I remember one day, having been home from college for a brief stint, my mother, who is a pretty wonderful kick-ass character, sensed that I was not doing so well. She drove me back to school, and as I reluctantly got out of the car, she suddenly put her hand on my arm and said, very seriously, “Don’t take crap from anybody.” I smiled all the way back to my dorm.
It looks as though I won’t need to give Stella this important lesson. Not any time soon, at least.
This is the child who decided she’d really rather not eat. At all. With each vehement refusal, I came to see just who I was dealing with. “No, thank you, mother. I’ve decided that eating is not in my best interest. Take your boob and shove it. The bottle can kiss my ass. Back off!” She was trying to tell me something and found a very effective way to get her message across. She would not back down. However frustrated and desperate I became, I respected her immensely.
She is a good eater and a toddler now. And she is starting to throw tantrums. Real tantrums. Formidable fits. She tosses herself with abandon. Cody calls them “trust falls,” and they’re not always done in times of anger or frustration, but she will throw her entire body on the ground, apparently expecting you to catch her, no matter where you happen to be at that moment. She will scream as if being physically attacked in the event that–God forbid–you don’t hand her that snack, piece of trash, or whatever it is that she wants immediately.
For months, Stella would occasionally strike a very alarming pose. She balled up her fists tightly, stuck her arms straight out, made “crazy eyes” and clenched her jaw with all her might. This would last just for a couple of seconds, and then pass, leaving us bemused and mildly disturbed–she was obviously upset but we had no idea why. Many other parents had not witnessed such behavior in their babies. I now know that she did this because she wanted something but had absolutely no way of communicating to us the object of her desire. Stella has always known what she wants (and doesn’t want). This expression decreased in frequency when she began to point, a development that I savored because she would actually point to food she wanted to eat. It made me cry. I was so happy.
Anyway, last week, we went to the park. She would not let go of her beloved Snack Trap, so I let her walk around the playground with it. Now, my gut told me that this was a bad idea. She could fall and she might wind up with the handle in her eye. It might distract her and she may be more likely to run into something or someone. Or, it could set off World War III. Which it did.
A very friendly, smiley young lady, who had to be around 18 months of age, sauntered up to Stella in, as you’d expect, a very friendly, smiley fashion. She then gently, and I mean gently, reached for Stella’s snack trap. Stella took a step back. The girl then lunged for the goods, managing to stick a couple fingers into the cup’s opening–and as she did so, Stella yelled, clearly agitated. But she stayed put. The girl’s father and I tensed up slightly and moved closer to them, not sure how exactly to handle this but realizing that diplomatic intervention would likely be required.
He said something like, “That’s not yours, sweetie. You can’t take other people’s snacks.” She ignored that wise counsel, as warring factions often do, lured by the catnip-for-toddlers appeal of the Snack Trap, and lunged again. This time, Stella actually stepped toward the girl, and held her off with her free hand while screaming and violently waving the cup high over her head. It was so intense! And actually, rather impressive. It reminded me of basketball. A street game. And Stella was somehow a center, about to dunk on this girl’s head and then do something like this. The girl’s father smiled and said, “There you go!” as if pleased that Stella had taken such decisive action.
This stand-off highlights for me that gray area that new parents struggle with. Should I have encouraged Stella to share? Stella is good at sharing. She spends most of her day handing things to people. But do I want other kids’ hands in her food? And aren’t we supposed to teach boundaries? These questions became more urgent a few days later, when a kiss-happy boy planted several smooches on Stella. The incident escalated to the point where his mouth was over Stella’s nose, and left it covered in saliva. Yeah. All I could think/say the whole time (nervously, with the pitch inching ever higher) was , “Um… um… um… um…” Stella didn’t react. At all. But I was sorta horrified. I expected the parent to reign the kid in, but that never happened. I understand not wanting to discourage such loving behavior, but isn’t there a limit?
This happens a lot. I guess it’s just part of being a toddler and enjoying that brief time in your life when you can walk up to total strangers and tongue them, rob them, share their food–all without saying a word, and it’s pretty much business as usual. Not cause for imprisonment or restraining orders. We were at Seattle Children’s Hospital recently, waiting for Stella’s foll0w-up renal ultrasound a few weeks ago (it came back looking good, by the way–really more of a formality than anything). She was enjoying a snack in her stroller when a happy little boy came up and put his hands on Stella’s face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Oh they fool you with their glowing sweet faces and then BAM! Germ attack! I waited for his mother–standing right behind him–to intervene, but she did not. The kid then put his hand in Stella’s mouth, his fingers covered in her chewed up cracker. His mother did not do a thing. Again, we were at Children’s Hospital, a place were germs loom like deformed monsters! I did my best to brush it off because that mom looked like a depressed zombie. She was there for a reason… and it may’ve been a devastating one. I cut her some slack. What else was I going to do?
These days, Stella seems to know exactly where to draw the line, but I’m often not so sure. I want to heed my mother’s advice. I don’t want to permit misbehavior on Stella’s part, but she is too little to understand real discipline. I also don’t want either of us to take “crap” from anybody, but I don’t want to stifle Stella or instill mistrust and fear. I certainly don’t want my anxiety to rub off on her. It’s a balancing act. Balance isn’t exactly my strong suit but I’m working on it.
The next time Stella throws herself on the ground, I can, at the very least, admire her n0-holds-barred decisiveness. Her Kevin-Garnett-like intensity. It’s interesting. On the court, I was a guard, but it looks like Stella is more comfortable in the paint. Have I mentioned that she is now in the 90th percentile for height? I know, I know! Stop getting my hopes up about basketball! Tutus are ahead! Princesses, pixies and fairies. Oh my god–and pink fairy princesses in tutus sprinkling purple glitter pixie dust!
All I know for sure is that she’s got guts, that kid. And I love her all the more for it.