Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shove and Shove Alike

We were visiting some great friends of ours recently and because Mrs. Blackwell was out on another one of her drinking binges working, it was just me and the boy at their home. 

Our friends have an adorable — and smart — little girl who happens to be about the same age as Master Blackwell.

She's a friendly lass who asks for the boy by name, so she's also a very aware little one. She actually asked where Mrs. Blackwell was too. Aware. Astute. Brainy. Whatever you call this little girl, she's it.  
We'll find out in about 16 years
if any of this worked.
One might expect that, in the presence of such a child, one's own child would rise to the occasion and up their game. One would be wrong. 

While our friends' daughter engaged, conversed and in general was a positive presence, Master Blackwell adopted the persona of some aloof rock star. 

If there was a toy that had more than a dozen components, he'd pick it up, pull it apart, drop it and move along to the next such toy. 

Because they're cool and hospitable, our friends didn't care — kids are kids right? At first, I didn't care either. Kids are kids but, by the time the boy disassembled his third or fourth such toy, I took note. 

As he meandered through the room, he would invariably zero in on their remote control and attempt to commandeer it. His efforts were thwarted but, I'll give him points for persistence and focus. 

After perhaps an hour of this show, we crossed a line and I was confronted with one of parenting's least enjoyable dilemmas.

It started out as a cute moment. The aforementioned sweet little girl approached my standoffish son and tried to play with him. In exchange for her efforts, my son shoved her to the ground. 

That moment — the one in which you watch your child act not just badly, but badly toward another kid — is a conflicting one.

First, you're embarrassed but you've got to act. That said, what do you do?

If you're me, you grab your kid, try your best to get their attention, make eye contact, and tell them, repeatedly, that shoving is not acceptable. 

And, if you're my son, you look right through your father like he's merely an obstacle between you and that elusive remote control. 

Where's this kid when you need him?
From my end, you have no idea if this resonates — until you find out that it didn't.

Such was the case when I retrieved the boy from day care earlier this week and learned from our provider that the boy shoved each and every kid (five in all) to the ground throughout the day. In response, she put the boy in timeout each time. 

I was hoping that she'd tell me that at least one of these kids retaliated and shoved Master Blackwell back. Yes, yes, yes. I know: two wrongs don't make a right. But one well-timed shove can certainly teach a valuable lesson. (Sorry but, thems the rules of the playground folks.) 

Alas, the boy did not get shoved in return. Maybe the timeouts will work. If not, maybe we'll have track down some mean kids for the boy to play with so he'll appreciate the friendly ones. 

Again, I know: this is not the approach of a sophisticated or even responsible parent. But, we're at that age when communication is staggered, messages are lost and confused. 

We want to be clear but sometimes we can't. Until we can — or until I can locate a 3 year-old thug-for-hire — it'll be time out for Master Blackwell. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Terrible Twos, Terrible Tantrums

Prior to the boy's second birthday last spring, friends and family warned Mrs. Blackwell and I of the terrible twos. 

Two, for some reason, is the age when children morph from cute little toddlers into devious, manipulative, tantrum-throwing, patience testers. 

Up until recently we've been fortunate with our perfect little angel. But, after roughly two weeks of what we're currently observing/enduring, I can safely say that the switch has been flipped and the boy is consistently delving into "terrible" territory. 

To wit: at the end of the couch in our family room we have an end table or, as the boy views it, a platform from which to dive onto the couch. Given my generally lax approach to household safety, it should tell you something that I've drawn a line here. 
To him, he's holding free will. To me — and
the rest of the adult world — it's the P.A.
for an entire grocery store.


While clutching his "drum sticks," two objects that usually consist of a small wood baton and a pen, he'll climb atop the end table then jump onto the couch. Without the pen and baton, this isn't the safest act. With them, it's a trip to the ER waiting to happen. 

So, I say "No," and the boy pauses long enough to make eye contact with me. It's a look that says, "Yes, I understand you don't want me to proceed, on the other hand, watch this!" 

Unless of course I can get to him first. In that event, I grab him and firmly say "No. We don't jump," before lifting him up and setting him down. In my eyes it's strong parenting (pats self on back). 

Judging from his response, the boy views this scenario differently. 

It's a reaction we're seeing more and more frequently any time we dissuade or prevent him from asserting any measure of free will. 

If he wants Mrs. Blackwell's phone to play music and/or Angry Birds, he doesn't always get it. If he wants to watch television, he doesn't always get to. If he wants to go outside, he doesn't always get that either. 

Each of these assertions is different but what follows their denial is roughly the same. 

