Two and three-quarters

by Lara on April 18, 2015

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Dear Gray,

I haven’t felt compelled to write much in this last year or so, because writing is a form of therapy for me and frankly, in your first year (and a half, or two), I needed a lot of therapy. Lately? Not so much. But it occurred to me recently that if I don’t write something down, if I fail to document how shockingly picturesque life with you has been since you turned two, I am at risk of forgetting it all. So here we are.

If I could go back to your infancy (back when you would wake up at 3 and 4 and 5am and I was convinced that you hated me and your dad and every living thing in the world), if I could go back to that time and tell myself one thing it would be: just wait for two. Because at two (and even more so, now, at nearly two and three-quarters), life with you is pretty sweet.

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One day last month a fellow preschool mother asked me if you were always “like this.” Like what, I asked. “You know. So mellow and easygoing.” I about cried right there on the spot, Gray. I really did. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my screaming, colicky, serious baby would become such an oddly compliant, cooperative, contented two-year-old. In fact (and, I can brag about this now because I feel I’ve earned it), I don’t remotely understand that phrase, “terrible twos.” Short of a handful of less-desirable moments, you are mostly, in your own words, “happy to oblige” (really, this is how you speak sometimes).

In fact, all those tricks and tools I read about in my books to deal with transitions or tough situations? They actually work on you! It’s…odd. I’ll say, “Say goodbye to the trucks, tell them we’ll see them later,” nervously awaiting your first real breakdown. And you know what you usually say? Some variant of, “Goodnight trucks, I will see you after my nap. I love you. Goodnight.” Or, you will ask for a sip of my drink or to build the giant Lego sets sitting in the garage and I’ll say, “not right now sweetie,” and you’ll say, “When I’m a wittle bit bigger, Mommy?” And seem perfectly satisfied when I nod and smile, yes love, when you’re a little bit bigger.

And that’s it. That’s how terrible you are at two.

You ask for things like “a proper breakfast,” and regularly use words like, “probly,” (probably) “nealy,” (nearly), and “eitha” (either). You also commonly remark, “That’s interesting, Mommy!” and say things like, “He’s going to join us!” and end many sentences with “as well.”

You say, “gesundheit,” when someone sneezes (you bet that I had to Google that) and usually answer, “pretty good,” when someone asks you how you are doing. You proudly answer that you are two-and-a-half if asked how old you are. Your signature apology is a very casual, “sorry ’bout that,” which is actually great for diffusing situations when I would otherwise want to scream (I’m thinking of the tub of rice you spilled last week).

Yesterday you told the woman from whom we buy eggs, “I am curious about your playhouse.” You were in full color last week at the doctor’s office when you loudly greeted the fish in the waiting room with, “Hi fishies! What are you doing in that tank?” as if your voice could carry through the glass (let’s hope for the their sake that it couldn’t). Then you greatly amused the doctor when you confidently and matter-of-factly told her, “That is a stethoscope,” “that is an otoscope,” “that is a tongue depressor” (all identified correctly, by the way).

You have no sense of personal space when making conversation with your peers, and you get about half an inch from their face to ask, “Can I have that when you finished?” Then you proudly tell me when the toy is “abailable.”

You are endearingly overeager to say thank you lately:

“Thank you Daddy, thank you for making my dinnah.” (<–he didn’t make it honey; Mommy did, but it was so sweet and genuine that I decided to just mention it in this letter rather than ruining the moment for you both)

“Thank you Mommy, thank you for opening the door and letting me go downstairs.” (<–it would have been more accurate to say, thank you for opening the door and shouting, we’relategetyourshoesonhurry)

Your three favorite things in life (currently) are as follows:

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1. Working with Daddy on projects. You live to do yard work, which I think will serve you well if you can hang on to that interest for another fifteen years or so (I’m not paying your fraternity dues, kid).  But really, you’re obsessed with your dad and think anything he does is interesting and something you must immediately help with. Yesterday you told me that you wanted to build a fort with him “the moment he gets home.”

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2. Reading. I thought all toddlers liked to be read to, but I’ve realized lately that your attention span with books seems to be longer, and your interest stronger, than many of your peers. The only time you will ever sit still is to read, and you will do it for as long as we will read to you. You can memorize a book by reading it three times, tops, and will correct us if we get even one word wrong. Lately you are interested in books that I am pretty sure are intended for older children, but you follow the story and seem to understand the humor, irony, or morals as they apply. You also love to assign us characters from books and call us by the character’s name for days or weeks at a time, often reciting applicable lines from the stories during your play.

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3. Trucks. I’ve lost count of how many you own at this point, but every single penny was worth it because you create elaborate construction scenarios that entertain you for very good periods of time. You’ve starting doing the voices for the trucks and when I am able, I like to sneak around and listen to what you make them say to each other. You also make up your own lyrics to the truck songs you love (Mighty Machines and Bob the Builder theme songs, which we play on the stereo ad nauseam). Garbage Day is your favorite day of the week, and you will reliably stand by the window and watch until that truck has visited every house on our block and left the neighborhood.

