Glimpsing the Terrible Twos

Published October 11, 2017 in Warp & Woof

Glimpsing the Terrible Twos

Sole Custody of a 22-month-Old for a Weekend

William Sundwick

Friday was dedicated to preparation for an awesome responsibility. We paternal grandparents were about to move into our Son and Daughter-in-law’s house for an entire weekend. Sure, we could make excursions to our house (only 15 minutes away) on both Saturday and Sunday, but we felt, and were advised by the parents of our only grandchild, that it would probably be best if he slept in his own room, and we were nearby. This is not the first time that 22-month-old Owen has been left for multiple days in the care of grandparents – but the first time it was the OTHER set of grandparents, and he was much younger.
He is now approaching “the terrible twos.” He has cognitive skills which translate into manipulative behavior. He has language (sort of). He doesn’t like being crossed.
Pickup from day care Friday went smoothly – a familiar routine for grandpa. But, this time would be different, and we did not know how much he understood about where “Mama” and “Dada” were for the weekend, or when they would return. Owen greeted his “Poppa” enthusiastically, as usual, introduced me to his “teachers” and his friend “Fisher” (yes, they have names!) — but, I noticed something different. Instead of sauntering down the path to the gate, and confidently walking to the street, and home, with only a hand from Poppa to keep him close to the curb (no sidewalks in the neighborhood), he wanted to be carried all the way home — 4 doors down. “Up,” he said soon as we reached the gate. I suggested he walk, let him down, but his outstretched arms signified his preference was otherwise.

Excitement again overcame anxiety when grandma “GiGi” arrived at Owen’s house (Grandma Gail — she invented the name to distinguish herself from Grandma Cathy, who later chose the appellation “Lolly” for reasons unknown to us). He immediately sensed it was time to party. From experience, he knows that he’s allowed to shriek wildly when GiGi and Poppa are on watch –  an outdoor voice used indoors — verboten by his parents, we think.
Dad had meticulously prepped us with alarms on our phones, both set for 6:45 P.M., with the authorized “twinkle” ring tone. This, in their Skinnerian world, was supposed to signal wind-down time – presumably post-dinner, pre-bath. The alarms went off, the pleasant ring tone sounding very baby-like. Owen was still relaxing over his Tortellini dinner (not scarfing it down, but not rejecting it either). All three of us sensed that bedtime was going to be later than the mutually agreed 7:15. He still needed a bath. But, this is OUR watch – so much to share, so many books and toys. So much to talk about. Owen now must name everything around him. Names for everything – it’s his enforcement of world order. It’s been months in the making. All those times he asked me, “Dat?” have now been assigned names. I’m sure most come from his parents – so, now he must share, with Poppa and GiGi, everything he knows.
And, the books. “Two stories, then to bed” his dad had said – hah! Owen has a well-stocked library in his room, and another in the living room. So many books. The Library of Congress would be envious. (Is it genetic? Both GiGi and Poppa have been lifers at LoC, and his mom is a childhood development specialist, Assistant Principal at a Pre-K through K charter school in DC. His dad has staked out a career in the mainstream media.)
We knew we would be honest about Owen’s real bedtime, but it certainly wasn’t going to fall inside the parameters of his parents’ decree.
And, it didn’t – about 8:15. But, he did sleep through the night. Friday.

Saturday started out well – if early for Poppa and GiGi, around 6:30.  O. was in great spirits, though. He invaded the supposedly forbidden office, where we were sleeping on a double futon – and proceeded to take notice of his dad’s prodigious collection of Lego models (don’t touch!). We could tell he’d done this before, despite claims to the contrary from his father. He had names for all the exotic spacecraft (“airpanes”) and even the Main Street commercial diorama (“house”). When he grabbed the double-decker London bus from the desk, we knew he wouldn’t destroy it. He loves his father’s Legos. He carried it around with him most of the morning. He treated it with much more respect than the stuffed Elmo doll he found at our house on Sunday.  More on that later.

