It’s Owen’s Turn

When it’s pancake breakfast day at the 4 year old’s preschool, there is no getting around taking the 2 year old out for a pancake breakfast of his own. And who am I really kidding: I am not one to turn down second breakfast (or any other meal). So along with the hullabaloo of Addie going to school in pajamas, with her teddy bear, to eat pancakes with her school friends, Owen and I had to plan our own brunch date.

It was the last thing they both talked about the night before, and the first thing that morning. While the excitement was not quite enough to curb the getting ready for the day fussfest, it eased it a bit. After Addie was settled at school, Owen and I started off on our morning: soccer, pancakes, and then a run to Trader Joe’s.

It was all talk of pancakes for the first hour or so, and airplanes, since our favorite breakfast spot (Two Niner Diner) is by the airport. Somehwere along the way, the Trader Joe’s stop began to compete for his enthusiasm. Over SOCCER and PANCAKES.

His reasoning: “It’s my turn.” With the boss big sis at school, it was finally his turn to push the pint-sized, kids’ shopping cart. It sums up his whole attitude about this phase of daily life; it’s Owen’s turn. These days are (finally and temporarily) the days of Owen and Mama. And they are amazing.

Owen 4

My little shadow runs rights along next to me as we get things done, sits with a little hand on my leg at doctor’s appointments, helps with Penny Dog at the vet, and thanks me for taking him to the library for toddler story time. When he wakes from nap he runs out of his room to be greeted by me and only me. We take all the time we want to snuggle, build block towers, read books, and talk. I honestly don’t know which of us is enjoying it more. He is fully embracing the attention and freedom, while I am luxuriating in this one and only chunk of time with just one kid (basically a vacation).

Owen 3

Every moment is beautiful and magical … except the ones that are not at all.

At two and a half, Owen now spends large amounts of the day throwing himself screaming to the ground. He whines a lot. I mean, a lot. He pushes, hits, and throws things. He protests, and insists on independence in the most inconvenient of times. Some days I drown in a barrage of needs, inconsolable moods, and tantrums.

Some of his meltdowns, so far from anything rational, are surely a joke – a parody of himself. We decide one day on a lunch stop for bagels (I seriously never turn down food), and he asks, “is there milk at bagel shop?” My answer, while seemingly reasonable, was clearly not. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen milk there, bud.”

He catches and clings to the tiny, semantic, implication in that “pretty sure”. “I want milk with bagel! Bagel shop don’t have milks!!!” Throughout the entire drive across town he wails, mourning the milk that he has convinced himself he will not get. No matter how many times I reassure him that they will have it, he can’t let it go.

When we get to the bagel shop, of course, there is milk, but the little stinker steals my orange juice instead. His big feelings of grief are suddenly replaced by joy and mischief.

Owen 1

As taxing as it all is, I’m glad to have this one on one time to help him through the perils of being two. I can protect our future emotional selves by getting down to his level, helping him name his big feelings, offering some empathy, and taking as long as he needs to get to a solution/distraction/reconciliation.

Most days are on the sunny and fun side, despite being filled with huge struggles and/or overwhelming joy. We have plenty of minor issues and blissful connection through simple grins, giggles, and snuggles. We have daily battles over holding hands in the parking lot, me being allowed to go use a bathroom (all the time, thanks third pregnancy), or wear a hair tie. We have glorious bike rides, read endless Curious George stories, and bond over building “big, huge [Lego] trucks”.

Most importantly, I have a stellar eating buddy (until this baby gets so big that I have no room for food any more).

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Book Stacks and Train Tracks

Owen spent the day after his second birthday sprawled on the living room floor in pajamas, surrounded by new legos, train tracks, and matchbox cars. Addie and I spent a lazy morning at the library, browsing our favorite series’ and reading stacks of books in the children’s area. Each kid found flow in their activities – a sweet spot of focus and joy in the doing. Their passions for life reassure me they both will end up happy humans. But how stereotypical are the activities that drive them?

My girl is in her element among the book stacks, my boy in building train tracks.

I hear it about them all the time: such a boy, such a girl. I’ve long questioned society’s insistence on forced gender roles. I have concerns all over the place about the backlash of exaggerated male and female stereotypes. My privilege is kicking me in the face, but growing up as a feminine tomboy in a progressive family in northern CA, I have never bought the ideals of manly men and weak women.

And then I had a GIRL and a BOY who, from the time they could express a mere hint of an opinion, became all girly and all boyish.

I cannot deny the cliché differences in their physical ability. Addie, my little klutz to this day, lazily army crawled on her bony elbows for an eternity. She took first steps at 14 months but remained unsteady (at best) for another year. Owen, on the other hand, was born with the innate desire to move. The first time he stood up, he recognized it to be the key to walking; I saw the eureka moment on his face. Confident running and jumping followed before long.

