I remember that morning clearly. My kids were eating breakfast in the kitchen, and I was in the next room, rounding up some wayward toys and sippy cups. Suddenly, I heard my daughter shout, “Mommy, he broke your glasses!” Running into the kitchen, I realized that my 21-month-old son had grabbed my glasses off a nearby counter, and stretched the frame until it broke. Needless to say, I was not pleased.
Shortly after, I was preparing for the beach, frantically gathering sunblock and towels. Out of nowhere, my son grabbed a piece of “medical equipment” from my daughter’s Doc McStuffins’ bag, and proceeded to scratch the screen of our new LCD TV.
At that point, Mommy had an awakening.
My son was no longer a baby. He was no longer cute. He was a destructive force that was wrecking my home. If I didn’t do something soon, I was going to have to invest in toddler-damage insurance — protecting my apartment from a force more disastrous than nature. I had to face facts. I no longer had a sweet, innocent infant. It was time to begin holding my son to a higher standard.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment your child makes that transition from adorable baby to willful little person. It can be hard to see them as a growing child when you’re carrying them in your arms, or they’re repeating a handful of monosyllables, or you’re changing your fourth diaper that morning. (I imagine the line is even blurrier for moms who nurse for an extended time.) That said, for me, there were signs I could no longer ignore that my son was developing into an evil genius:
- Willful disregard for the law. At a certain point, I realized that my son understood everything we said to him. Yes, when told to get his sneakers he just sat there with a defiant smile and a villainous chuckle. But he looked at his sneakers first. He knew what was up.
- Thirst for vengeance. When my son didn’t get his way, someone had to pay. From angry cries to writhing on the floor to pulling his sister’s hair, he let everyone know that he had an opinion — and he wasn’t afraid to express it. He wasn’t just hungry or in need of a diaper change. He was acting out.
- Search and destroy. From broken glasses to broken toys to hundreds of diaper wipes torn from their packaging and scattered all over the floor, our home was beginning to look like we were regularly entertaining the Tasmanian Devil. Or housing a 1-year-old.
- Going for the chair. Eventually, we started instituting time-outs. Suddenly, any mention of trouble resulted in my son immediately toddling over to his time-out chair and plopping his little butt down — all of his own accord. He was starting to connect crime and punishment, a sign that this discipline thing was starting to make an impression.
Disciplining a child under the age of two is challenging. Often, by the time they’re in time out, they’ve already forgotten their transgression, and are staring down a random marker on the floor, calculating the trajectory from floor to mouth. But the process has to begin somewhere, and for me, it was with a simple acknowledgment: I no longer had a baby — and, since he’s my youngest, I never would again. Yes, this admission was difficult. But sooner or later, you reach a point where you’re fed up. Where you can no longer live with a pint-size tornado (no matter how cute) tearing apart your home. My son sees a lot of his time-out chair these days. But he’s also developing an increased understanding of the rules of the land — even if at times he ignores them.
As with everything else in his development, we’re taking things one step at a time. In the meantime, I’m locking up my glasses.
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