Oh $#@^! On the expressiveness of toddlers

My boy’s got moves.

I think it is great that young children have no internal filter. This makes my boy extremely expressive. His face beams enormous smiles, and his eyes sparkle more than any adult’s can. When he runs around and decides to strike a pose, wide legged and arms reaching to the sky, he is more commanding than Elvis. I imagine this is what actors try to tap into when they bare their souls on stage or on screen.

The greatest actor in the world clearly has no filter.

Sometimes, though, I wish there was a bit more of a filter. We were sitting down watching an episode of Mythbusters last night. It was about their third attempt to replicate the JATO car myth. My son loved it, even though he is still very young. It had cars and rockets, everything he needs to dash about “oohing”,  “aahing”, and “wowing.” It’s hopefully a great way to get him interested in STEM.

The show culminated with the Mythbusters launching their rocket-powered car off of a ramp in an attempt to get it to soar through the sky. Instead, the car disintegrates into a spectacular cloud of dust, fire, and debris. And that’s when it happened.

“Oh, $#@^!” Say what? What did my kid just say?

“$#@^!, $#@^!, $#@^!” My toddler keeps repeating as the car tumbles into yet another skyward roll.

“You mean, oh boy.” My wife tries to gently correct him, hoping that a lack of overreaction will ensure that he isn’t rewarded with our attention for having uttered such profanity.

“$#@^!” bubbles out as the car comes to its final rest.

I look uneasily towards my wife. She looks back. Her face is a mix of uncertainty and barely contained laughter.

The swearing stops. It is as if it never happened. My boy looks on as the Mythbusters go about examining the wreckage. The toddler is fascinated by the outcome.

Then the replay. “$#@^!”

Gah! We spend a few more minutes coaching him into more suitable alternatives.

I’m not quite certain where he picked it up, because we don’t exactly run around the house lacing our conversations with profanity. He may have heard it once, and then it stuck. What is quite amazing is that he knows exactly in which circumstances it would be used.

I just wish he had picked something a little less vulgar with which to express his surprise and anxiety.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some more soap bars. There’s a filthy mouth that may need some cleaning.

On toddlers and arrogance – when a wink can mean so much

My boy is developing a new stalling technique. In the morning before getting marched off to daycare, he has started slowing down on his consumption of breakfast. He knows that we want him to start his day all fueled up. He therefore refrains from consuming much food in the hope that we’ll slip up and give him a few more minutes to chow down rather than ship out. This face off inevitably leads to one of two outcomes: he either ends up throwing a massive tantrum as food and drink is pried out of his hands so we can get him dressed, or he shoves everything he can into his mouth in a last second bid to squirrel away whatever he can for the trip ahead.

He must apparently sense some level of control over the situation as either my wife or I slip up and let him win a small victory from time to time. Perhaps we give him another minute to gobble down some cereal, or bring the cup of milk back out of the fridge after he’s dressed for one final going away slurp. He’s therefore started migrating the behaviour to other occasions.

Tonight, we went for a longer than usual walk to play in a new, faraway park. Since we came in late, we did not start snack time as regularly scheduled. The increased urgency of getting something into his belly before washing him up and tucking him in for bed was beginning raise its ugly head. Our young fellow was munching away while seated between his two  parents, taking his sweet ol’ time.

“Ok, young un’, shower time.” I announced.

“Uh uh.” He kept staring at his snack bowl.

“You’ve got one minute, and we’re cleaning you up for bed. Gobble it down and go.”

A languid slurp of milk was all that answered.

“Ok, you’re lining yourself up to get tossed into the shower all dressed, kid.” I frowned, trying my best to look severe.

He deliberately reached down into his bowl, picked out a piece of Cheerios and slowly plopped it into his mouth. He then turned his head towards me and winked, smiling all the while. He then turned back to his bowl.

My wife and I both caught it. We laughed our heads off. What does one say to that? The kid’s got a pair on him that should make any parent proud.

On my toddler’s first steps towards becoming a wizard

My little wizard

My little wizard

My toddler is a devious little deceiver. He’s just started working on his skills of misdirection, a real illusionist in the making.

