It seems indisputable that today’s world harbors parenting challenges that we never imagined when my daughter was young. Yet one essential truth remains, universally acknowledged then and now:
Two-year-olds are impossible.
The other night my daughter, a devoted, creative, and loving mother, sank back into the cushions on my living room couch with a massive sigh of frustration. She was fresh from another face-off with her own two-year-old, a deceptively beautiful, tiny female to whom I lovingly refer as Rambo in a Tutu. My daughter stared at me in utter desolation. “Mom,” she said, despair shadowing every syllable, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her. I really, really don’t.” I returned her sigh in a spirit of comradeship, thinking I could dare anyone to find a parent who has not agonized their way through this developmental stage, a period of time unlike anything a rational person can fathom in life as we know it.
And what exactly makes these Pint-Sized Revolutionaries so vexing, anyway? Is it the astonishing strength of the opposition force? The utter lack of logic and reason that governs their every move? The terroristic unpredictability, the realization that one never knows when a strike may occur?
Long before the day for my daughter’s lament arrived, I foresaw a time when my heart’s desire at this moment would be nothing more than simple justice and fair retribution. Payback time, I imagined, would be ever so delicious and sweet. The memories that drove me to that cold and bitter anticipation are remarkably fresh. My daughter’s tantrums at two were the stuff of story and song (the blues, of course), and at their peak I often tried to remove her to her room and shut the door. This pathetically ineffective strategy generated more, better screaming and motivated her to pull on the doorknob with all her maniacal might, demanding escape. Refusing to cave (and lacking a lock), I pulled against the doorknob on the opposing side in a classic tug of proverbial war. The screaming generally lasted about six weeks or so, and about halfway through I was generally reduced to sobbing myself.
Such stories, and those of more comedic antics, are often traded among empathetic parents. I have a niece, now one of my favorite women on the planet, who demonstrated will of breathtaking scope at this age. Instructed by her mother to stop hurling bits of broccoli off her high chair tray and onto the floor, she resumed the aforementioned sport the minute her mother turned around. Mother escalated to a more direct confrontation, positioning herself about six inches from Niece’s face, firmly and slowly intoning, “I SAID: Stop. Throwing. Your. Food.” The child locked eyes with her foe, leaning even closer, and resumed slow-pitching the veg without moving her eyes from Mother’s face. (I had to run from the room to howl unobserved. These things are always funny when it isn’t your kid.) A good friend shares a tale of instructing his twin daughters that eating with their hands was hereby disallowed. Planting their hands at their sides, they solved this dilemma ingeniously by dropping their heads face down into the plate, to graze like puppies in a dog bowl. Yet another good friend summarizes the time period poignantly as “the longest days of the shortest years” of her life.
Oddly, when my moment to savor sweet justice arrived, it lacked the thrill of victory. I longed to to reassure and soothe the mother’s soul—because, of course, nothing can be done with the child—but standard alms like a stiff shot of bourbon and a long hot bath did not seem like particularly original suggestions.
A few days later, in a fit of New Year’s purging, I sorted a box of old books and came upon a small, worn, cloth-covered volume called “The Fine Art of Motherhood” and dated 1930. That would mean it likely belonged to my grandmother and was given to her around the time my mother was born in the spring of 1931. Could there be any time-honored recommendations here? Skimming through, I failed to uncover specific solutions for surviving two-year-olds, but other, related observations made intriguing reading. “Conquering a child’s will is not what we are after, but training it,” the author opines. Indeed. And easier said than done, perhaps.
On the final page, however, I lingered over her closing statement, where she quotes an authority who “….names as attributes of little children sincerity, faith, democracy, forgiveness, and the tender heart. If we can meet them on this plane, they will teach us more than we can teach them.”