My Two-Year-Old: The agony and the … well, just agony

Look at this face:

Now ask yourself, How could this child’s mother ever be moved to write the following on Twitter?:

Based on my 2-year-old’s behavior this evening, if I had to speculate about future career prospects, “Courtney Love” would top the list.
One of the things I admire most about MaryAlice is her, uh, “spirited” temperament. She is a girl, so I give her a wider berth. It’s not because I believe girls are delicate creatures who should be dealt a more forgiving hand, discipline-wise. Rather, it’s because I know her behavior often strays pretty far afield of what people generally accept as “appropriate” for girl-children, and I don’t want to even be perceived as joining the chorus of gender-enforcing “Shhh!“-ers. I’m not saying that’s a rational or “right” choice: only that I have this fairly well-substantiated fear that, if she is told to shut up often enough and by relevant enough stakeholders, she won’t just turn the volume down a notch, she’ll turn it all the way off. (For the record, I don’t discourage my son’s gender-binary-non-conforming behaviors, either. Those simply tend to be less disruptive and inconvenient. Shrug). 
 
In light of all that: truth time. If she was an adult — and possibly even if she wasn’t my kid — I would think she was a total jerkstore.
 
Maybe this feeling of desperation is related to being in the home stretch of the Terrible Twos. Oh, yeah: they exist. They aren’t universal, though. My son, who will be five in December, struggled a little, in the usual “I HAVE BIG EMOTIONS AND LACK THE VOCABULARY TO EXPLAIN THEM” vein. But because he was a colicky nightmare as a newborn, anything that fell short of an eight-hour stretch of ceaseless screaming registered as un-noteworthy.
 
Aside from the occasional a-hole days or weeks, Stuart has only gotten progressively “easier” as he’s aged.  
 
MaryAlice has not.
 
 
Here are some delightful little affectations that have materialized since her second birthday, last September:
    1. Reactions to crises(-of-her-own-perception) are completely unmodulated according to the severity of said crisis. “I DROPPED MY FORK!” hysterics are virtually indistinguishable from what I’d imagine “MY HEAD IS CAUGHT IN A BEAR TRAP!” hysterics would sound like.
    2. When she has a tearful meltdown, she runs into the bathroom to check the mirror and see how sad she looks, then modifies her face for maximum pathos.
    3. Like most toddlers, MaryAlice has a knack for finding and walking around with objects that we’d rather she not have: our phones, expensive-ish electronic doodads, knives … . We have to use the utmost caution when trying to coax her into surrendering the object, and can never, but never, attempt to “wrest” it away. (She has a vise grip). One false move, and our DVD player remote or camera or mezzaluna is hurled  — often at our respective heads.
    4. Whenever we are anywhere in public, and MaryAlice can’t be strapped into a shopping cart or otherwise physically restrained, there is a 50-50 — no, let’s say 80-20 — chance that she will take off running, heedless of (A) her personal safety, or (B) anything (people included) in her path. But, wait! If we chase her, she just does that thing that dogs do, looking over her shoulder at us with a mocking glint in her eye while maintaining the established pace. This has resulted in a full-throttle crashes into  doors, trees, columns, and (literal) brick walls.
    5. Oft-heard fit-of-rage phrases: “Back off!” “Fine! I go home!” “You so damnit!” and, my personal fave, “Stupid hate!”

I can’t emphasize enough how ill-equipped to manage this I am. Actually, scratch that and replace “manage” with “tolerate.”  Logical, natural consequences? Zzzzip! Out the window during a Terrible Twos Fugue State (particularly because I don’t want to be the object of demonstration when it comes to following through on the logical and natural consequences of launching a pair of manicure scissors at my cornea).   The only management, so far as I can figure, involves containment and removal. Like kudzu or zebra mussels or something.

Oh, and P.S.: before you say, “Well, at least you’re a parent who is considerate enough to take their disruptive child out of social settings mid-tantrum,” know that I don’t — not always. When I am in public spaces with the kids and without my partner, there is usually a task at hand that, for whatever reason, couldn’t wait until reinforcements were available. (Family grocery shopping outings that involve four adult hands instead of two are a  comparative cakewalk). If the threat of an “episode” was enough to keep me home, I would never leave the house.

Which brings me to the second reason I’m not totally committed to the retreat-and-surrender approach. I have this bizarre notion that, if children are going to learn how to function as full-fledged members of society, they sorta hafta be in it. Trust me: you aren’t going to want to meet the fragile whelp who has been sequestered in his home, every whim bowed to like that kid in The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life“.

(Quick aside: I know the subject of exclusive spaces for adults has been a hot-button issue lately. My thought is, aside from locations that are patently inappropriate for children [a porn store  or ... I don't know. A hookah lounge?], accepted patronage of people of all ages should be generally behavior-specific. You know: “Disruptive individuals may be asked to leave.” This is all very relativistic, of course. The definition of “disruptive” is probably different if you are dining at Chuck E Cheese’s versus, say, The French Laundry . But I do feel that, bad apple horror stories aside, most parents are acutely aware of when their child, and those around their child, have reached the tipping point. A little latitude on the part of the non-child-having public is always much-appreciated as well).

