you do it, no you do it

6:58 AM

When you have a baby you spend the entire first year running yourself ragged attending to their every need, whimper and grunt. They cry and you drop everything and run. It almost becomes a reflex, their cry always a faint echo in your head, your body clenched waiting for the volume to be turned up and then you run. If they're hungry you feed them, if they're sad you rock them, if their diaper is dirty you change it, if they're sleepy you lull them to dreamland and so on and so forth. For an entire year your baby is this cherubic, helpless creature that it is your sole responsibility to protect, love and nurture.
And then it happens, sometime after their first birthday, they do that "thing" where you know they know and they know that you know and they do it anyway. And then they smile or worse yet cackle. And you wonder "could it really be?" Is this tiny person really playing me already? And then the thing keeps happening and you're not imagining things anymore - they really do keep dropping their lovie in the car just so you have to turn around and pick it up fifty times. They really do know not to take their diaper off but they do it anyway, a mischievous smile on their face the whole time. You figure it's a phase and on the good days you say "no" sweetly and on the bad days there's a gruffness to your tone. And sometimes it does seem to be a phase as they morph back into the sweet angel baby that you brought home that snowy December. But then spring rolls into summer and before you know it the trees have shed their leaves and you realize you actually have a big problem on your hands.
The tantrums start to actually scare you - their fervor, length and toll on the family. But you keep going hoping that the next day will be better than the last. You talk about it late at night as your bodies melt into the bed and admit that you feel lost. You wonder if it's teething, a cold, poor sleep, etc. You are both too scared to admit to each other that she's just plain naughty. You're too scared because you don't know what the solution would be. And really discipline is just such an ugly word. You fear it, you fear what it means and how it would actually look.
And then one day you realize that you've simply been waiting for the other person to step up, to say - I'm the disciplinarian and this is what we're doing. But it turns out neither of you are. It turns out you were both hoping desperately that even if the other person didn't do it that there would be some lovely, magical, sweet solution. Some form of discipline that allowed for you to be the same parent you were to her when she was tiny - cloyingly sweet at all times. Unfortunately it doesn't exist. And once you realized that and realized just how badly she was craving some sort of boundaries and direction everything started to turn around. It was almost as if she had been begging for you to discipline her. She took to time outs with gusto, so proud of herself for patiently waiting out the time. The more she began to understand rules and consequences the more her little body and face relaxed. The tantrums? Those were gone. Her sleep was sound and restful. It was almost as if she was basking in the safety of the boundaries you had finally created for her.
The first few weeks were hard. Many tears were shed and you hated always saying "no," the sound of your own voice became foreign to you and you felt as if you had become someone you didn't know anymore. But as she found freedom in limits (ironic yes, but true) you found that you had to remind her of them less and less. And before you knew it your home became a place of peace again, of love and understanding and a place where just a simple raising of your eyebrows could serve as a gentle reminder when she would forget. And the family breathed a joint sigh of relief.
Having a baby around again is a daily reminder of the difference between parenting a newborn and a toddler. Where a baby rules you, you must rule the toddler. Sometimes shuffling between these two roles daily is exhausting and frustrating but at the same time I often find beauty in this awkward dance as well. A baby is utterly helpless and wholly dependent on you. A toddler on the other hand is learning about freedom and limits and where they stand in this family. They are gaining independence at a rapid pace and often it is incompatible with their ability. But the sole fact that we get a first row seat to this life is incredible. We are constantly walking the fine line between directing and guiding and letting go. Knowing when to tighten the reigns and when to loosen them is not at all instinctual and there is a lot of reading, advice seeking and listening going on around here. But then there are those moments, flashes if you will, of seeing their personality coming through and you just stop and marvel at this phenomenal little person who has taught you more in a span of two years than you feel you had learned over the course of your whole entire life.

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3 notes

  1. My wee one is just entering toddlerhood. Your thoughts about their need (and unspoken appreciation) of boundaries is resonating with me. And YES INDEED it's a privilege to witness this process! Thanks as always!

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  2. I love this post. I am in it, really in it, riding the ups and downs. Always learning and growing, right along with my toddler.

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  3. I came across your IG a week or so ago today and looked up your blog today. So many great, inspiring posts! This one especially. WOW. I am super weary. Y have a 2.5 year old and a 16 month old and I am nearing the end of my rope. Discipline is hard & with your first I am sure it's much harder. Thanks for helping me think about how I discipline. It's going to be a long road.

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