Folks, my kid has discovered sharing. Elliot always been an incredibly sweet, loving boy–he has been requesting “group hug” since he was about 18 months old, constantly asks Marc and I to kiss, wants everyone to hold hands (even random people who don’t know each other, he will matchmake at the local Walgreens). But like a lot of 2 year-olds, this loving kindness does NOT extend to sharing. Hell no. It’s MY puzzle, MY blanket, MY CHEERIOS. Heaven forbid we share our food.
As kids get closer to 3, though, it’s developmentally typical for them to want to reach out– to give, receive, take turns with a toy, a doll, a favorite snack. Typical kiddos think, “hey, I like this thing, and I like you. So let’s see if YOU like this thing.” They enjoy watching other people enjoy. It’s a gorgeous thing.
That switch doesn’t always flip in children with developmental delays or other issues. I am no expert, but one thing I’ve seen with my friends’ kids is that pretend play is a huge part of early sharing. First we share with our doll. The doll gets a sip of milk, a bite of waffle, gets tucked in for a nap with a favorite blanket. Gradually, that extends to parents, then peers, then 30 years later you’re so brilliant at sharing that you’re a gallon blood donor and you regularly allow people to turn in front of you in traffic.
Allow me to say that I would have been satisfied with Elliot giving his Grover doll a sip of water (which he has done, but rarely). Gracious driving and community service are the last thing on the mind of this mom for now. Pretend play…let’s just say that it’s been conspicuously absent from our lives. That, among other things, is one of those “red flag” behaviors that automatically buys you a zillion concerned developmental evaluations. Admittedly, I was never much of a pretend player myself–does dressing a cat up in a nightgown and putting her in a baby stroller count?– but I understand it’s a huge deal. Dressing up the cat may have also been a huge deal of a different ilk, but I have photographic evidence to prove that she didn’t care. Also, that cat lived to be 20.
But ok. We’ve always been grateful that Elliot has what the therapy types called “relatedness.” It means he gets people– he looks at you, he connects, bonds, watches your reactions, responds. We do not take this lightly, for we know that this incredibly special human quality is one that every parent in our shoes does not see in their child. But he’s also what the same types call “self-directed”– whatever Elliot does is about Elliot’s interests/wants/needs first. It’s one thing to march to your own drum, but this self-direction is isolating and a no-good thing if you plan to live in a world with rules, boundaries, and other humans. It is a major buzzkill, this self-direction. It is not a path toward sharing.
Much of Elliot’s therapy has been about attempting to engage him in reciprocal play, back and forth, my turn your turn. It’s about helping him to discover that it is fun and rewarding to be a part of something bigger, to give and take. It’s been the hardest thing for him, and the hardest for us to watch.
Maybe it happened the night we turned the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time. Poof! There goes an hour, and while we’re at it, the sharing switch in your child shall be turned ON. These past two weeks we are seeing our little sharer emerge, timidly, like one of those tiny turtles you’re allowed to pet at the aquarium. He’s a long way from the Nobel Peace Prize, but he’s starting to really give, and it’s awesome.
A few weeks ago he decided that it was time to use a spoon and fork most of the time (finally). Seeing our joy made the utensils even more fun. This week, he decided that if it’s this much fun for HIM to eat from a spoon, perhaps Marc and I should try? Well, mealtime now takes twice as long because for every bite he takes, he PRETENDS to give us a bite too. “YUMMY, MOMMY!” he says as he thrusts a totally empty yogurt spoon toward my mouth. Last night, Cookie Monster was given Elliot’s last graham cracker bunny. “A CRACKER, COOKIE MONSTER.” This is major. He is so thrilled with himself.
Today, one of his therapists claimed she was hungry, hoping Elliot would engage with the pretend food she had brought for them to play with. He did, and after feeding her plastic bananas and a wooden apple, he scrounged up 3 Cheerios– his favorite thing ON EARTH– from the floor and fed them to her. Bless her soul, she ate them. She doesn’t get paid enough for this.
Tonight I was changing Elliot’s diaper before bed, and when I was finished, I said, “all done” like I usually do. Elliot reached for a wipe, pulled it from the container, and said “diaper, mommy?” reaching for my pants.
I have eaten far worse things than linty Cheerios at my kid’s request. I have handled every bodily fluid, borne the brunt of every tantrum, swept schools of crushed goldfish crackers off the floor and scrubbed spit-up out of every clothing item I wore for most of 2011. Motherhood is full of indignities, and a gal’s gotta draw the line somewhere. Letting my kid pretend to wipe my behind? Forget it.
But you all know I was beaming inside as I let him know that there is such a thing as too much sharing.