As the boys get older they have an increased ability to both delight and exasperate me. Abi is happy that she is no longer the only one in the family capable of annoying me– the boys are not innocents anymore and thus can fail to meet my expectations. But I can’t completely predict when misbehavior will make me want to laugh or when it will make me want to speak sharply and move with fast impatience. So I’m working on being consistent in my responses to their behavior apart from my emotions. I am good about providing the same consequences for the same actions, but the variable intensity of my response confuses the kids. Those who are closest to me know that I am not good at hiding my feelings and that I get annoyed kind of easily, though it is a shallow annoyance that passes quickly and leaves no trace in my heart. Still, I know that its even its briefest expression can hurt the feelings of a child. Ah, emotional consistency: hardest thing in parenting to date? One of the most important things in parenting? It’s a hard line to walk with my kids:being a real person, faults and all, while still providing the stable warmth they crave.
The kids now gang up against me. That’s actually one of the reasons I wanted Abi to have siblings: so she could could have someone to plot with as a child, and someone to call up and have can-you-believe-mom conversations when she is an adult. Now I’m seeing the years of scheming stretching ahead and wondering if it was the best idea. One day I told Callum to give me his pacifier. He was reluctantly complying when Abi rushed to his aid. His slow-moving hand had finally reached his mouth and was actually on the pacifier when she pulled it down and shouted, “Run, Callum, run!” He did. I made the mistake of laughing and then it was all over– they were screeching and dodging and refusing to respond at all. I had to do my best toddler chase-and-tackle, wrest away the pacifier and give timeouts. Another time Callum brought Ronan a stool and helped him climb up on it so that he could better reach my makeup bin from the back of the bathroom counter. They made it through two closed doors, one with a deterrent on the knob, for that victory. Dr. G. noted that although the boys don’t know much yet, they are very good at figuring things out. As is their sister.
Abi has devised a cute way of trying to glimpse what the adults are watching on TV after she is in bed. She knows that there is no talking or leaving the bedroom after the last kiss goodnight, except to use the bathroom. On the rare occasions that we sit down to watch some Malcom in the Middle, she will come to the end of the hall with her baby doll and water cup, asking us to guard them for her while she goes to the bathroom. Why? Because she has imagined scary things in the air and her stuff needs to be protected. Then she very slowly delivers the items, goes to the bathroom, and very slowly comes to retrieve them afterward. “Oh, that’s a pretty lady!” she comments about the paused image on the screen. She gets a smile in reply and goes to bed to imagine what might be going on on the TV.
Ronan is in a phase of testing, testing, testing. If his dad says, “Ronan, don’t hit your plate with the spoon. It’s too loud,” Ronan responds by gently tapping the plate as quietly as possible. If I say, “Don’t bonk your brother with that measuring cup,” he smacks his own head with it instead. “If I say, “Keep the water in the tub,” he balances two cups as close to the edge as he can and pours water back and forth, one eye on me all the time. We are learning to keep our corrections as specific as possible so he can’t find a workaround. His favorite joke right now is to act as if he wants to be taken from his crib but then flop down and roll to the farthest corner when I reach for him. So hilarious. If you have lived on the planet less than a year and a half.
Ronan is also a remarkably kind child. He is always assessing his family members, and when they show signs of trouble he is there to help (as long as the trouble is not caused by him). If someone is going out, he brings that person’s shoes and bag. If Abi is crying in a timeout, he can’t resist leaning on her leg to comfort her. If anyone is hugging or wrestling, he is right there in the mix. If he does something mean, he will often become contrite and hug the person he’s hurt without even being asked. He knows his sibling’s favorite toys and books and will deliver them when he comes across them. He loves order and points out any cupboard or door that is ajar; “Uh-oh!” he says, and rushes to remedy the problem. My little fixer.
Callum has figured out that if he wants to play with a cool toy, he should try to have an extra on hand so Ronan doesn’t steal it from him. He will bring an extra teddy bear, drop it in Ronan’s lap, and say in a sweet little voice, “Thank you!” before he goes off to play with his own bear. He surprises me all the time with the things he says and the things he tries. One of his current projects is climbing on a step stool, saying “Up! Tall! Hop!” and then hopping down, over and over. His imagination is also taking flight. At lunch recently he turned a bowl upside down, balanced his cup on it, and said it was a Dino. “Roar! Roar!” he said, waggling the cup like it was a dinosaur head. Unfortunately he loves to help me sweep. His way of sweeping is to wait until I get a nice pile and then take another broom and spread it all around as much as possible while I pretend that he is doing a good job until I can’t take it anymore and pick him up, broom and all, and dump him in another room. “He’s the worst sweeper in the world!” says Abi. “One of two,” I correct, looking meaningfully in Ronan’s direction. Good thing they are all so cute, my little boundary-testing, teamwork-loving, fun-loving, mischief-makers.