Thursday, November 4, 2010

Too, too two

The deeply ingrained cultural notion of developmentally appropriate behavior for the age of two, specifically its terribleness, took root in my mind long before I ever had a child of my own, and I’m not going to lie, I was simultaneously resigned to riding it out and deeply dreading it. As the little guy approached the big two-year milestone my foreboding increased as well, especially in light of the fact that he continued to rack up displays of precociousness and curve-aheadedness which is all well and good until it means that his tantrum phase begins somewhere around twenty months. Except that never happened, and his second birthday came and went, and neither hide nor hair of hyper-intense duly capitalized Terrible Twos was seen, and I think I actually let my guard down. The little guy is in so many respects a sweet little angel, and when a screamy interregnum failed to manifest either early or on-schedule, I think I subconsciously began to believe we might be spared it altogether.

And yes I’m pretty sure I can hear the digitized echoes of your collective laughter as I type.

So of course it’s become more and more apparent recently that our child is, in fact, a normal two year old prone to inexplicable flare-ups of irrationality and a healthy helping of hissy-fits. I hasten to elaborate further that I think he might be, on balance, more toward the mellow end of the continuum. He doesn’t rage uncontrollably about trivial things every single day. But when he does, it’s astonishingly intense, on top of the utter unpredictability of what will set him off, including things he was completely fine with the day before. Which, in itself, might very well be filed under “pretty predictable” after all because that’s just part of the Terribleness. All in all, I think we’re getting off easy. But, he’s going to be two for another ten months, and I’ve heard different but equally dire reckonings of the tribulations at age three, so I readily acknowledge it’s premature to say anything definitive one way or the other. I yo-yo back and forth between “eh, could be worse” and “oh crap what’s next” pretty zippily.

Don't leave me hangin
The capriciousness is really both the best and the worst part. I’ve taken to heart lessons from parents older, wiser and more experienced than me, such as “You can’t reason with a toddler” but I think I had always interpreted that as an indicator that very small children are more attached to their own self-centered tunnel vision and less inclined to take counter-arguments against their positions into consideration. And lately I’ve been realizing that it’s even simpler than that. When I tell the little guy it’s time for his bath and he throws himself on the floor in miserable, howling protest, it’s not that he has anything against baths, or he can’t see the advantages in compromising and following the rules and whatnot. It’s not even that he has anything better to do. It just occurs to him that he can say no and he says no because he can. It’s not that he’s intractably attached to his own agenda, it’s that he has no agenda at all past doing the opposite of what I say, and that is what puts him way beyond reasoning with.

But have I mentioned what a premium I personally put on communication and the inherent power of language? (I’m not sure, it may have come up here and there.) So this has led me to a hybrid approach where, even though it has no observable net positive effect, I still gently and lovingly explain to my son why it’s bath time and why he needs to do what I say when I say it, even as I proceed to manhandle him (with all due regard to physical safety, of course - tothandle him, then?) onto the changing table and out of his clothes and into the tub, skipping the whole waiting-around-for-him-to-acquiesce part. Maybe that sends mixed signals, or maybe it sets a semi-decent example for staying calm amidst confrontation, or maybe it only serves as a counterbalance to make myself feel better about enforcing my parental will through brute force, or maybe it’s the preferable alternative to harsher things that could very well be spilling out of my mouth as running commentary while trying to wrench long sleeves off of a two year old locking himself in recalcitrant chickenwing configuration. Like I said, mainly I just try to look on the bright side, that I don’t have to use such weirdly mismatched compound approaches every single day.

Not yet, anyway.

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