Carolyn and I are having the occasional mini-skirmish now. Today's lasted longer than any yet. It all started--and ended--with lunch.
My daughter generally communicates quite clearly what she does and does not want. Today, as usual around noon, I asked, "Do you want lunch?" A "yes" and a nod later, we were off to the kitchen. I got out frozen chicken-carrots-and-rice, confirmed that she was indeed ready to eat, and heated it for her. I knew we were in trouble when she started whimpering as I spooned it into her bowl.
Three and a half hours later, she ate it. Cold. Hungrily. Happily. With many interruptions for affectionate hugs. This is how it all went down.
With her hot food in hand, I sat Carolyn in her chair, strapping and bibbing her amid protests and whines. She never took a bite, though I offered and encouraged in several ways. She continued whimpering, refusing her drink as well, and ultimately signing that she wanted to get up. I explained that she either needed to eat lunch or go ahead and take a nap. She still wanted up. So, she took a nap. I laid her in her crib, patted her back briefly, and left the room, expecting screams to erupt. But she went to sleep without a sound.
Too hastily assuming we'd leaped the hurdle, I ate my own lunch and waited for her to wake up. She did, an hour later, and asked to nurse. Since she normally nurses before her nap--and since she said "no" to lunch--I nursed her. A little while later, I asked, and she said "yes," she wanted lunch. We went to the kitchen, affirmed that she wanted lunch, that she wanted what was in her bowl, that she wanted it in the microwave.
So when she started whimpering again upon taking it out of the microwave, I wasn't feeling sympathetic. We repeated this once more later on, with a good deal of interim playing, fussing, and asking vainly to nurse. I lost count of how many times I gently explained that she could choose to eat lunch, to play happily, or to fuss by herself in her room.
When she finally said "yes" to lunch again, I quickly started feeding her, not waiting to warm it up and have her change her mind again. And she devoured all but 3 bites. . .which she came back to ask for later. And hugged me again and again and again, so sweetly. She seemed to really know that she'd been wrong and needed to seek forgiveness, as we practice when she is disciplined.
That would be a win in itself. But it's even better, because, by God's grace, I didn't get angry. I was frustrated, absolutely. I doubted whether I was making the right call. I even called Kevin at work. But I kept it all inside, calmly and cheerfully and sympathetically giving Carolyn her options again and again and again.
It may seem a small victory. It may even be a small victory. But I am not perfect, and small frustrations do get to me. I am constantly, painfully aware that how I respond now--and how I allow Carolyn to respond now--sets the stage for our interaction next year. . .and in two years, three years, five years, ten and fifteen years. If I can't respond lovingly and biblically when my toddler doesn't want to eat lunch, how will I ever respond well to the challenges of childhood and adolescence? And so, small step though it is, it bears hope--hope that I may guide my daughter well, hope that my teachable 16-month-old will one day be a still-teachable 16-year-old.
I hear the detractors even now: we haven't even hit the "terrible twos" yet. Teenage strife is inevitable. I'm young and naive.
And I close my ears. I don't believe in terrible twos or inevitable teenage angst. I know two-year-olds who obey their parents, and I know teenagers who act like the young men and women they should be, rather than the overgrown children our culture expects. And, best of all, I know the grace of an Almighty God that encourages my heart in these first little parenting trials.
For, though I may laugh at The Great Lunch Stand-Off of 2010 now that it's over, my little girl's pitiful "no-o-o, no-o-o" whimpers and pleading signs for milk, "p-eeease" were hard to refuse. And I was more than happy to fix her favorite meal for dinner tonight.