I've never liked the term "the terrible twos." It didn't seem fair to me to mark every two-year-old in existence with the same label, especially not one that implied that they were fairly unpleasant little humans during a certain period. Whenever I have boasted over the last 12 months how delightful my gorgeous son was, I was generally met with a smug friend or relative saying "just wait till he's two..." I wanted to punch them for implying that my little man was capable of being something as horrific as their own child was at that point evolving into. I felt like I had done my time with J in the early days. Of course it wasn't his behaviour that caused us grief, but the reflux, his adamant refusal to sleep, and the mummy blues, that overshadowed the first 6 months of parenthood. When we came out the other side of it all and celebrated J's first birthday almost a year ago, I felt like we had all miraculously survived a great trauma. I wanted to believe we would be spared that period known as "the terrible twos" mostly because, like a lot of parents, I found it impossible to believe that my son could be anything less than adorable.
He's always been feisty and impatient, and he shows a determination that equals that of both his parents combined. Things have shifted lately as he's realised his own strength and become better able to express himself. He's realised he has options, and that has been the root cause of all of our problems. A few weeks ago I asked him to do something simple. I can't remember what exactly but he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said, very emphatically, "no." It wasn't so much that he was saying no because he didn't want to do it, it was that he was choosing to say no because it was what I wanted him to do. I recognised that look he gave me, I've seen that furrowed brow, the thundercloud over the head before, and I'm sure later in life he'll have the pulsing blue vein above his eyebrow too - it's a family look, we all get it from time to time, and I knew I'd be seeing a lot more of it. We were entering a new "phase."
I used to look at parents of children behaving badly with a mixture of sympathy and judgement. I couldn't help but feel that they were responsible for the way their child was behaving, that in some way, some flaw in their parenting had led to that meltdown/tantrum/act of violence. Now I know better. Toddlers have very little impulse control. They can't help but scream when their baby brothers are asleep upstairs. They feel cross that they can't get what they want and they haven't learned positive ways to express it. "Hugging not hitting" has become a mantra in our house, and while most of the time we manage to remind J that he'll get more attention if he asks for a cuddle when he's cranky, sometimes he simply exercises his right to choose and still smacks Mummy in the mouth anyway. I was dreading this phase, because deep down I did know it would come eventually, but it's not as bad as I thought. My dread was based on my own impatience and the fear that I would not be able to respond appropriately when he started kicking and screaming in the middle of the supermarket - I was afraid I would also lose it when my buttons were pushed (and believe me, he knows how to push my buttons!). There have been times when it's been a battle to control him, he is just so big and heavy that it's almost physically impossible to restrain him, and I have been worried that he would hurt himself, or someone else. But for the most part I've been calm and not at all as flustered by his behaviour as I imagined I would be. Maybe it's because I see him the other 75% of the time as a sweet and happy little boy, or because I know the tantrum will pass, or maybe it's both, but it really is ok.
As a two year old J has been a pleasure to watch. The things he says, the way he responds and reacts to everything around him, his energy and the sheer joy he gets out of the simplest things, the sudden realisation that he is a "big boy" now and his quest for independence, his sense of humour and new level of awareness of the world he inhabits, it's all amazing and wonderful to us. There are bad times, daily, but they are bearable because the good times are so good. "This too shall pass," is our other mantra, and it's helping us realise that the twos aren't so terrible after all.