Whenever he has a chance, he will suck a hand deep into a sleeve, wave it around in surprise, ensuring that he has our undivided attention, and then loudly ask: “Où main?” Where hand?

Where is your hand, indeed, little fellow? I plainly cannot image where it may be. Please show me.

With all the flourish he can manage, he pops his hand out for all to see. “Voilà!” he proudly exclaims. We gladly cheer on his showmanship, which initiates the inevitable encore performance.

After the fifteenth or sixteenth time today, I think I’ve got the trick figured out. But he’s here all week, so I can expect to get some more of the same. Try out the mojitos at the bar, they’re outstanding.

On toddlers and the development of memory and altruism

My toddler is one funny kid. Every time he sees pickled ginger, typically present in the occasional sushi dinner we order in, he starts clamouring for it. There’s no quieting him down once he gets his first glimpse of the pink palate cleanser. After we carefully pick a few small pieces out for him, he’ll shove some into his mouth, close his eyes tightly, shake with every part of his body, and then spit it out. He tends to smack his face lightly, as if trying to coax some manner of sense back into himself. He’ll then reach for the ejected morsel and start anew. Eventually, he will down the entire spicy offering of his own free will despite the extreme physical response to each bite.

A few weeks ago, his brave heart decided that he was up to sampling wasabi. The tough tyke muscled down a wad that was large enough to have us all watching with keen interest for the hilarious response to a first encounter. Surprisingly, he came through with some semblance of dignity. He luckily had a glass full of milk close at hand, which he eagerly downed to quench the burn.

We had sushi again tonight. As we closed in on the end of the dinner, he jabbed his chopstick into the small container of green goo and brought it in close to his face. “You sure you want to do that again, kiddo?” I asked.

But before the words were even out of his mouth, he thrust his stick out to me. I looked at it for a moment. I’ve never been a huge fan of the radioactive green paste, since I find it drowns out the flavour of everything I eat for the next few minutes. That, and I don’t like a river of snot and tears running down my face for dinner. It tends to put other diners off their meals. However, I did not want to miss an opportunity to coach my son in the importance of being open to a wide variety of foods, so I opened my mouth to let him plop in the chunk of green lava.

He yanked the chopstick away and giggled. Funny guy. That’s his new trick. After a laugh, he returned the stick and I accepted the proffered offering with a big smile. He snapped his stick away, dropped it and lunged for his drinking glass, which was filled with milk again for this meal. He held it quickly up in front of me “Milk?” he asked.

Well I’ll be. He actually remembered that wasabi burned like a bad case of road rash. He also remembered that the best countermeasure was a healthy slurp of milk. He even thought about the fact that the wasabi would burn me, and the right and proper thing to do would be for me to drink milk. Since I had water in my glass, he was willing to offer his up to make me feel better. Impressive reasoning for such a young one.

Of course, I shouldn’t forget that he schemed to offer me the painful tidbit in the first place. A real conniving git. Takes after his father, that one.

On children’s perception of time

One of our toddler’s favourite places is a small park a short walk away from the house. It has a sand pit, a few swings, a teeter-totter, and other requisite sundries of childhood active entertainment. Most of the time, we are on our own. Even though the park can be teeming with people at certain points of the day, our schedule tends to give us free reign on all of the amenities. Today was different.

Today, there were three children playing in a nearby yard. They must have been bored out of their skulls because they ran over to the park the moment they saw our boy messing around with his shovel in the sand pit. They weren’t very old, ranging between 6 and 8 years of age, I would guess. The crew hit it off and started running around screaming and laughing, imagining they were dinosaurs trying to gobble each other up.

Our son is not three yet, so the others towered over him despite their diminutive stature. This led to one of the other boys to a philosophical revelation he chose to share with me:

“Time flies so fast. Before you know it, you’re four.”

Wow. How very astute. I know I had no care in the world for that sort of chronological inquisitiveness until much, much later in life. But it does remind me that half hour Saturday morning cartoons felt like they gave me enough time to deeply explore an epic tale, and that lazy summer afternoons did indeed last for ever.

Now, days flash by in a blaze of sound and colour, blowing what little is left of my hair to the four winds. Before I knew it, I was thirty.

