I have been the mother of a two-year-old for almost six months now and let me tell you, the stories people tell you? True. All true.
I mean, it’s a bit of a dick move to describe a child as “terrible”, so I won’t, but raising a two-year-old has definitely presented some very unique challenges – and delights! Plenty of delights, don’t you worry! It’s been a while since I did an update post like this, so I figured it was time.
We will dive into the challenges first, because I am fabulous at complaining.
First, getting dressed. If you think I am a social media over-sharer now, let me tell you that it would be ten times worse if I didn’t have to eliminate the majority of photos due to Olive’s complete state of undress. Olive despises clothing, and so basically any time we are at home, she is au naturel. It’s to the point that one of my neighbours popped over a few months back and said, in shock, “Oh! She’s wearing clothes!” Yeah. We are that family. My thinking on the subject is this: being naked is awesome, and there’s a very short period of time that it’s socially acceptable to be nude all the time – why not make the most of it while you can? She is so utterly confident in her own skin, and I love that. She knows that she has to remain clothed in public and at friends houses, so I have just sort of let go of this one. Rock on, nudie baby.
What I am not so OK with is that these clothing struggles also extend to outdoor wear. We live in Edmonton, so there is a lot of outdoor wear. If she is really digging in her heels I try and allow natural consequences to do their thing, and I take her outside without a coat for a few seconds. Nine times out of ten she will say “Oh! It’s cold! I need a coat.” And then I bite my tongue to stop myself from crowing Oh reeeeally?? and instead I say, “What a great idea! I happen to have one right here.” That said, she’s also always the kid with no hat and no mittens, because she just won’t keep them on. You win some, you lose some, I guess.
Logic. Or lack thereof. This is my parenting Achilles heel. This, and anything to do with sleep. When Olive is throwing a tantrum that makes no sense and is asking for things that aren’t actually possible in real life it makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. On a recent trip to Calgary she asked me to roll down her window. It was a fairly warm day, and who doesn’t love fresh air? so I acquiesced and cracked her window. And then she asked for it to be rolled down more, so I rolled it down again. Then she asked it to be rolled down more, but it was already all the way down. I explained this, she asked again. I explained it again in a different way, she started to tantrum. So I am driving 120 km/hr down a highway with my two-year-old shrieking “Please roll my window down again, mummy!” in between sobs, and I am shouting “It is already all the way down! It doesn’t go down any futher! This is as down as it goes!” And then suddenly it was quiet and I glanced into my rear view mirror to find that she had fallen asleep, and I was like, “What the hell just happened?”
I find these sort of tantrums frustrating because there is no way to reason with her. And they don’t make sense! So we both just take deep breaths and I wait for them to pass and then I go swear into my pillow and eat mass quantities of popcorn. Healthy!
Whining. This is a big one for this age. Every demand is immediate, and every thing seems to be whined. We tackled manners a long time ago, but even saying please is like nails on a chalkboard when it is whined. I typically ask her to take a deep breath and use her regular voice, and now I find that she is catching herself, and doing it without being asked. When she does something like that she gets praised like she has just discovered electricity – the amount of effort it requires for a toddler to stop, realize they are whining, and be able to rephrase the request in a more appropriate tone is HUGE, and acknowledging that effort makes it that much more likely that she will continue to do it in future.
Emotional…volatility? I am not sure how to describe this, except comparing it to PMS. You know when you feel like all 54 layers of emotional armor have been stripped off and everything makes you cry? This is sometimes how it seems like Olive is acting. Things that didn’t faze her before, now reduce her to an angry puddle. I am fairly sure this is an age-specific thing, and not related to any of the recent events in our lives because I have talked to a bunch of other moms with kids her age and they are all experiencing the same thing. So, lots of hugs, lots of patience. (Lots of popcorn)
Now, on to the good stuff.
First, she is a person. A real PERSON! I feel like I have said this like eight times over the course of her small life, but it is incredible to see how independent she is becoming, and how thoughtful, and compassionate she can be. Also, smart! Can I be a braggy mom for a second? Forgive me. Olive knows all of her colours and most of her letters, counts up to sixteen, aaaand is basically a pint-sized Picasso. (I never list these accomplishments to random strangers in real life. Please believe me)
Child Labour! I believe really strongly that you should try not to do for a child what they are capable of doing for themselves, and so as Olive got older I started setting up a few systems in our home that help her in this regard.
