Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time to Pay the Piper

As we are now in Max's 18th month, certain behaviors are starting to crop up, making the parenting job a wee more challenging, and reminding me why I've been so panic-stricken about the prospect of having another. (A prospect, for the record, that appears to have evaporated as Sarah has finally had her come-to-Jesus realizations about how draining parenting is.)

Mind you, these behaviors are completely normal, and quite often side-splittingly hilarious. But they are also the reason that parents with toddlers have little choice but to live like participants in a witness protection program, holed up inside, afraid to go out into the world lest they become the helpless victims of a public catastrophe.

Consider the traditional battleground of restaurants. It should be noted here that Sarah and I like to eat out. A lot. We live in an area that affords so much choice, we can revel in exposing Max (and to a lesser degree, Jackson) in a procession of international foods: Mexican (traditional or taqueria style), Thai, Indo-Nepalese, northern Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Vietnamese--you name it, it's probably within 5 minutes of us. And I didn't even mention burgers, which are a to-go staple for just about any house with a 13-year-old boy in it.

So the other night, Sarah makes it clear she doesn't want to-go, she wants to venture out into the world and be waited on, so we head to Barney's, a nearby gourmet burger place. Prior to this meal, Max had become a bit louder in restaurants, but nothing unmanageable. He'd also been developing a habit of flirting with pretty much any woman he sees. On this night, it all kicked into overdrive. We were confronted with 45 minutes of him bending and contorting to see women all over the restaurant. To get their attention, he screams joyously, or grunts loudly, looking at us every so often for our reaction. Which I'm sure is a cross between amusement, horror, frustration and resignation. 'Cause those are pretty much the stages you go through. First, you find it funny as he flirts, lets out chirp-like screams and bats his little eyes. But soon the screams are louder and longer and coming more frequently, and no matter what you do or say, the child doesn't stop. Then the horror sets in as you realize that any hope you had of a civilized meal was clearly a delusion. The frustration arrives as you helplessly try to allay the situation, quickly discovering that if there's one thing you can't do with toddlers, it's allay them. At last, you settle back into your meal, oddly content to eat with one hand while using the other to fight off what seems like a demon with 43 arms sitting in the high chair next to you. Dishes fly, crayons get thrown, food gets spread all over the table, other diners look on in shock, and all the while you're stuffing fries and bites of burger into your mouth, hoping to polish off your plate before the demon decides to begin the real meltdown.

Naturally, that meltdown came at Barney's as we were waiting for the check. This is relatively good news, because with us both having moved on to the indigestion portion of our meal experience, Sarah is now free to take Max's path of destruction onto the street. Meanwhile, I deal with the bill and provide the appropriately apologetic body language when staff arrive at our table to discover the devastation they'll have to clean up.

Things are no less insane on the home front now, where the once smooth napping schedule has been thrown into disarray and no one is safe from the barrage of objects and little hands that come flying at us throughout the day. Yesterday, Max packed this all into a watershed afternoon marked by two failed nap attempts and, ultimately, a reluctant nap that came only after after Sarah went out to run a couple of errands and I left him in his crib babbling and yelping for well over an hour. (A guy's gotta get some things done!)

Sometime after we'd lost the second battle to get him to nap, he achieved a new record--seven consecutive timeouts for hitting Mommy, after each of which he'd run straight back to Sarah, who was lying on the couch, to whack her boobs with the full force of both of his little palms. Needless to say, we had a very hard time keeping straight faces by the time we got to the fourth or fifth timeout. But we did our best to keep a united, stone-faced front, hoping (dreaming?) that our program would eventually spur behavior change.

The little twist in all of this is that Max definitely saves his worst, most defiant behavior for when Sarah's home. When she goes to work, as she did today, he's a little angel for me. He went to bed for a nap an hour ago, very easily, and I haven't heard a peep from him. He'll probably sleep 2-3 hours, and wake up with a big smile. I'm sure this quirk has everything to do with the intense mother-child connection. While I'm often envious of that connection, it's times like these when I'm grateful not to have it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Short-Attention-Span Parenting

I've always been a big fan of the three-dot column, and it has occurred to me that I might be able to ride that approach to more frequent posts here goes...

Max woke up at 5:30 this morning, screaming his lungs out, which is highly unusual (the 5:30 part, not the screaming). After 5-10 minutes with no end in sight, Sarah brought him to bed with us, which calmed him down, but he proceeded to lay there, wide awake, grabbing at my beard, cooing, and generally showing no signs of sleepiness. Unfortunately for him, we do NOT wake up that early, and we were not about to start today, so I decided to put him back in his crib, which was not a popular decision with him at all. I told Sarah to be strong, which she was, and after another 5-10 minutes of screaming, blissful silence arrived. The payoff? He slept until after 9...when he's not sleeping, he's engaging in his new favorite routine, which is to find something in the house he's not supposed to have, grab it, and run away from us, and then, when we finally corral him and take it away, drop to the floor and bang his head once in protest. It's absolutely hilarious...also hilarious is his new penchant for walking around the house with his hands linked behind his back. When he's wearing his little cap and jacket, he looks like a tiny old man waiting to head to Denny's for the early-bird dinner special...

Yesterday, while Sarah and Max were visiting the Little Farm in Berkeley's Tilden Park, a bigger toddler put his hand on Max, extended his arm, and instructed, "Move!" To which Max apparently responded in a state of semi-shock, mouth agape. Get ready for more of this, buddy--toddlers are a brutal bunch, and I'm sure you'll do your share of unintended bullying before all's said and done...for now, however, he's content to bully us. Every day brings timeouts for smacking Daddy in the face or pulling Mommy's hair. What a little meanie!...To the rest of the world, he's still an angel, though. Everywhere we go, people comment on his beauty, fueling my joking insistence that we have a DNA test to prove he's mine...then he goes and bangs his head against something, and I feel a lot better.

One of my favorite little behaviors he's taken on is each night, when Sarah or I tell him it's time for his milk, he eagerly runs into his room and attempts to lay down in his milk-drinking position on his boppy (a horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow, for the uninitiated)...this is contrasted by the hitting and hair-pulling. Or the growing tendency to dribble whatever liquid is in his sippy cup all over the house. Or his fascination with banging hard toys against our carefully painted doors. Or his seemingly unstoppable habit of throwing whatever food he either is done with or doesn't like onto the floor...of course, a few minutes later, he's stealing all of our hearts again by bouncing from Sarah to me to Jackson, lips puckered, collecting as many kisses as he can, and making the "mmmmmmwah!" sound every case it's not obvious, toddlers are a schizophrenic wonder our martini hours seem to have progressed from a couple of nights a week to a nightly fact, how many hours til the next one?