Elan and I took an excursion to IKEA yesterday. The last time we did this, we were still suffering move-in-shock, I had a long list of products to research, it was raining, dark at 4:30, we got stuck in traffic, and he cried the entire drive. And that was before we even made it into the store.
This time proved that I have learned something about negotiating Life With Toddler. I had one thing to buy, I knew exactly what it was, and it was located in the kid's section. Elan was SO EXCITED!!! to go to IKEA. He played with all the toys and sat in all the chairs, for about five seconds each. His favorite thing was the hopscotch numbers printed on the floor of the main walkway. He liked to lay on them and writhe around in ecstasy. He got very upset when someone dared stand on those numbers, or push a cart over them. Thankfully it wasn't very crowded.
We made it downstairs to the Marketplace. I was angling for a quick exit, bypassing the complete overwhelm of stacks and stacks of things you might suddenly decide you must have, when Elan started shouting about wanting to go in the alligator. My powers of translation failed for the moment, and by the time I realized he was talking about the elevator, it was too late. Full-down toddler meltdown ensued. He thrashed around in my arms, kicking his long legs, threatening towers of glass bowls and Euro-style vases.
I took a deep breath and decided to try something different, a strategy I had read about before bubs hit the terrible 2s and had recently been reminded of. I set him down on the floor, got down beside him, and said, "It is so frustrating when Mama doesn't understand what you want. I know you are so frustrated. Go ahead and roll around and shout. I am frustrated for you." I said this in a kind of frustration-empathy tone of voice, a little low in the throat and growly, like I really got the full force of his bubsy rage.
He looked at me, his eyes widened in surprise, not sure if this was a trick.
"Try kicking your feet," I suggested. "That's good when you're mad and frustrated and Mama doesn't give you what you want."
He kicked his feet. His frog rainboots squeaked on the linoleum. He let out a few more shouts, a bit half-hearted.
Then he lay there, looking up at the exposed duct work on the ceiling. I did not look around at the people passing us. I didn't want to read their thoughts on their faces. I just looked at him. He was peaceful, and I thought about how my mother-in-law says that children find it literally grounding to lay on the floor. Such direct experience of the law of gravity seemed to have a calming effect.
I thought about telling him we could go on the elevator, but decided it was best not to bring it up again. After a minute, I suggested that we go on home to see Dada. I picked him up and jogged him out of the store, which he found quite amusing.
On our way out, I did slow long enough to notice two IKEA products that I had never seen before: high chairs and changing tables that fold flat when you're not using them, a la luggage racks in hotels. They're not the most beautiful pieces of furniture, but living in a small house, I appreciate this kind of clever.