And it proceeds thusly: 

If you're holding the boy when the tantrum hits, he goes completely limp. It's astonishing how a 30-pound kid suddenly weighs twice that amount merely by loosening every muscle in their body. 

So, we set him down and, whether he's been set down or drops to the ground on his own, he begins a dramatic display of bodily contortions, cries, screams, tears, red cheeks and furious anger. 

Tip for a coping mechanism: when your kid throws a fit, hold
a life-size cutout of your face in front of theirs. It hides the
tears and hilarity occasionally ensues.
I'd say it's Academy Award worthy but, really it's not. In fact it's completely unconvincing. Sometimes he'll pause mid-cry, to gauge our reaction, effectively trying to determine if his current course is having the desired effect.  

Usually he fails, though there was at least one occasion in which Mrs. Blackwell and I weren't on the same page and the boy has exploited the information gap to his advantage. 

Long story short, he managed to get a "No" from Mom and a "Yes" from Dad. Naturally, the "Yes" result was an immediate halt to the tantrum. 

Just as naturally, Mrs. Blackwell and I are learning too. The game has changed. It's not all cuteness and baby babble anymore; we know that and, so far, I think we're adjusting accordingly.

That said, we've been told by many folks that the terrible twos don't really take effect until kids are closer to three years old. 

I wonder then, how much better his acting will be. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Referendum on Parenting — AKA Dinnertime

Yes, we all know that diet is an important part of life.

Too much of a good thing often means too much of "you" thing. The results of this arrangement are loosened belts, discomfort whilst bending to tie one's shoes, more frequent donning of "comfortable clothes" and heaping helpings of my favorite side dish, self loathing. 

Naturally, it's a different set of worries for your child. 

The stakes are higher. You want every nutrient, vitamin and mineral known to man crammed into every spoonful and you want them to wash it down with some gluten-free, carb-free, anti-oxidant-saturated, rejuvenating, heretofore-never-imagined power shake.

And this — all of this — must happen while simultaneously ensuring that no pesticides, herbicides, preservatives or dyes make it into their food, lest they grow to become mental midgets with the attention span of your average inbred dachshund (AKA the wiener dog).

I take solace that even less-than-healthy dinners can double
as history lessons for the boy. To wit: "Let me tell you the
exciting — and savory — history of General Tso."
As I've mentioned before in this space, the boy has had some favorite foods. He loved eggs. Now, not so much. Ditto for cottage cheese. And bananas are now occupying a precarious space between indifference and annoyance.  

Fortunately, there've been a few staples emerge like chocolate milk and Kit Kat. Unfortunately, these won't suffice and would likely result in the aforementioned kid/wiener dog scenario. 

So we take special note of what they eat which, in my house, means taking special note of my wife's efforts to get every, single meal, just right. This effort is invariably bookended by her lamentations that she didn't do enough. 

"Do you think this is alright?" is a well-worn refrain from Mrs. Blackwell regarding the boy's meals. 

Just as tried and true is my usual response: "No. No it's not! Now get back to work and make something different!"

So, we parents go to these lengths for our kid and what do we parents eat? 

Mrs. Blackwell and I start by trying to eat at the dinner table together just as we all try to eat the same meal, though the boy's is often a variation on ours, adjusted for spices etc. 

All of those smiles aren't for him. That said,
this was his meal. Not Pictured: Hershey's
Syrup and king-size Kit Kat.
Timing being what it is, this doesn't always work and we find ourselves cobbling together what we can, when we can. Which brings me to last night when, as my wife assembled my son's organic feast, I ate:

a bowl of leftover pumpkin chili (Good.)
a big chunk of jalapeƱo cheese (Bad. It was really big)
several handfuls of rippled potato chips (Sooo very, very good. Yet soo very, very bad.)
a spoonful of sour cream (This happened and we're not talking about it further.)
two bowls of Apple Jacks (See sour cream explanation.)

About 18 inches away from me, the boy enjoyed organic chicken nuggets, little potato smiles, grapes, carrots and a serving of shredded cheddar cheese. And this was a meal Mrs. Blackwell put together on the fly, the least elaborate meal he'll eat this month. 

It's a great thing to give your kid the best, though sometimes we are forced to hew closer to giving them what's fastest. You do your best and sometimes time doesn't allow for the ideal. That's life, right? 

This rhetorical question makes me feel much better for those times when I — with a startling lack of imagination — find myself taking the boy for Chinese food or just whipping up a glass of chocolate milk and, maybe later on, a Kit Kat. 

I suppose that your kid's overall diet is a reflection of many things and worthy of discerning trends and calculating overall adequacy. But one meal is most definitely not. If it was, I have no earthly idea what last evening's dinner would say about me.