He looks so sweet. My little boy, crouched at Daddy's knee, plays happily with a spoon. We carry on delightul father-son banter while Dad smokes a pipe or reads the paper or sips his Manhattan project. This is not the stay-at-home-dad world that we actually live in, but let me carry on a little longer in my fantasy. Son, let me tell you about the important things. "Yes, Daddy?" He sits, amazed, as I tell tales of pre-baby travel, romantic exploits, and clever comebacks. "Wow, Dad - you're my hero!" Of course I am, son, of course I am.
There is some truth to this fantasy, I am sure. I think that at some stage all little boys make heroes of their fathers. They want to grow up in their father's image, and imagine their own hopes and dreams. And my boy loves me madly, despite the fact that we are the hard-hearted Cry-It-Out parents you've all heard about. But babies grow into little people, and those people begin to develop their own motivations and desires. They call this the toddler stage of childhood. It comes before the terrible twos and after the thrill of learning to walk.
Until just recently I thought parenting through this stage was going to be pretty easy. And then suddenly, the tantrums began. Tantrums are something I have been expecting. I understood, rationally, that young children have a disconnect between what they want and what they are able to say. I also thought I would be able to control my reaction, or emotional response to these occurences. Be patient, don't take it personally, et cetera. Those were my expectations, but the reality is somewhat different.
My boy throws tantrums over stupid things. He doesn't want to wear the blue jacket. He wants to watch Elmo. He doesn't want the orange peel to touch any part of his plate. He wants to hold his own spoon when we eat the yogurt. These are simple things, and I know my boy well enough to read his desires. This is not the problem. The problem is that the desires are SO STRONG. It is like he just learned to want something and now suddenly it is ALL HE WANTS. He becomes fixated on that one thing with such force that is scares him. It is almost a chemical reaction to his emotions. I MUST DRINK FROM THAT EMPTY BEER BOTTLE. Or the world will end. Period.
Second, I am surprised at my impatience with these behaviors. A few times now he has gone completely out of control. I have used the strategy of picking him up, carrying him away for a few moments (maybe 30 seconds?) and letting him cry. Then I give him some sympathy, explain that we can't COMPLETELY LOSE OUR SHIT like that. We have to maintain some modicum of acceptable social behavior. Then I ask, "Do you want to try again?" Through the tears, the response has always been "Yeah." We try again, and everything goes much better the second time. I hate to take it to that level. WAY better to distract, give him what he wants, or just move on from this increasingly whiny emotional roller coaster.
We leave on a family vacation this month. Mommy, Jeep, and Daddy will all be traveling the world, eating in restaurants, sleeping in strange hotels, and chasing bands of developing-world stray dogs around the beach. I fully expect the tantrum monster to take on new life with the rigors of travel and schedule interruptions. What will the Daddy Life do to combat this monster? Stay tuned.