Getting tough

Dearest Finch —

You are now 21 months old, and fighting for independence. You have spent every day since the 20 month mark asserting your OWN self. “Finn do it,” you tell us… and afterwards you say, “Finn did it!” You want to use the BIG fork to eat the melon yourself, drink soy milk from Mommy’s cup yourself, pick out your own clothes (the bumper car shirt AGAIN?), read the books YOU want — over and over again. I have to say that we’ve done a good job teaching you all twenty-six of your letters and at least twenty varieties of birds (including a few with your OWN name variations, such as the “pink ‘mingo,” “peacop,” and “paradise”), but my attempts to make you a bird and word-lover have somehow been less successful than nature’s attempts to make you — well, I hate to say it — a TRUCK lover. In fact, as I try to get you to focus on identifying some of our feathered friends, you tend to lose interest pretty quickly and walk away to play with something that has wheels:

Some people say that the car and truck thing is genetically-wired — a claim I used to scoff at — but all it took to make you an avid truck and train aficionado were a couple gifts from relatives, including your current favorite, a signed copy of Wheels of New York, otherwise known as  “Grandpa Jorge’s book” — a phrase I hear about fifty times a day. For the last few weeks, you’ve demanded to read “Grandpa Jorge’s book” when you wake up, at naptime, when people come over, before bed, while in the car… and you want it close to you whether awake or asleep:

Anytime we’re in the car, you’re on the look-out for different types of wheels, identifying vehicles for us with fully-charged passion. “Cement truck!” you shout from the back seat. “Fuel tanker!” “City bus!” “White pick-up truck!” A few weeks ago you shrieked “Motorcycle! Daddy, get it! Get it!” Although Daddy failed in this endeavor, he certainly tried, for you are hard to ignore, my dear.

You even dominate what we listen to and talk about, both in and out of the car. When I tuned into NPR this morning, you shouted “No lady talking!” At dinner tonight, as we spoke with a guest about grown-up affairs, you simply demanded “No talking!” Yesterday morning after greeting me with a kiss, you began the day by ordering “ocean waves OFF!” I turned off the white noise you sleep to and started one of our favorite playlists, the one with the birthday song your uncles wrote for you, but you walked up to the ipod dock and swatted at it. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Hitting ipod,” you said. “We don’t hit, ” I said. “What do you want to hear? Use your words.” Your answer was simple: “Violin.” How lovely, but why couldn’t you just say so? Why the swatting?

This hitting, while physically harmless, turns my heart black and blue. Sometimes you swat at the air when you can’t get your way, and sometimes when you’re frustrated you hit me lightly on the arm or forehead. You know you’ve crossed the line and immediately say “sorry,” but then you do it again five minutes later. The worst part, though, is your recent desire to hit other kids for no reason at all — at music class, at a local playspace, at the water park, at a playdate. In just a couple of weeks I’ve gone from absolutely loving our Saturday music class to secretly dreading it. How can I enjoy watching you dance and make music when I’m worried about what you’re plotting to do with that metal cymbal?

My darkest, most challenging moment as your mother was just last week, when you suddenly bit my friend’s daughter on the arm so hard that I could see raised teeth marks. As Marlowe wailed, I lifted you up and handed you to Daddy, feeling shocked, devastated, and confused. You looked pretty shocked, too. Where are you learning this? Daddy and I don’t bite or hit. We cancelled our cable a year ago and never watch ANY television, let alone violent programming. If, as everyone is telling me, this is a “natural” way to express frustration, then when why are you so frustrated? Could it be the pointy canines now poking out of your gums? The attention we’ve all given to your twin cousins? My hot-headed genes? Sometimes I feel so helpless.

Although I love watching you assert yourself and paint the world the colors YOU like, I have to admit that I wish I felt more in control. And I have a feeling that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You may be 21 months old, but we might as well just consider you TWO… as in terrible two. It isn’t a fair label, I know, for there’s too much sweetness, laughing, listening, conversing, reading, dancing, tickling, snuggling, kissing going on to be anywhere NEAR terrible. But there’s no getting around the fact that things are a bit more complex around here, Finch. Every day with you is more unpredictable for all of us. You might wake up offering kisses and hugs, or you might wake up whining. I wake up each morning hoping that I have what it takes to keep you healthy and happy as you figure out what you want, and who you want to be.

With love, no matter WHO you want to be on ANY kind of day…. Your Mommy