Last Friday, in the midst of the heat wave, I schlepped all three kids to the mall. Teddy and Jo Jo needed new shoes, there was guaranteed air conditioning, and there was a play area to run around and burn off steam.
Geoffrey’s now all over the place, so I spent the better part of an hour chasing him around as he tried to scale up and down huge plastic butterflies and ladybugs. At one point, I turned my back for a moment and turned around to see him dangling from a large kiwi.
I swept him up and then realized I’d lost track of Teddy. I turned around in circles for a few seconds before I saw him under a large plastic watermelon, engaged in what seemed to be an intense conversation with another little boy who looked around Jo Jo’s age. The boy was talking earnestly to him, shaking his head and waving his hands.
I walked over just in time to hear him say to my son, “Don’t do that. That’s very, very rude.”
“What’s going on?” I asked in my best Mommy voice.
The little boy looked at me and scowled. “Are you his mother?” he demanded.
“Yes,” I said brightly. “Is everything okay?”
“Nooooo,” he said, drawing out the syllables. “He’s spitting!” And he pointed an accusing finger towards my son.
I glanced over at Teddy, who did indeed seem to have copious amounts of saliva coming out of his mouth. “Teddy, what are you doing?” I asked him.
He grinned as he shook his head and blew a huge wad of spit out of his mouth. “I’m spitting, Momma!” he said proudly.
“You are so rude!” the little boy exclaimed indignantly, staring at him in horror.
“Teddy, don’t do that.” Teddy laughed and shook his head and spit again. “Teddy, if you do that one more time we’re going home right now,” I told him.
“That’s very very rude,” the boy said again.
Teddy just looked at him, wondering, I guessed, whether this was game or for real. “How old are you?” I asked the boy.
“I’m four,” he said proudly.
“Well,” I said, “Teddy is a little younger than you.”
“I’m two and a half,” Teddy said happily. “But Jo Jo’s four.”
“Teddy’s a little younger than you,” I tried to explain to the boy, “so he doesn’t quite understand that what he did was wrong. But now that I’m here I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again. And you can also tell him that if he keeps spitting you won’t play with him anymore.”
The boy stared at me, unconvinced. “He’s very rude,” he said again, but there was less certainty in his voice.
“C’mon Teddy,” I said, and we moved to the other side of the play area, close to where Jo Jo was sauntering around doing some impromptu dance routine that involved waving her socks.
A few minutes later, I was distracted by Geoffrey trying to scale a huge plastic carrot when I heard the now familiar refrain “You are so rude!”
I turned around. There was Teddy, lounging by one of the benches with his hand down his pants. And there was the same four year old boy in front of him, wagging his finger and shaking his head. “That’s not nice to do. You stop that now.” And then, to the pregnant woman and her husband sitting next to her, “This boy is soo rude.”
The couple started to laugh. “He’s very little,” the woman started to say kindly before I interjected shrilly, “Teddy, we don’t touch ourselves there in public, okay? Please pull your hand out of his pants.”
Teddy studied me earnestly. “Teddy likes his penis,” he said.
All the other parents near us were listening while studiously pretending not to. “I like mine too, buddy” I heard a male voice say and then all the adults started snickering.
“I like my penis, Momma,” my son said again. Then, somberly “I just do. I just like it. I like my penis.” And then, with a big grin, I heard a sound like “t’fu!” emanate from my son’s mouth and watched in horror as a shower of spit poured out.
“Ewww!” the little boy flinched in disgust. “You are soooo rude! You are so so rude!”
“What’s going on?” I heard a voice say, and then a woman who was clearly the boy’s mother strode into the play area.
“He’s spitting on me!” the boy yelled, pointing at Teddy, who had stopped giggling and was now watching the scene carefully. “And he put his hands down his pants. In public!”
“I’m really sorry,” I said to the mother. “My son is just two, and he didn’t nap today, and he’s really overtired, and he seems to think running around spitting is a big joke. It’s not of course, and I’ve been trying to explain to him, but he doesn’t seem to really be getting it…” I stopped. The woman was glaring at me and shaking her head, her lips crinkled up in the exact same expression of horror and disgust as her son.
“Anyway,” I said quickly, “I’m terribly terribly sorry and we’re going home right now.” I grabbed Teddy by the arm and yanked him out of the play area. “You wait right here,” I said in a low voice as I ran back in to get Jo Jo and Geoffrey.
“Don’t worry about it,” the pregnant lady said cheerfully as I slithered onto my stomach to pull Geoffrey out of a tunnel. “I could tell he thought it was a game. My son used to do stuff like that all the time.”
The boy’s mother was still standing there, shaking her head, muttering. “Look,” I said to her, “I’m really sorry. I truly am.”
She ignored me.
Teddy was silent as we walked to the elevator. When we got in, he reached for my hand and said, “Momma, I’m sorry.”
“You are?” I asked, curious if he understood. “Are you sorry for spitting?”
“Yes,” he said earnestly.
“We don’t spit on people. Ever.” I said.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No spitting.” He was quiet for a minute then said, “I’m sorry.” Then, “I love you Momma.”
“I love you too, Teddy,” I said, melting.
He smiled at me, that devilish grin he has that lights up his eyes and makes me think he’s going to be a total lady killer when he grows up. Then he said, with his best baby charm, “Can I watch Yo Gabba Gabba?”
I thought about the spitting episode as I drove home. I wondered if he’d done it to get attention, and I wondered—like I do almost every day—if I spent enough one on one time with him, my middle child sandwiched between the needs of two other siblings. I wondered if he’d learn to act out as the way to make sure he got the spotlight he so desperately craved.
But then I wondered if I was over analyzing things and it wasn’t anything more than the behavior of an overtired, overly stimulated two year old.
Jamie and I try to do as much one on one time with Teddy as we can. Jamie took him to his last soccer class on Thursday, where Teddy was thrilled to earn a trophy and a medal and run around the basketball court kicking balls with Dada. He “graduated” from his twos program last Friday, and I made a big to do about it and made sure to take lots of pictures.
But still, it’s hard to know how much is enough, especially with an intellectually precocious kid like Teddy who always tries to push the envelope.
It’s ironic that in many ways parenting my typical kid is the most challenging, but I also guess that’s just life.