The mastery of the overreaction – this is a skill that toddlers seem to spend countless hours honing. Their repetitive exercise seems to be designed for one purpose alone: to make grown ups miserable. What is this obsessive need to control the tiniest details? Anyone who has ever had to deal with a screaming, ranting, crying, inconsolable, unreasonable toddler understands my pain.
If you have ever secretly opened and then carefully resealed a bag of M&Ms to make sure that the number of green M&Ms does not outnumber the yellow M&Ms, you understand my pain. If you have ever found yourself “pasting” an Oreo back together to avoid the inevitable temper tantrum, you understand my pain. Have you ever tried to reason with a little one who will not accept the fact that sometimes the raisins that pour forth from the tiny red box are not all uniform in size? If so, you understand my pain.
I think I noticed James’ preference for yellow when he was a toddler and he sought out the yellow hula hoop at tumbling class or insisted that he receive the yellow smiley sticker at the pediatrician’s office. I am not quite sure when his attachment to all things yellow became an obsession. I tend to think that I helped feed into his enthusiasm by indulging him whenever possible. At the toy store, if he wanted the yellow kickball, I would fish through that giant basket of balls relentlessly until I got the yellow one and proudly handed it to James.
I now wonder if feeding him his meals on the yellow Snoopy plate had something to do with his obsessive need to have everything yellow. I allowed a 2-year-old James to pick the paint color for his play room. He chose a bright yellow Disney color called “Get Goofy.” Was James predisposed to like yellow, or did he learn to like it because I unwittingly encouraged him?
When James was a toddler I tended to dress him in bright colors intentionally, especially if we were going to a crowded public place. James’ closet was full of orange and day-glo yellow and lime green shirts and jackets. I fretted over the idea that if we were to get separated I could see him from a distance, even in a large crowd. Did this have any bearing on the obsession?
Yellow became a problem for us as a still non-verbal James started attending classes, participating in sports and getting invited to birthday parties. At soccer tots, if James was not given a yellow jersey, he refused to play. He would sit in the middle of the field, arms crossed and pouting. He would not move, even as the other children were tripping over him and kicking him and aiming the ball at him. At gymnastics class if he was not instructed to stand on the yellow dot, he would attempt to obtain a yellow dot by pushing another child off it. When the dental hygienist would apologize for not having a yellow toothbrush, James would throw the green one back in the drawer and shake his head, opting for no toothbrush at all if yellow was not an option. If birthday party goodie bags came in rainbow colors, he needed to have the yellow one. If I total up the amount of time I spent bartering with other children and parents to ensure that James would have the yellow (insert literally any object here) at the camp, party, class, etc. I have probably lost 6 months of my life.
The yellow obsession became a major problem one winter when James refused to put on his lime-green ski jacket. Every morning I would struggle to get him into the jacket as he ran away. James would show me the sign for yellow and shake his head, saying “no, no no.” He would wait until I strapped him into the car seat to try to wriggle out of the jacket. At preschool on afternoon, he hid the jacket beneath the teacher’s coat on the rack. When we finally discovered the jacket, James realized he would need to take drastic measures. He threw the coat in the garbage later that week. Once he took it off on the playground and attempted to bury it beneath the wood chips.
After weeks of wrestling every time we prepared to leave the house, James came up with his own solution. He would anticipate our departure time and go into his room, take the yellow rain slicker off the hook on the wall and slip into it before I could attack him with the lime green jacket.
I took to haggling with him and bartering with him to get the yellow rain slicker off and the lime green jacket on and zipped.
“James, if you put this jacket on now, after work tonight we can go to the mall and look for a yellow jacket in your size.” He looked at me with utter confusion then shook his head “no.”
“James, if you put this jacket on now, you can have an all-yellow dinner this evening. Wax beans, yellow rice and lemon chicken.” He looked at me with disdain and shook his head “no.”
“James, if you put this jacket on now, Saturday we can take a trip to the toy store for a Thomas the Tank engine car.” This momentarily got his attention, then he came to his senses and shook his head “no.”
After begging and pleading and giving him a few minutes to calm down eventually, although reluctantly and tearfully, James would allow me to remove the rain slicker and slip him into the lime green jacket. Some days were easier than others. Some days he just flat out refused to put it on, signing “yellow” and running away. These mornings I would warp him as best as I could in a yellow fleece blanket and strap him into the car seat.
