Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Toddler: A Case Study

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

I think toddlers are the best things ever. Let me count the ways.

They are busy busy busy little creatures, fascinated with destroying exploring their surroundings with their even busier little hands. An example:

Noticing that Mommy seems to put things in and out of the dishwasher a million times a day frequently, the Toddler feels honor-bound to assist. No sooner do the dirty knives go IN, than the Toddler removes them. First IN, then OUT, right?

As Mommy removes the dangerous weapon steak knife from the Toddler's hand, he notices the plates and glasses. Why, what in the world are THOSE doing there? Again, the Toddler seeks to rectify that situation.

As Mommy is loading those plates back into the dishwasher, the Toddler suddenly tunes into the fact that there are lots of soggy food particles stuck to the door of the dishwasher. No worries--the Toddler is on the job! And what a delicious job it is! Mommy wants to close the dishwasher door. Your extra-conscientious Toddler will be careful to obstruct Mommy's progress by banging the door with rage, slipping and falling, or the old standby--placing his fingers on the side of the door for optimal smashing.

Yes, this Toddler really keeps Mommy on her toes. :o)

With two older siblings and a growing conceptual awareness, our Toddler has figured out that Big Sis and Big Bro do all kinds of cool things and he ought to hurry up and figure out how to do them, too.

For example: Big Sis and Big Bro bounce all over the place like monkeys, climbing the ottoman and JUMPING high and fast, flying through the air. Who wouldn't want to do that?

The next time Mommy walks into the family room, she is alarmed to find her Toddler standing (STANDING I tell you!) on the arm of the couch, squealing with delight. He is BIG and he is CAPABLE and he IS. (Mommy, on the other hand, is ready for a drink.)

Everything is so brand new to him, exciting and delightful, and the Toddler has become sneaky brave enough to set off in search of adventure in other parts of the house, often neglecting to tell Mommy where he is going. What a thrill it is for Mommy to discover him upstairs or eating cat food or splashing in the potty!

Of course, not every experience is a happy one. Our Toddler often feels frustrated when he is unable to do something that his brain thinks he ought to be able to do.

Sometimes, Mr. Reality lets our intrepid Toddler down, by insisting that A must ever be and remain A. Example: the Toddler is frequently enraged dismayed by the fact that he is not able to stand up in the tub without slipping (face first, of course), or swallow a baseball-sized hunk of chicken without choking. (These are the kinds of mistakes a person only makes once. Or possibly several dozen times.)

Usually, though, the frustrations are Mommy- and Daddy-imposed. The Toddler is just beginning to suspect what his Big Sis and Big Bro have long understood: Mom and Dad are not necessarily on our side in these matters. Even though Mommy and Daddy just spent 99% of his babyhood meeting his needs (which did not conflict with their personal needs, or with their goal of having him survive to adulthood), the Toddler is disappointed (to say the least) to find that Mommy is simply NOT going to allow him to have every little thing he'd like to get his busy little hands on.

Mommy will not let the Toddler play on her computer, or shine the red laser light of her wireless mouse in his eye, or beat the cat with the wireless keyboard. She will not allow him to pull the cat's tail or his sister's hair, or grab things out of Big Brother's hands. She stops his hands from unraveling the toilet paper and pushing the buttons on the amplifier and from undoing the tabs on his diaper. She is forever removing tasty snacks from his mouth, such as dishwasher schmutz, crayons, bugs, dirt, mulch, cat hair, Floor Cake, thumbtacks, paperclips, permanent markers, and bits of bacon from a week ago.

In the face of adversity, this particular model is unique. Big Bro was inclined to express his displeasure vocally, screaming bloody murder when thwarted by Reality and Parent alike. Big Sis had a quieter persistence about her, clinging obstinately to her goal with sticky little fingers, returning and returning to the scene of the crime object of her desire long after Mommy thought she had forgotten all about it.

This Toddler makes it very clear when he is angry by screaming in a way that reminds me powerfully of his dear brother. He doesn't give up, which is very Big Sis-like. He generally flails about in a strange maneuver that looks like he's trying to do a back handspring without using his hands (the resulting head trauma adding injury to insult). He has recently begun to beat things with his fists.

But where this particular Toddler distinguishes himself is in his proactiveness. Upon noticing that Mommy is heading his way in a big hurry, this guy does not merely scream or silently resist. Oh no. His philosophy is of the Carpe Diem style--seize the moment in order to Do More, Be More, Make the Mess Extraordinary--quickly--before Mommy gets there. Playing on the computer? Don't get mad; bang the keys MORE, pull the cord HARDER, make the flow of drool a little STRONGER. If you're going to do the time, then you might as well do the crime. Save those tears and flails for after you've been thwarted.

A Toddler's primary job is pretty simple and straightforward: Never, under any circumstances, allow Mommy a chance to sit down or complete a coherent thought. He excels at this. A+. In other words, he fits right in with the crowd.

Toddlers are amazing little creatures. They are funny and engaged and busy and happy because they are so ALIVE. His new awareness of the world (his brain can form concepts now!) excites him, and drives him to learn more and more and more. When he's awake, he is actively engaged in the process of filling his brain with new experiences and forming new concepts. He can't do this quickly enough.

He is learning to communicate and has figured out the power that comes with being able to share your thoughts and ideas. A point upwards with a "Guh." starts an entire conversation about the continued existence of the ceiling fan. This conversation must be repeated upon entering any room, and revisited every 10 minutes or so. These little "conversations" are the precursors to the Q&A sessions that will happen throughout the years.

He is Mommy's Third Toddler and she can use the wisdom gained from past experience against him. He is her Third; and he can use her distractedness and weariness (she's older now!) against her. Even though they are now sometimes adversaries, they are beginning to be friends. :o)

And for all of the Big Kid things he can now do, the Toddler is still a delicious, soft, giggly, snuggly Baby, who still really needs his Mommy. He needs stroking touches and forehead kisses and bouncing and rocking. So Mommy, though exhausted from being three messes behind him all day long, thinks he is the Best. Thing. Ever.

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