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.

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