Twoness

For months, I’ve referred to Eli as an “easy going” kid. We had our share of struggles the first two years (transitioning out of the Rock n Play and not sleeping through the night top the list in my mind), but for the most part, he has always been pretty mellow. We never once had a sleepless night, when he didn’t get his way he would say “sorry” and cry quietly and all these things made me very hopeful that maybe, just maybe, he was one of those anomalies who wouldn’t go through the “Terrible Twos.”

And for the first few weeks of two, it appeared that way. As you can imagine, that didn’t really last.

Eli was increasingly toddlerish for a few weeks prior to when his dad went out of town mid-June, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be managed pretty easily. He was incredibly picky about meals, wanted to walk and touch and do anything we told him not to, but he was still redirect-able and we were managing well. Then his dad was gone for 10 days to two difference conferences across the country. I expected the worst, but those 10 days, aside from a 5 day fever and my grandfather dying, were pretty decent for Eli.

And then my husband came home and everything went to hell in a giant screaming hand basket. The first day my husband was back in town, there were at least 5 full blown tantrums. One involved near vomiting in the car, which was a real treat. He ate no lunch or dinner that day because both meals were completely overtaken by hysteria, despite both meals being things regularly atop his favorites list. I cried twice. He would recover from tantrums and I would sit there feeling like I’d run a marathon and wonder how on earth he was okay because the world felt vaguely like it was ending. This crap is intense.

And since then, it has continued. Maybe not everyday, but virtually everyday, there is at least one occasion for a tantrum. It is sometimes because we won’t let him watch endless Elmo, it is sometimes because we dare change his diaper or because we won’t let him run on the pool deck. There is nothing that feels quite as frustrating to me as planning a fun outing specifically for Eli and having it marred by a tantrum.

And there are other times where I have absolutely no idea why my child is screaming and thrashing. Like tonight at dinner. We told him dinner was approaching, so it wasn’t out of the blue. It was leftovers of a meal he loved yesterday. Nothing had changed from the 2 other meals of the day, nothing was irregular, but he lost it. Screamed to get down for at least 5 minutes (we have a rule that everyone sits at the table until we’re all finished eating, regardless of what you eat), ripped his booster straps off at least 1o times and was just crazy. And then it stopped as quickly as it started and he decided to eat like nothing had just happened.

Two is just…it’s hard. I had no idea how hard. I have babysat and nannied and been around children my whole life, and yet, it’s completely different with your own child. Because not only do I feel an obligation to handle the situation correctly- not to give in, not to let him “win” the important battles, not to let him get hurt, etc, all the things I should do to raise a good kid. But at the same time, he’s my baby and he is struggling with something. I can’t fix it, I can’t just hug him and give him what he thinks he needs and the cognitive and emotional dissonance is indescribably difficult. It’s not just the being firm, it’s being firm when all you want to do is give in.

Eli is far from a particularly difficult two year old, he’s totally normal in this way and I know it. But as normal as it is for two, it’s entirely abnormal for my parenting experience and it is difficult. I’m terrified for what will happen when we introduce a baby into the mix because I’m pretty sure that Eli having less attention isn’t going to be the answer. I love my son to the ends of the earth and truly cannot imagine my life without him, but man. Two. I was not prepared.

Please don’t comment to tell me three is worse. Denial and ice cream are pretty much my only coping mechanisms.

16 Responses to “Twoness”

  • CK:

    I feel your pain… and yes, three is worse (at least it was for us and a other parents we know who are ‘real’, ie don’t make it sound like roses are flowing out of their child’s bum at every stage in life!)! I remember being on vacation for a family wedding when our little was 3yrs and 2months… simply dumbfound for the behaviour and staring at my SIL (who has a 12yr, 15yr, and a 20yr). She looked at me and said: “everyone goes through it, yes the threes are the hardest and no one warns you about it! That’s why there is no ‘fun term’ for that age, but once you make it through the threes, things only get better”! Our little is a few months shy of turning 4 and we have be climbing the ‘better behaviour’ hill for several months now! I think the lowest was at 3.5yrs – lots of sleep regression (I found several articles why this happens at this age), but we eventually made it out and are happy to report the easy going (somewhat) child has returned!!!! Sure he doesn’t eat much and has to put his stamp/opinion on everything, but the happy-go-lucky child we saw before the second birthday has returned! Just breath and don’t sweat the day-to-day stuff! I know, easier said than done…

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @CK, I have done that dumbfounded thing a lot lately. Like, how in the hell did my kid go from normal to hysteria that quickly? And whyyyyyy?

    I appreciate the warning on the sleep regression. We are coming out of one that I think was almost entirely developmental as Eli is now speaking in crazy sentences and saying new words every day (today he told me “da sun is shining!” Um, WHAT. It’s getting easier with time and exposure because I know that the tantrum will end and my sweet boy will reappear, but man it’s tough.

    [Reply]

  • purplebreath:

    Just worry about one day at a time. You will get through this. Kids thrive with firm boundaries and you are setting them. Do try and take it less personally. This is a developmental phase that must occur. He’s finding his way and so are you.

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @purplebreath, I am trying to take it less personally, I just want to make sure I’m handling it correctly because I want it to happen as little as possible. You know, because obviously if I handle one tantrum right he’ll never have that one again, right?

