Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ages and Stages

I'm intrigued by how Ian flows from one age and stage to the next as I observe him growing up.  There seems to be a definite shift in his development every so often. For three years I have noticed it about 2 months before his birthday in late November, with every other year being a little bit challenging followed by about a year of relative peace.  To put it another way, if he were the stock market, he has an up year with its minor fluctuations, followed by a down year with its more erratic fluctuations.  He flows from a docile "bull" to an angry "bear" and back again.

His first year, infanthood, was wonderful. In spite of a very rough patch from 2-6 weeks as we settled into a comfortable nursing relationship and his refusal to sleep for any length of time until he was 9 months old, overall I enjoyed it. I love infants with all their cuddliness.  As he passed his first birthday we entered into a more difficult several months.  I found 12-18 months to be extremely trying on us, when he was in the "I know what I want but can't verbalize it well" period.  He got frustrated. I got frustrated.  Around 18 months,  we started to see some glimmers of light on the horizon.  In the September before his 2nd birthday there was a shift into curious toddler as he entered the Fabulous Twos.

Two was such a great age. Full of curiosity and exploring, mimicking and following, but still very baby-like so everything was all just so cute.  Especially that little baby voice trying so hard to express himself.  Two was a pleasure all the way to the September before he turned 3.

Three has been a similar to the market that crashed around the same time.  All of a sudden he realized he didn't HAVE to listen and testing it became pretty much the norm.  The need to get attention became an art form and keeping my attention constantly, was on his daily agenda. The tantrums, when they happened, took a turn from frustration with a twist of desperation to an unleashing of anger, sometimes physically. I heard the words. "You are a mean mom" and "I don't like you" a few times. He's beaten his door with blunt objects and thrown things. Trying to bully and force his way with us and with friends was something he was trying out for a while.  Screaming demands, melting down,  and showing physical rage when upset was also something he experimented with to see how much reaction he could get. We've been those people in the grocery store.  The ones with the screaming kid at the check out line that pre-parentally we would have judged and ridiculed for not handling our child "correctly."  After being that mother more than once, I realized what is the right response for me and my son might be totally different than best response for another mother and child.  

About 6 weeks after his third birthday I concluded that I was now in the worst period of our relationship to date.  It was long. Then in about June, some glimmers of hope started to appear. A calmness and maturity. An ability to entertain himself started to happen more often.

Now, here we are two months before his fourth birthday and I am seeing a significant flow from testing the rules to living within them peacefully.  He loves to create, to "read" (he pretends to read by telling a story from the pictures), to explore, ask questions, and more often than not he behaves very well. As I have gotten to know him as a person, I realize he is a lot like me. He requires a full, detailed explanation before he'll be agreeable.  He is not a child that is ok with "I said so."  I never was either, so I understand this.  For example, he often attempts to distract me in the car by wanting this or that.  I explain that I can't get it, it is dangerous. That's not enough. He continues pestering.  For months this went on. I progressed to having to tell him we might get in an accident if I try to pick up a car off the floor behind me while driving. This reasoning is probably enough for most children his age. Not Ian.  So I explain in more detail, that we could get into a car accident and have to go to the hospital.  The asking and pestering continued for more months.  I tried this explanation a few weeks ago and he said, "You always say that" and then went on asking for whatever he dropped.  "You can reach it" he encouraged. Finally, I laid it out for him.  What EXACTLY might happen if we crashed the car.  We talk about life and death and all natural processes with him regularly so it was not unfamiliar but when I explained that we could die and not be together anymore if I was not a careful driver he replied, "Ok, Mom" and the backseat requests stopped.  Part of me was afraid I might have scarred him for life with that kind of blatant honesty and I wondered what kind of awful mom would say something like that to a 3 year old... That's when I realized he was like me. He needs a complete and thorough understanding of all the consequences before making his own decision in his best interest.  And the answer needs to resonate with him for him to concede and agree.  Wow, do I respect that about him, but boy does that make parenting more of a task for us!  Now if he asks me to fetch a cracker he dropped while on the highway and I say, "remember what I told you might happen if I am not a careful driver?" He instructs me that I should pull over and stop first.....

He's such a little boy now and its fun to have conversations with him about things, aside from the morose.  He loves to talk (and talk and talk and inquire and talk...)  It feels like 3 was about setting the standard of acceptable behavior and he had to test and check every which way to make sure there were no loopholes. It was exhausting as his parent but it seems like maybe we are entering into a period of peaceful at four.......and then will come five. 

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