Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Byebye Baby, Hello Banshee

“Babe, can you open this?”  I hand the jar of honey across to David, who’s just gotten Ebba settled into breakfast.

He struggles for a half-second, the honey-stuck seal pops, and he hands me the open jar back across the half-wall that divides the diningroom from the kitchen.

All of a sudden, Mt. St. Ebba erupts.  “Brrrllllaaaargh!!!!”  Her eyes bulge out of her red face, tongue waggles like she’s doing some sort of butchered Haka, and she shrieks, pointing at the offending jar of honey.  “MMMMAH!!!  AH!!  BLAAARRR!”

I hold the jar of honey up and say “Honey?  This is just honey for me tea, sweetpea.  Eat your breakfast.  You have egg, yogurt, and cereal.”  I put the honey away.  She sees me put honey in my tea at least several times a week.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

“NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”  She shakes her red head and thrashes in her seat, her wind-shield wiper arms trying to knock her delicious, nutritious breakfast to the floor.  She signs “more” repeatedly, which to her actually means “Give me what I want right now!” (Despite my best efforts as a speech pathologist to show her what it actually means.)

I see we aren’t going to get anywhere fast with this.  Breakfast, as we know it, has ended.  Quickly I run through my rolodex of options.  After all, I’m a child development expert, of sorts, so I should know exactly what to do in this moment, right?  No, not right.  (Or, as Ebba continues to tell me “NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”)

David, my ever-loving husband looks to me for our next steps.  What should I do, I wonder.  Should I refuse her the honey and end breakfast?  Should I give her a little and then try and reign her back on track?  Should I give her as much as she wants?  Should I put it in her yogurt?  Should I force her to eat “just one more bite” of something and then reward her with some of the delicious, delicious stuff from the jar?
I opt for option 2 and give her a small bit of the honey.  She calms, smacks her lips, smiles.  ...And then points for more.  

“All gone!” I say with a shrug.  “Have some egg.  Mmmm!”  

I can see the blood rising in her face.  It starts around her neck, then to her ears, then up across her forehead, and then she’s all open mouth.  “NAAAAAAY!  Moooore!!”  Well, at least she got the meaning of “more” right this time.

Infant Ebba's tantrums were less intense!
I look at this screaming, writhing body in the booster seat and wonder when she arrived.  When did my little baby go?  That one screamed and cried sometimes too, but usually for things I didn’t have to say “no” to, and even if I did, she was easily distracted.  I remember when she was a little baby, I looked forward to when she was “older” and I could “reason with her.”  HAH!

This thing, this newly arrived Ebba, this kid where there was once a baby, she clings to her desires.  A simple “no” can cause convulsions, and attempts to distract her are met with flailing arms and a look that says “are you freaking kidding me!?”  

She’s a person now.  She wants what she wants.  And even though I hate the scream-fests that appear to be increasing in frequency, I’m happy that she’s arrived.  It’s not what I expected, we’re certainly not doing a lot of “reasoning,” but she is so much fun.  And I’m learning everyday.

It happened so suddenly, the switch from baby to person, that I didn’t have time to prepare my responses, to set my stance.  The key to dealing with these outbursts is to set appropriate limits and to be consistent.  Everyone knows that.  But how do you do that.  You need to know where your limits are and trust your judgement.  Don’t question yourself (something I do all. the. time!).  This morning, I was all “maybe I shouldn’t have given her any honey.  Maybe I should have given more.  What was the right answer!?!?  The thing is, it’s not about a right answer.  It’s about the consistency.  So regardless of where the limit is set, you have to stick to it.  (Like...honey. :) )

And then you have to be prepared for the consequences.  A happy baby is a secure baby, or so I’ve read.  And a secure baby is one who has had limitations set in a consistent fashion.  Despite the fact that I’ve worked with the under-5 set for as long as I can remember, for some reason I thought that setting limits would not yield screaming meltdowns.  If a secure baby (one that’s had limits put on it) is a happy baby, shouldn’t Ebba have been happy and smiling when I told her “no you can’t have a whole jar of honey for breakfast?”  Shouldn’t she be elated that I have exercised my parental muscle in order to make her feel safe and loved?

She did not look very happy thrashing about, red-faced on the floor.  But I took a deep breath and steeled myself.  “I’m doing the right thing,” I told myself.  “I am teaching her what breakfast is.  I’m teaching her that I care enough about her to not let her eat only honey.  And I’m learning too.  I’m learning what Ebba responds best to and how she acts when she doesn’t get it.”

I sound like a hard-ass here, but I’m totally not.  I have made it my parental mission to never say “no” to Ebba unless there is a really good reason.  For me, a really good reason isn’t “I got tired of pushing her in the swing so I made her get out,” or “I didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess when she wanted to play with ALL THE TOYS so I only let her take out one at a time.”  But “we have to make dinner by 5:30 so we need to leave the park at 5” and “picking up and attempting to eat discarded cigarette butts from the sidewalk is dangerous” are both good reasons for saying “no” or stopping an activity.  This is my own metric, I’m sure it will differ from parent to parent.

We’ll see how it goes over the next few months (years!) while I work on setting limits for Ebba and learning from her how best to teach her as she grows older.

How have you other newbie-toddler mummies been dealing with the change from baby to kid?

It's not all tears these days though!

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