This is a cupboard I set up for Olive in our kitchen at the advice of my friend Jess, a Montessori teacher. In this cupboard are her dishes and utensils, as well as a stack of rags and a dustpan and whisk. Olive is responsible for setting her own place at the table, as well as clearing dishes at the end of the meal and taking them to the sink.
If she spills something she can (and does) go to her cupboard to get a cloth, or the whisk and dustpan to help clean it up. I try to involve her in the kitchen whenever I can, and she really likes measuring and pouring things, as well as wiping down the table and counter tops after we are done.
She is also responsible for putting her own laundry away. I ordered a set of stickers to put on her dresser that show her what goes where, and although I have had to sacrifice any semblance of folding or organization, it works really well. (Edited to add: stickers bought here)
I bring clean laundry to her room and sometimes help her sort it, and then she takes the clothing and puts it away. This kind of thing takes way longer than if I simply did it myself, but eventually she will get better and better, and I like the idea that this sort of thing will have always been a part of her daily life, rather than trying to all of a sudden spring chores on an unsuspecting nine-year-old who’s all like, “Put my laundry away? Nuh-uh. That’s your job.”
Being on board with this helps stem the tide of “I do it all by mySELF!” that can sometimes swamp you with a two-year-old. Letting her do as much as possible by herself makes it easier for her to deal with the stuff I need to do for her, and also makes her feel autonomous and capable – which is really fabulous, when you think about it. It’s also very gratifying to see such a clear willingness to help others develop – I think that is one of our most wonderful qualities as human beings.
Emotional Intelligence. She has become really sweet with our niece, Ada. Most of her stuffed animals have been re-named Ada at some point, and she carries them around, nurses them, puts them to sleep, and puts them into imaginary car seats. I began naming emotions for her a while ago, and now she can identify when she is feeling frustrated, sad, angry, happy etc. and recognizes the same emotions in others. Nothing makes you feel better than a sticky two-year-old flinging her chubby arms around your neck whenever you’re sad.
Individuation. The source of the most delightful aspect of parenting a two-year-old is also, paradoxically, the same source of much of the frustration, too. Every bit of Olive is screaming out (sometimes literally) for her to become her own person and differentiate herself from me. The way that she expresses this – saying “No”, refusing to get dressed, being uncertain in familiar situations- comes from the realization that she and I are not the same person, and the reaction to that knowledge. It must be such a heady – and sometimes scary – rush of autonomy, control, and independence. And because she talks so much she is sometimes able to express this really succinctly, and the sociologist in me has found this fascinating.
Over Christmas she was knee-deep in a “No” phase. Everything my family said to her was met with an immediate and reflexive “No!”, sometimes before they had even finished asking the question. It was very off-putting, even for someone who knew the psychology behind it, so at one point I took her aside to talk to her. I got down to her level and said “Olive, it’s not kind to shout ‘No’ at everyone all the time. It’s fine if you don’t want to do something, but say it politely. You can say ‘No, thank you’ or ‘Not right now’, but don’t just keep saying ‘No, No No’. OK?”
She nodded, and then looked at me and said “But Mummy, I have to say no.”
It was such a sincere and honest answer, and I sat there for a few moments and realized that I completely, 100% believed her. She honestly does have to say no. It’s a deeply-rooted developmental need at this age, and it was unbelievably cool to hear her acknowledge and express that.
This process of individuation causes some headaches and growing pains in our day-to-day life, but it also creates the most amazing interactions where I realize that I am speaking to a fully-formed human being – albeit a naked one with little impulse control. Her adult-self is in there, it’s still coalescing and taking shape, but all of the elements are already present. She is smart as a whip, incredibly funny, and I see more evidence of her compassion, love and kindness every day. I remember when I was pregnant, spending so many hours wondering who this little person would be. Now I know, and I couldn’t be more proud. It is truly magnificent to think that I had any part in creating this formidable human being, and I feel outrageously lucky to be her mom.
I love this child fiercely, every single wild-haired, tantruming, silly-dancing, funny-voiced, pot-bellied inch of her.