3 months ago my 21 month old came down with a fever for four days. Nothing serious, all pretty mild, it hung around 99 degrees. Besides tired and a little cranky, the fever was the extent of his symptoms. When his fever broke apparently so did the guise of an angelic baby boy that had inhabited his body just 5 days prior. A monster shape shifted into the form of my blond haired blue-green eyed baby boy. In the days that followed the monster would throw my child on to the floor at any moment’s notice when not given exactly what he wanted (which was hard to know since his vocab was limited to about 15 words); he would find a screeching pitch that I never knew the human ear could hear (he was even making our quiet dog howl); and the absolute worst outrage, he no longer wanted to be cuddled before bedtime – instead he pointed and said “bed” pushing me away not wanting to have our little pre-bedtime cuddle session.
I was convinced that something happened to him during the fever – could this be a sign of some horrible virus or illness? I posted this issue on the local area mom’s facebook page I was a part of – within minutes I received news that I was not willing or able to fully process: WELCOME TO THE TERRIBLE TWOS. This didn’t make sense – my child was never going to be a terrible toddler, no ways, he was just too alert and sensitive for that. And plus, he was far from being two, we had just celebrate 18 months of life… I still had 6 more months before Terrible Twos, right?! But no, every one of the 21 moms that responded to my post just reaffirmed that some kiddos stumble into this stage early. I had not been warned. This was a terror attack on motherhood.
It took me awhile to truly embrace that it wasn’t the fever – this was a phase (albeit so totally unprepared for and unexpected) of childhood we were experience. Since then our household has adjusted – as one does in any traumatic situation. That is the beauty of human resilience, we adapt.
Over the last few months I’ve found coping mechanisms that work for my little X-man. And when we think that we’ve found a way to keep the peace at home, it seems he wakes up the next morning with new plans to test new limits. It’s such a fascinating time – because not only is he asserting his independence, testing boundaries, learning what seems like a million new skills and words each day, he is becoming his own little human being. I can imagine that without the words to describe this new world he is discovering that it must get awfully frustrating living with two adults that are truly clueless.
One of my coping mechanisms: bargaining. I am pretty sure that every parenting book tells you not to do this. Some of the bargaining is actually rationalizing (which I’ve also heard is not the smartest thing to do with a toddler.) When I say, it’s time to get your coat on to go outside and he runs in the other direction. I can explain to him that we can’t go out for a walk (which he loves) until he puts his coat on and somehow he actually understands me and complies in putting on his coat, most of the time.
But tonight I think I pushed my limit. He came home from daycare a little more tired than usual and super clingy. I was getting dinner ready for him but all he wanted to do was grab my hand to have me open the pantry and get his “nacks” (toddler for snacks). What he really wanted were his cookies. I told him no. (“No”, aka: toddler kryptonite.)
I told him that he could have his cookies after he ate his soup all gone. Well he just wouldn’t have this (nor did he probably actually understand me).
“If you eat your soup then I will give you your cookies – ok?” And he’d nod and take a little bit of soup. And then, expecting to have a cookie given to him immediately after this bite he burst into ginormous tears, earth shattering tears. But I would not be swayed.
“No, buddy, you have to finish your dinner first, and then you can have your cookies. Ok?” He’d nod take a bite of soup and then point in the direction of the cookies… more tears and now screams in a language all his own.
“Ok, I will tell you what, I will let you have a cookie when you finish 10 bites of soup.”
Seriously Christy?!?! I honestly believed my 21 month year old child would comply with that demand. #momfail and that I did, big time.
About 5 minutes later when my child was red in the face from crying so hard, and I was just as stubbornly sitting across from him bargaining, rationalizing and explaining that he had only had 4 bites of soup and he must have 6 more to get his cookies, my husband gently came over and said, why don’t we take a little break. He picked up X-man and took him to the couch for a little calm down time.
One reality check and 10 minutes later I totally gave in and just handed my child a handful of cookies. And I was able to get him to eat all of his soup in between dipping the cookies in the soup and shoveling spoonfuls into his mouth between chews. Does this equal success or failure? I am sure there are several major fails in this story – which include giving my child cookies for dinner (which in my defense are organic and low sugar). What I do know is that 1) apparently this time is about survival – and we survived tonight! 2) trying to do the right thing when it comes to a toddler is probably an oxymoron, its about survival and 3) I’m just doing the best I can. Some nights we are just going to have cookies for dinner and some nights maybe we will have a beautiful organic meal with roasted veggies and free-range hormone free chicken… but not tonight.