And that probably makes all of you 60+ folks out there chuckle quietly. “You ain’t seen nothing yet, kid.” I can almost hear you gently admonish.

At what age do boys become dudes? It’s way earlier than you think.

It’s potentially a wonderful philosophical and developmental question. When exactly does a child progress along the path of maturation to become an adult? Is it based on having achieved some level of cognitive development?  Perhaps it is based on crossing some chronological gateway, an age when we magically convert from boy to man? Or perhaps it is based upon having completed some rite of passage?

My toddler today helped me postulate that the progression from boy to man (or as I will refer to it from now on: dude) begins at the moment when a boy begins to seek a girl’s attention, and thinks that doing stupid things in public is necessary to attract said girl’s attention. Evolution to dudeness begins so early. My dude has only recently edged past 2 years of age. He has never been overly fond of the swing on the playground. He certainly tolerated getting lifted onto the kiddie seat and pushed a few times, but he would clamor to get off within a few swings. Until this afternoon.

We were playing around in the park when a little girl, perhaps no more than a year older than he is, was hefted up onto the baby swing. My boy’s head immediately snapped up from where he was industriously filling in a hole in the sand some other kid had fastidiously dug out moments before. His eyes were suddenly different. He dashed the twenty meters separating him from the only other toddler’s swing seat in the park screaming “Papa, swing!” at the top of his lungs. I obligingly lumbered along and plopped him down into the seat.

I pushed him gently, no further than his usual tolerance would allow me to. “Papa, higher!” he chirped.

What? I actually had to ask my wife for a confirmation, since I could not conceive that he even knew the word.

“Papa. HIGHER!”

Sure, kid. Whatever. I gave him a stiffer push, sending him soaring up to about chest height.

“PAPA! PAPA! HIGHEEEEER!” He insisted stridently.

Huh? I then noticed that he kept peering over to the right at the little girl. Her dad was pushing her a little higher than I was pushing my boy. Sorry, my dude. He was most definitely deep into dude mode at this point.

He was rapidly returning from the far point of his oscillation. He began screaming as the seat touched my hand: “Pa…” The words cut off as I shoved harder than I ever had shoved my little dude before. Careful what you ask for, kiddo. He soared on mighty scything arcs that reached ever so slightly above my head, giggling and chortling gaily all the time. Every time air resistance threatened to lower his apex below that of his companion, he would instruct me to give him another boost.

This swinging stuff is harder work than it looks. I eventually started to tire. Thankfully, the little girl’s parents thought it was time to get her home to toss her in the bath. She had not made it five steps away from the swing that my little dude began to think that swinging was no fun anymore. Off he went.

Yep. Biochemistry at its finest.

On toddlers and sarcasm

Sarcasm. It turns out kids just don’t quite get it.

Our son was fresh out of the shower, cleanly bundled in his pajamas and sitting on my wife’s knees as she was brushing his teeth. He suddenly began to wriggle his nose and make funny faces. Before either of us could react, he smeared his gooey goobers all over her forearm.

“Oh, thank you for wiping your nose all over my arm, dear.” She announced glumly.

Smoosh! He smothered his nose across her sleeve another time.

“Thanks. I really needed that.”

Sluuurop! A trinity of slimy streaks adorned her arm.

“Gah! I don’t really mean it. Stop wiping your nose on my arm!”

The puzzled look that washed over his face was priceless. It almost screamed “But mommy, I’m just giving you what makes you happy!”

I guess we’ll need to keep working on the concept of sarcasm

Feeding the Beast is harder than it appears

Feed at your own risk

Feed at your own risk

“Hey kiddo, what do you want for a snack?” I ask as the time to feed the beast inevitably lumbers around.

“Snack!” He replies, a wide smile beaming.

“I got it. That’s what we’re going to do, have a snack. But what do you want in it?” Clearly, he hasn’t figured out that I need explanation as to what individual components he desires that I put into the conceptual container that is a snack.

“Snack!” He repeats just as excitedly as the first time.

“No, no. What. Do. You. Want. To. Eat. As. A. Snack?” Maybe if I go slower he’ll understand.

“Snack!” His mouth drops open and his eyes sparkle.

