Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tales from the Toddler Trenches

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This has not often been quoted in relation to mothering, but something about it rings true in relation to mothering toddlers.

Often throughout the day, we are convinced that our little child is the cutest and smartest little darling ever to grace the earth and that we have the very best job that exists, the privilege of taking care of her. But within moments, we are saying to ourselves that there has never been a toddler so difficult, so conniving, so willful and stubborn as the little rebel living within our home.

I’m happy to say that most of every day is sweet bliss with my two-year-old now, but there was a time when I started to feel as if the Grinch had been reincarnated.

I couldn’t understand, about half a year ago, how my precious sweetheart could be so terribly naughty. One thing Naomi, in her height of toddler terror, used to love to do was to smack her darling big sister. Now I don’t think you understand, this big sister of hers is truly the sweetest thing ever. This is the child who, when asked to do something by her mother, springs to her feet and says in the most delightful voice possible, “Oh, yes ma’am.” She sounds like a southern belle from the 1950’s. We have no idea where she got this.

Anyhow, this little angel would be sitting demurely upon the floor, wrapping her baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, and along would come little miss mad-at-the-world and smack her upside the head. Abigail, being far too delicate to retaliate, would sit there sobbing in a pathetic little heap because the baby tyrant, who had just learned to walk, had beat her up again.

Sometimes the tyrant tot had wanted to play with whatever Abigail had. But often she didn’t even try to take it away, she was just mad that she didn’t have it already. Other times it seemed she was mad that someone else was having so much fun and wanted to put a stop to that.

These were the times that I wondered what on earth I had created. Often, I felt immense gratitude that she was not my first child, because I may have come to the conclusion that I made her that way. Having had four already, I knew she was different and I hadn’t done anything differently.

Once when we were visiting family, a boy cousin of Naomi’s who is the same age as her, was enjoying looking out of a sliding glass door. She spotted him having fun and was off on a mission to stop him. She ran up to where he was looking out, pushed in front of him, and then spread her arms as wide as she could up against the glass to block him. Being the good natured fellow that he was, he simply shrugged and moved to the other glass door. But of course she did the same thing on that door. So he moved back and forth from door to door, and each time she blocked him. There were two doors and they could have each looked out one, but her goal was simply to spoil his fun. When I went over and told her she must stop doing that, she folded her arms and put on her signature pout face, which seemed to say, “Mom, you’re so mean, not letting ruin my cousin’s fun.” She was 17 months old.

The hardest part about her "terrible ones" (instead of terrible twos) was her iron will to be the boss. Her default attitude day in and day out was, “I’m the boss and why hasn’t anyone around here caught on to that yet?” This was manifested in ways such as standing up in her high chair. “Naomi sit down.” She doesn’t sit. Spanking. Cry. Hug and tell her I love her. Put her in her high chair. 30 seconds later she’s standing up again. “Naomi sit down, that’s dangerous. Mommy doesn’t want you to crack your head open.” She doesn’t sit. Spanking. Repeat times 10 every meal for 6 months. Not joking. All kids are wired to think that they’re the boss, but most take only a few battles to get the memo. For Abigail, all you have to do is look at her: “Okay, okay, you’re the boss.”

But, I have to say that Naomi has turned a very big corner. After over 10 battles a day for over a year, that’s over 3,000 battles she's lost, she is a new kid and sweet as can be. She does occasionally put on a little pout, after all she was nearly born with it on. But it no longer means, “Why does no one see that the world revolves around me? I’m not giving up till they get it!” Now it means, “That’s not how I was hoping things would go...but…I’m…over it!” And within seconds the pouts gone and she’s accepted her place in the world. She has even been known to crack a smile beneath one of those pouts.

My point in writing all this is not to strike mortal terror into prospective parents and confirm their long-held suspicion that raising a toddler is a fate worse than death. The truth is, I guess I don't know why I wrote this. Maybe to remind myself how far she's come. Maybe to wallow in the relief that those hard days are over (for now.) Parenting is not for the faint of heart.


adoptionroad said...

Lydia is also finding her inner toddler. She is usually so sweet and empathetic but if her big sister isn't giving her 200% attention, out comes the smack down. This is a good reminder that like the French Revolution, the toddler stage will soon be over... and I'll probably even miss it.

Nikki said...

Leslie, did you secretly write this for me? Elise is almost 16 months old and sounds very similar to Naomi. This morning was a battle over hitting the dog, throwing food, throwing a fit on the floor, and refusing to come to me-- all at the same time! It took all morning! It is good to know that with a little, ok a lot, of faithful discipline and love, we may make it through. Thanks for writing this and I am going to call you for advice more often!