Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Taming of the Toddler

I find it astounding that when a little girl is greeted by a stranger she will generally smile and bat her eyelashes; she will lean toward her mommy for protection and sometimes bury her face in mommy’s shoulder. A little boy, on the other hand, will assume his “tough” look, smack himself in the forehead, grunt, and mime falling over.

It’s all very ritualistic. I’m sure that there are little boys out there who smoosh their noses into mommy’s shoulder as well, but they usually revert to the slapstick act at some point during toddlerhood.

A little girl finds a washrag in the cupboard and will start to wipe down the cabinets. A little boy would throw it across the kitchen and marvel at the shape it takes before falling into a heap on the floor.

Some of my son’s best performances occur as we proceed through the checkout line at the grocery store. I’m not sure why. Maybe his imagination is on overload after being dragged down aisle after aisle of shiny tin cans with colorful labels and cereal boxes sporting Spider Man and Batman; perhaps he is just feeling the tension of suppressed testosterone after the food selections he plucks from the shelf and deposits into the shopping cart are denied.

Whatever the cause, the check out line routine always follows a similar path:

Cashier: “What’s up buddy?”
Instead of replying verbally, the child usually opts for the more civilized response: his mouth pops into a smile, his eyes get really wide, and then he makes a choking noise and rolls his eyes back into his head like he’s looking for spare change in his brain cavity.

Cashier: “Is that your sister?”
When these types of questions are asked it is important to remember that if one allows the conversation to be diverted to the sibling it may be difficult to regain. My son has found that a good way to reroute attention back to himself is to make some sort of strange noise and fall to the ground. This illustrates that he has passed into the realm of bigboydom and therefore commands respect and admiration.

At this point the cashier is usually focusing on the task at hand and is scanning the last of our items. Not easily daunted, the antics continue until the groceries are safely loaded into the cart and paid for, and the exit doors slide open to allow us access to the parking lot at which point the little man can no longer see the friendly cashier who smiled at him.

I’m not sure if I prefer the forehead smacking, strange noise making and falling over onto the germ-infested floor to the child actually engaging in conversation. A person never knows what a toddler will say. For the most part it would probably consist of talk about racecars, dinosaurs and maybe a running list of the items we placed into our cart, but there is always the chance that he would chat about things like “fossil poop” and people just don’t understand things like that.

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