Jacob, my 2-year-old, is a motormouth. Even in his crib, he prattles on, talking with his stuffed animals way past the time his older brother has conked out. During normal waking hours, he makes countless requests, such as “I want more paper, Daddy” (when he wants to draw something) and “Where Benji? I wan’ pway wi’ Benji” (Jacob’s the only one forgiven to use the nickname reminiscent of that movie-star mutt for his big brother).
Speaking of movies, a visit to a nice, quiet theater, to watch Brother Bear, now features Jacob’s running commentary. “Uh-oh! Beahr fell in da water,” he warns as if we can actually do something to help the poor furry creature. “Why liddle Bear ha’ no Mommy?” he continues, asking one of the umpteen “why” questions inherent to his age.
Being 2, he’s especially good at something beyond requests – orders. “Sit down, Daddy,” he says after grabbing a copy of Jamberry from the bookshelf. “Get … me … my … paci-fi-yer,” he croaks breathlessly when he’s tired. “I wan’ pivacy! I poop!” he exclaims as he slams the door shut to his room.
In general, we are relieved and amazed at Jacob’s vocabulary. It’s made him less cranky at dinner or in the car, where he’s no longer frustrated about expressing himself verbally. At the same time, he’s also learned to do something else with his mouth …
We’re in the checkout line at the 99˘ Only Store® when Jacob spots a package of mints he wants. While I thankfully have the job of paying for the items, my wife, Wendy, says, “No, we have enough treats.” Jacob, teetering toward his nap hour, throws a fit, “I want it! Mommy, give me my candy!” Wendy stays firm and squats down to talk to him. It is then that Jacob, having tantrumed a few yards back, takes a runner at her, opens his mouth, and plants his newly acquired teeth into her shoulder. It’s like watching a human dart hit its bull’s-eye. My wife shrieks more in surprise than pain and storms out of the store with the attacker. Benjamin looks up at me with a first-born giggle, “Jacob’s in trouble.”
Actually, we’re the ones in trouble as this begins an ongoing problem.
Before this whole chomping thing started, Jacob suffered a few bites at the hands of other child vampires. We took a couple of those incidents in stride as toddler eventualities and spoke to our daycare provider about one kid who bit Jacob more than once. “His parents must not be giving him enough attention,” we reasoned. “They must not be setting limits.”
Now that Jacob has started gnawing on humans, we must look at ourselves with the same critical eye. Is he doing it for attention? Are we failing to set limits for him?
Fortunately, Jacob has yet to bite his friends, mostly due to vigilance on our part and by our daycare provider. But he continues to bite us. Sometimes anger is the reason, especially when he doesn’t get his way. Other times he’s testing boundaries, plunging into my shoulder with his incisors while we wrestle. Each time he nips, we reprimand him, saying how much he hurt us, or cease giving him attention, hoping that the lack of response will make the payoff less desirable.
While Jacob has yet to bite anyone but his immediate family, he commits a different crime against his contemporaries. He steals. If he’s eating with other kids, he filches their cake, crackers, crayons, whatever he can get his hands on. He doesn’t exactly eat or play with the spoils; he just hoards them.
I’ve watched him in action, observing as he waits for his opening, snatches the item quickly, and looks around for someone else to plunder. Sometimes the other kids cry and sometimes they don’t care. I just want him to stop doing it!
With all the biting and stealing, we’ve become self-conscious about what other parents think of us. We find ourselves hovering over our child, waiting for his next transgression. What makes it doubly hard is that he commits all these infractions with a sparkling smile. It’s as if he’s saying, “Isn’t it funny that I can rob you blind and you still think I’m cute?”
Oh, he is cute. All of his negative behavior pales in comparison to the majority of his actions. As often as he steals from other children, he shares twice as much. He’s the first one to bring an extra toy to a friend. He’s a chronic hugger and can make anyone feel that they’re the most special person in the world with his attentive brown eyes and infectious laugh.
As we look at this much brighter side, we know we need to stop feeling that we’re failing our child or looking bad in front of others. Our focus should be on Jacob’s long-term development as we divert his attention-grabbing misdeeds to attention-worthy achievements. Perhaps our efforts will work quickly or perhaps they’ll take years. Either way, we’re certain he will be a positive member of society, probably something much more. As we struggle to fully see this truth, we know that while reality may bite, it doesn’t have to consume.
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Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of two boys. He can be reached at