About a year and a half ago, I wrote about my crazy-naughty three-year-old son. I pissed and moaned about the terrible threes and complained that the terrible twos were nothing.
Well. About that.
It turns out, you can have four kids and know nothing about anything. Because I’m here to tell you that the terrible twos are not only real, they are no joke.
I’m navigating this two-year-old like I would a grenade, something that could go off any second and obliterate everything in a two-mile radius.
Does that sound a little melodramatic? A little over the top?
I’d agree, except I was there when she warned her daddy, “Doh make me mad!” And this pint-sized ball of attitude wasn’t joking.
E turned two in July, and she’s really blossomed into this adorable and capable little figure. She loves to sing, and to tell long, nonsensical stories, and she reminds us often that she’ll love us “even when you’re older,” which is odd but still sweet, you know?
She’s also figured out the most effective form of screaming to express indignation, anger, frustration and exasperation – and they all sound different.
Out of nowhere, she kicked the fourth-kid thing about being “easy” and happy to “go with the flow” straight to the curb. She has opinions now. Lots of them. And when you pair those opinions with this newfound obstinance of a freaking ox, well, you get fun times like our recent visit to Squaw Valley.
We were riding into the village on our bikes, and E, in her trailer, decided mid-ride that she did not want her seat belt on. Never mind that she had reminded me no fewer than forty-three times to buckle the damn thing when we were loading up – her mind was made up about this offensive, totally unwelcome seat belt and she meant business.
“Want! My! See-bell! OFF!” She started howling this at our first water stop, and my explanations about why we wear seat belts in the trailer were completely useless. She was pissed and intensely focused and getting angrier by the second, but we all rolled our eyes at each other and started riding again.
She screamed the same four words at the back of my head for the entire ride into the village, ramping it up so that every “OFF” was shrieked in an eardrum piercing scream. There was a real rhythm and pace to the whole thing – I mean, I can almost admire her dedication and persistence – and my attempt to just pedal faster didn’t help.
When we finally (blessedly) reached the village parking lot and I leaned in to comfort her, she not only took a swipe at me, she tried following it up with a kick and a bloodcurdling scream.
My husband, reading my harassed look, switched bikes with me and zoomed ahead of us all for the loop back. I pedaled in with the other three, and when we got back to the truck, E was standing stiff-legged in the bed alternating between tears and unintelligible screaming while her daddy unhooked the trailer in a long-suffering kind of way.
I’ve read up – again – on how to defuse toddler tantrums, and boo for us, but none of it works. Really, we’ve found that it’s a matter of just riding things out. Negotiations, rationalizations, discussions of any sort, even words of comfort or validation for how she’s feeling – none of it does a thing in the moment.
The best thing we can do is let her get on with it, stick to our guns when it matters (meaning we have to stand our ground on deal breakers like seat belts and no chocolate for breakfast, but fine, if you want to leave the house in snow boots and a bathing suit, have at it), and be there when the tantrum part is over and she’s ready for us to step in and comfort her.
That’s what happened when she saw me riding in from Squaw. She raised her little arms in this stiffened, zombie-esque manner, rigid with indignation from head to toe. When I scooped her up, she buried her head in my shoulder and collapsed into little sobs.
In the aftermath of hurricane E, I always try to talk about what just happened in the most age-appropriate way possible. Is it over her head? Maybe. But I cling to the hope that I’m planting a seed of some kind.
“You know, your seat belt keeps you safe in the trailer,” I whispered to her, and I could tell she was listening. “I’m sorry you were upset. Do you feel better now?”
I felt her nodding her head against me, and just like that, the sun was out and the store had blown over.
That one was kind of a doozy, but we’re probably dealing with some kind of two-year-old attitude almost every day. It’s rough, and when she’s sprawled on the ground screaming because I won’t let her play on my phone, I remind myself that she’ll love me even when I’m older and that this too shall pass.
I’m just really hoping that a year in the terrible twos will mean the three’s are a cake walk. That has to be how it works, right?
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