Archive for August, 2011

Today I was resting in the room next to where Abigail was “napping.” I couldn’t make out everything she was saying, but at one point, she started calling out in a loud voice, “Allllll Abooooaaarrrd!” After naptime was over I asked her what was going on.

Me: Were you saying all aboard?
Abi: Yes. There was a train. Baby Cat fixed the train.
Me: What was wrong with it?
Abi: It had a hole in it. Baby Cat fixed it with sticky tape.
Me: Who was the driver?
Abi: Me! Mama Cat! All aboard! Choo choo! This is the train whistle (brandishing a mini mag lite).

I’m giving up on naps, I think. She can just stay in there and rest for an hour and half, entertaining herself with stories. We’ve done everything we can think of: Dark room, sleepy time routine, consistent nap time pretty much every day, bribes, interventions, etc. I can turn out lights and take away toys but I can’t get her to turn that imagination off. Maybe if I could get her to close her mouth for 15 minutes it would work. Duct tape? Just kidding.

And I think she’s okay overall– getting about 11 or 12 hours of sleep instead of her former 12 to 13, resulting in the occasional 3 hour nap crash. Most days, she drags around much of the afternoon but she doesn’t get grouchy. There are more morning meltdowns than I would like, but she seems fine-ish without the nap. She would benefit from a nap but won’t die for lack of it.

And she’s constantly full throttle with that imagination. At snack time today a broken pretzel became a tiny bird that a) went looking for its mommy b) learned to fly c) ate some food d) escaped a bunch of snakes and e) landed safely in the house Abi made for it (the pretzel bowl). Yes, staying focused on eating is an issue too. I love that wild imagination and wish it had an off switch.

You know that friend we all had when we were in our teens or twenties? The one that fell completely in love with The Wrong Guy? The Dangerous, Complicated Guy? At first she loved him because he was dangerous and then she loved him because he needed her. She thought she could missionary date him right out of all his troubles. That is Abigail and Swiper the Fox all over. Her enthrallment with his wicked ways, which I wrote about in detail a month or so, has waned. Swiper is still, in her words, “My best friend,” and he spends as much time starring in her fantasies as ever. But now, she is slowly reforming him. When he behaves badly, she puts him in a time out and gives him a stern talking to. “No swiping, Swiper!” Then she takes his side of the conversation: “But I really like to swipe!” Then she responds: “You’re nice now!”

He still occasionally swipes, but more frequently engages in less mean mischief, like popping out at and saying “Boo,” or doing something mysterious called Gokking. She asks for Swiper stories all day long, but they must focus on some other characteristic of Swiper other than swiping. He might be moldy, or a giant, or Macky Swiper or Stinky Swiper or Leaping Swiper. She will put some made-up word in front of his name and ask for a story. “Tell a Noony Swiper story, Mommy.” If he swipes something in the story, she interjects with, “And then he gave it back,” or, “No, Swiper went home to his house.” She is his champion, the one who insists that everyone accept his new and improved character. She knows he’s going to backslide sometimes, but that’s all part of the process. She loves her little Swiper.

The other day Dr. G diagnosed Abigail with ego depletion. Say what? Nah, I replied. She’s just not getting enough sleep. I don’t think I’d heard the term before. Then today I ran across this New York Times article on the topic that made his brief remark suddenly enlightening. I’m going to have to make some changes in my parenting style.

Ego depletion is what happens to people as they make more and more decisions over the course of a day. Small or big, easy or hard, they all take a little something out of the willpower bank. People who make a lot of decisions have much lower impulse control afterwards. They have less willpower and are more likely to let others decide for them or find other ways of avoiding hard choices. A sugary snack helps them focus for a bit, but then the energy wears off and they are back to their previous irrationality.

Though I didn’t know this was a real thing, or that it had been studied so much, it resonates. I am acutely aware of the effect too many choices has on me. I never walk down the bottled water aisle at the grocery store if I can help it because it makes me furious at the marketers who want me to choose among thirty different options for freakin’ WATER. I can blithely breeze by the candy aisle in the grocery store at the beginning of my shopping trip, but fixate helplessly on the Almond Joy in the checkout line 30 minutes and two dozen decisions later. In our culture we talk about choices as if they equal freedom and empowerment, when in fact, endless decisions can lead to the opposite, at least temporarily.

That plus Dr. G’s comment has got me thinking about the number of choices I ask Abigail to make each day. About six months ago I used to be even worse, offering her choices at each phase of her daily schedule (oatmeal or grapenuts? play inside or play outside? these jammies or those?), but it quickly became clear that I was stressing her out. So now I just offer her something and she has the option to reject it if she feels strongly about it. But I’m realizing how much of my organization of her day is framed to her as questions: Do you want to go swimming? Are you ready for your snack? Do you like this book? Even those yes-no questions require her to assess and decide. I want to be more declarative: Get your swim diaper, we’re going swimming. She can always let me know if she feels strongly about it. Just writing that down makes me feel so dictatorial. And the lazy part of me would rather have her do the work of deciding what she wants all the time instead of my doing it for her. But surely if I, her mother, have the opportunity to create a little more peace for her and thereby avoid tantrums, I should do it.