Anyway: tolerance.  My own reserve is all but sapped. Part of me is genuinely worried that turning three won’t cure her, or even be the gateway to recovery. Do I have the mettle to effectively parent a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Thanks, but I think I’ll just lie on the floor while she dances on the empty-shell-that-was-my-self, brandishing that mezzaluna, and yelling “Stupid hate!”  … probably all while naked, too (something I forgot to add to the list of grievances, above. Those cute butt dimples are losing their luster from over-exposure).

Really, then, this post is less a rumination than a cry for help. As someone who works an average of 60 hours a week outside the home, I’m with my daughter for precious little time; and I’d like our interactions to be spent with less open combat on her part, and less ducking and wincing on mine. Any suggestions for making peace with a child who is easy to love, but can be difficult to “like”?

7 Comments

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7 responses to “My Two-Year-Old: The agony and the … well, just agony

  1. Betty

    Oh. My. And teens are only, what, eleven years away??

  2. “When she has a tearful meltdown, she runs into the bathroom to check the mirror and see how sad she looks, then modifies her face for maximum pathos.”

    That’s exactly how I learned that I’m not an attractive crier.

    I…don’t have any parenting advice. One of the things I’m personally best at is not being a parent. (The other is eating.) All I can say is that I’m really glad you’re a parent. And that’s not just smoke+blowing=up your ass. I really mean that. I don’t have a lot of hope for humanity, except for when I know that people like you and my friend Geri are parents. “Things aren’t going to suck as much,” I think.

  3. Dillon

    Ohh, this sounds too familiar. I feel for you.

    Here’s what I find works best with Oscar, and this is also what worked best back when he was close to MaryAlice’s age.

    * When he’s at the onset of a ridiculous lather, I can often defuse the situation with a gentle-but-funny response to his “fork on floor” outrage.

    It works best if I keep it non-verbal; think “Mr. Bean surprised face”. If I actually say something, it works best to keep it light and non-mocking.

    Of course, I still lapse into sanctimonious lecturing mode, which usually results in a total shit show.

    * We know what his triggers are and consciously decide whether to expose him to them. We usually choose to go for it, knowing full well that it could go bad… or not. He’s full of surprises, and a lot of them are good.

    For example, I took him through the DVD/video game section today without any demands, never mind accusation/threat-filled tantrums.

    * We’ve really (really really) encouraged him to find quiet places to cool down from his rage attacks. He often asks to sit on the back deck or to watch cars from the porch. He also has his own CD player with some rockin’ tunes.

    * I do my best to stay legitimately and visibly happy so that he has something to work off of. Tough to do, but I think that this has had the most impact.

    DBJTK

  4. I don’t really have any advice, but I do feel for you!! I also wince. My own daughter just turned two a couple of weeks ago, and I think she may be just entering the ‘terrible two’ stage; her level of pain-in-the-butt-ness has certainly increased dramatically! What fun we put ourselves through for the sake of raising something like a normal person… lol

  5. Jane

    After reading Dillon’s reply, I feel somewhat ashamed of myself. As the “full-time stay at home parent”, my Oscar tank usually fills up by 4 in the afternoon, just in time for Dillon to pick up the pieces. By that time I’ve had more than enough of “I hate you, you stupid idiot!” and repeating myself no less than a dozen times to get any kind of recognition.

    The worst part about it is that I recognize these tendencies in myself and loathe them. It’s hard to see a little emotional twin of yourself and be okay with all of their foibles. Not that I think you are a grown-up version of MaryAlice (correct me if I’m wrong?). That’s just my own experience.

    My best course of action is to remove myself. If he’s acting like an ass, which he commonly is, I tell him that I don’t like it and I leave. If he follows me, I leave. If he rants and raves, I leave. Often he gets tired of chasing me around and abandons the tantrum, but not always.

    I was having a little unloading session with a psychologist a few months ago and described Oscar to her, and she used those exact words to describe him – oppositional defiant. She recommended “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene, and while it didn’t have any suggestions along the line of “When your explosive child does THIS, you do THAT”, but he does make it a lot easier to understand what’s going on in that dynamite brain.

  6. My advice would be to submit this to Offbeat Mama as a guest submission. The Offbeat Empire is constantly taking submissions & opening up the comments section when somebody asks for advice.

  7. Jen

    We have been dealing with SO MUCH of this 2 year old mess lately. Not amused.
    We have four things that help us:
    1. Distraction
    2. Lots of choices– “You can scream about the fact that it’s bedtime, but that means we won’t have time to read your stories.”
    3. Ignoring the attention seeking, high pitched, spazzines until she figures out how to ask for what she needs. Often, this involves a reminder to use her words.
    4. Time out– usually for me. (o:

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