the red and the green pants

It’s been a running meme for me that K is gaining independence, and this week has given me a lot of new ammunition.

On the positive side, I took her to a puppet show story time Wednesday morning that we have been going to periodically. It is in a hip coffee shop near our apartment and is typically jammed by the time K and I arrive–which has never been less than a minute late. As a result we’ve never gotten a seat.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but with the crowd of kids has always seemed to intimidate her, and so most of these events she’s spent clinging to me or, at best, sitting on my lap as I sit cross-legged on the floor.

This time she got up so early that I thought we could get a seat, but even though we were 15 minutes early, we ended up standing again and doing the same routine. Until about ten minutes in. All of a sudden, K started twisting around and insisted on being put on the floor. I put her down and she very hesitantly made her way to the inner ring of kids jumping up and down.

And that is largely the way the rest of the story time went. She would come back once and a while and try to pull me into the ring, but I explained to her that there was no room for me, and gave her as much encouragement as possible, and off she went. I tried to be as unobtrusively supportive as possible, which I decided meant that I should act as if I was having a super fun time, so that when she glanced back for me she would feel like it was okay doing what she was doing.

I suppose I overdid my part a bit–after the show the guitarist thanked me for my enthusiasm–but it seemed to work wonders. K would stand around for a little bit, and then do a little dance, and then stand around again. It was impossibly cute.

The thing is, after the show, she didn’t put the independent streak away. Instead, for the rest of the day, she just wouldn’t take anything I said at face value. She refused to let me put on her coat or sit her on my lap so I could put on her mittens. She grabbed her cup of water with one hand and wouldn’t hear at all me telling her to use two. And she refused to let me settle her down with a book or colored pencils.

Of course, this wasn’t much fun. The water ended on the floor, and the pencils were scattered before long. But I was also very clear to myself that this was the downside of the extraordinary upside I had just seen, and so I tried hard to keep my patience. On the way home I decided that what I needed to do was give her more constructive avenues for asserting her independence, and so I settled on giving her as many choices as possible. I asked her which cup she wanted to use, if she wanted milk or water. Should I warm the milk up in the microwave or give it to her cold.

After a bit she seemed to get the hang of it, and started responding to the choices well. At one point, she squirmed up from a diaper change and made very clear she didn’t want the same pants to be put on her. Instead, she went to the dresser drawer and pulled out a pair of pretty red pants that I like very much.

That was all fine, but a little later, after I had managed to get those red pants on her, she came back with a pair of green pants that she clearly wanted to wear. Of course, I’m doing my best to avoid frustration, so I cheerfully started to get her undressed.

Here’s the punch line–she wouldn’t let me. It turned out that she didn’t want to change pants. She wanted to wear both. It’s one of those moments that could have gone very badly. I couldn’t help but laugh, and in a sense I’m surprised that my laughter wasn’t taken as insensitive, but it wasn’t. Instead, after a pause she broke out into smiles and laughed too.

But she was still a pain in the ass for the rest of the day.

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