Each year one of the other playgroup moms hosts Halloween, and we collaborate on the menu and activities. This year I think our three-and-a-half year olds will get into decorating something that straddles the muffin/cupcake line. So, as usual, I feel compelled to do a trial run (funny how I never do a trial run of, say, salad), heavily inspired by these show-stopping monster cupcakes over at makoodle.
Our resident monster loves a good muffin. And he’s been particularly monstrous lately, throwing huge fits that sometimes end with me dragging him by the limp arms into his room—the only place where he seems able to cool down and start over. I never tell him to go to his room, never give him a time out, and never close the door or say he can’t come out, but I do think of it as sending him to his room. “Maybe you need a minute to think about how you’re feeling,” I’ll suggest. Or “the bathroom is not a safe places to lie on the floor and kick, your room is a safe place to be angry.” So far, it has proved helpful every time. Maybe he’ll throw a toy or two, or stomp on some cleanly folded sheets from his closet, but in minutes he is over it. Refreshed. Reasonable.
I have been on the hunt for books that address some of the things we go through with Leo. Where the Wild Things Are is one of the oldest and best of course. “I think Max went to where the wild things are because his mother called him wild thing,” Leo observed the other night. Someone recommended My Many Colored Days, which is a very uncharacteristic book by Dr. Seuss. It does a nice job of presenting the idea that one person has many different modes, but it’s a calmer, simpler sort of book, with no story to speak of. I also have been really enjoying How Are You Peeling? The photos of fruits and vegetables, interpreted by the author as having emotional facial expressions, are very intriguing to look at. “How do you think this turnip is feeling?” I’ll ask Leo, and he’ll reverse the process the artist went through, using his just-developing knowledge of human emotion to attribute feelings to the vegetable.
I’m reminded frequently these days that not everything a child has to learn is good clean fun. I tend to think of learning as Leo saying “ah hah! Triangles have three sides!” while I nod and cheer him on, but sometimes, it’s Leo saying “I don’t love you Mommy,” while I tell myself not to overreact. Negative emotion is not something you can avoid dealing with for your whole life, and it’s no surprise that a person has to learn what to do with it, how to express it and how it affects others. This is hard work. Hard for Leo and for the people around him.
In the park yesterday, Leo pretended to be a monster, chasing his friends. When they turned and chased him, he freaked out and went into a rageful-panic. Learning how to be a monster isn’t easy. But it’s important.
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.