A ways back, I wrote a post comparing infants to lunatics. After a few months of wrapping my son in the equivalent of a straight jacket just so he’d fall asleep and stop screaming, the comparison of my baby to an insane person seemed apt.
Little did I know that a year later I’d have even more reason to question my kid’s sanity.
In that previous post, I wrote a whole list of reasons a baby might be mistaken for a nutjob. But truth be told, there wasn’t all that much of a comparison – at the risk of blowing your mind, I was mostly joking. Because a baby barely even knows what they’re doing, let alone has any kind of thought process – demented and sad or not – behind the weird things they do. A toddler, however, is different.
When my son was a baby, he couldn’t control himself; he was like McMurphy at the very end of Cuckoo’s Nest, after the lobotomy (spoiler alert!). Now a toddler might not totally understand the consequences of everything they do, but they’re starting to, and it’s clear there’s some kind of thought process behind even my kid’s most random actions. Unfortunately, the thoughts behind that process are completely hidden from everyone else.
So even when what he’s doing makes little or no sense to me, you can tell it makes some kind of bizarre sense to him. And that’s when he starts seeming less like a lobotimized patient with no control over himself and more like a sociopathic Hannibal Lecter type that has no regard for normal societal boundaries.
Full disclosure: the little dude acts nutso a LOT. I barely even know what his “normal” behavior would entail, he acts so wacked out all the time. I’m not even talking about the fact that he’ll dance to commercial jingles. I mean, that’s creepy, insane behavior, but it’s not all that alarming. What’s alarming is when he does six consecutive laps around the coffee table, grinning and laughing and pointing at things the whole time. Or when he does the whole “I see a ghost” routine. Or when he just starts laughing maniacally while he’s running or sitting or standing or eating. Or doing anything. Or doing NOTHING.
To prevent us from thinking our son is a total freak, or that we’re doing something completely wrong, my wife and I get those “Your baby at…” emails that clue new parents into the kind of behavior that’s typical for babies and toddlers at varying ages. The one for 16-month-olds is hilarious in the way it basically dismisses behavior that would be terrfying and destructive in an adult.
A few highlights:
If your toddler has started to throw tantrums (or to throw punches or toys), it may help you deal with his negative behavior if you understand that such impulses are healthy and normal. – Right. Normal for who? The Hulk?
When they need to have an emotional blow-out, they may signal it by doing something they know you will stop, like pulling another child’s hair, or by using a small pretext, like a broken cookie, as a “last straw” so that they can fall apart. – Emotional blow-out? Really? If I had an emotional blow-out, let alone provoked people into doing something to preemptively JUSTIFY my emotional blow-out, I’d either be in jail or heavily sedated or both.
It might help if you think of his outbursts as performances. – At least the set list changes with every show!
The article goes on to explain, again, that all this stuff is normal for a toddler. He’s learning to control his impulses and it will take a while. Which is super reassuring: not only is my son insane, it’s totally normal AND it will “take years of guidance from you before he has enough self-control to behave appropriately.”
Oh joy. This is gonna be fun.
*Thanks to The Doors, and my filmmaker friend Jason Gilmore, for the title idea, even though as a new father himself, he probably disagrees with almost every single thing I’ve written on this blog and thought in my head.