“He looks so serious,” my wife said.
I answered, “That’s because he knows he’s in trouble.”
Eitan was sitting three feet away and looking back at me expectantly. Trudy had just spoken very sternly to Eitan and he was looking to me for support. Eitan doesn’t get yelled at often1 but if either of us raise our voices, it’s probably because Eitan has climbed into his toy box or onto the recliner or, as he did a couple of nights ago, onto the ottoman where he sits and moves it back and forth like a teeter-totter. And, while this instance had nothing to do with his safety, a lesson still needed to be taught.
I looked back at him and said, just as sternly as Trudy had, “No. We do not throw food.”
Trudy and I are as rational about Eitan’s development as we can be. We know that Eitan is learning about testing boundaries.2 We know that he’s going to do things that he knows will elicit reactions from us and that he’s just barely starting to understand the difference between right and wrong. We know that this is a long process and that it’s all a natural part of his cognitive development. That’s all easy.
The hard part is remembering to resist the urge to just wrap him up in a hug if he starts getting upset when we’re teaching him these lessons because he doesn’t like seeing his parents angry with him. In this case, Eitan eventually broke the face-off with me by pointing to the pictures of our family on the wall behind me and clapping his hands. My son, the 14-month-old negotiator, has learned to try to distract authority figures from being upset with him by reminding them just how adorable he is and how much they love him.3 And I was forced to look him right in the eye and say, “Yes, that’s us in the picture and we love you very much. But we still don’t throw food.” Eitan kept clapping his hands every couple of minutes and then started crying to be let out of his high chair.
I’ve written before about how smart Eitan is so I’m not going to do that again here. What I will say, though, is that it’s both amazing and heartbreaking to watch him develop, both cognitively and emotionally. I would think that every parent can identify with the feeling of wonder that I’ve experienced watching Eitan figure out ways to solve challenges, whether he’s using the shape sorter or escaping through a door left ajar. He’s literally learning new things every day. That being said, he’s also learning that life is not always fun. He’s not always going to get what he wants. He’s going to get scared. His parents, who have played with him and loved him and cared for him for the entirety of his short life, are going to get angry with him sometimes. And while he’s learning how his actions affect others, he’s forcing his parents to learn that sometimes they have to be the bad guys too.
At least we’re learning together.
1. She didn’t yell. She said “No!” loudly and sternly, but it’s not like she went crazy and screamed at him. ↩
2. Actually, he first started learning about boundaries weeks ago when he realized that he could make his parents make hilarious noises by sinking his teeth into various parts of their bodies. ↩
3. Eitan is never going to get a speeding ticket for this very reason. ↩