The main problem with Saturday was we just couldn’t squeeze in the physical activity prescribed for him (a playground?) – what with meals, transportation back to our house (a requirement for us), and need to schedule naptime. All we managed was a walk around our neighborhood with the stroller – some exercise for Poppa and GiGi, but none for Owen. Frankly, the sand covering the toddler portion of our neighborhood playground was a disincentive as well. We couldn’t help but think of bath time.
Result: no nap. It wasn’t for want of trying. In fact, we spent two hours reading, coaxing, cajoling – all to no avail. Just too much stuff to talk about, too much to share. At this point, we took notice that he wasn’t blue about missing his parents. Indeed, he explained to us that his parents had gone away, to see “Amy work” (his mom’s colleague from work whose wedding in Maine was the event that took them away for the weekend). We were impressed by his understanding – he may not be able to plan days ahead, but still seems to be aware of diurnal routines, and might even be able to count three nights without parents. I have evidence of him at least parroting the number “thee,” if not counting to three.
While reasonably adventurous about eating, being the offspring of two millennial foodie parents, he did show reluctance to try some of the food we had brought – notably cantaloupe and nectarines. But, we managed to hit a sweet spot with small pieces of grilled lemon-rosemary chicken breast (frozen from a previous Poppa/GiGi meal – excellent marinade and grilling technique, if I do say so myself!).


This set of grandparents, at least, are not foodies. Sunday brunch at the local IHOP was the big event planned for the last day. But, first we had to deal with fitful wakefulness and coughing Saturday night, and a much too early arousal Sunday morning (before 6:00). The IHOP adventure was surprisingly successful – Owen enthusiastically downed most of an adult portion of French toast and fried egg.  Two pots of coffee were entirely consumed by Poppa and GiGi.
Back to our house again, both indoor and backyard play – somewhat more active than the previous day for O. Even indoors, he can run around our first-floor circuit – all open since we built on eight years ago, and greater circumference than the comparable circuit at his house.
Among his discoveries at our house Sunday was an old stuffed Elmo doll, left over from his Uncle Colin, 28 years ago. At first, Elmo seemed to fill its intended role as “lovie” – but, then Owen took to acting out a little drama with the doll. He would pick Elmo up, throw him onto the floor, and say “Oh No! [Elmo] Fall!”, then pick him up to comfort him – he did this repeatedly. Interesting exercise in culpability, if nothing else.
Elmo lives in a large plastic dump truck we keep for Owen in a closet.  After returning to his house for a nap, O observed and compared Elmo’s dump truck with his own similar Tonka model (an outdoor toy at his house, often filled with “dirt”), asking “where Elmo?”, and started to cry! As if that brief Kabuki performance at our house may have created an attachment of sorts.
Owen’s growing assertiveness, and familiarity with us, turned into open defiance by bedtime Sunday. Did he know this was his last chance to dominate, before Mama and Dada returned? As we were getting more confident about the rules we should enforce, it came time for going upstairs – bath, stories in his room, tuck him in. We knew the routine, and fully expected some resistance. What we saw Sunday night kicked it up a notch, though.
Owen completely understood what time it was (dinner done, those “twinkle” alarms clearly audible on both our phones). When Poppa stated firmly, “time to go upstairs, bath and stories, Owen!”, his response was equally firm. He climbed onto the living room sofa, grabbed a book from his living room library, and commanded, “Poppa read!”, as he opened the large picture book on his lap.  This was obvious contravention of Poppa’s dictate. He was not proceeding upstairs, or into Poppa’s arms. He was standing his ground.
The solution, we discovered, was to wait him out – don’t beg, don’t give in. Just ignore him for a few minutes. Go upstairs, yourself, prepare his bath, get his room ready for the usual post-bath routine. Don’t say anything to him. It worked after about five minutes (after all, if nobody came to read to him on the sofa, there was no fun!). As simple as this tactic seems, it was an important confidence-building exercise for Poppa. The young can teach the old.

Yes, bedtime was still an hour late, but if grandparents aren’t good for partying, what are they good for? When his parents returned home about 10:30, we breathed a sigh of relief. And, we confessed everything (much had already been revealed via texting over the weekend). Dad’s response was: “next time we do this at YOUR house!” It made sense – libertine grandparents like us should at least be restricted to their own home, not diluting parental authority in Owen’s home.
His mom chuckled – she knew that O would recover much faster than Poppa and GiGi! Poppa was home by 11:00, and rewarded himself with a strong Jim Beam nightcap – we were free.
The next day, GiGi received a text from her son: “Owen really missed you guys this morning!” – both of us could now imagine our grandson waking up crying, “Poppa, GiGi, where Poppa GiGi?” It would place us on a par with Elmo! Sweet revenge.

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