Gum Follies

This afternoon, Ryan stayed home with the boys and I got to go spend a very generous gift card from my parents. Oh, did I have fun! One of my favorite stores is the one I like to call, Herb's. Or Herbergers. What a weird name? Anyway... some things I love most about that place are the deals and the coupons that are always in the paper for another 20% off. It isn't the most high end of stores, but there are some great brands. I love "after Christmas sales," and haven't shopped them in a few years, so I was just taking it all in. I came home on a spending (my parent's money) high. I rarely get new clothes, but today I was able to get a big bag of quality goods, and it was fantastic.
Meanwhile, Miles was giving Ryan a run for his money. And so was Asher. So I came home and got Asher to sleep and distracted Miles with a movie so Ryan and I could talk about how to handle this interesting toddler phase of childhood. It's such a hard time to know what to do. Here's a scenario as a "for instance."
Miles has climbed up on something, gotten some gum, and has put the entire piece (the long stick kind) and the wrapper in his mouth. I say "um, please take that out of your mouth, it's too big and you could choke. Besides that, you're eating paper." He then says "NOOOOOOOOO, I want GUM." So I step it up a notch to, "Miles! Spit it out you need to listen to me take it out of your mouth right now." To which he repeats with more enthusiasm, "NOOOOOOOOOOO, I want GUM."
What is the next step? Threats? ("Take the gum out, or you will never have gum again!"). Make a deal? ("If you take the gum out, you can have 5,000 pieces of licorice.") Or my favorite, pry open his mouth and do a finger sweep?
You see, the thing is, sometimes nothing works. So the parent is left looking like the flailing, desperate, emotionally erratic two year old. At this point, the two year old is perfectly calm, staring at the parent while chewing his gum.
So sometimes I have a nice time shopping and come home to a bewildered Ryan, a pouty Miles, and a puffy and red-eyed baby Asher. Because sometimes Miles steals gum while Ryan is trying (to no avail) to get Asher to sleep (he doesn't do that). Then Ryan tells me he doesn't know what to do in those moments, and I try to give "advice," but the truth is I don't know either. When I was single, I thought I knew. Before Miles was a toddler, I thought I knew. Just like I thought I knew how to get every baby in the world to sleep through the night before I had Asher.
I suppose it's quite simple. Every child is different, and it takes different approaches for each individual. And then you have to consider that with every individual child there are 400 different moods they could be in at the time. These moods have differing degrees of severity and range from peaceful to cranky to out of control. Then don't forget environmental considerations as you try to have a "teaching moment," including distractions, such as the dog walking by, or a siren in the distance. Once you have that nailed down and have decided on an avenue of action, beware of the unexpected mood change. Just when you think he looks (and sounds) totally angry, he may hug your neck and giggle. Don't forget that he could be learning to exert his independence and it's really not even about the gum. Or he could be experiencing a new emotion that he's never felt before and he therefore cannot respond to random non-choking demands. Also, this could be "developmental" in more than one way, like his brain could actually be changing at that very moment, causing his ears to stop working. And one more thing, maybe he's just hungry. See? Easy Peasy.
Okay, more seriously now. I have to say that despite toddlerhood appearing totally impossible, it's not. It's a wonderful challenge because it is entirely possible to respect and be respected. It is possible to help a little person figure out how to deal with what they feel. It is possible to calm down and prevent gum-choking without there having to be a huge fight. It is (I hope, I hope, I hope!) possible that Miles will start to hear me when I say "be gentle to your brother." I'm slowly learning how to accomplish raising a good-mannered boy who listens to me because he wants to, not because I've scared him into it. I'll have this down by the time my boys are teens, and then I'll figure out what to do during those tumultuous years by the time their thirty.
It's true what they say. This is hard work. But I guess I've never had a "project" I've loved more, and I know I never will again.
Bring it on, little gum stealer!

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