I suspect that the “The Terrible Twos” is a lie propagated by the pharmaceutical industry to sell us their products. Big pharma set us up to believe that if we can just muster up enough patience to weather the second year of our child’s life, that the rest will be filled with loving hugs and agreeable bedtimes. So, as our kid’s third birthday approaches, we relax and look back with pride upon how we survived the previous two years without any lengthy hospital stays, addictions to Xanax, or restraining orders. We fantasize about our near future with a child who can ride in the car for more than eight minutes, and eat a meal without spitting ranch dressing at the cat.
The celebration is short-lived. The moment that third birthday party is over — before the balloons have even succumbed to gravity — a new, more energetic, more resolute and opinionated beast appears. The two-year old has shed its skin, exposing the truth that for the previous year he had merely been warming up in the bullpen. Now loose, and focused, he stares down, rears back and unleashes a 105 mile-per-hour fastball. We were expecting an offside pitch.
Our adorable beast, Arlo, had been three for less than a month, when it became clear that we were facing a new species of trouble. He was still the same charming, demanding, edible-cheeked cherub that he was before his birthday, only now, he spent roughly 30 minutes a day (broken out into half a dozen five-minute chunks) in a completely inconsolable state for apparently almost no reason at all. We’d already plowed through the theories, methods, options, and constipation meds, so we were down to the Hail Mary of parenting: threatening to send him to his room if he didn’t calm down. I know that sounds terrible, but it was better than going into the panic room and singing lullabies until he came to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to stack more than eight quarters.
There was nothing we could do. Inexplicably, his freak-outs continued even after we’d given him what he wanted. “I gave you THE WHOLE BOX of Band Aids, now stop yelling!” should have resulted in a cease-fire, but instead, he continued to stand his ground, yelling “I want Band Aids” while he was holding an entire box of Band Aids. Asking him calmly if there was something else he wanted, or if there was, perhaps, another, more emotional, reason he’d become so upset, only made him angrier. If one of us tried to escape, he’d chase us. Clearly, we were being punished and, to him, it was important that we remain present and “in the moment” until that punishment was complete.
There were a few months when Lindsay, Silas and I found ourselves simply yelling over him because we had various questions, needs and desires. It was like living with a fog horn.
“IS TOMORROW RECYCLING DAY?” Lindsay would ask at top volume.
“NO IDEA,” I’d answer. “HEY, I THINK MY TOE IS INFECTED.”
Our poor little five-year-old yelled right along with us, “CAN I PLEASE HAVE SOME MILK?”
We’d had a three-year old before. We’d gone through all of this already, but apparently, we’d garnered no lasting knowledge about how to handle it. Clearly, our little guy’s brain was going through a growth spurt of some kind. The changes in his sleeping patterns and sudden advancement in verbal abilities were ample evidence of that. For some reason though, he still couldn’t bring himself to say, “The precise reason that I’m crying is because my nose is experiencing a dreadful itch which I can’t seem to muster the energy or will to scratch. Instead of simply telling you that, I have hitherto said I wanted Band Aids — admittedly, a ridiculous, and ineffective manner in which to alert you of an itch. If you would be so kind as to scratch my nose for me, I assure you that I will curtail these histrionics at once.”
I’m happy to report that he’s four and a half now, and roughly 8% calmer. We still keep our windows closed because we’re good, considerate neighbors.
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