March 2010

Terrible Twos

Everett does things from time to time that would be far funnier if he was someone else’s child, like chucking his sippy cup out of the car once the milk is gone, or throwing his snack cup and then commanding one of us to “get it” while it is still in midair. He is now about 21 months old, but it feels like he is already two. We say this based on descriptions from books and other parents about the “terrible twos”. Our perception is that when he first started speaking he marveled at his newfound power to get what he wanted using words alone. But after a while he realized that his ability to describe what he wants can stretch far beyond the boundaries of what is possible and acceptable, and this leads to two results. First, he does not like it. Second, he doesn’t yet have the capacity to handle the flood of emotions that quickly follow. At such times it is tempting for us to treat him as a small adult and to try reasoning with him to calm him down. However, we are slowly overcoming this habit.

Another possible sign of the terrible twos is general bossiness. Everett now stands in the driveway and gives orders to the birds like “Birdie, eat some treats!”. A few days ago Melissa gave him some cooked lentils to eat. He poured them onto the driveway and then marched up to the giant oak tree in our neighbors yard, pointed to where he had dumped them and said “Squirrel, eat some beans!”. We tolerate a certain amount of this kind of behavior, such as when he is playing the music toy in the kitchen and telling us to dance, or ordering everyone to wear their napkins on their heads while eating dinner. So far he doesn’t require a lot of disciplinary action, which is good because it allows us lots of opportunities to enjoy family time. His language has now become detailed enough that we have a window into his inner world, part of which includes imitations of us. Apparently we must say “So” and “Ok” a lot when preparing to do things. Another part of his inner world is his imagination. He recently started telling us facts about The Big Fat Turkey, such as “The big fat turkey is taking a nap” or “The big fat turkey is sitting on the house”. Neither of us is exactly sure who this turkey is, where he came from or what kind of interesting life he leads, but we do feel confident that Everett will keep us informed.

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In the fall of 2007 Chris started interviewing for faculty positions at almost exactly the same time we found out Melissa was pregnant. Academic institutions tend to move at the speed of glaciers, and as the interview process dragged on for months, we experienced steadily increasing anxiety about where we would be living during late pregnancy and who would provide medical care for Mom and baby. I grew so frustrated with these institutions that I jokingly suggested that if they did not make a decision soon then my pregnant wife would be contacting them directly for answers, acknowledging the fact that pregnant women are a force of nature that few people want to engage directly, and Melissa in particular can be pretty persuasive when she wants something. In early 2008 we decided that time was up: we would stay in Cleveland until the baby was born. We made this decision to reduce stress, but that year turned out to be pretty wild nonetheless: Chris ruptured a disc in his back in April; Everett was born in June; Melissa made the transition of being a full-time worker to full-time Mom, all the while maintaining her graduate work; Chris had his 40th birthday on August 1; a couple days later we moved to Wisconsin, and a couple days after that he started a new job; we were out of the country for the month of September for a research fellowship in Switzerland.

During the time since then our lives have not slowed down much, and this activity level has amplified the need for refuge, which can come in a variety of big and small ways. For example, we have a Sandra Boynton book called Pajama Time which contains a catchy song by the same name; for some time now when E gets excited he will run around saying “Jamma, Jamma, Jamma!”. So for Valentine’s Day we had a pajama breakfast party with Russ, Lauren, Nora and Virginia. Russ and Lauren whipped up a fantastic meal. Everett and Nora enjoyed breakfast and a movie together.

We also find refuge in the Zoo, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Audubon Nature Center, which is a quiet, meditative place on Lake Michigan in northeast Milwaukee, shown in the photo at the top of the page and this one:

Our most recent visit to the Audubon Center was with Gabby & Grandaddy on a snowy spring day. We sat by the fire for a while,

then Everett found a wild turkey and finally went for a hike.

Whatever the activity or the place, our inspiration for finding refuge comes mostly from Everett. We want him to grow up in a joyful home, and as parents we want to manage our own lives well enough that we are consistently available to him. The other night at dinner he announced “Mommy happy, Daddy happy, Everett happy. Everybody happy!”, which is certainly a good sign.

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Stomping in puddles seems to be a universal source of joy for children. I distinctly remember doing this as a child, and Everett spontaneously started doing it a couple weeks ago. He probably would have done it earlier but the puddles were frozen. He has also developed his own way of self-confidently stomping off into the horizon, especially when one of his parents is following behind.

Another popular activity is shoveling. In time we may be able to teach him how to shovel the snow from the driveway onto the yard instead of vice versa. But right now he likes to stay outside shoveling until his hands turn purple (the shovel cannot be used with gloves on).

Here is some stomping and shoveling, along with one of the first signs of spring: talking to the birds.

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One trait that makes us uniquely human is the ability to correlate any two events at will. Most of the time this ability helps us make sense of the world more quickly than classic conditioning methods. Stoves are hot, snow is cold, etc. But a second trait that makes us similar to most other animals is the amount of time it takes to extinguish incorrect correlations once they become established, even if they originated from only a single occurrence. This explains why Everett believes that:

-Fireplaces contain birds: a bird once fell down the chimney into our fireplace, which he noticed right away. Since then he walks up to most fireplaces and says “birdie?”.
-Lizards live in clocks: here I am referring to the Clock Lizard at the pool in the Cayman Islands. Since we returned home he has been looking for lizards behind clocks.
-He can talk to people through shirt pockets: Everett knows that phones are used to make calls, and that my cell phone is usually in the breast pocket of my dress shirt. He put these together and started saying “Hello!” into the pocket.

There are other correlations that are actually correct, but we sometimes wish he would forget, such as the discovery that grocery stores have free cookies for children. As soon as he learned this he suddenly developed the ability to identify any grocery store.

Some correlations clearly come from mimicry. Shoes come in three varieties: Everett’s, Mommy’s and Daddy’s:

And tripods are used to take pictures, although something seems to be missing here:

Lastly, there are some correlations that we hope he never forgets: a few days ago he saw his reflection and said “Everett handsome”. And a few weeks ago he was sitting in his car seat and said “Everett good”.

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