Let me preface everything by not claiming my son is the worst toddler to walk the earth since baby Nero burned his model of Rome. Ryan isn’t even close, and I’ve seen some real future Charlie Sheen-type toddler winners. I probably run into about the same amount of no’s or I-won’ts as any other father, but still enough to make me grind my teeth and dread his teenage years. I’ve also read just about every article about how he’s exploring the limits of what he can or can’t get away with. Still, that doesn’t mean that we either let him have carte blanche, which my wife and I won’t be doing any time soon, or become tiger parent who sacrifice their child’s individuality and emotional needs in the pursuit of brilliance and, of course, #winning.
Okay, rant part is over. Feel better now.
“No.” “No way.” “Aniya,” which is Korean for “no,” gets used more when he wants to add a verbal exclamation point. This is usually punctuated with a pointed finger in my face, narrowed angry eyes, and/or a low-pitch faux-menacing “don’t touch” in response to just about anything he doesn’t want to do. Sometimes it’s “I can’t” or “I don’t want.” Once I even got “Stop, Appa. I beat you up.” At least, that’s what it sounded like when I defied him by bathing him, and he seemed very intent on administering a beatdown on his old man. I didn’t even ask where he learned that; I was trying to use the Stern Father face to mask that I wanted to laugh hard enough to wet my pants
I’ve heard this called the golden hour, except that the only thing golden was our carpet where his last accident had left a stain. Bathing, followed by milk, brushing his teeth, and bed, has become our newest test of wills. The actual washing part of mogyok [Korean for bath], but not the water (he does love that part), seems to now be an allergen. My little ruler of the house has found ways to at least delay this precursor to night-night time, up to and including meltdown. The minute his clothes comes off, the chasing starts. Mind you, we have a two-bedroom condo, it isn’t like we’re running up and down stairs, or around our yard. During the chase, which usually leads in a short (and oft-repeated) oval from the kitchen to dining room and back, he’ll yell over his shoulder at me, “No mogyok, no binu [soap].” All of this is inevitably followed by his second-favorite saying: “Don’t touch.” How do you explain to a 30-month-old, “Hey, I’m bigger and faster than you. That won’t always be the case, but until that changes, you need to do as I say.”
Brushing his teeth, in the all-too-rare instances when we get him to brush his teeth willingly, is another part of our late night game. More often than not he winds up just sucking on the Elmo strawberry-flavor toothpaste – or brushing his lips – then asking for more toothpaste because he thinks it’s candy. He’ll give us a puzzled look, like he’s wondering why we don’t find this as fun as he does. In our desperation for Ryan to have pearly whites he can eventually trade the Tooth Fairy for money, my wife and I have been reduced to one of us (usually me) holding his head in place while the other forcibly brushes his teeth. We know we’re potentially ruining him for any/all future dentist visits, but the alternative is his baby teeth turning into caramel popcorn.
After he realizes (just for tonight, he’ll forget all about how much he enjoyed the bath by this point tomorrow) that mogyok can be quite fun – especially that bit where Appa gets more drenched than him – clothing can be optional. There’s something almost primeval about how dang much he loves padding around the apartment nekkid, and more chasing ensues as one of us tries to nab him long enough to wrestle a t-shirt, diaper, and shorts on him for the night (oh, how I miss onesies!).
We’ll allow him one last episode of whatever Nick Jr. is playing, then it’s story time and bed. He knows the three pigs bit by heart, and even has a great storybook app for that. He’ll even correct us if we get some part of the story wrong, or if we’re not telling that story with sufficient gusto. A thousand apologies, Master Ryan, but you only get one bedtime story, no restarts or repeats, no Goldilocks, no Thomas book, and of course you can lie in bed with us. “Lie down here, Appa,” he’ll say, and tap my side of the bed, which he prefers over my wife’s, as if the bed is actually his and he deigns to allow me to lie next to His Highness.
And, of course, the final reward for all of this. We’ll do it again tomorrow, but that’s okay. I’ll miss these days when he starts asking to borrow the car.