…but also much more fun. I suspect that may describe parenting from here on out, because for the first time, we’re having to actually parent, not merely meet physical needs.
Last week (Wednesday, December 4, for the record), Benji started taking steps. He’d taken a few hesitating, stumbling steps before, but now he deliberately stood still, clearly cogitating hard, and then took some steps. The sunshine burst of delight on his face as he toddled along spoke volumes for how hard he’d worked to achieve that goal. Since then, it’s like this standing-and-walking thing has started really clicking.
In the last month, I’d seen Benji shifting from speed-crawling as a preferred means of locomotion to choosing to stand and cruise. In the last couple weeks, he shifted to wanting to hold on to our fingers to toddle around the house (with a circulation-stopping grip; no need for a tourniquet, just let Benji hold on). This seemed like writing on the wall, but Benji’s not one to leap into new skills — he didn’t start hands-and-knees crawling until almost a year old, positing, prior to that, that Army crawling worked just fine — so I’m not willing to make any predictions on when he’ll transition to primarily walking rather than crawling. But it’s happening, and we’re thrilled to celebrate this huge milestone along with Benji.
Unfortunately, that milestone came along with a couple other less-endearing changes: Sleep disturbances and tantrums. Sleep disturbance, particularly at night, is something I’ve come to expect in tandem with major developmental milestones. It seems that even in sleep, Benji practices these new skills. It would be quite frustrating to wake up because you fell down while sleep-walking! So we’re all waking up in the night, and naps are losing their predictability somewhat, too, but I’m sure that’ll settle down once he masters walking.
Tantrums, on the other hand, are an entirely new thing. These come usually when Benji is confronted with a choice he doesn’t like, or on one of the less-frequent occasions when I simply have to deny him access to something he wants. I try to set up situations so that whatever choice Benji makes, I can go with it: Choosing between reading one book and another, or eating oatmeal or banana. But sometimes choices are more complicated: Choosing between going for a walk to look at cars and trucks but having to wear the fluffy snow suit (because it’s freezing outside); or not wearing the snowsuit, but also not seeing cars and trucks. Or choosing between eating Cheerios on my lap, but not playing with toys; or playing with toys at a public play area, but not eat Cheerios while doing it (dirty!). Then there are things I simply can’t let him decide: Whether to play with a knife, whether to eat the shiny rocks at great-grandparents’ house, whether to go upstairs by himself.
These last two types of choosing elicit tantrums, a new and understandable behavior. To express his frustration, displeasure, disappointment, anger, indignation, etc., Benji kneels down on the floor, puts his head on the ground, and cries. Usually, I try to patiently sit with him, tell him what he’s feeling (“You’re feeling frustrated because I wouldn’t let you take big bites of orange peel.”), sympathize with the emotion while explaining why he can’t have what he wants (“I understand that’s very frustrating, but I can’t let you eat the orange peel, because you can’t chew it. You could choke and die. But it’s still frustrating.”), remind him that I love him and will be there for him no matter what, and then encourage him to deal with the tantrum himself. Or, if it’s a choice he has to make, I just keep patiently explaining his options and sympathizing with the frustration of not getting everything exactly as you want.
One interesting thing I read in Touchpoints, by Berry Brazelton, is that tantrums are an important part of being a toddler. This is Benji having to learn how to deal with wanting things, making choices, and feeling strong emotions about the outcome; Benji’s job right now is to feel upset, and then learn how to deal with it. Our job right now is to help teach him how to deal appropriately with those feelings. It’s not real endearing to have collapse and start crying and howling, but I do understand a bit why it’s happening. We essentially have teenage-type emotions, but without the verbal skills of a teenager (thank goodness!).
Meanwhile, I’m having more fun most days now than I have so far as a parent. Benji’s interest and curiosity, his willingness to patiently keep trying to do a task, and his rapidly-expanding dexterity all make play times opportunities for interesting and fun activities. I’ve got to start collecting activity ideas, though, since I’m only so creative. If you have any good ideas for toddler activities, ping me. I’ll try most things, except for watching movies/playing with screens.