[Note: Ruthie turned six months old last week. She's our second baby, so it's ok that I forgot to mention it the exact moment it occurred like I would have with Loren. Sorry Moosey Moo.*]
*”Moosey Moo” has become Ruthie’s nickname. I didn’t realize it before, but the first born gets dibs on re-naming your second born. Loren isn’t much for pronouncing the “th” sound, so Ruthie was immediately “Roosie.” She has a cow wubbanub pacifier, hence the intermingling and addition of the “moo” sounds to her name. Ruthie Moo, Roosie Moo, then Missy Moo, and now Moosey Moo. That list of names made a lot more sense before I took the time to spell out its lineage. Anyway, back to the post…
As I do multiple times every weekday, I poured Ruthie a bottle of “mama’s milk”, heated up a mug of water in the microwave, then plopped the bottle in the mug. Our little lady likes a really warm, borderline scalding bottle. I’ve made it too hot once or twice, which she promptly spits out in pain, reminding me that I’m either a buffoon or terrible amateur.
A few minutes pass, Ruthie’s starting to lose her marbles, and I grab the finally warm-enough bottle and make my way to her in the living room, when Loren stops me in my tracks and demands (slowly, as if he’s still trying to decide just what he wants to whine about) “Loren bottle!”
Loren hasn’t had a bottle in a while, and somehow never really got in to wanting Ruthie’s bottle despite us weening him around the same time Ruthie started needing one. In the interim, we’ve had so many talks about who drinks what milk (Ruthie only gets mama’s milk, Loren gets cow’s milk, Mama drinks cow’s milk, Dada drinks bourbon, etc), that the request caught me by surprise.
And yet here he was demanding her bottle. As if he realized the futility of the request, a moment later he gives it a second thought, then clarifies his position: “Loren do it!”
“You want to feed Ruthie her bottle, buddy?” He takes a minute, then, blank-faced, deadpans, “yeah.” Kinda like, “oh crap, he’s going to let me do this?”
And so…well…I let him. ”Alright buddy, go sit couch, Ruthie’s gonna sit in your lap.” I set up a few pillows to his side and then laid Ruthie on him and put the bottle in his hand.
The thing is, not a day goes by that I don’t erect some artificial boundary or another for Loren. It seems a big part of the job of stay-at-home-parent is thinking up arbitrary rules to enforce (or, more likely, to attempt to enforce), that inevitably lead to head butting (sometimes literally) and full-blown tantrums. I don’t know when I turned the corner – it must have been recently – but I’ve been trying really hard lately to simply stop playing that game.
I’ve realized there are three responses I give to every toddler request: 1) Yes, because the thing or action desired is objectively no big deal or actually good for him (“Loren have it orange, please!”); 2) No, because the thing he wants to do is objectively not OK (hitting, walking into the street without holding my hand, etc); and 3) No, because I arbitrarily decided right this moment that the thing or action desired is something I don’t want him to do because I said so and I already made up my mind.
It turns out that I needed some attitude adjustment when it came to that third response. Maybe I was employing it a little too easily, maybe no because I said so was becoming the default answer for anything I hadn’t previously contemplated, maybe I noticed it happening most often when I was stressed or my attention was divided.
Whatever the reason, I needed to get myself in check. In hindsight I’m not surprised it came to this – everything happens quickly, you are in charge, and you are responsible for him not killing himself or his sister (or making you crazy in the process). After some time (and more than a few fights), “no” becomes our first instinct, even if there isn’t any real reason for “no.”
I’ve also realized that the moment I try to justify “no” in my head for most of these little situations, I instantly realize how irrationally I’ve established his boundaries. Not only is it frustrating for Loren, but it creates more work for myself.
So when Loren asked to give Ruthie her bottle, after a moment’s hesitation - where I thought about how I really shouldn’t be encouraging him to feed her seeing as how she is still a baby and he still has toddler judgment (“here’s that marble soup I made you Roosie!”), where it might not go well because she is already a little too hungry and fussy, or where it was simply because it’s easier for me to feed her myself – I instead said yes. Much to Loren’s surprise.
Despite the initial awkwardness of the hold (he still had his left hand and arm sandwiched between himself and Ruthie, rather than placing it behind her), the kid didn’t do half bad.
I spent most of the time reminding him to keep the bottle upright and to be very gentle, but he gave her the whole thing without incident.
Ruthie spent most of the time staring dreamily into Loren’s eyes, basking in the direct, undivided and inescapable attention of her big brother.
Loren spent most of the time looking like a deer caught in headlights. I don’t think he blinked or smiled once – he seemed too preoccupied with trying to do the thing right. But as Ruthie finished the bottle and I lifted her up, I noticed a sense of pride on Loren’s face that I only see when he manages to properly operate a power tool.
Of course, I will be utterly shocked if this becomes a recurring thing. While it went as perfectly as I could have imagined, I think the whole ordeal was just a tad overwhelming for him, and I know he had no real intention of being allowed to give her the bottle in the first place.
Now, if I can only teach him how to change her diaper and put her down for naps…