Tigger holds out a piece of food to show me, with an inquiring, "Huh?"
"Mushroom," I tell him.
"Eat?" he asks.
"Yes, you can eat it," I assure him.
He pops it into his mouth: "MmmMMmm!"
A few seconds later, he holds out another morsel, "Huh?"
"Carrot," I tell him.
"Eat?" he asks.
"Yes, you can eat it," I say.
And again the consumption, followed by the verdict: "MmmMMmm!"
I watch as he picks up a green bean.
Here we go again.
If both Doodle and I are present, he asks both of us. He asks each of us to name whatever he has, and will not eat it until it has been correctly identified and verified as edible, twice. I say "correctly" identified, because he does know what the object is, most of the time.
It's some kind of a game.
Or isn't it?
Is this scenario just a small tableau of his 2 year-old need for affirmation?
My son hasn't lived in this world all that long. Many times, I forget that. When he belts out nonverbal yelps after I've told him that the baby is sleeping, I forget that he really isn't trying to be annoying. He's little; he's learning cause and effect. Yes, he's learning quickly how to "push my buttons," but he doesn't do things for the sole purpose of making me upset and frustrated; he does it because he likes to observe the cause-effect relationship. He likes to see my reaction. He has little idea that my reaction stems from my personal distress, anger, and frustration.
But I forget.
When I lose my patience and yell, or clench my teeth and pull him forcefully away from kicking the baby, I forget that my little son isn't really being defiant. Not in the rebellious teenager sort of way, anyway.
He does not have the self-efficacy of an adult. His actions do not stem from a confidence in his own personhood. He is only 2 years old! He's still looking to me to affirm that personhood!
I am his self-efficacy.
What must he feel, then, when affirmation is denied? Does it crush his little spirit every time I forget to treat him with gentleness?
I can hope that the angels still kiss his little cheeks when I'm not looking, but by-and-large, he looks to me for approval. For unconditional love.
And I keep forgetting.
Affirmation is not single compliment about a job he did well this afternoon. It is a continuous loving attitude, expressed by patient guidance and acknowledgment throughout the day. He is constantly learning, and so he requires consistent encouragement, in order to integrate all of his experiences of the world and allow those experiences to build him up in the right way.
A friend of mine likes to say, "Parenting is difficult, if you're doing it well."
It seems, however, that some are naturally better at it than others.
After about seven pieces of food, I tend to lose interest in vegetable identification.
"Tigger," I say, "I assure you that everything on your plate is edible. Okay? Eat up."
Doodle, on the other hand, has no end of patience, calmly naming each item presented. I sometimes wonder whether he should be the one to stay home and raise our children; perhaps they would be better nurtured by him.
But this is my purification. I am being pruned, humbled by my own failings. And learning so much. Most importantly these days, I am learning to take a step back from myself. Trying to remember that these behaviors are not personal attacks. I'm the parent; he's the innocent child. I am learning to decrease my personhood in order to allow his personhood to develop.
I am learning to affirm him.