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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Tantrums

I have a Two-Year-Old

Now that we’ve celebrated Arddun’s birthday 3 times in 6 weeks and she has well and truly turned 2, Tony and I are starting to realise that we now have a Two-Year-Old.

By that, I mean Arddun has turned into a Two-Year-Old.

In fact sometimes, she turns into that kind of Two-Year-Old.

I haven’t been blogging much at all, but I’ve been working on this post in my head for ages. The fact is, our child has – in a matter of weeks – turned into a souped-up version of her former self. She has sprouted lengthways. She has leaned up. She has a natural hairstyle most women have rather seriously informed me they’d spend good money to have. She has a sense of humour. Her vocabulary has exploded. The light in her eyes glint with more understanding.

She plays with other little girls. Not in parallel – with.

She laughs heartily. She giggles like a girl. She also chucks massive tantrums.

Yes. The latter is what’s annoying and concerning me muchly.

I think most mothers I know try their hardest, and each mother has specialties they hope they especially shine in. I can’t bake glorious birthday cakes, or summon the energy to make yoghurt from scratch, or crochet her winter wardrobe. But I can sing. And I have tried my darndest to discipline Arddun consistently and firmly from the beginning.

So it’s rather bewildering when my mummy standards, rules and boundaries – which I thought I had carefully put in place and reinforced with 80-95% consistency since day dot – suddenly flops on its proverbial belly like a beached whale on day 731… or what feels like The Day After My Girl Turned Two.

She is contrary. She asks for an apple, then says No when you give it to her. Then asks for a biscuit. Then says No when you give that to her. Then wails Noooooooo all the way to the bedroom where you give her a time out. Then looks at you, eyes wide and shining, mouth straight and obstinate when you swat her on her bum or her leg. Then refuses to cry.

Most days, I battle her at least once. On average, I battle her 4 to 5 times a day. There was one day she got 2 time-outs in her cot before breakfast. There are days when all it feels I do is march her into her cot, and/or swat her.

The swatting was my mother’s method with me. Actually, I’ve tried lots of my mother’s methods on me with Arddun. And you know what? I think we were 2 very different little girls. Because my mother claimed I tried certain things once and never tried it again after my mother took action, but with Arddun? She will try it again.

It gets even more aggravating when she seemingly regresses. She doesn’t want to play by herself anymore. Bad habits such as throwing food and toys on the floor now tries to make the occasional comeback – mostly because she’s watched her peers, and wonders if she can still try the same with me. Ditto throwing herself on the floor and wailing. Ditto running away when I call. Ditto not saying her pleases and thank-yous.

It is, frankly, both vexing and humbling when your daughter’s good behaviour turns so very not. Because it is such a tangible reminder of how incomplete and imperfect my parenting is, and how I really haven’t sorted it out.

In amidst all of this, I am second-guessing the root cause of her behaviour. Is she testing limits because she’s

  • two
  • not comfortable because her eczema has broken out in a major way since we returned from hot and humid Singapore to its antithesis in Canberra
  • tetchy, thanks to a cold and cough she hasn’t been able to shake for close to a month
  • still dealing with the constant changes to her environment and routine this year
  • feeling insecure because of these constant changes
  • all of the above
  • none of the above – I’ve just been a lousy parent.

In the midst of yet another yell-in-my-cot, the last option pops into the mind and heart more often than not.

We’ve all been warned about the Terrible Twos. I’ve heard some mothers refer to the Terrible Fives. I’ve been told by one mother that she didn’t like her daughters from the ages 12 to 23.

And yes, I’ve also been told  that the Terrible Twos is a myth, brought on mostly because the fundamentals had not been put in place. If you put in a firm foundation from the start, you won’t grow a Terrible Two, because Terrible Twos don’t grow overnight – they grow over the months and months before.

To that statement of parenting belief, I now vacillate between snorting in derision and cringing in guilt. Because guess what. My daughter has turned into a Two-Year-Old. And it feels like the changes are happening overnight.

The thing is, I don’t believe I’m a slack parent. And I don’t think Arddun is terrible. She’s testy. And right now, she’s testing. But I no longer buy into the concept that if you set up firm foundations from the start, it follows that your toddler will ALWAYS  transition seamlessly and obediently from babyhood into childhood. I think it still depends on the temperament and nature of the child, and how they manifest each behavioural milestone.

Crediting ALL bad behaviour to a child’s natural temperament is irresponsible… but crediting all good behaviour to parenting skills can be equally erroneous and prideful.

Or maybe I’m just being rather defensive in my delicate, hair-torn state.

To make it that much more complicated, I also ponder the concept of showing grace, forgiveness and mercy to my child. Have I been patient enough? Have I shown mercy and in so doing, translated Christ’s love? Has my punishment been disproportionate to the offence? Have I allowed enough grace?

Conversely, am I parenting strictly because I want my child to learn how to walk a straight path… or am I parenting to please others? To assuage guilt? To save my face?

Because perhaps, in the end, parenting righteously is to

Show justice
Love mercy, and
Walk humbly with my God.

Lord knows I’ve repeated this verse to myself for days because guess what… my daughter is a Two-Year-Old.

Hey baby… what’s your sign?

Had a chinwag with Leila’s Mommy, and both of us were relieved and bemused to find that our daughters – born 15 hours apart – have seemingly turned from cooing, amiable angels to tantrum throwing, foot-stomping little horrors. In as short a time as a week.

