They were the last three pieces of breakfast links in the pan. Sam, who will be 3 years old tomorrow, wanted all of them on his plate. I told him “I need to cut them” as I placed them on his plate and turned into the kitchen to get a knife and fork. He slid off his chair to “run and get” his YMCA bus that he suddenly had the urge to bring to the table while I had informed him I would be cutting the sausage. In the time it took him to go down the stairs to the rec room to get his bus and return to his seat, the fate of the sausage was sealed.
To say he was upset would be an understatement. He ranted over and over “I didn’t want my sausage cut!” I tried to explain that I told him I was going to cut it, but he wasn’t hearing me, just as he hadn’t heard me say I was going to cut it before he was en route to get his bus. The speech therapist in me knew that since he had been in the act of moving to get his bus, he hadn’t really processed what I said (not uncommon with certain children, especially boys), but explaining his limited sensory processing to him would not have helped one iota. The mom in me wished I had more sausages in the pan to place carefully on his plate in link form. The comedian in me tried to convince him we could glue his links back together or get some Scotch tape, but deep down to my core I knew no solution and no amount of words would ease his palpable anger.
He used no words other than “I didn’t want my sausage cut” (I lost count after he said it 13 times!), but his actions spoke volumes. He scraped the cut sausage onto the tablecloth. He swiped at a box of tissues as he passed the coffee table traveling to the stairs to the rec room. He stomped his feet as he descended. Once in the rec room, I heard some items being poured from a container. I didn’t say a word as I continued trying to respond to my editor’s changes in my curriculum for 0-36 month old children, quietly wondering why this age group was so fascinating and inspiring to me. As the dumping sound increased, I called down to him and told him he would have to go in time out if he couldn’t pull himself together and stop dumping toys. The dumping ceased immediately, and, within seconds, I began to hear footsteps coming towards me.
“I didn’t want my sausage cut,” he told me (again!) with no anger behind his words. These words were spoken with sadness and disappointment.
“I know. You didn’t want it cut.” I stopped and waited.
He climbed up in my lap and lay his head on my chest, snuggling in despite being almost 3. I rocked him a bit, telling him how much I loved him and how I was glad he was feeling better. I think he may have whispered his mantra about the sausage a few more times, but I was intentionally tuning out his words, knowing full well that no mantra of his could transform the cut pieces back into their original shape. There was nothing I could say in response to his words or to change his mind that he hadn’t wanted the sausage cut.
In his world, he has little power. The grown-ups in his life (mom, dad, babysitters, pre-school teachers), and his four older siblings, mostly dictate what, where, when, why and how at any given moment. He wanted some power over the shape of his sausage and, in his mind, the woman who loves him most in the world should have had the power to know, especially since I am able to anticipate most of his other needs, such as what clothing to wear for the weather and when it’s time to pee in the potty when he hasn’t peed in a while. From his perspective, I am the one who knows all. More importantly, I am one of the people who most frequently gives him power when I can, letting him decide about which shoes to wear or whether to put his coat on the right way or “frontwards” as we ride to school (It’s actually a pretty smart solution when you’re forced to sit in a carseat. The coat doesn’t bumble up behind you!).
No amount of words, logic or Scotch tape would have solved his problem. It was too complex. I had the opportunities to teach him though throughout the experience and, I believe, lessons were learned. He learned that it’s OK to want what you want, but that sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you envision. He learned that it’s OK to get angry, but it’s not OK to knock or throw things around in your fit of anger. He learned that he needed to get his feelings under control before he could engage me again. And, most importantly, he learned that I still love him, despite his behavior and words, and that I am here for him even in troubling times, even if he’s just having trouble with the shape of his sausage on his plate.