Life in the toddler lane, or how my toddler is teaching me to sit still

I don't like to sit still. I'm one of those people in the movie theater shifting my position every two seconds. Holding yoga poses for long periods of time is tortuous for me. Just forget about meditation. I am always thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow and what I need to worry about now to feel prepared. Every year, "Be truly present" (along with "Eat slower" and "Remember everyone's birthday") is on my new year's resolution list (which I start thinking about in October).

When Zoe was an infant there was a LOT of sitting still and being present, there was simply no choice. Sitting and nursing her seemed to take entire days. I was so awed, freaked, exhausted and enraptured that I could barely plan minutes ahead. It was as if I was constantly putting out fires and yet, at home for days, it seemed that time stood still. Some days this was lovely. Other days felt like I might die from Couch Potato Disease. More than anything, I wanted energy and the ability to MOVE and PLAN or at the very least FIDGET without waking up the baby on my chest.

Once Zoe started walking, motherhood started to fit me a little bit better: you are never able to truly sit still and you must always think a few steps ahead to prepare her little toddler brain for what's coming next. ("Okay Zoe at the end of this block is the big dog who barks really loudly. You can cover your ears or we can cross the street. Which do you want to do?"). I think I'm pretty good at this planning-ahead part of motherhood; I was always the one with a purse full of tissues and snacks even before becoming a mom.

Now, in the later stages of toddlerhood, it sometimes seems like the most useful toddler wrangling skill is the ability to tolerate a lot of screaming, whining and general pissiness. (Okay, maybe THE most useful one would be how to be creative and hold boundaries without making them scream, whine or be pissy! Mental Note: gotta work on that one.) When Zoe was an infant her screams would drive me to the brink of insanity. JUST. MAKE. IT. STOP. Luckily, we quickly figured out how to make it stop, succeeding at the ultimate goal of infant care but now that she's a toddler, I actually sometimes have to choose to do things that I know will make her scream. And then I have to sit there and take it.

It's wonderfully helpful to see a payoff; it helps remind me why we set boundaries in the first place. We went through a terrible time about a year ago when she was a relatively new walker and desperately wanted to cross streets or walk in parking lots without holding our hands. We just repeated endlessly that she could either hold our hand or we would have to pick her up. We battled for months about this and it's only recently that I realized how our consistency has paid off. She now will stop at the edge of the parking lot and insist "Hold hands" if I'm slow to reach for her. We were consistent and now she knows the drill.

Two and a quarter (or "TWO! and two MONTHSS!" as Zoe, incorrectly, insists) is such a strange age. Some days are beautiful. She can follow instructions and be helpful, carrying her dishes to the kitchen, putting her clothes in the hamper, helping me clean up her toys. She and I have these crazy conversations where I sit stunned at her memory and vocabulary (though she seems incapable of using the right pronoun. "I like HE." she says. or "HER has it."). My favorite part lately: she's often capable of waiting and "working on paaaactience" while I finish a sentence to a friend or get the last of the laundry folded or whatever. This is a beautiful thing.

But oh crap the dawdling. If I have to say "Okay Zoe you chose or Mommy chooses, RIGHT NOW" one more time I'm going to scream. She always wants the choice but then turns deaf when I'm presenting her options. So she loses the right to chose and then proceeds to LOSE HER EFFING MIND. The lack of logic confounds me. Whenever I need her to walk slowly, like on a precarious ledge, she runs full tilt and when I need her to SPEED THE EFF up, like when we're leaving to go somewhere and we're late, even somewhere SHE WANTS TO GO like the park, she is slower than molasses in winter.

While we're on the random rant, what's up with the fact that when Zoe puts on her shoes "by SELF", she ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, puts them on the wrong feet? Dressing herself has suddenly become a long tortuous process of me sitting there watching as she repeatedly stuffs both legs into the same pant leg OVER AND OVER AGAIN. I make myself sit there and let her do it "by SELF" until she asks for help. I bite my tongue, try not to look at my watch and will myself to observe her learn how to solve problems. It often takes all my willpower to let her figure it out for herself.

This has extended to her interactions with peers. We've, admittedly, been helicopter type parents when it comes to peer interactions. We are often right there to remind gently (or strongly enforce) turn taking and gentle touch (ie. "WE DON'T HIT." "PUSHING IS NOT OKAY.") while other parents seem too laid back for my taste. But lately, I've noticed that the natural course of things can also take care of things. If Zoe doesn't take turns well, the other kid won't want to play with her. Then if she gets upset, I can explain why that might have happened. And she just may learn it (way, WAY) better that way. Again, I sometimes have to sit on my hands and bite my cheek to keep from intervening when safety isn't an issue.

Lately, Zoe's been able to spend longer and longer periods of time playing by herself. I often start out with her and as she proceeds to ignore me and talk to herself and her dolls, I start to get twitchy. I glance around for something to read. That old New Yorker over there, can I reach it without attracting attention? That pile of laundry, if I start to fold it will she freak out? Often, just as I'm about to move to my latest distraction something amazing happens. She'll give her baby a kiss and say "That's okay baby. We can clean it up." or she'll pull down a book and start reading it to her baby and she'll carefully rearrange Baby's body so that she can 'see' the pages. (Do you notice a trend? BABIES BABIES BABIES.) It'll stop me in my tracks and make me catch my breath. And so I'll sit, right there, at least for a few more minutes. To observe. To be present. To watch her learning about the world, processing what she's seen and heard. Soon enough, the timer will go off and I'll HAVE to move to the kitchen or the dog will really, REALLY need to be walked or the clock will remind me we have an appointment to get to. So I stop fidgeting, take a breath and relish those last few moments to just sit.


anna said...

I have a son who is 16 months and just now really feeling himself out as a toddler. This is going to be challenging, isn't it? Glad to hear that consistency does pay off, though--sometimes it is very hard to stick with it in the moment.

grammalouie said...

This is a great post, and I am very glad I don't have to stare anymore at those crumbs in the car seat when I log onto your blog site. See ya soon with love and kisses!

My Buddy Mimi said...

It's odd how my husband is the one who can handle sitting still for long periods of time with an infant. Yet because I am the one nursing her, I am the one who has to do it while he chases a toddler, something I am much more inclined to do.

Astarte said...

I am right there with you, girl! I have a terrible time sitting still. I mean, there are DISHES! EVERYWHERE! and Dog Hair mating with the dust bunnies under the couch! and ... and... and...

But you are right. It is SO important that we are present for these moments. These moments will be gone, and when they are, we will hold them close as we watch our children go off into the world someday.

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