I exhausted every possible avenue to locate a yellow jacket. Try as I might, I could not find a yellow winter jacket in his size or even a size or two larger anywhere. I checked ebay, amazon, and every possible search engine imaginable to track down a yellow winter coat. I was getting desperate. I considered having a seamstress make a yellow ski jacket for us. I started a new search for the water-repellant fabric I would need in a bright, cheerful shade of yellow. No one had this fabric either. In desperation, I combed through the girls department of every store, hoping I could find yellow and somehow remove the feminine characteristics of the coat should I actually find one. I had no luck.
During my travels, if I drove by a discount department store I felt the need to stop in and browse through the racks in search of this elusive yellow winter coat. I found myself browsing at high-end boutiques. These shops certainly would not have an item I could afford, but if it meant finding a coat, I was willing to sell some blood or skip some meals to pay for it. I combed through local thrift stores, though I bristled at the idea of giving my son a stranger’s worn jacket. I had my own obsessive problems – I worried about bed bugs and countless other “cooties” that may be lurking in cast-off clothing and fabric items.
One particularly harried morning, James and I managed to come up with a compromise. I promised James that he could wear the yellow rain slicker if he agreed to wear a fleece-lined hoodie beneath it. It did not matter that the fleece-lined hoodie was orange. James did not fight me at all, just as long as the yellow slicker covered it up. He did not even complain when the sleeves got caught up in the lining and bunched up inside the sleeves of the slicker. He was okay as long as the yellow slicker was on and snapped. It was a bit snug and looked uncomfortable, but he seemed content.
Then by chance one very brisk December day, I crammed James into the slicker/hoodie combo and trekked over to my friend Dee’s house for lunch. Dee had been holding onto a large bag of hand-me-down clothing that she had earmarked for James. Dee’s son is 2 years older than James and they are often the recipients of extravagant gifts as Dee’s employer also employs some very affluent physicians. Frequently she has bags of unworn high-end clothing as a result of the generous nature of her work associates. After lunch, I rummaged through the bag excitedly discovering brand new clothing with the tags still attached while Dee and I chatted and the boys happily played with cars and blocks.
As I reached into the bottom of the bag to pull out what I thought may be a small blue sleeping bag, I squealed with delight! Could it be true? Could it be so? I had in my hot little hands one blue and yellow Nike winter jacket! No, not just any jacket, a reversible blue and yellow winter jacket with the tags still attached – size 3T! One side was navy blue with a bright yellow stripe. The reverse was yellow with a blue stripe. Jackpot!
James looked over at us to see what all the commotion was about. His face lit up when he saw the jacket. He dropped the blocks he had been playing with and made a beeline for the jacket. James placed his hand on his chest and then on the jacket. He was signing “mine.”
Excitedly he grabbed the jacket from my hands and hugged it to his chest. He bounced up and down and hugged the jacket.
“James, would you like to try it on?” I asked.
I gently took the coat from him and helped him pull his arms into the sleeves then zipped it up. His face was priceless. He kept looking at the jacket then hugging himself. At long last, we had found the elusive yellow jacket. Thank you, Nike! Thank you, Dee!
James refused to take that jacket off the rest of the day. I managed to get him out of it long enough for dinner and then again for bath time. I had to agree to let him take it to bed with him that night. I managed to slip it out of the crib while he slept, afraid he’d get too hot or scratch his face on the zipper or Velcro closure.
I worried that the new obsession would be wearing this jacket 24 hours a day, but thankfully, that concern did not come to fruition. Better still, no more arguments about the jacket. Each morning he put it on before we headed out the door. Occasionally I caught him looking at himself in the bathroom mirror wearing his beloved yellow jacket. He would smile and hug himself, then trot out to the foyer and wait for me to take him to the car happily wearing his yellow jacket.
When James finally began to speak, he once asked me my favorite color which I happily shared with him. As most toddlers are inclined to do, “why?” James asked. I gave him my answer and he seemed satisfied, so I asked his favorite color, though I already knew the answer.
“Yellow, Silly.” He smiled.
“Why?” I asked and I was genuinely curious.
“Because it is so happy. So very, very happy. The happy bees are yellow. The happy face is yellow. Everything happy is yellow.”
Journal entry: So glad to know my boy chooses to be happy. Happy yellow. Smiley face yellow. Happy bees yellow. Happy James. Happy Mom.