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the evolution of a tiny tyrant

Munchkin is now in the second month of his second year. By some accounts, this is a golden era of early childhood, as he runs around, babbles nonstop, and actively interacts with us and the world around him. In other respects, however, parenting has become considerably tougher. We’re still many months from the dreaded “terrible twos,” but Munchkin has already developed several stereotypically infuriating behaviors that test our patience.

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The first thing D noticed when he came home after a three-week absence is that Munchkin had grown noticeably taller. The second thing he noticed, almost as immediately, is that Munchkin also has grown significantly louder and more assertive. He still has not started speaking, but while the words “I want” have yet to coalesce out of his baby babble, he has grown adept at conveying their meaning to us. In fact, part of the problem is that he cannot speak yet, so the frustration of not getting what he wants is compounded by his inability to articulate how we are failing him in any given instant. Instead, he screws up his face and squawks his displeasure loudly and at precisely the pitch and tone that make us cringe.

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Mealtime, in particular, has become a trying process. S lays out at least a dozen containers with different foods and though Munchkin is on balance a pretty good eater, he is manically particular about how he wants to be fed. He’ll squawk and scream when offered something one moment, only to demand just as vehemently the exact food he had just swatted away.

S has developed an entire repertoire of tricks to mollify and distract him to make meals go smoother. For example, even though he likes chicken soup once it reaches his mouth, he usually swats the spoon away initially, screaming all the while because he is hungry. The trick, we’ve learned, is to give him a second spoon to play with, which usually provides enough of a distraction to get the first spoonful of soup into his mouth. He may eventually drop the second spoon, but once he’s had a taste and realized that the soup was exactly what he wanted, he becomes a lot more cooperative.

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Although at times we cannot discern the root cause of his displeasure, more often than not it owes to his inability to get his hands on something he wants. S usually scoops him up to calm him when he starts screaming and then redirects his attention elsewhere. D takes a more unsympathetic approach, talking to him and telling him that no, he cannot have what he wants. Sometimes this strategy works, but D has also precipitated a couple of anger tantrums with his impassive parenting.

For a month or so towards the end of his first year, Munchkin was going through a rough transition from two daytime naps down to one. He was getting less daytime sleep than he was used to, and this made him especially prone to cranky behavior. That phase is mercifully behind us. He is now down to one daytime nap, and it’s usually a solid 2-3 hours. Nights are a different story altogether. In the week since D returned from Georgia we have yet to get more than 3-4 hours of interrupted sleep a night. Munchkin has taken to waking up at some unconscionable hour and spending several hours screaming his head off before finally going back to sleep right before the break of dawn.

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This may sound like a lot of kvetching, but actually Munchkin’s positive developments over the last several months easily outweigh both his refusal to sleep at night and the emergence of his demanding persona. For one, he now interacts with us in ways that were simply not possible before he entered toddlerhood. We play games, chasing him around the house while he giggles sonorously; he brings books for us to read, plopping down in our laps and interacting with the pictures and stories; he laughs when we tickle him or make funny sounds while telling him stories.

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And as if our child’s innocent, irrepressible laughter were not enough to instantly wash away all of our parenting frustrations, he has also grown a lot more affectionate. Whereas before he would try to squirm away when we kissed or nuzzled him, now he rushes into our arms when we kneel and open ours, throwing his arms around our necks and snuggling in for a deep hug. And that, as any parent can attest, is a priceless feeling.

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