The first time Ben saw a football huddle on TV, he said, “Kiss, hug.” And the first time he saw a football tackle and pile up, he laughed and said, “Whole family fall down.”
Notes to my Firstborn
Liz had a holiday party for the families at her daycare, and when we arrived she showed us what you had created that morning on the patio. You had placed the six toddler vehicles—tricycles, push cars, and scooters—in a large circle. Next to each of them you stood a foot-high redwood post. We asked you what it was, but you were silent. It reminded me of Stonehenge and also of one of your tea parties because you seat your babies in a circle and give them each a plate, cup, and spoon. This pleased me because it shows you have 1:1 correspondence, and you’re developing just the way you’re supposed to. But, still, I wonder what it means. What you were thinking when you built it.
Once, when I was seven months pregnant with our second child, I lay on the couch after work while my partner, Pam, cooked dinner and I watched twenty-month-old Ben. I tried to doze, but Ben wanted to “feed” me from his play kitchen—a low bookshelf with stacks of plastic dishes and utensils. He served me “appa cake,” and when I pretended to spill it, he giggled. When I pretended to throw it at him, he laughed and imitated me. We got so raucous, Pam came out from the kitchen to see what was going on. Ben pretended to throw a piece of “appa cake” at Pam, and she joined the food fight, all of us ducking and shrieking as imaginary apple cake hit the walls. We were so happy in the womb of our family. Our ordinary family.
Pam sets three-year-old Ben on a towel on the sand and begins applying sunscreen to his arms. He jumps up and runs off the towel.
“Hey, come back here,” she calls to him. “We’re not done yet.”
“Finished,” he shouts, heading for the water. I grab him around the waist before he splashes in.
“Hey, big boy,” I whisper in his ear. From my work, I know a soft voice can often capture a child’s attention easier than shouting. “Get back there to Mama.”
Pam joins us. “We can put it on here or back on the towel, which do you want?”
“Yes sunscreen, but you can pick where you want it.”
He points to his toes. “There,” he says, laughing.
Pam laughs and grabs him, patting a few splotches of sunscreen on his arms. When she begins rubbing, Ben screams.
She looks at me.
“You have to have sunscreen or you can’t come to the little lake,” I say.
“I want the little lake.”
“Then put on the sunscreen. Come on, hurry up. You’re wasting your play time.”
“No sunscreen,” he shouts.
“Can we let it go?” Pam whispers.
“No way,” I say. “He’s too fair. We’re at five thousand feet.” Pam turns to mush when it comes to discipline—enforcing limits, doling out consequences. “I’ll do it,” I say.
When I catch Ben, I hold onto his wrist and lead him to the towel. “Stand here so your feet don’t burn,” I say.
I squeeze a dollop onto my palm and begin rubbing it into his back quickly and roughly. He accepts this, but when I get to his arms, he flails them.
“Hold still,” I say. “We’ll be done in a minute.”
He shakes his arms again, and a large drop of sunscreen lands on my clean shorts.
“Ben, stop it,” I shout, and his forehead wrinkles in surprise. He begins to cry.
“Oh for God’s sake,” I say. “Why does it always have to be this way?”
Tears falling into the sand, he lets me finish the sunscreen, then runs to the lake and skips through the shallow water. “Watch me swim,” he calls, pretending to fall into the shallow water.
“Where did our ‘joy boy’ go?” I ask Pam. “He’s fussier now than he was last year.”
“Maybe his “terrible twos” were just delayed a year, and we’re getting them at three,” Pam says.
At the end of that summer, I buy the book Your Three-Year-Old and search for advice on handling our child’s tantrums. How could a school psychologist not know how to handle her own kid?
Life as an airplane flight: a haiku
When pressure changes
adjust your own mask before
assisting your child.
Causes Kathy Briccetti Supports
Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society
Women's Educational Media