Which brings me to the other thing I do, though I’m not sure how to alter it. If we have momentum going towards some activity or meal, and Little Miss Fickle suddenly changes her mind about it, I will often let her. If I’ve got her partly undressed for swimming and she starts crying and saying she doesn’t want to swim, I’ll say okay and stop proceedings. About half the time, this response just seems to upset her more. I can’t tell when she truly does or doesn’t want something and when she is just testing my authority, hoping to run up against a nice strong boundary. I don’t think she can tell either. So the built-in option to reject can apparently backfire in this brave new world of toddler raising. Sometimes, though, disregarding her wishes and plowing ahead leads to pure toddler crazy. Sigh. Other options, anyone?

There’s been a lot more giggling around here lately as Abigail’s sense of humor develops. Her favorite catch phrase of late is “That’s not right!” which she says after initiating or noticing any silliness around her. Yesterday she was swimming in the pool with her dad and asked him to play “sandwich and peekaboo.” He was still trying to figure out what she meant when she laughed and said, “That’s not right! Let’s play cat swimming!”

One of her favorite wordplays is changing Swiper’s name and catchphrase. Sticker no swiffing, Swooper no poofing, and so on. That just doesn’t get old. “That’s not right!” she says, between giggles. Simon’s Cat videos also tickle her funny bone, especially this one:

She was cracking herself up this evening pretending to be Swiper. She would do something she thought of as transgressive, such as walking around with MULTIPLE BAGS ON HER WRIST! Then she would say, “Mommy, say, ‘Swiper time out!’” Then I’d say it and she’d laugh. Other entries in the Swiper Time Out game were licking playdough, pretending to sleep while leaning against the wall, and walking around with a paper bag on her head, bonking into things. Whenever she wants to be mischievous she adopts the Swiper persona. Her weirdest high-jink lately was taking an ear of corn out of the crisper drawer in the refrigerator, shouting, “Ha! You’re too late!” and racing away down the hall with it, me in hot pursuit. She ran into her room and launched it as hard as she could, flying headlong air herself. It rolled to a stop under the rocker as she flopped onto the changing pad on the floor. She shook off the daze and said triumphantly, “You’ll never find it now!” I find life with her so entertaining right now. Some days we reach bedtime and I feel like I’ve been laughing for the past 12 hours. Other days it feels like 12 hours of exasperation. But I successfully got her to eat her entire dinner tonight by addressing her as Swiper and telling her NOT to eat it. Reverse psychology in its purest form! I’m glad she’s found a little wiggle room to be less fearful and less obedient than normal by calling herself Swiper. She hates any dissonance in my relationship with her and almost never rebels as Abi or Baby Cat. But she needs to test those boundaries somehow.

Abigail announced that she is no longer Baby Cat. She is now Big Girl Cat. She has a Big Cat bed. Makes sense, since I’ve been telling her lately what a big girl she is. And she has now celebrated her second full trip around the sun. We took her to Seattle for vacation last week, where she experienced planes, trains, buses, ships (well, a ferry), tall buildings, ball games, museums, markets, and hotel living. She is an excellent traveler in some ways. She doesn’t fuss or freak out; she just goes with the flow and enjoys the sights, as long as she can be with mom and dad. But she doesn’t eat or sleep well and the deficits eventually catch up with her. She had three huge pre- or post- sleeping meltdowns in which she was completely inconsolable, choosing to lay down in front of the window by herself and sob for a good ten minutes. Other than that, easy peasy.

So it’s been fun to come home and spend a day or two that is just all about her. “Come over here, Mommy! Give me a hug!” she demands imperiously. And I do it, with relish. It is a little hard to remember my daily life before Abigail. Before the cat stories. Before the drool. Before the hugs, parties, books, tears, near-misses, head bonks, cozy blankets, and food spit on the floor. Before Dora and Christopher Robin and the Wonder Pets and someone always backwashing into my water glass. Before I spent so much time each day cutting foods into tiny pieces that are then rejected. Before that insane mile-high bed head, the negotiations (“Nap time, Abi.” “How about go outside time?”), Swiper, fantasies about candy, dancing feet, acting as Abi’s interpreter to people outside the family, endless early mornings, laundry, making kleenex diapers for the baby cat. Before all that. Pre-Abi life seems sort of boring now. How I love my birthday girl.

Abigail yearns to converse. She listens intently whenever the adults speak. We’ve had to start censoring our conversation topics around her because she pays such close attention and understands so much. Poor Abigail does not yet know how to initiate or carry on a full conversation, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. Here are her favorite conversation starters.

Guess what? The main problem with this one is that she doesn’t know how to follow it up. Once in awhile she’ll hit upon something (“I hear a baby birdie tweeting.”), but mostly she just repeats “Guess what? Guess what? Guess what?” ad infinitum.

Mommy, say __________. This is a fun one. She asks me to repeat words and statements– things she sees around her, free associations, synonyms (“say kitty cat in a blanket. say kitty cat covered all up. say kitty cat wrapped up. say kitty cat tucked in. say dark. say night. say bedtime.”).

Mommy, say no. Variations on this are used to stage fake arguments and rebellions (“Mommy, I’m rum pum pummin on the table. Say ‘stop it, Kitty Cat, that’s too loud!’”) When I say it, she loves to refuse my “command” with as much fervor as possible.

Mommy, tell me a story. Usually she wants a cat story, a Dora story, or a Winnie the Pooh story. These are collaborative efforts in which I present the main theme and Abigail contributes the details. If baby cat is going on a picnic, Abi tells me what food the cat is taking along and who is coming. If I start wrapping things up too neatly, she has Swiper arrive or makes somebody start crying or arguing.