Just when I think all you want to do is hang out with Daddy, you remind me that you haven’t outgrown me just yet. You still call me Mommy but say “my mom” when you refer to me to anyone but Daddy. You frequently come “to check on Mommy” when we are in separate rooms. You periodically come inside from doing yardwork with Daddy to bring me flowers you have picked, and more than once you have opened the door and said, “I hold the door for you, Mommy.” When Daddy asked you last night before going to sleep what your favorite part of the day was, you replied, “Just spending time with Mommy.”

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I don’t know what age three has in store. People love to tell me it will be terrible (mainly the same people who told me two would be terrible). I don’t mind; I sometimes give a similar warning to women pregnant with their first child about the gloom and doom of infancy. But, just as all infants are not miserable, not all three-year-olds are nightmares. And while I’m staying on guard and preparing for a drastic change in winds, I’m pretty confident that what your grandma told me when you were a screaming three-month old holds more water than the naysayers: you’re going to get better and happier every year.

So I’ll listen to my mother, and you listen to yours, and we’ll be just fine.

I love you,

Your mom

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I don’t know if it’s genetics, personality, or something I did wrong with baby-led weaning, but Gray isn’t “in” to food the way I hoped he would be.  Indeed, some of his favorite foods are very healthy (lentils, eggs, any fruit, spinach, raw carrots and bell peppers are his current favorites), but to me his palate seems limited, and he is reluctant to eat anything “assembled”–sandwiches, casseroles, soup; he prefers finger foods.  Some days he eats so little that I really do not know how he has such boundless energy.

Five Changes I Made to Help My Toddler Eat Better

So last month I set out to learn more about how I can help him become a “good” eater.  I put quotes around good because it’s a pretty subjective term.  My hopes for him are pretty simple in theory: to enjoy eating a variety of healthy foods, and to retain his inborn ability to regulate his intake.  At this age, table manners are not a top priority, though I would like for him to be able to sit in his high chair for the duration of dinner (some nights this is a struggle).

As is my style, I went on a bit of a reading bender.

Getting Your Toddler to Eat

Enter: five books promising to teach me how to get my kid to eat well.  You can read about each book on Daily Mom, but here are some of the decisions I made after my crash course:

  • Each author has a slightly different approach, but BY FAR, the overarching theme is:  do not get into a power struggle.  Do not negotiate.  Do not cajole.  Do not bribe.  This is SO.  DIFFICULT.  Though I have never negotiated at the table, I have often encouraged (err, begged), and found that the more I want G to eat, the less he eats.  I am working very hard to reduce this behavior in myself.  Though I hate to disrupt family dinners, I sometimes have to leave the table in order to do this.  Matthew is much better at letting G eat uninterrupted.
  • Have set meal and snack times and discourage eating outside of those times.  This can be difficult for us when we go to the gym or a play date where they give out snacks, but I am learning to incorporate those into his eating schedule.  Nowadays, we offer meals/snacks to G four times a day: when he wakes up, before nap, after nap, and at dinner time.  His morning meal is the most relaxed, as he wakes up early, so he starts eating with Matthew and usually continues to nibble with me later in the morning.  I cut him off at 9am.    
  • Offer foods I know he likes mixed with those he is learning to like.  Because I hate seeing him reject food, I fell into only offering him his favorite foods for a while.  This obviously wasn’t helping him expand his palate.  Now I include at least one food that will encourage him to get out of his comfort zone.  It helps when I silently don’t expect him to eat it.  He’s been surprising me lately with what he will eat!
  • Give him some choices during mealtime (or at least the appearance of them).  This is the time when toddlers are trying to establish their autonomy, so I try to offer options all day, but especially around meals, to make the whole experience more positive.  Little things like letting him choose his own fork, his own plate, fill his water cup (with close supervision!), and climb into his high chair himself have all helped mealtimes go more smoothly.  Sometimes we will also let him choose one of his foods, usually which fruit he wants for dessert, from two options.  
  • If I’m serving it, he can have as much or as little of it as he wants.  Yes, this means he can have more bread even if he hasn’t had much broccoli (see: no negotiation).  But it also means he doesn’t get to ask for crackers if I’m not serving them; the food at the table are his only options.  Oh, and he gets dessert regardless of what or how much he ate at dinner.  This is all part of the “Division of Responsibility” outlined in Child of Mine.

Not meddling while Gray eats is a constant challenge.  I often repeat a concept from Child of Mine as a mantra, “Your job is done once you serve the meal.”  I think this is the change that is making the biggest difference.

Please share any tips you have to encourage good eating habits in children! 

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