Gus is 786 days old today and he has officially moved into what Becky and I call the Land of Big Emotions.
While most of the time he is a pretty mellow kid, it doesn't take much to tip him into a full-blown conniption fit filled with tears and screaming. (Wikipedia defines a conniption fit as "... an emotional outbreak ... that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, hitting ..." Yep, that would be Gus.)
Such a tantrum might be preceded by not having the appropriate towel after his bath or not being able to find a specific Matchbox out of his 50-plus toy cars scattered on the living room rug.
He's also prone to throwing his body facedown onto the floor and flailing the ground with his little fists, raging "Nnnnoooooooo!!!" if we don't let him stuff more than three frozen grapes at a time into his mouth or if it's time to get him into a diaper after letting him run around sans leakage protection.
On the other side of the coin, Gus has amazing moments of rapturous joy that are characterized by maniacal shrieks of laughter, the shouting of a word or a name that makes him happy or throwing his arms straight up into the air and running into our legs.
This unadulterated (I didn't recognize until I had a child that ADULT is the heart of "unadulterated") delight is often precipitated by daddy walking in the door after being away all day at work (and made even better if daddy is carrying a pizza and Gus' shouts quickly change from "Daddy!" to "Pizza!").
I've seen his eyes roll back in bliss as his mommy pushes him on the swing hanging in the old pine tree in the backyard and I've heard him shout gleefully from his car seat "Dump truck!" or "Police car!" when one passes by on our trips out and about.
Often Gus' emotions flip back and forth in almost an instant. A friend of Becky's once said living with a 2-year-old child is like living with a pint-sized bipolar tyrant.
One thing these swings in mood have taught me is patience. I often find myself walking a thin line between annoyance and desperation, but when I fear I am crossing over into one or the other, a word flashes into my head and keeps me on the straight and narrow. That word is "Wait!"
Thank you Janet Lansbury for pointing me in the direction of Magda Gerber, who extolls the power of that one word.
"My attitude has always been: Wait, wait, wait," said Gerber.
Lansbury writes that "Wait" reflects a core belief in a baby's natural abilities, respects his unique developmental timetable, fulfills his need to experience mastery, be a creative problem solver and to express feelings, even those that are hard for us to witness.
"Wait for feelings to be expressed so that our children can fully process them," notes Lansbury. "Our child's cries can stir up our own deeply suppressed emotions; make us impatient, annoyed, uneasy, and even angry or fearful. But children need our non-judgmental acceptance of their feelings and our encouragement to allow them to run their course."
"Wait" helps to remind me that Gus is not an adult; that he is a child who needs time to process the world around him and time to accomplish tasks that I take for granted.
"When we wait ... he is encouraged not only to keep thinking, but to keep trusting his instincts. Refraining from interrupting whenever possible gives our child the message that we value his chosen activities, and therefore him," writes Lansbury.
That's something I need to remember when Gus gets frustrated, when I want to rescue him and show him how to do something or just do it for him.
"Allow a child the resilience-building struggle and frustration that usually precedes accomplishment," writes Lansbury.
But then I also need to realize there is a point when frustration becomes self-defeating rather than self-empowering, and daddy needs to pick him up, hold him and acknowledge his feelings. Acknowledgment is huge, writes Lansbury, as huge as having the patience to wait.
"Acknowledge your child's feelings and wishes, even if they seem ridiculous, irrational, self-centered or wrong. Acknowledgment isn't condoning our child's actions; it's validating the feelings behind them. It's a simple, profound way to reflect our child's experience and inner self. It demonstrates our understanding and acceptance."
Biting my tongue and acknowledging someone else's feelings haven't always been my strong points, but I've been getting a lot of practice the past couple of months. This is not only beneficial to Gus' development, but also to my relationships with Becky and other people in my life, friends, family members and strangers.
So in a very real way, the child has, unexpectedly, become the teacher. That was one of the nauseatingly innumerable tidbits of insight offered to me by people who had preceded me into parenthood that had bounced off my thick skull prior to Gus' birth. But, like so much of the advice I had so deftly dodged, it has come back like a boomerang, reminding me I'm not as smart about some things as I thought I was two years ago. Please, however, give me credit for realizing this fact and making adjustments in my life.
As Becky often tells me, "Take a deep breath," more advice I used to roll my eyes at. Now when she tells me to take a deep breath, I take two, then three, and then I wait a little longer. Everything in the Land of Big Emotions seems to work a little better that way.
Bob Audette is the day managing editor at the Brattleboro Reformer, and proud father of Gus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160, or follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.