"So, was dinner better last night?"
My coworker is the mother of The Boy's best little buddy. The kids are nine months apart. We spend a lot of time commiserating about parenthood and work and the challenges of both. I appreciated her asking. But rehashing yet another tantrum-filled dinner wasn't pleasant.
The Boy decided in the two minutes it took corn to cook in the microwave that he wanted a cupcake, not supper. Things went downhill from there. Suffice to say, The Boy and I were equally red-faced and angry by the time the husband got home.
"But," I said, "I don't think this has anything to do with food."
The Boy is fighting us all the time these days, I told my friend. He doesn't want to go to school. "I stay here. I cooking." He doesn't want to go to bed. "I read. Read dat book." He doesn't want to take a bath. "I playing trucks. I stay here." He doesn't want to leave school. "I wanna go outside. I wanna play here."
My coworker nodded her head at me across the cubicle wall. She said her son, who isn't talking yet, gets frustrated and angry when he can't communicate. (Yep, been there, I nodded.) The Boy's problem is he can communicate and can't understand why we aren't listening, she said.
And a lightbulb went off over my head.
I'm assuming this no-duh analysis didn't occur to me because my brain was expending too much energy preventing my body from beating my wailing banshee of a child. Because seriously, it makes so much sense. When The Boy first began talking, we rewarded his words with action. He asked for milk and he got it. A habit was formed. Also, The Boy isn't talking in just one-word statements anymore. We're getting complete sentences. He knows things I couldn't tell you when he learned. (Case in point: I was absent-mindedly narrating the grocery shopping, as I've done since he was a newborn. "Oh Boy, what kind of ice cream should we get?" I didn't expect an answer, but got a definitive, "The brown kind. We get brown kind.") The Boy tells us stories -- he told me today our cat was going to play football -- and is starting to put his emotions into words. He's learning the power of speech. That he would want to test the limits of that power, to see how strong his words are, only makes sense.
Knowing The Boy is just testing us, flexing his verbal skills, helps. Listening to the screaming still sucks, no two ways about it. But I feel less guilty and more vindicated that I'm handling things the right way by ignoring the screaming and not giving into the tantrum.
It also reminds me that for every episode of mouthiness, we get a silly session of singing and a declaration of "I missed you" at daycare pick up. Might not be an equal trade-off, but it helps.