Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Age Of No Reason

This post first appeared as a column commissioned for the September 2010 issue of Practical Parenting Magazine.

My deadline for submitting my column is a few months before each issue is published. Reading over this piece, it strikes me how fast things can change in parenting-land. Ted, these days, is so easy to handle. A good time to remind myself to appreciate and cherish the good times - they're just a phase too, after all...

Dear readers, I’m worried about Ted. I think he’s an addict. It’s early to drop such a heavy label on him, I know, but his relationship with tomato sauce has reached unhealthy proportions. He begs for it, he weeps when he can’t get it, and left near an unattended sauce bowl, within minutes Ted looks like he’s been at the scene of some sort of chainsaw massacre. When Ted is denied tomato sauce, he takes a deep breath, and then he lets loose with a banshee howl of heartbroken loss that sounds a little like Chinese opera.

If he’s not truly an addict, then it can only mean one thing: he’s reached what I call the Age of No Reason. I’ve been through this once before, and in my experience it lasts from about eighteen months of age until about three. During this developmental stage, there are no half-measures. Passions are intense, desires must be met immediately, logic has no place at your table and life can be tough for those trying to parent you.

Skills are being learnt at an incredible rate as neural pathways fire like crazy, forming complex and interlocking superhighways. There are so many things to learn. So many rules to follow. Cups in the sink, Teddy, not the toilet. Down from the table! Get off your sister! No, Teddy, knife. Spider! Hot, Teddy. Don’t touch. Sharp! Sharp! Poo is not for drawing, Teddy. NOT FOR DRAWING, Teddy- no! No! No!

Of course, there is incredible magic too, as you watch a personality unfurl like a rosebud. There are first sentences, and early obsessions, and those light bulb mama-moments when you realise ‘Ah! He understands!’ At two, he's one foot in the cuddly, Wondersuited baby camp of gorgeousness, and one foot in the child’s world of imagination and exploration. It’s a beautiful metamorphosis to watch. But at times, it’s like living with an incontinent lunatic.

Trying to manage a toddler’s behaviour during the Age of No Reason is nigh on impossible. We tried hard with Ivy, introducing Naughty Corners and Naughty Shelves and Time Outs, but the punishment zones all quickly turned into fun games. ‘Corner?’ Ivy would ask excitedly, knowing she was in for that hilarious gag where Mum and Dad pick her up and carry her back to the funny spot, over and over again.

Ignoring the tantrum is the only real option at this age, but toddlers don’t make this easy. Ivy liked to bang her head on the floor in rage when she was going through the Age of No Reason. Sometimes she ended up with forehead bruises, and at one stage I was forced to put her into a fluffy sort of special-needs hat, in an attempt to get her through her toddlerhood with something left of her frontal lobe. If ignored, she would come right up to me and shout indignantly ‘Head! Bang! Head!’

Teddy takes a more physical approach. If I try and ignore a tantrum, he simply moves the tantrum on top of me. Yesterday I tried valiantly to continue reading to Ivy while he wailed for tomato sauce. ‘You have to wait, Ted,’ I insisted, and continued on with Hairy Maclary. Teddy wasn’t having it. ‘Ignore him, Ivy,’ I gasped, as he wrapped one arm around my neck, locked his legs across my middle and shrieked into my ear.

Just a year-and-a-half to go then, of managing this sometimes brain-melting phase before Teddy becomes reasonably and allows me to do my best parenting, which involves the judicious bestowal and withdrawal of Milk Arrowroot biscuits. Until then, I’ll just keep us well-stocked in tomato sauce and earplugs.

2 comments:

  1. I remember we had a sign on our fridge that said "Busy doesn't understand the words: WAIT, CAREFULLY, SLOWLY..." I can't remember the rest but there was a list- it helped, it is the most trying of times I think harder than the baby bit...we had one of those ones that just runs away. We didn't go to a cafe together for 18 months as it was just so stressful- she would just take off and we would argue ( unhelpfully) over whose turn it was to sit and drink there coffee and whose turn to run. I marvelled at some of my friends children who would just play on the ground next to them. No way no how, as the name suggests, she was Busy, running, away...

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  2. And then it TURNS! These days, Ted is obsessed with puzzles so if I take a puzzle in my handbag, he's like one of those show-babies. But four months ago...the idea of adding another kid had Keith and I shaking and reaching for alcohol.

    I like your list though.

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Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.