Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feeding Mr. Ducky (And My Toddler's Self-Worth)

For the past few weeks, for nearly every mealtime, our evening walks, and on a handful of other important occasions (as determined my my almost two year old), we've had a visitor in our house. Affectionately nicknamed "Mr. Ducky," he has become my son's favorite day time friend. I wouldn't go so far as to claim that Mr. Ducky is a "lovey." Although he sometimes sleeps with us, he is not necessary for naptime or bedtime and when it comes to comfort, my toddler still prefers mama or daddy, but Mr. Ducky is still a very important companion.

It all began one Saturday morning two weeks ago when I was making breakfast and my son was playing with his new stuffed duck (a belated Easter gift from his grandma). When it came time to scoop him up to sit in his chair, he started saying "Ducky! Ducky!" and pointing to the empty booster seat we had sitting on the floor. (At the time, we were in transition between using the high chair and using the booster seat at the table. Since then, he has made the transition to sitting in the big boy booster seat at the table all the time and Mr. Ducky now sits at the high chair.) It took me awhile to figure out what he wanted, but eventually I understood that he wanted his pet duck to eat with us. So, I shrugged and figured it was harmless enough to have a stuffed duck at the table, so I placed the booster seat on the chair and sat him in it. Tenderly, my son found Ducky a bib and before he would eat a morsel of breakfast, insisted that I give some to Mr. Ducky. When my husband came in, he was amused and played along, although later he teased me that now our son would end up taking his stuffed duck to college with him and would not be able to eat in the cafeteria without him. I rolled my eyes. "Ducky" is our opportunity to see how we're doing. If he's gentle, kind, and sharing with Ducky, it means that he feels like that's how we treat him."

And so, life with Ducky had begun. I must admit, Ducky is a character and a welcome addition to our day. Ducky is also pretty handy. When my toddler doesn't want a diaper change or to lay down for nap, Ducky is almost always game (and my son always follows suit). (By the way, while my son prefers yellow or purple diapers, Ducky only wants to wear green at least according to my toddler.)

Ducky also acts as an assessment of my parenting, not just by the way my toddler treats him (which is almost always gentle and loving, I'm proud to say), but also in the way my toddler has him interact with me. He lets me have a glimpse into what my toddler is thinking and feeling about his interactions with me. A few days after Ducky came to join us, I began to notice a pattern. While, my son always asked for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, Ducky asked for dinner. Why was that?

Well, dinner time is not my best "mothering" time of the day. At times, I can be a bit short tempered as I attempt to do the afternoon pick up and cook both my husband and my dinner and our son's dietary safe dinner (although he's been making great strides, he still has quite a few restrictions that mean I essentially cook two dinners every night). Besides, I'm a morning person, being fun after 3:00 pm is rather difficult for me. It turns out, my son had figured that out and rather than risk being brushed off rather haphazardly, he started sending in Ducky to ask instead. (A very adorable action that involved holding Ducky up and saying Ducky and then using the sign for "eat.") It broke my heart that I had made my own baby uncomfortable about asking me to eat when dinner was almost ready. I resolved to be extra sweet to Ducky AND my toddler anytime they asked for dinner a bit early and would always give them a little rice cake or something else to tide them over, even if their last snack was only an hour or so before. (I figure even if that means he doesn't eat much of the dinner I cooked for him . . .at least it means he's not afraid to tell me when he's extra hungry!) The result, after two days, my toddler started asking me to eat during dinner time and I'm happy to say, Ducky hasn't asked for a meal in over a week!

I'm grateful for Ducky in other ways. Ducky gives my son a chance to use his imagination and also to act out his fantasies in a safe way. Ducky is now the one who sneaks past the safety gate in the basement while my son stays safely on the right side. Ducky is the one who keeps jumping on the bed when it's bed time, while my dear, sweet toddler tells him "no, no Ducky! Bed-Mama!" (Meaning, no jumping on the bed, Ducky, no matter how awake you are! It's time to lay in bed with Mama and go to sleep.) When we go for our nightly walk during which my son and Ducky ride in my son's red wagon, Ducky is the one who tries to climb out of his safety belt and climb into the road. My son is the one saying "Oh, no!" and asks me to put him back in his seat. I always try to remember to lovingly reprimand Ducky no matter how ill behaved he is and to show him (and consequently my son) that although I must keep him safe and teach him limits, I do all of it from love. I know that it is how I treat "Ducky" during his most naughty times that will tell my son exactly how deep my love runs. If I manage to treat Ducky with love and respect at those times, my son will know exactly where he stands with me and he will know that even when mama sees him at his worst, he is still worthy of love and respect, after all even a stuffed duck gets that in our home!

I know that, one day, Ducky will not always seem to be my ally. (My mom often tells me of when I was three years old and my own "Ducky," my plastic Inspector Gadget, managed to color with crayons all over my closet and bedroom.) In other words, one day, my son and "Ducky" (whatever his presentation) will probably get into actual trouble. When that day comes, I know it is just as important to welcome that behavior as opportunity as it was to welcome Ducky to our breakfast table. It is an opportunity for both of us to learn and grow and to enrich and further develop our relationship. By feeding Mr. Ducky, I pray I've opened the door to feeding my son's soul, through good and bad times.

Thanks for reading,


Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

I love this post so much! We had the same thing with Glade. She had a baby doll she carried everywhere that ate with us, slept with us, and it was a great tool to use for me to see how she would be with her doll. I did it the same way as you. Figured out what I needed to work on based on how she treated the doll and what the doll asked for. My favorite part was nursing the doll though haha ;)

Seriously, great post!

Meegs said... [Reply to comment]

This is wonderful. Now I'm hoping that my daughter picks her own Duckie! I'd love to have that gauge to see where I could work on my interactions with her.

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Ladies! Who knows what are children will come up with next?

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