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Tales From The Crib

October 24, 2005

Toddler time can begin in Terrible Tens

Baby Gillian was the quietest baby in our playgroup. She curiously looked at the other babies from her perch in her infant car seat. If she fussed, her mother nursed her, and she would fall asleep happily, while all the other babies squawked. Her mother, Ashley, thought she had the easiest baby in the world. She looked at the rest of us secretly smug, wondering at the bags under our eyes and the frustration on our faces.

But then everything about Gillian changed.

At about 10 months of age, Gillian became an absolute terror. She discovered locomotion and either rolled, crawled or cruised anywhere she wanted to go. She became infuriated by diaper changes, livid if she had to get in a high chair. Five minutes in a playpen was enough to make her purple in the face, screaming at the top of her lungs. The activities she had once loved &

the play station, the Jolly Jumper, the car &

became torture chambers to her. As if overnight, Ashley&

s sweet, quiet, curious daughter turned into a protesting, frustrated, miserable, sleepless terror.

What happened?

Most baby books warn you about the trouble that lies ahead: the toddler years when your will and your baby&

s (stronger and more persistent) will start to clash. But for many babies anyway, trouble we associate with toddlers usually starts long before a child&

s first birthday. Once Gillian had discovered that she could move herself, she no longer wanted to be confined. This turned something as simple as a car ride or a walk in the stroller into a battle that often left both her mother and Gillian (though mostly her mother) in tears.

Like Gillian, my friend Johanna&

s baby Noah had his first temper tantrum at 10 months. Johanna wouldn&

t let him rearrange the books at the bookstore. Noah flailed and howled, kicked his legs, turned red in the face, and cried tears of frustration. This in public, in front of dozens of curious people who turned to watch them. Johanna and her husband dubbed their son &

The Beast&

after that.

At about nine months, my oldest daughter, Hesperus, started acting like a Terrible Ten-Month-Old. She became indignantly opposed to diaper changes. That her parents would make her lie on her back for even a few seconds was an outrage to her.

&

Stinky! Let&

s change your diapey,&

I would suggest good naturedly.

&

Noooo,&

Hesperus, who could say only four words then, was adamant.

Though she could not walk, and had barely learned to crawl, she could effectively wriggle away. I would have to pin her down to get her diaper off while she would be wailing as horribly as if someone were sticking needles into her. While I managed to snap a clean diaper on, Hesperus would invariably kick me in the face. What happened to my sweet, easy going infant? She had disappeared so quickly. Next stop: Teenage Town and we&

d be fighting about alcohol and driving the car.

You may think the first time your baby express anger or willfulness is cute. My husband described Hesperus&

s early flares of temper as &

endearing.&

&

I see now that you have inherited my temper as well,&

he wrote in the journal we kept for her after he tried to extract his keys from her clenched fist (she was gnawing on them, happily teething) and Hesperus growled and pulled them back. She stiffened her body, inhaled angrily, turned red and roared, her whole body shaking with anger.

Cute? After the 20th fight over changing diapers, or the 33rd kick in the face while you&

re adjusting the straps of the car seat, it can get a little frustrating to be in charge of a human being with so many definite ideas but so little ability to talk (in words anyway), reason or compromise.

Babies are strange creatures. Part of infanthood and childhood is simply learning how to be. As we all know from the clumsy mishaps of our adulthood, this is not always an easy lesson. Then just when you decide you are ready to sign them up for full time day care (overnights included), they flash you a drooly grin and you notice the little bud of a white tooth peeking through their red gums. You don&

t pick up the telephone, you grab the camera instead.

is the author of &

Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained&

(Willow Creek Press), which is available at Bug-a-Boo, the Tree House, and Bloomsbury Books.