Stomping angrily down the hall demanding to go to bed earlier.

All of this is not to say he is incapable of real mischief. He is ever ready to throw a shelf full of books on the floor, and he approaches getting into the car seat with a great grin, prepared to drive mamas to distraction with his ability to resist every effort to strap him in. He has faked me out in a store, engaging in misdirection and then darting through strangers’ legs to take off running, shrieking with laughter.

He also seems to have suddenly noticed the existence of other, mostly younger babies. He is riveted by them, staring and signing “baby” so enthusiastically that the swinging of his arms threatens to knock him down. He carries dolls around, handing them to me for a cuddle and signing “baby” at me. Did you know, he seems to be saying, that there are other babies in the world—little babies—and it’s not actually all about me? And I’m not really all that little any more?

But he is still pure sunshine, that boy, even as he is making astonishing leaps into toddlerhood. He certainly is more often a pain than he was when he was still at the potted plant stage. But he is also ever more himself, achingly wholesome and square one minute, so charmingly trouble the next that it’s almost impossible to keep from laughing. But above it all, able to concentrate more joy in every minute than I would’ve thought humanly possible.