My little mini me turns two this week – a fact that I’m still struggling to wrap my brain around. Was it not yesterday that he was a colicky squish of a newborn? Apparently not. I’ll save the maternal reverie at how fast time goes for another post, but know that it is alive and well in this mama these days. My once oblivious bundle of chunky baby has, seemingly overnight, morphed into an incredibly observant, strong willed, hilariously sassy toddler whose favorite phrase is “no way, mama.” And it might be the death of me.
Or, at least that’s how I felt until this week.
Two is hard (and isn’t even technically what I’m living in yet). I’m still my son’s number one. In his world, mama reigns supreme. Unless it’s a toss up between mama and goldfish – in that case, goldfish are more important. Hands down. The difference between now and a month ago is his awareness that not everything I say needs to be adhered to. Just because “Mama says” doesn’t mean shit in his world these days. He’s at the age where he has stumbled upon the beginnings of a sense of personal autonomy. Sadly for him, his cognitive, emotional and physical development has not caught up with his feelings of blossoming independence. This clash of abilities vs. desires has resulted in days that feel like an endless argument between my adult self and the miniature version of me that has made it his mission to turn each and every one of my hairs grey by the New Year.
In a moment of divine intervention, a fellow mom sent a text that verbalized everything I had been feeling lately. Basically, “Is it me or does two make it hard to enjoy spending time with your child?” YES. YES it does and I hate myself for it.
I am privileged to be able to spend my days with my son. I get to see every first. I get to watch him figure out the puzzle that baffled him yesterday. I get to be the one who comforts all the boo boos (without mentioning that perhaps if we listened to mom and didn’t try to jump off of everything we can climb, we would not be comforting as many boo boos – because I’m an adult). I get the snuggles and the high fives. Last week he told me I was pretty. I mean, what more could an unshowered stay at home mom want? If you offered me a full time job writing for a national publication, I would not take it unless I absolutely had to. I revel in him. I am fiercely committed to spending the days being the one who guides him through life and I will make almost any sacrifice necessary to allow for that. That said, lately, the days are long and full of meltdowns and it had gotten to the point where I no longer woke up excited about our day together. I no longer excitedly thought “whatever shall we do today, my little bundle of joy.” It started sounding more like “dear God, please let us make it through today with less than a dozen meltdowns and please help me remain calm.” This text from a fellow mom in the trenches got me thinking and reading. Why is this so challenging? What is the problem here? How can I make this better for us both? What am I doing wrong? The result of this series of inquiries and research is what I call my “reframing two moment.”
After talking with moms of older children, reading for hours on toddler development and spending some time getting quiet and really searching within myself for answers, I had an aha moment. I realized I had been listening to the voices around me that called my son “wild” or “crazy” or “hyperactive” and comparing him to my best friend’s 2.5 year old who is capable of sitting through a meal at a public place without a bag of toys to entertain him. These voices and comparisons had led me to believe there is something wrong with my sweet, sassy and strong willed son. Starting with that realization as a jumping off point, I delved a little deeper. Where does this belief come from? What am I expecting to be our reality? And, most importantly, are those expectations realistic?
In reality, I have been expecting my almost two year old son to behave like a four or five year old. When I ask him to “use his words” when he’s on the floor in hysterics because something has not gone his way, I am asking him to engage and execute a multi-faceted cognitive and verbalization process. I am essentially asking him to feel his feelings (which he was doing remarkably well), name those feelings appropriately and then express said feelings to me with words. He’s not even two. He simply cannot do that. It is not that he doesn’t want to. It is not that he is testing me. He is not trying to be whiny. He is in the heat of an emotional moment and does not have the cognitive ability to identify and name his feelings. He cannot state his needs to me because he likely is not sure what he needs. He’s whining “mom mom mom…” for ten minutes because that’s what his two year old brain knows he needs. “There is a problem and I require some mom intervention, thanks.” My frustration is a result of my misguided expectations, not his age appropriate behavior.
BAM! Whoops. My bad.
When I started looking at his behavior through the lens of a small human trying to navigate a really big world and days full of really big feelings, I started to soften a bit. This is NOT to say the days are any less full of meltdowns. They are not any less emotionally and physically exhausting. There are absolutely still days where when he’s stirring in his crib after a nap I pray for patience and unconditional kindness. Two is hard. He wants to put his own shoes on but cannot yet figure it out and is horrified at the idea of my helping him. He wants to drink out of the adult glasses but cannot resist the temptation to stick his entire hand in the large, open rim. He wants to eat dinosaur nuggets exclusively for the rest of his life whereas I want him to get nutrients and stuff because I’m a weirdo like that. He hates being “STUCKKKKKKKK” in his car seat while I am wholeheartedly opposed to letting him flail around the back seat as we make our way places in a motor vehicle. In many ways, it’s always something and when bedtime rolls around, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck commandeered by a toddler and begin my nightly routine of flipping on the monitor and staring blankly at the wall for a half hour while I regain the stamina to continue with my night. None of that has changed. What has changed is my understanding of where he is in his development, how challenging it is for him to walk that line of independence vs. lack of adequate development and a realization that my job is to embrace the hell out of who he is while providing a safe place to learn and grow and craft (of course).
What has also changed is my ability to see him through toddler eyes. He’s my son and he’s remarkable. He’s mastering language at an alarming speed. He’s connecting dots that weren’t even in the same sphere for him a month ago. He’s interacting with me and the world around him like a tiny human rather than an infant. He’s discovering pride in himself for figuring out where the puzzle pieces go on his own and helping mom put the dishes in the sink. He’s building his sense of self and starting to slowly see how that self meshes with the world around him. He’s ridiculously active. He’s generally running instead of walking. He’s jumping instead of climbing down. He’s yelling and shaking his heads at times when other kids are simply smiling. He may, in fact, be wild. Good. When I’m not in the midst of a bout of manic energy, I can sit back and hope he never loses his wild. I hope this abundance of energy and passion for life sticks with him and propels him to do great things and I hope I can continue to have realizations like this that allow me to embrace his unique personality, set the appropriate boundaries and walk (or run) hand in hand with him as he figures out his place in this very big world we live in. What an honor that is. I also hope someone gifts me with a life time supply of cake and coffee – because I’m gonna need it.