Things are just starting to settle down, I thought to myself last night. Everything finally feels natural and even a little bit…peaceful. Our first son Harley is two and a half years old now. He’s very verbal and expressive, capable, generally happy (for a toddler), and able to self-amuse, for the most part. He’s not in danger of choking or falling into sharp corners. We spend evenings taking care of his dinner and evening routine, playing with him a bit, and then letting him play by himself or watch some cartoons while we read or clean up the house. (Or watch with him, if it’s the Octonauts. Did you know there is a kind of crab that can grow over six feet tall? Look up the Japanese Spider Crab.) Even with the odd tantrum or impossible demand, it’s quite enjoyable, compared to the first two years. I have been thinking about what changed and why it took so long.
Part of it, I am sure, is that he has simply grown into a safer stage of development. Gone now are the high-stakes risks of choking and falling, and gone are the difficulties of trying to figure out what he needs using nothing more than the pitch and tenor of his cries and an elaborate parental game of Charades where the penalty for failure is an even shriller, more urgent scream.
I also think that part of it is a change in my own mindset. I’ve tried to encourage him to be resilient and to try hard by not interceding when he is trying something difficult, as long as it’s not dangerous. I sit back and watch him with an encouraging smile, and when he gets frustrated, I acknowledge his frustration and that he is trying hard. When he accomplishes something – sometimes even surprising me – I celebrate with him, telling him that he did it, even though it was hard, he kept trying, and that’s called perseverance. He jumps up and down with a wild grin and yells, “Yay! Per-seer-ins!”
He may or may not have become more resilient because of this technique, although I hope it will help him develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. What I know for sure is that by practicing the encouraging smile and holding back my hands – also my go-to when he falls and bumps his head or whatever, at least until he reacts on his own – I have learned to have faith in him and his inner resilience. Where before I was masking my deep anxiety with a very studied calm, now I find that I truly do believe that he can do it. I feel ease. If he doesn’t, that’s OK – he can try again another time. I have learned to give him space. I have learned that he is his own person and responsible for his own sphere of influence – whether and how much he eats, sleeps, or tries to solve a problem. I am responsible for setting clear boundaries – you must sit at the table to eat; chicken, broccoli, and potatoes are on the menu for dinner, not lollipops; now is the time for being in bed; we can’t play with this because it’s dangerous, and then otherwise for getting out of his way. I’m not perfect at it, but the practice itself has shown me to be comfortable with these healthy boundaries, and it has lessened my anxiety to a pleasantly surprising degree.
In about two and a half months, my newly peaceful world is going to blow up spectacularly when we bring a newborn home from the hospital. Knowing this makes me appreciate the quiet evenings all the more. But I hope very much that I will be able to learn more quickly with Cyrus this faith and ease I have learned from Harley. That I will remember to set up healthy and safe containers for him to sleep, eat, and play, and then back the hell off. That even as I am playing Charades with a nonverbal baby, I will smile encouragingly and release my anxiety – he will be fine if we guess wrong the first time. I do not have to be a knot of anxiety, snapping at my husband for failing to guess that he is too warm instead of hungry. I hope I will be able to just have faith that he will be OK.
I hope that as I try to teach my boys to be resilient, that I will learn to be a little more resilient as well.