This is a condensed version of what transpired at the breakfast table this morning. For those of you who aren't acquainted with Ally, she's our three year old daughter. Ally is very much in the stage where she wants to be in charge of making decisions for herself, but she's very aware of how little control she actually has. This means that she tends to automatically reject any suggestions we make, no matter how much she might actually like the offered suggestion, simply on the grounds that her parents suggested it. I could offer her a pony and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if Ally flung herself on the floor while wailing that she doesn't want a pony.
Steve made a Dutch baby pancake with fresh fruit and bacon for breakfast. Ally was playing with her dolls upstairs and didn't want to come down to eat. We let her play for a few more minutes and then insisted that she come down for breakfast. Ally began to fuss and whine that she didn't want to eat breakfast, that she wanted to play with her dolls instead. I threatened to give her blueberries to the dog, which prompted Ally to come down. She walked over to her chair grudgingly, climbed up in her seat, and then the theatrics began.
Ally (looking at her plate): I don't want any syrup.
Me: Then eat the bacon and the blueberries. They don't have any maple syrup on them.
Ally (poking at the pancake with her finger): Yes they do.
Me: No they don't.
Ally: Yes! They do have syrup on them! I don't want any syrup!
Usually Ally considers the maple syrup is the best part of a pancake. Today, however, maple syrup is evil and has contaminated the entire plate. Even though Mommy and Daddy have assured Ally that only the pancake has a teeny-tiny bit of syrup on it, clearly they don't understand the greater issue here that, by association, everything on the plate is obviously drowning in syrup and it's yucky.
Ally continues to poke at her pancake with her finger while grumbling about the blueberries.
Me: Ally, please use your fork.
Ally: I don't want to.
Me: Use your fork so you don't get your hands all sticky.
Ally: I don't want this fork. I want a different fork. I want Mommy's fork.
Me: No, your fork is just fine.
Ally: I want Daddy's fork.
Me: Mommy and Daddy are using their forks. You use the one you have.
Ally: I don't like this fork! I want a spoon!
Me: Ally, just use the fork please!
Ally (turns red, erupts in tears, and yells): NO!
The scene here dissolves in a choatic fit of crying, screaming, and kicking. Some of it is Ally's, some of it is mine. The kicker is when I offer Ally a tissue to wipe her nose. She insists that she doesn't need one, but then deliberately ignores the offered tissue because I'm the one giving it to her and wipes her snotty face on her cloth napkin.
I haul Ally outside for a timeout on the front porch where I remind her about how Daddy made us a special breakfast and we expect her to show good manners. Ally merely scowls at me and starts grunting, a horrendously annoying habit she just started this past week. I tell Ally that she can come back inside the house when she calms down and can behave herself, then shut the door and go back to eating breakfast. We can hear much screaming, stomping, and crying on the front porch through the open windows, but this is preferable to having it inside the house. Thankfully we don't have close neighbors to watch this little drama and report us to the police for child neglect, and the cows out back don't seem to mind the commotion either. Within minutes the tempest subsides into genuine tears and calls for Mommy. I go to the door and thank Ally for doing all her yelling outside where it's more appropriate, and she tells me she's sorry. We both go back to the table to finish breakfast.
Ironically, the pancake with the offending maple syrup is the first thing she eats.
I fully understand that this is merely a developmental stage for Ally where her desire to be autonomous conflicts with her need for parental care, and we should be reassured that this is perfectly normal behavior for a toddler.
What I'm not too clear on is how I'm supposed to weather this maddening behavior without losing my temper. It's like being back in college, trying to reason with your drunk roommate and convince him that going out for waffles at 3 am isn't a good idea right now because you have an important exam at 8:30 am. None of his argument makes any sense, yet you persist on trying to have a logical conversation with this person because what else can you do? All you want your roommate to do is go to bed and sleep it off, because that's in his best interest, but he's too busy trying to tell you that up is down, black is white, yes is no, to listen to you. It's a genuine miracle if both of you don't wind up in tears, kicking and screaming at each other.
Thankfully both Steve and I can find the humor in all of this about a half hour later. It's like we're in the middle of one those screwball comedies from the 30s or 40s, our very own version of Bringing Up Baby or Arsenic and Old Lace. The plot is all about chaos, larger than life characters, and wildly contrived situations that somehow wind up with a happy ending. We're hanging onto the idea of happy endings, so don't even mention how this will pale in comparison to raising a teenager.