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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”?


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