Does the little guy contradict himself? Very well, he contradicts himself. He is LARGE. No, wait, he’s still little. Also, still learning.
So on the one hand, he has this incredibly generous nature which I find endearing beyond belief. This past weekend I was in the spare room using the big computer and he followed along and saw the pile of paint pans and tarps and brushes and can of Kilz sitting in the corner, all of which he greeted with his now-customary “What’s that?” And I explained to him that we were going to paint the spare room soon, to get it ready for the baby who is coming to live with us in the spring. (“Coming to live with us” is the euphemism we’re going with, as opposed to “that mommy is going to give birth to” or anything remotely biological which seems somehow simultaneously over-specific and impossibly abstract.) And the little guy considered my answer for a second or two and then announced, “I help paint!” And picked up a dry brush and started scratching the walls with it. In the same vein, a little bit later he discovered a box of unopened/unused baby bottles that a friend had hoped we could make use of, and asked what they were, and I once again said they were for the coming-soon baby. The little guy decided “I fix them for the baby” and proceeded to try to assemble various nipples and spouts and collars and bottles and so on (they really were staggeringly fiddly).
He likes to be helpful, or maybe it’s simpler than that and he just likes to do things, to exert his own agency, and to me and my wife this is perceived as inherently helpful after two years of doing for him ourselves. Of course inevitably there are times when his insistence on doing things himself is spectacularly unhelpful, as when we’re trying to get out the door and he needs shoes and he demands to be left alone to put them on without assistance even if that takes approximately ten times longer. Absolutely classic “I do it myself!” behavior, and I was prepared to deal with that.
What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened yesterday, when he suddenly turned into a completely opposite child. As soon as we got home from daycare, every time I asked him to do something he insisted, “I can’t!” Not “I don’t want to” (which he had mastered some time earlier) or a simple “No”, but this weird insistence that he was somehow incapable of the task in question. And not in a kinda-sorta-understandable-if-you-fill-in-the-blanks way, like “Please pick up your cars from the floor” being met with an “I can’t” which implies “right now because I’m playing with Mr. Potato Head and refuse to multi-task or pause my current activity”. I mean flummoxing me by walking across the garage to the door while I carry an armload of stuff, and then just standing there on the threshold after I’ve gone inside, prompting me to say “Are you coming inside?” and answering “I can’t!” No apparent reason whatsoever.
And I caught myself, I’m pretty sure for the first time since becoming a parent, sliding a bit down the slippery slope into the quagmire or trying to argue logically with a two-year-old. Part of my brain really, desperately, almost ferociously wanted the little guy to conced that he was talking crazytalk. Don’t want to come inside, would rather ride your trike around the garage, just feeling lazy and want Daddy to carry you? Fine, fine and fine. But claiming you can’t? That is contrary to well-established fact! I managed to keep it in check though, and mostly I just ignored his claims of sudden helplessness. I either repeated my requests at reasonable intervals, or veered the subject away and then looped it back in again later. The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that however much of a premium I place on understanding my child, I’m not always going to, especially right now because the mindscape of a two-year-old can contain some fairly alien terrain. And when I go wading into it, sometimes I can get disoriented.