Limits and Boundaries

When Grandma Nancy came to take care of Elena, she brought up two books that Elena received as Christmas presents; they had inadvertently been left at her house. The books were left too close to the play table where we often leave crayons out, and Elena managed to color in them during a few spare minutes when nobody was watching. I don’t think she understood that this was not good–in fact, it appeared that she was trying to color inside the lines, as if they were coloring books. After that, we’ve tried to explain to her that she shouldn’t color in story books, but I think the real key has been not leaving books near her coloring area.

Last weekend Elena and I took stale hamburger buns to feed the ducks. The duck pond is close to the doctor’s office that Jenny and Elena visited the previous day–Elena had wanted to look at the ducks afterwards, but Jenny knew it was time to get her home for lunch and nap, and had to overrule Elena. When I went with her, we took her bike to ride on the pond-circling trail, to make it extra fun. She only rode the bike for the first segment, after which she wanted to walk the rest of the way. It was interesting to watch the competition between geese, ducks, and seagulls for the bread; they each have different capabilities, hence different strategies.

By the time we had gone all the way around the pond at a leisurely pace with plenty of stops, it was time to go home for lunch. I told Elena that we should head back to the car, but she wanted to stay. Eventually I told her that I was going to the car, expecting her to want to follow me. She called my bluff, saying “Bye Dad!” in her most assertive voice and starting down the path again. Did she really think that she would be okay on her own?

I called Jenny for help and she reminded me that we had snacks in the car. When I passed that information along to Elena, the news enticed her to come with me so we could go home. The whole event was an interesting coda to a conversation we had the previous night, after Jenny came home from a Relief Society activity where the invited speaker was a school counselor who talked about communication. Inspired by the discussion there, Jenny and I talked about how we communicate with Elena, and in particular how important it is to be firm and definitive when she tests our limits through negotiation. She will build up a profile of what we are willing to give in to, and use that in the future.

We’ve reached a point in time where Elena’s imagination sometimes exceeds her capabilities. We spent some time working on somersaults, with me showing her examples, then helping her to do them. After that, she tried one on her own: hands on the ground, head down, chin down; all she had to do was push, but she’s not quite ready for that and boom, she was just rolling over sideways on the floor. Despite how it appeared to me, she was pleased with herself–in her mind, she did a real somersault.

On the other hand, sometimes she succeeds in some task that began as a flight of fancy. She can usually screw open and closed the lid of her toothpaste. One day when I took my shoes off after work and left them near the couch, she decided to put them on and walk around. In the past she hasn’t been able to make something like that work, but this time Jenny called me in to take a look. Elena, shuffling around in my shoes, had a huge grin on her face. On a final, practical note, she quickly learned to climb into her car seat without assistance. This development is welcome for Jenny, as the pregnancy makes it hard for her to lift Elena. I hope that we continue to see examples where Elena’s increasing capabilities make life easier for all of us.


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