Everyone tells me how active their boys are, compared to their girls. I hate it when the masses are right.

Never one for conformity, I kept Baby Addie’s pink princesses to a minimum. But she spoke complete sentences pretty early and demanded what she wanted (all the time). Now she collects jewelry, stickers, and little decoupaged boxes full of pretty rocks. When Owen was born we had one little set of cars and a few balls. We now have 6,000 vehicles and buckets of balls that he races and chucks daily.

My girl wants her dollhouse and my boy wants his garbage truck.

Not one to buy into the pink vs blue consumerism, I passed on all the baby onesies that said “feed me and tell me I’m pretty ” or “ladies man”. Still, neither of them was ever mistaken for the opposite gender. Now that they pick out their own clothes, they are walking stereotypes. Owen with his signature skull and crossbones trucker hat. Addie in hot pink (her “favorite pink”) and sparkles.

My girl plays with makeup, and my boy runs around shirtless with tangled hair.

While I refuse to reinforce these stereotypes, or ever question what they should or can do because of their biologically assigned gender, I rarely steer their interests. I try to guide them towards more of what makes them happy, where they can find flow. They are little humans with agendas of their own.

Some days the division works out well for everyone. Owen played for hours that day, with his new birthday toys. Addie read all of her books with anyone available, and alone. We all reconnected to watch a movie. They went to bed happy that night, my girl in heart pajamas, and my boy in fire trucks.

Venn Diagram
“Hi, this is a Venn Diagram.  We’re still developing the McSorley Diagram.” – Kevin McSorley

Oh Owen

“Cute smile. How old is he?” asks the woman behind me in line at Target. “One” I say, because I can’t bear to say twenty-three months or, worse yet, almost two.

But he clearly is: twenty-three months, almost two. His cheeks are getting less chubby. His size 2T pants no longer need to be rolled. He clears his own dishes, buckles himself into his booster and car seats. He chats in two and three word sentences. When I kiss him, he’s just as likely to say “no Mommy, stop it” and duck his head, as he is to kiss me back. When we read together, there’s a 50 percent chance he’ll insist on holding the book, saying “self”. And yet, he still pumps his hands in the air for Sesame Street or bubbles. When overwhelmed by big feelings, he still wants me to hold him and sing “Kookaburra”. He hovers on the line between independence and babyhood, grasping for both sides.

It happens gradually, unnoticed, and then in bursts. The mastering of skills: hitting the tee ball, building with Legos, dressing himself. The language bursts: questions (“Daddy is?), details (“right here”), and opinions (“no no haircut”). The lengthening and strengthening of limbs and muscles.

A few times a week, he gets his energy out at toddler gymnastics (“nastics”), an unstructured, mommy-and-me class in which 1-3 year olds race around the gym like wild heathen. A favorite activity for both of my kids, I barely remember a time when I didn’t trudge around the gym after them, yawning, pregnant or with another baby in the carrier. The moms and kids around me have changed, sometimes cycled back through with their next babies in tow, but I have been there, chasing kids, for a little over two years now.

A O parachute

Addie and Owen have always prioritized different activities. She went crazy for the bars and rings. She lived for “parachute time”, sitting engaged in a circle with her buddies, next to (or on the lap of) her favorite coach. She sang the songs and did the stretches – tucking her legs to her chest and then hammering her knees and toes straight. She still sometimes practices at home, as the coach of her stuffed animals.

A rings

Owen has never warmed up to the coaches. The rings and parachute don’t hold his interest. His primary activity is roaming across obstacle courses of mats and ramps. His face lights up as he jumps off of blocks or gets air on the big trampoline (Addie was never able to wait her turn for that, or jump with both feet). He also exhibits feats of strength, carrying the weighted balls (“heavy”) to the mini basketball hoop and pushing the ramps around.

This morning though, at twenty-three months, almost two, he was a new beast – a master of gymnastics. He took off his own shoes and socks to get ready (an exercise for which I rarely have time and patience – poor second kid) and put them in a cubby by the door. He bounced on his toes by the entrance with the other toddlers, nametags on, eagerly waiting to be unleashed. When the coach let the wild animals in, he raced to the front of the pack.

Instead of saying “hand”, demanding that I explore with him, he was halfway across the gym before he looked back and flashed me a grin of pure joy. He joined a group of boys, chucking beanbags and racing up the ramps to big blocks, leaping off, never fazed by the falls. He fearlessly swung across the (toddler sized) zipline. When the Disney radio pumping through the speakers stopped, and the bell rang for parachute time, he required no coaxing to participate. Today he leveled up in toddler gymnastics.

It all goes this way: too slowly and then suddenly too fast. Checking the calendar and checking him out in action, he is officially twenty-three months, almost two. But in his mama’s eyes, he is still ONE for another twenty-three days

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