Monday, September 12, 2005

This is a test

This morning she whined. A lot. A moaning kind of half-cry that tells me she wants something, that not all is to her highness's satisfaction, that her milk isn't warm enough, that her blanket isn't quite right, that she's dropped her stuffed toy and wouldn't deign to pick it up herself, that for my attention to turn to her is taking longer than she'd like.

I wonder sometimes if I spoil her, dote on her. I wonder if others think I do. I'm fairly certain they do.

On the whole, I believe I treat her even-handedly, with love and respect. Her needs are met; her wants are understood and considered, but not always humoured. Not always. Still, I put her before everyone and everything else. And so I should, on the whole. She is, after all, only 2.

Still, when she calls out from another room, I walk away from a conversation. I try to wait for an appropriate pause, but from the moment I hear "Mama," my attention is diverted. When I entertain phonecalls my attention is always divided. It's only polite to at the very least acknowledge her, I think, and we can't expect her to have the patience of an adult.

The whining is unpleasant, a behaviour she's adopted over the last couple months with little sign of abating. It's effective for her — I'm quick to discern and resolve whatever the problem, though increasingly it is a minor disturbance, a mere inconvenience, that sets her vocal chords to work. And still, on the whole, I find myself rationalizing that it's not worth struggling over with her — easier to, say, peel her orange for her, or reach some object or other, than to insist she do it herself, or she wait, and easier by far than to listen to the whining.

I don't believe it's simply to draw and maintain attention on herself. It is, however, manipulative, both a lazy and clever means to a desired end. How much of this is a test? What's the right answer?

This is a test, but this is not a test.

We — she and I — are establishing limits of sorts, learning and settling into our respective roles. He's there too, of course, but, in ways I can't explain, I feel it doesn't concern him. I don't by any means intend to relegate him to a minor role. This particular dramatic tension, one thread among many in the theatre of family life, is somehow personal and private — between her and me. A kind of a power struggle. We need to come an understanding. We are on the brink of a turning point in our character development.

How will her early childhood (in)form her adult attitudes? What kind of person is she going to be?

What kind of mother do I want to be?

We've been establishing a new level of communication. She's told that the whining is not nearly so effective as words. That the whining often impedes communication and delays the desired resolution. That there's no sense in getting worked up about some things. That some things have to wait, and others aren't going to happen. That some things she's perfectly capable of doing for herself. She applies the points of our discussions to subsequent like situations — whatever it was that sparked that particular whining episode. For example, she no longer whines from her bed at night; she clearly states that she'd like some milk or we forgot to leave a light on. But she has yet to generalize — to realize that everything I say applies to all her whining (or rather, that one of those points applies. As I write this I realize perhaps it's too much for me to expect of her, to sift through the options for appropriateness, to know which one applies this time, to foresee the resolution).

This morning she whined a lot. More whining in the bathroom. Was it because I lifted her onto the toilet seat when she'd wanted to wiggle up be herself? Had I pinched her in so doing? Did she want to pull her pants off instead of just down? Had I turned the fan on accidentally (she hates the noise of the fan)? Does she not want to go peepee after all? What? Tell me. Use words. The whining doesn't do anything other than signal your displeasure (and piss me off); the pointing is vague.

The lever for the bathroom sink drain was in the "wrong" position.

This morning I yelled at her. It's not the first time. It won't be the last. It's the worst feeling in the world.


Suzanne said...

Boy, I can relate.

D. is quite a bit younger but still two years old.

Honestly, sometimes it seems that her "whining voice" could strip paint off a wall :)

melinama said...

Whining was stopped here with these words: "Anything you whine for, you will never get." This was absolutely enforced and absolutely effective. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Re: "Whining was stopped here with these words: "Anything you whine for, you will never get." This was absolutely enforced and absolutely effective."

I am impressed, but does this really work with a two year old? I could never stand the whining either; Sarah was the worst culprit. She still whines. Hell, I whine.

You're entering into the wonderful world of questioning whether kids should be the center of your universe. Good luck! I wish I had some pat answers for you, but I've made enough mistakes in my life to know that my advice is not what you need.


Suzanne said...

This is such an issue with my daughter. She compounds the whining with SHRIEKING. Followed by WAILLINGGG if the preceding two tactics hadn't achieved the desired result. I really don't know how to handle it sometimes. I hope that for both Helena and Allie, it's a temporary stage.

Isabella K said...

Thanks all, for your comments and emails. No fear of traumatizing the kid — it seems toddlers are emotionally resilient as well as physically. Helena has been a model of courtesy and plain ol' nice behaviour ever since.

I'm on board with Melinama as to plan of attack. However, I suspect there may be some trouble with "absolutely enforced."