The word Manipulation has really gotten a bad rap. One thinks of trickery, deceptive planning and Madoff-type scheming. Of winners and of losers.
But the kind of manipulation a toddler brings to the table deserves a word bearing an entirely different connotation: experimental, boundary-testing, honest and incredibly curious. At this age, the last thing Opal is doing is scheming and devising well-laid plans ahead of time to put one over on her parents.
From her eyes as I see it, things may be going along as usual until it occurs to her wait—what if I can make them go differently? Suddenly a new notion visits—like a beckoning insect—questioning just how much power she could possibly exude over a circumstance.
Diapering has been an on-again off-again struggle for the last many months. She squiggles, she squirms, she twists and she turns (sorry, got caught up in the cadence there). Maybe it's simply a matter of finding the perfect thing to amuse her. Though, by the 5th unsuccessful thing offered— especially when there is somewhere we need to be—one gets pretty weary with the whole song and dance. We've tried time outs (read: turning my attention away for one solid minute), redirection (no dice) and, as a last resort, down-right holding her still until the diaper gets fastened (a technique I am hardly a fan of). What winds up happening is she eventually tires out, quits the fight and we get it done.
As a 15-month old, a true-blue toddler, she woke up one morning with the long-distance endurance of a penguin, to practice and execute her impressive skills of stubbornness. This is the same stubbornness, but of a slightly different brand, that has gotten her this far in life. It's carried her from a furry sac of water glued to the ground by gravity to a mobile, inquisitive, communicating garden-gnome miniature of a lady. And in the span of just over a year! Astounding! Each time I find myself rubbing the lamp in hopes of a baby with less gumption, I consider both side of this coin and am forced to withdrawal any hasty such wishes.
Manipulation is the half-brother to stubbornness, two muscles that work to achieve one action. And there are times she plays both like two-hands-at-the-piano while mama stands by, gobsmacked. Lately I feel about as ineffective in my efforts to slice through it as a single twig inserted into a rodeo pen might be.
One specific example: The Bedtime Routine.
On this particular night in mention, the diapering was an incredible challenge. Opal absolutely gave it her best game. On the table, she arched her back, twisted to her belly, kicked, slapped and cried. I occupied her with toys, to no avail. I distracted her with songs and rhymes and games, to no avail. I told her "no" in a deep, calm, meaning-business tone. No response. I ignored her for a minute until she calmed down, blocking the sides of the changing table to keep her from falling off, which revved her even further. Ten full minutes had passed and we still had a naked, undiapered baby on our hands.
So I brought her to the floor, afraid she was going to hurt herself, knock her head on the wooden edges of the table from all this wrestling, or fall flat on her face. Also, I thought, perhaps a new environment would help. I was grossly mistaken. She not only was able to continue resisting to the degree she had been, she could now get up and run away, thus instigating a short-lived game of cat-and-mouse. Again, I tried turning my back and ignoring her for a minute—the baby-version of time out—but what I found once I turned back around was both hilarious and maddening.
Opal had taken her diaper and her pajamas across the room, piled them in a tiny heap in the corner and had perched her doll-baby little naked body atop the mound like a mini-version of man-on-the-hill. She was so precious, almost incandescent where she sat beneath the lamp, that I was dumbstruck. And having a hard time not shrieking with pleasure.
I was also hit with the understanding of just what it was I was dealing with in the form of a bucket-pour to the face.
The ridiculous diaper saga finally ended, when, after 30 minutes had passed, we were both beginning to tire of the vaudevillian spectacle, she in body and I in mind. I put her back on the changing table and held her in place while I changed her, as quickly and no-big-deal as possible. Bracing her is the last thing I want to do. Not to mention the fact that she is at times so strong, I'm concerned that holding her still, even for a moment, will leave bruises! Oye.
With the diaper done, we moved to the rocking chair to read her stories. Phase two of the toddler-bedtime and all that it brings. Gone are the days when it's as simple as Daddy and Mommy grabbing a few books and plopping down on the rocker with the sweet little Squisher in our lap.
That specific night I grabbed the doggie book and she wanted the birdie book. I grabbed the birdie book and she wanted the Dora book. We were contentedly reading the Dora book when Opal decided she wanted to read the book backwards once we finished reading it forwards. She squiggled, squirmed and pointed at a fuzz located on the floor across the room announcing dirty! dirty! until it was safely placed in the trash.
After a clunky, hardly-linear reading session, we shut off the light and sang a song in the almost-dark, but for the light of her froggy (used-to-be-fishy) nightlight.
It went like this:
"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"...Milk! She yelled and jetted her eyes around the room.
Milk is gone, honey. I say
"How I wonder what you are"...Water! She squirmed.
Water is all gone, honey.
"Up above the world so high"...B! Golla! Baby! Blickie (Blankie)! She was grasping from her little mental baby-list.
You've got your B, honey. And the rest are waiting for you in your bed. I sat her gently into her crib.
"Like a diamond in the sky"...Meow meow! Dada! She kicked off the blanket.
Daddy and kitty are out in the living room. Say night night. I stretched down to give her a kiss on her forehead.
And then came the piece de resistance. She grabbed my arm, earnest as a wide-eyed platypus, and said Dippy (diaper), Mama. Poo-poo!
Wow. There was no poo-poo in the dippy, to be sure. (And checking the next morning deemed that assessment to be accurate.) An impressively cunning Doodlebug was pulling out all the stops.
I continued Twinkle Twinkle as I crept out the door, 41 minutes after we first entered, a tsunami of baby-wailing in my wake. Feeling not so much tarred-and-feathered as dramatically aware of the need to improve my own mama-game—weights? Sudoku?— to be able to keep up with my little Fox.