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Welcome to Toddlerhood

I think this week my baby became a toddler. I’m basing this assessment on the fact that Matt and I have both seen Simon grow increasingly frustrated by things he cannot say and cannot do, and also by the fact that we’ve witnessed two full-blown temper tantrums in the past three days.

I had honestly hoped that somehow I’d be able to watch a tantrum in action, recall what I’ve learned about them from books like What to Expect: The Toddler Years, Touchpoints, or Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child and be able to understand their cause, appreciate their value, lesson their intensity, and keep my cool. Well, I’ve managed the second point OK, but have not been as successful with the rest.

Sunday night saw the first tantrum. Simon awoke from a late and long nap about an hour before dinner was planned. I gave him a snack to hold him over, and the minute I went to remove him from the high-chair, he began to cry. That crying quickly escalated into screaming, bending over in half, writhing on the floor, and violently resisting any attempts of mine to hold him or comfort him. I left the room for a while to no avail, then eventually got him to calm down a little by going outside and sitting on the porch swing. Once we came back inside, after the tantrum had lasted over 20 minutes, he was still upset but ready to begin calming down.

That night, the Monday morning quarterbacking began. Did he cry because he was still hungry? Did he cry because he was not feeling well? Was I not understanding him? Was he trying to tell me something or do something? I settled on the hunger theory and resolved that this fit was the result of a basic and fixable parenting error.

Then Monday happened. Simon awoke from a long and regularly scheduled afternoon nap and appeared to be in a fabulous mood. He handled his diaper change better than usual, and I got lots of smiles and giggles from him when I changed his clothes and brought him down for a snack. We were a full two hours away from dinner, so I had no reason to think he was terribly hungry. And yet, the minute I tried to play with him in the living room, he went berserk. Didn’t want to play with the ball. Or the stacking boxes. Or his animal train. Didn’t want to be picked up. Or left down. Or sit in my lap.

Mild crying quickly escalated into a violent fit. As I was feeling better (I’ve been battling a but since my SF trip), I was less angry about the whole thing, but I’m not sure if I was any more effective for it. First, I tried to distract him with new toys and new rooms. That failed. Then I told him I was leaving him alone for a bit, but would be back in a few minutes to check on him. That also failed. Finally, I told him that he would perhaps feel better in his room, took him upstairs, and left him in his crib. When I went back in to check on him about three minutes later, he seemed upset but willing to be helped to calm down. We snuggled for a bit, he cried out the rest of his frustration, and calm resumed 30 minutes after the fit began.

I spent the rest of the evening a bit fried, constantly concerned that the littlest thing would set him off, knowing I was feeling well enough to survive one fit but not two, and remembering well how I felt when Simon had colic.

I’m hoping that if I settle into a routine of how I handle fits, that we can lessen their severity and length. Thanks to the reading I’ve done so far, I also understand how frustrated Simon must feel by his physical and linguistic limitations, and I have genuine empathy for the tumult within.

But selfishly, I am also feeling a bit sorry for myself. For fifteen months I had a loving, compliant, happy baby who lived to love, be loved, and please. The contrast with this new person, this eighteen-month old boy who is learning to separate from his mother and is completely torn over the process, could not be more striking. I am also deeply aware of how this plays into my own limitations as a parent, for I have endless more energy and stamina for the physical intensity of early parenting that patience and wisdom for the rest. Fortunately, the empathy is there; I’m counting on my ability to harness that, dig deep, and grow right along with Simon. But I still want my baby back!

Footnote: Last night, shortly after I wrote this entry, I put Simon to bed and headed out to the grocery. When I came home, a frazzled Matt greeted me at the door. He was on a work call, and Simon had suddenly awakened shrieking about 20 minutes earlier. I ran upstairs a bit worried that Simon would react to my attempts to calm him from his nightmare the same way he had done during his tantrums. Instead, he immediately calmed down when I picked him up and positively melted when I glided in the chair with him. Twenty minutes later I was able to put a sleepy and serene Simon back in his crib, where he slumbered away for the rest of the night without event. It was gratifying to see that this new stage of his does not render all of my current parenting skills obsolete.

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