“Families survive the Terrible Twos because toddlers aren’t strong enough to kill with their hands and aren’t capable of using lethal weapons. A 2-year-old with the physical capacities of an adult would be terrifying.” — Paul Bloom from Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil
Two years ago, heavily pregnant and on modified bed-rest to prevent early delivery, I went into labor shortly after picking my older son up from daycare. Four hours after my first contraction, and smack in the middle of a thunderstorm, my younger son made his auspicious entrance into the world three weeks early. And not a moment too soon – his father had barely made it to the hospital in time to be there for his arrival.
The first year or so was uneventful (or as uneventful as handling two children at once can be). Despite his fast and insistent entrance into the world, my younger son was a mellow baby. He happily laid on his playmat, sat quietly in his bouncy seat, and eventually entertained himself in his exersaucer (a.k.a. “the circle of neglect”) while his older brother, in all his toddler glory, demanded my attention most of the time.
Then, some time a few months ago, a switch went off, and my younger son began to approach everything (playgrounds, street corners, altercations with his brother) with the same ferocity and gusto that he approached the world when he dashed out of my womb. And he hasn’t stopped running since.
Having survived through the “Terrible Twos” once already, I know from previous experience that the they don’t magically show up on a child’s second birthday. For some children (like my oldest), they are more like the Terrible Two-and-a-Halfs or Threes. In the case of my younger son, I believe they showed up sometime around 20 months. (I wonder if this means that they’ll diminish at an earlier age? Eh, probably not). So it probably should not have come as a surprise that on the eve of my son’s second birthday, each of the following events took place:
- He rubbed his pasta and tomato sauce dinner all over his head, and then dumped the plate all over the floor.
- While I cleaned, he escaped my grasp (rookie mistake!) and ran to the couch where he wiped his tomato-saucy hands and face all over my beige couch. (Thank you microfiber for being so forgiving!)
- While I was filling the bath to clean up the sauce-covered monster, he reached into the cat litter box in the bathroom and took handfuls of litter (clumped, of course) that he then dumped into the running bath.
- When I attempted to empty the bath and clean out the clumped-up litter before it clogged the drain, he decided to take his favorite train and throw it into the toilet that his brother had just used (#2, in case you were wondering).
All of these events took place in less than twenty minutes. Let’s just say that if there was any danger of my spending the evening reflecting in quiet contemplation on my two years of mothering this precious angel, clearly my son had other plans.
Right now, my life is comprised almost entirely of chasing, cleaning up after, apologizing for, and yes – surviving – the crazy storm that is my toddler. But through all his general naughtiness and haphazard disregard for his own safety, I am also watching him open up, explore, wonder at, verbalize, delight in, and make connections about the world and people around him everyday, and seeing the magic of the world through his eyes truly is the rainbow at the end of the storm. For every twenty minutes of tomato sauce and kitty litter this little guy can throw at me, it is worth it for just the one minute of watching him squeal with delight at something as simple as discovering a snail crawling up our fence.
So, this past weekend we celebrated my baby’s second birthday. We’re not embarking on the Terrible Twos – we’ve been living them for some time now. But it is with a mix of 40% exhaustion, 30% trepidation, 20% sheer terror and 10% pure wonder that we are surviving each day.