This post grew far longer than planned, so rather than subject you to a whole novella here, I’m publishing this in installments. Part 2 coming up tomorrow.
Twenty-four months. Two years. It feels like some sort of longer-term retrospective is in order but I can’t think of any good angle for it so it’s not happening today at least. Just the ordinary monthly thing.
In one sense, this has been a month of consolidation. She hasn’t mastered any major new skills, and there haven’t been any big changes in her life. But at the same time I feel that she’s changed a lot emotionally.
Ingrid’s become a lot more independent-minded. She has opinions on just about everything, and it’s become more and more important for her to have a choice, to make up her own mind, to feel in control, and to do things herself. She wants to choose what clothes she wears (which leads to some rather garish choices, such as an pink top paired with red and orange striped trousers). She wants to decide which towel I dry her with, and which route we take when we go home from nursery. She wants to turn on the bathroom light herself, and to take off the cap on the toothpaste herself, and to pour her own breakfast cereal. There’s a constant stream of “ise!” (“myself!”) all the time.
And these things are IMPORTANT to her. Her reaction to when things go “wrong” (meaning, not the way she would have done them) is instant and very emotional. There are floods of tears, and “Ingrid sad!”. (She generally reacts with sadness rather than anger.) She’s never been quite this emotionally fragile before. This independence and emotional fragility remind me of my own teenage years, as far as I can recall them. I’m guessing that this is as tough for her as teenage is for teenagers.
Quite often I forget these small things – I haven’t quite internalised the importance of who gets to turn on the bathroom light – so we end up redoing things. I turn off the light again and then she gets to turn it on. Since it’s obviously much more important to her than me, I don’t mind.
Of course, there are times when we will do things my way. We will take off a soaking wet nappy, no matter what she thinks about it. (For some reason she’s become really averse to nappy changes recently.) And we will go grocery shopping in the afternoon, even though she’d rather sit at home and read a book, because otherwise we won’t have anything to cook for dinner.
Those occasions are quite enlightening, actually, because I can see that her crying is not due to any sort of defiance or hoping to get her way, or a performance somehow aimed at me. She is truly upset. This afternoon, on our way out to go grocery shopping, she bawled all the way as she walked (on her own, ahead of me) out of the house and down the steps in the garden. She’d understood that I wasn’t going to change my mind, and that she had to do this, but she was still oh so unhappy about it. When both of us had reached the bottom of the stairs and I’d strapped her into her stroller, and we’d started walking, she wanted to point out a tree to me (because it had no leaves) and she could barely get the words out through her sobs.
|Running with a handbag in one hand and a dry leaf in the other
Luckily the emotional storms pass quickly. We hug each other, or something distracts her, or we get the unpleasant task done and move on. Distractions help: a nappy change is more OK if I sing to her while we do it (despite my total lack of musical talent) or if she gets some puzzle blocks to play with. Early warnings also make things smoother (“we will read one more story, and then we’ll go brush your teeth”) and so do promises of better things to come (“we will go grocery shopping now, and when we’re home again we will draw pictures”).
I’ve also noticed that she feels more comfortable when things follow a routine, and are done the same way every day. People always say routine is good for babies, but I notice it a lot more now that she’s a bit older. We have our going-home-from-nursery routine, and our morning bathroom routine, and our bedtime routine. She also likes small things to be done “the right way”: she quickly reminds me when I forget to light the candle on our dinner table, or when I give her a piece of bread but no plate.
Sort of in the same vein, fixed rules often work better than one-off decisions, assuming the rule can be explained in terms that she understands. “You cannot splash in puddles without rubber boots. No nursing during the night. You cannot sit in my lap while I’m eating. No drawing on hands, clothes, or table: only on the paper. We can eat when the timer rings.” She understands these kinds of rules very well and can repeat them to me herself. It’s harder to get her to accept decisions like “we must change your nappy now” or “we cannot go for a bus ride now because we need to go home and cook dinner instead”.
Our weekends are routineless almost by definition, firstly because she’s not at nursery, and secondly because that’s when we do all the odd tasks we don’t have time for during the week. But I believe I will try to find a fixed routine our weekday afternoons, going grocery shopping every day even though every other day is really enough, just to make life run more smoothly.