I take a deep breath, and scramble to find another approach. “Do you want an apple?”

“Apple!”

Success. I’ve got a decision. I reach into the fridge and pull out the shiniest, reddest, and most delicious apple I can find. “Non. Pas ça!” Not that. Say what?

“But you just asked for an apple, why don’t you want it any more?”

“Pas ça!”

I can’t hope for much more clarification, so I rummage around the bin looking for something else to appease his hunger. The once chatty toddler is rapidly transitioning to something darker, brooding. His lips begin to pout, his brow furrows, and he tucks his chin down to his chest. Absolutely frightening. When he gets this way, it does not take much to push him over into a ranting tantrum monster. Must find a solution quickly, or risk unleashing a horror that I will be hard pressed to deal with all afternoon.

Aha! “Do you want a banana?” I offer hopefully.

“Banana!”

“Pas ça!” freezes my movement as I pull the banana from the bowl on the counter. Gah!

“How about an orange?”

“Orange!” His voice is strangely chipper has he calls out the last. I may have found what he is really looking for.

“Papa! Pas! ÇA!” He emphasizes each word with increasing vigor.

I am at a loss. Why is he not happy with any of the items he appears to endorse a heartbeat before? I kneel down to look at him straight in the eye. “Hey, guy, what do you want for a snack?”

“Snack.” His voice is even, but there is a slight quiver at the end, foreshadowing an imminent explosion.

“Are you repeating everything I say?” I ask.

“Re-peet…say.”

Oh, boy. This is going to be a long day.

On cooking with toddlers – a learning opportunity

Homemade mango ice cream

Homemade mango ice cream

Our boy has taken to watching what we do when we cook. He is fascinated by the variety of cooking implements that lay on the kitchen counters, and enjoys pulling out as many wooden spoons, spatulas, and whisks as he can. He loves watching things get tossed into the mixer and throws a fit if he isn’t hefted high (and safely away) above the stove to watch pots and pans bubbling away under the bright cooking light.

My wife takes a few moments every time she makes muffins or smoothies to go over the ingredients with our toddler. He now merrily spouts out the correct names when he sees flour pots and sugar jars brought out. He even counts off eggs, though the numbering system gets a little murky after three, it’s still amazing to watch.

We had some leftover table cream to use up before it went bad, so my wife looked at our boy. “Do you want a mango smoothy?” she asked.

The wild babbling and bouncing that ensued could only be interpreted in the affirmative. He tugged on the freezer door with all of his might and reached inside to haul out a bag of frozen mango bits that had not seen the light of day in quite some time.

In went the table cream, the frozen mango bits, and a little sugar into the food processor. A quick spin turned the mix into a wonderfully unctuous mango ice cream, which surprised me since there was no need for a long churn. Bam! World class ice cream in a blink.

The result was a wonderful dessert that produced smiles all around and highlighted the amount of information children pick up from an early age.

A little positive reinforcement doesn’t hurt, either!

On fostering memories and dreams

Children love this thing.

My son is undoubtedly like the rest of his cohort: brilliant, joyful, above average in every possible way, and a rabid fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, and of Dora the Explorer.

As a result of his near-obsessive preoccupation for all things Thomas, our toddler has accumulated a hoard of  locomotive toys, baubles, and gizmos. He most recently acquired a small, red-trimmed, powder blue backpack with his favorite smiling tank engine plastered across the back. He took some interest in it, but really had no idea what to do with his latest acquisition. Until this morning.

He decided he would go exploring, so I drew a map up with a black ballpoint pen on a sheet of folio paper. I then rolled it up into his backpack and let him discover the parchment. When he found it, his eyes lit up. He ran around the house waving his map in the air, his little feet thumping frenetically on the wooden floor to rush from mother to father and back again to show us his map. I had even taken the time to draw Dora’s little map character on the page, lest there be confusion as to the document’s purpose.

My boy then spent the next hour going from room to room, taking his back pack off, unzipping it, unfolding his map to check it, packing it up again, and heading off to his next destination.

With any luck, this small act will remain with him as a magical moment marking his childhood for the rest of his life.

I guess I’d better start saving up for when he decides to hike out to the Amazon and get some real exploring done.