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August 17th, 2003

My Blossoming Screamer

The Muddy Emotions Watching a Toddler in the Terrible Twos

 
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Did you see that kid in the Wal-Mart a while back, the two-year-old flailing about red-faced and sobbing in the shopping buggy?

He might have belonged to me.

PDA’s—public displays of agitation
A few months ago we reached a point where we couldn’t step foot in any public place without my son going through some degree of meltdown. He found endless things worth getting hysterical about—not being allowed to play in the clothing racks, the strange smell wafting through the public restroom. I reacted uselessly, hissing hushed warnings, threatening immediate trips home.

It was just so embarrassing, the public display of it all, the other shoppers’ dirty looks.

Much worse, I was growing uneasy at the new, murkier mix of emotions newly surrounding thoughts of my son. Now, churning alongside the motherly love, the familiar flood of tenderness, were disturbing ripples of anger and frustration.

The agony of blossoming
I had never expected anything like what I was feeling. After making it through two thirds of my son’s second year dealing with only minor, relatively subdued tantrums, I’d begun to think we would escape those much-hyped “terrible twos.”

Then my darling boy awoke one awful morning apparently set on a new favorite pastime of screaming his head off. He groaned in disgust at the clothes I picked out, the breakfasts and lunches I put on the table. He cried at me to leave him alone, bawled in his bedroom during the inevitable series of “time outs.”

I knew it was so typical of the age it was practically a milestone, but I hated seeing my own child act like that. I’d heard the advice the parenting experts doled out—it’s perfectly normal for little kids to be so difficult, it’s simply how they assert their blossoming “independence.” I also knew I had to get used to it. I would be spending the rest of my life watching my son “blossom,” feeling the swirl of emotions grow muddier still.

Wedding impasse
In July my son was supposed to be the ring-bearer at my sister’s wedding. The rehearsal was a complete failure, though; he let us all know, loudly, that there was no way he was walking up that aisle.

The morning of the wedding I got him ready anyway, dressed him up in his specially bought vest and white shirt, pulled a comb through the mop of curls my sister had insisted we grow out for the big day. Not that there was any hope he’d actually cooperate.

The ring-bearer’s triumph
Now I feel bad that I didn’t have more faith in him. In the end he came through, calmly carrying his ribbon-bedecked ring-bearer pillow to the front of the church, filing into a pew with the groomsmen. I laughed in delight, ready to cheer out loud.

It dawned on me that this is how raising a child was always going to be, this swift movement away from being utterly fed-up, frustration giving way to those inevitable moments of parental joy.

 
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