Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Truly Terrible Twos

I am convinced that the reason the phenomenon commonly known as the “terrible twos” doesn’t happen until that particular age is simply to allow for the survival of the human species. It takes parents two full years of bonding to become hopelessly attached to a child enough that we don’t simply wrench their precious little heads off after the twentieth spontaneous unreasonable tantrum within a 30-minute span of time.

My son’s “terrible twos” weren’t too bad. By the time he turned two, he was speaking quite clearly and in complete sentences (more often, in complete paragraphs), so he didn’t have a lot of frustration from not being able to make himself understood. He was also unusually physically coordinated so he didn’t have a particular issue with frustration from not being able to do things he wanted to do. His main source of frustration was really from me telling him he wasn’t allowed to do something, rather than from not being physically able to do it. And being an older child, his only competition for my attention was a 3-month-old lump of a baby sister who didn’t do much but occasionally cry and occupy my lap or my arms when he wanted to be there. His behavior at age two was somewhat annoying at times, but it was NOTHING compared to my daughter’s since she’s turned two.

If I ever wondered what my daughter’s puberty will be like, the last month since her second birthday has given me plenty of hints. Much like an adolescent girl, she has developed her pouting and flouncing skills to the utmost. Like a sullen teenager, her response to any activity I suggest she do is a monosyllabic “no” or a barely verbal “uh-uh.” And like every moody teenage girl that ever lived, her emotions are on a hair trigger. If her father or I so much as look at her funny, she dissolves into tears. She doesn’t like what’s for dinner? Tears. She wants to play with a toy her brother is using? Tears. I turn off the television? Tears. Someone sneezes in the next room? Tears. A dog barks on TV? Tears.

And naturally, the tears are rarely, if ever, a case of simple crying. Oh, no. The tears are invariably accompanied by scream-sobbing, hurling herself to the ground, rolling around, and kicking and flailing. If I try to pick her up during one of these episodes, I can count on her attempting to push away from me any way she can, including punching, kicking, and – luckily, only on very rare occasions – biting. Since she weighs roughly 26 pounds, it is difficult but not impossible for me to restrain her. (When my son turned two he was 3’3” tall and nearly 40 pounds of pure muscle, so it’s very fortunate for me that he rarely pulled that particular stunt.)

So how is it that parents get through those difficult months that comprise the “terrible twos”? For me, it’s the moments between the tantrums that are so delightful and endearing that get me through the rough patches. My daughter’s language development is exploding – nearly every day I hear her use a new word or a new combination of words. One day she doesn’t know red from blue and the next she is correctly identifying the color of half the things in the room. She’s gone from getting most of the letters in the alphabet right to spelling out the words on every sign she sees and singing the alphabet song with next to no help. Her play is getting more creative and elaborate. She is imbuing her dolls and stuffed animals with distinct personalities. The other day, she made two of her stuffed bears have the following conversation:

“Bye, Dad. Car. Dada gone. Sad. Crying. Where go?” (I assume this was Daddy leaving for work, as this is generally our personal family scenario in the morning.)
(Deeper, “daddy” voice) “Bye. Soon!” (“Soon” is her abbreviation for “See you soon” and often follows “Bye.”)
“Dada gone. Swing? Slide?” (Apparently the baby bear wanted to go to the playground.)
“Mmm-hmm. Swing. Slide. Bye!” (Daddy approved of the playground idea, I guess.)
“Mama, phone? ‘Hi Dad’?” (I’m guessing this was a request to call Dad at work.)
(Higher, “mama” voice) “Yeah, phone.” (I’m not sure, but I think Dad left the stage and re-entered as Mama Bear.)

How can you listen to a conversation like that and not forgive a few kicking, screaming temper tantrums? As long as my kids keep me laughing now and then, their lives are safe. And considering how funny my kids are, I think they’ll both stay safe for a very, very long time. 

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