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  • Rachel:

    I’ve been reading your blog almost since Eli was born, and my son is just a few months younger than him. It’s surprising to me that you would label your son as “easy” because he actually sounds quite difficult to me. The sleeping in the crib issues, his preference for only one kind of bottle/sippy cup, refusal to breastfeed, not giving up the pacifier, all of these are things we have never dealt with. I’m saying this not to “brag,” but rather to say that everything is relative. And I think the terrible twos are relative as well. What you described in this post is, to me, evidence that he is simply having a rough couple of days. Maybe it’s because your husband was gone. Maybe he hasn’t been sleeping well. Maybe he’s getting molars in. It could be anything. But I really don’t think you should be so quick to label this as the Terrible Twos. (Disclosure: I don’t believe that the Terrible Twos exist. Also, I have yet to parent a 2 year old- that will change soon!)

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Rachel, Hahaha, well, he was not always easy, that is definitely true (I’ve tried to forget the breastfeeding hell).

    But in day to day life, he has always been relatively easy. He adapts to schedule changes, we could take him literally anywhere without an issue. Compared to his peers he was always kind of mellow. He would play independently for an hour at a time while his peers needed interaction for the whole day. That kind of easy. Transitions have been hell. I think that his refusal to switch off the bottle was pretty typical (and we refused to push it), ditto with the pacifier. We could’ve gotten him off both in a few days if we were willing to fight, but it’s just not our parenting style. We’d rather go slow and easy with stuff like that (stuff that really isn’t a huge deal in the long run) than have a major struggle.

    I don’t think that the Terrible Twos are anything other than a child struggling to find their boundaries. I don’t think it’s a sign that a kid isn’t lovely and wonderful. I think it’s a combination of limited language skills to express what’s going on and pushing to see where the limits of his world are. I totally understand why it happens developmentally. It’s just…hard as a parent. And I would be totally inclined to think it was just a few lousy days except its been like 2 weeks with both parents and relative consistency and still with the hysteria. I do, very much, hope you are right, though.

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  • Nikki:

    My first thought after reading this post is that perhaps he senses immediate change in the air…the baby is due in the next few weeks right? I’m not a mother, however, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt – although I have heard mothers actually say this happened to them – that counts, right? :) Anyhoo, it sounds like nothing in his routine has changed so he just probably senses something is up. Hopefully he’s back to easy going Eli before the new baby comes! Take care.

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Nikki, I suspect you’re right. I’m a parent, but I’ve never been through this, so your guess is as good as mine! He doesn’t seem to understand that a baby is coming, but I’m sure he gets more than we realize. I’d really like for him to be back to his normal self before his brother arrives, but that seems unlikely. At best.

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  • Sally:

    Thank you for posting this! My LO is just a few months younger than your Eli, and I think of her now the same way as you did him — easy-going; a good candidate for skipping the terrible twos, right? But I just know we’re going to get blindsided with her terrible rages pretty soon — sooner or later — and I expect to take great comfort from your post here and knowing we’re not alone, that it’s normal, etc.

    AND we have a new baby arriving when she’ll be 2 and a quarter. Solidarity, sister. :-)

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Sally, I hope you’re spared. If I had any advice I’d give it, but mostly I just try not to cry with him and I consider that a victory. Good luck on the baby!

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  • Three is going to be different. For some kids (and in some ways), it’s worse, but in many ways, it’ll also be easier. Don’t worry about it for now. :)
    My favorite parenting mantra is “This is just a phase.” My son was born the day after Eli, and he’s been tantrumming like a champ the last few days. It’s truly amazing and horrifying – I’ve never seen anything like it (and he’s my second son!). I’m telling myself to stay as calm as possible, and to stay consistent. He’s testing his boundaries (perhaps because he’s becoming more aware of there being options?), and I’m going to stick to the ones we still need/want and change the ones he’s outgrown.
    And then I will have a big glass of wine after he’s in bed. (Or ice cream, whatever.)
    Hang in there.

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Sonja, Yea, I don’t know if I’d be alive without ice cream. I know it’s a phase and I know it’s an important one for him in understanding his environment. I just wish it came with less screaming, kicking and gagging. You know, all the parts that make it the phase that it is. :)

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  • Mikal:

    These phases are the worst. The behavior is awful, makes you tired and feel like a failure and you have no idea when it will end if ever. It will end someday! My son is three and I find it far preferable to two. The crazy tantrums have mostly subsided, he follows the important rules *most* of the time and the really annoying parts that we had with age two -food throwing, hitting, throwing/smashing of toys have mostly subsided. Just hang in there and somehow it will get better!

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Mikal, Exactly! I feel like his behavior is somehow a reflection of my parenting and then I get discouraged when I can’t fix it and ugh. It’s stressful. It’s nice to hear that for some 3 is better than 2. Here’s to hoping we all get the hang of this sooner rather than later.

    [Reply]

  • Debbie A-H:

    My son was 2 about 18 years ago, but I still remember those years (2 years and 3 years old). Their behaviors are hard not to take personally, but they have nothing really to do with us as parents (except how we handle them). They are learning and growing and pushing boundaries, just as you said. Every time I figured out a stage, my son was on to the next one. You are doing a great job by setting boundaries–that’s what he needs. One of the hardest parts of parenting for me was that my son was over something, but I was still angry/hurt/frustrated. Every time I went to work and declared, “Kid for Sale!” or told my husband we were going to start searching or a military preschool, I had to remind myself these were phases he needed to explore or go through to be a healthy kid and adult. You are doing great.

    [Reply]

  • Ktie:

    I feel you! My son hit 2 and was fine. 2 and 3 months fine. I was so excited that we missed the terrible two’s and then bam, 2 years and 4 months and there it was. Since he’s only 2 years and 5 months, I have no advice but man it is hard when they go from hugging and kissing you, to screaming and kicking in a split second. I am thinking of dressing him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Halloween.

    [Reply]

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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