Did not see this coming at all.

Arddun isn’t into foot-stomping – mostly because her legs are too busy clocking up 10,000 steps. But her other marvelous crimes of late include collapsing into a crying heap on the floor if her head so much as grazes the wind, or passive-aggressively doing The Jelly.

The Jelly, for the uninitiated, is the complete relaxation of all body parts as soon as either parent reaches down to carry her to A Place Other Than Where She’d Like To Go. This means that as soon as you try to scoop her up under the arms, she goes so soft and boneless that she practically slips through your hands. It’s almost elegant because there’s a half-twist in there somewhere.

This is an especially impressive move because the timing has to be perfect. A nanosecond later, and the parent would have found enough turgidity in her body to grasp and hoist. A nanosecond too early, and the parent would have anticipated it enough to change the angle of the scooping, so that the newly limp body would fall into waiting arms and all escape would be thwarted.

She is an Olympic champion at The Jelly. It has flummoxed both her parents the whole of this week – mostly because it’s her new thing we keep forgetting about. And the girl and I have had words (and a few firm taps on the thighs) about it. I’ve only just mastered an alternative grip to counter The Jelly. What I’d like to call the Reluctant Monkey, where you catch her by her hands and lift her off the ground, so she’s hanging there like a very put-out chimpanzee denied a free pass out of the zoo.

She hates it because it works and she can’t do anything about it. And that’s when she completely loses it.

That’s the other thing. In less than a fortnight, my usually stoic, nonplussed army-tank baby girl has turned into a complete sap. I’ve done the usual – not fussed when she’s bumped her head, kept my tone calm and my voice cheerful when I tell her nothing’s the matter, or pretend I didn’t see it. But now, it’s almost like the less fuss I make, the more Barbara Cartland her remonstrations. It’s like a Korean and Taiwanese drama right there on my living room floor, and I’m half expecting my neighbour to come around and check if I’m skinning a cat.

It is getting vexing, yes.

A chunk of it is boundary pushing, I’m sure of it. Especially now that she’s walking. Suddenly, she’s wearing Big Girl shoes and taking control of her destiny – or her destination, anyway. The Jelly is her way of retaining that control and newfound freedom, and I understand that too.

But the tantrum throwing… part of that is frustration. I see it in other scenarios – like how she can’t work a toy through the playpen grills, or how she wanted to get from the chair to the wall and missed, grazing her head on a nearby cushion instead. She’s wearing her Big Girl shoes… but she’s still mostly baby. And it’s frustrating for her. And I understand that too.

I’ve been trying to teach her sign language every since she started eating solids at 5+ months. She hasn’t always used it, but I’m fairly sure now that she understands at least one of the signs that means “all done” or “finished” – and sometimes, she signs it back to me. It’s funny how it’s so easy for her to give a flying kiss, wave good-bye and give strangers high-fives on cue, but it takes seemingly forever to teach signs that she understands enough to use on her own volition. And yet, I think it’ll be worth it. Especially now.

So some of the signs I’m starting to teach her more consistently include

  • please
  • thank you
  • all done (broadening its use)
  • drink
  • hungry
  • help (as in, “Please help me.”)

It sounds impressive, but I haven’t seen a consistent use of any of those signs yet. Mostly because my biggest problem is teaching consistently. Still, the game plan is to teach her that the tantrums are a big no-no, and that there are more pleasant and efficient alternatives. Carrot and stick, in a manner of speaking.

(Yes. I hear you old-timers laughing in the background. But I am still brimming with youthful optimism, so sue me.)

Also read a useful article about toddler tantrums, if you’re interested.

Crack up

Caught this video on Mommy Shorts this evening, and just had to share the love.

I have to admit that I cried with silent laughter through most of the video because something akin to dread mingled with ironic mirth while whispering, this is my new life.

Because yes, Before Child, a video like this would have made me itch to smack the child, the parents, or both. Tantrums, I had decided in my BC days, were purely a reflection of pathetic parenting.

But now that I’m this much closer to growing a tanty tot of my own, there is – I’ll admit – some degree of foreboding.

And it’s not that I condone tantrums, or think that histrionics and disobedience are cute. But the pursuit of self-control ain’t exactly peaches, is it. Adults crack up all the time. And I am absolutely masterful at throwing tanties. I am an eyeball-roller. A scowler. A raise-my-voice-and-blame-someone-else-er. Take it up a notch, and I turn into door-slammer and use-hot-words-to-tear-off-flesh-from-back-er.

Not quite the embodiment of self-control, no.

The truth is that everyone reaches a tipping point, and toddlers are no exception. Arddun is all smiles, bouncy-bouncy-bouncy… and then she falls off some invisible cliff at about 6.00pm and suddenly, she’s inconsolable when she bumps into cotton wool. Arches her back, screams blue murder, all of it.

She’s tired, she’s grumpy, and she doesn’t have a vocabulary beyond “Boo” and “Daddeeee” to communicate her troubles effectively. I know it doesn’t give her license to turn into a banshee, and we’re still drawing the boundaries on what acceptable tired behaviour is and isn’t. But the road to attaining self-control is looooong… and until she reaches sainthood, I’m thinking there will be days ahead when putting away a dinner bowl at day’s end becomes my child’s metaphor for, “My eyelids are heavy and I just can’t take this day anymore. Please carry me to bed.”

Deep breath.

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