Thursday, October 3, 2013

Growing teeth

The baby is literally sprouting new teeth, right on schedule as in the midst of all the chaos with my insane workload last month and everything he turned six months old. He remains one of the happiest, smilingest infants I’ve ever met, and now that smile has two teeny-tiny white choppers, the slightly uneven front bottom pair. It is of course adorable, although teething plays havoc with everything from nursing to sleeping, but we’re getting through; each of these little milestones is the last time (really, really!) that my wife and I will have to navigate that particular part of the babyhood path as primary caregiving parents.

Similarly, since he not only has teeth but is sitting up on his own pretty well, we’ve hauled the old highchair out of the basement, cleaned it off, and started offering the baby solid foods - or “solid” foods since so far it’s watery oatmeal. I suspect we should hurry up with the menu variety, though, since the baby has been eyeing the food his siblings and my wife and I consume daily with what can only be described as a ravenous fascination.

The little guy is surely also growing teeth, in his case the permanent set, which I expect to start pushing through and loosening baby teeth any minute now. But in metaphorical terms, I feel it’s apt to describe his imagination as getting some bite to it as well. My wife and I suspected (read: dreaded) that this would happen as he entered kindergarten and spent 35 hours a week with dozens of other five-year-olds (not to mention an array of bigger kids on the bus). We’ve always gently guided him away from toys and games predicated on violence and aggression. (E.g. one time I saw some new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys on sale and indicated to my wife that they would be something the little guy might like, but she quickly vetoed that idea. From my point of view, the Turtles are pretty harmless. Heroic cartoon animals! But from my wife’s point of view, the emphasis is on Ninja and the fact that the characters are mostly differentiated from each other by their lethal weapon of choice - sai, nunchuk, katana, &c. - and I have to admit she has a point. Somehow other superhero toys have avoided this censure, I guess because they don’t actually have guns or blades … look, it’s complicated.)

Anyway, you put a critical mass of little (American) boys together and pretty soon they’re going to start pretending to shoot at each other. It’s inescapable. So we tried to brace ourselves for our sensitive, sweet little firstborn becoming inculcated into the ways of It’s Fun To Pretend To Blow Stuff Up. And sure enough, the transformation is underway, and the parenting response has shifted from “Why don’t you play Teddy Bear Daycare some more?” to “If you’re going to run around blasting things, please don’t pretend to shoot your sister by shoving a stick in her face.”

There was a time when my wife and I would always utilize, as our go-to illustration of just how sensitive the little guy was, the example of him getting utterly freaked out by an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in which there was the barest hint of suspense as to whether or not Mickey and the gang would win the consequences-free challenge of the day. It literally caused him to physically shake. We didn’t think this was something we needed to fix, and were reasonably confident he would grow out of it, and now here he is doing just that. He recently discovered on YouTube an old Chip and Dale cartoon, with Donald Duck as the foil, in which Donald torments the chipmunks for a while using tree-trimming equipment to steal their nuts, and then the chipmunks turn the tables. The little guy loves it and shrieked with giggles the first time he saw it, despite (or possibly because of, now) the extended chase/confrontation as the plot kicks in. He asked to watch it again the other night, indicating it by the title he had come up with for it: “Chip and Dale Stop Donald From Killing Them.” (Disney Studios entitled the short “Out On a Limb” but I kind of like the way my son doesn’t shy away from the fact that at one point Donald is in fact murderously chasing the chipmunks through the tree with a push-mower.)

(And then he gets electrocuted!)

I’m hard-pressed to keep the dental analogies going in regards to the little girl’s latest exploits. I feel bad, because she’s two-and-a-half and feeling every bit of it. Again, we’ve done this before, but it wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now. The baby is relatively easy, with his simple needs and inability (at the moment) to really go anywhere or get into any trouble if you set him down in the middle of a clear patch of floor. The little guy can, most of the time, be reasoned with via the myriad strategies of reward and punishment we (mostly my wife) have honed over the years. But the little girl is the one in the middle, too little to expect logical behavior from but too big to unquestioningly indulge all the time. Sometimes she is amazingly sweet and wonderful and hilarious, and sometimes she brings the pain. And that would be enough to keep us busy if she were the only thing occupying our attention, but we’re learning the ropes of kindergarten right along with the little guy and we’re meeting those aforementioned simple needs (which are also more or less constant) of the baby, and it’s a lot. I told my wife the other day that when the baby gets a little bigger and starts going to bed around the same time as his siblings (as opposed to staying up a couple extra hours until he can get one last feeding and maybe sleep six hours such that his waking roughly corresponds with the alarm clock and daybreak), then I foresee she and I going to bed embarrassingly early ourselves, at least for a while until we’re kind of caught up. That day is coming. That’s what I keep telling myself.

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