It started nearly the moment she came in the door. I picked her up at daycare and she was in a lovely mood, playing on the playground, eager to show me all the fun things she’d done. A quiet drive home listening to music in the car, watching the traffic out the window. She eagerly came inside, waved at Mommy in the kitchen. And just like that, something broke off. The tears came and she cried all the way through dinner, alternating between choking down food and pitching it across the room. Everything we fed her received the same treatment.
Then came bath time. She had to be carried upstairs to the bathroom, whining the whole way. She wouldn’t stay in the bathroom, and screeched at being unable to open the closed door. She threw her bath toys out of the tub, then bawled at having no toys to play with. She squealed at having her hair washed; gurgled angrily as we scrubbed her face. She shivered with rage when we took her out of the bath and shrieked at us as we dried her and dressed her. She fought the hairdryer and threw herself about in convulsions as we put her in her pajamas. Even as she cuddled her loveys and I rocked her to put her down, she whimpered and wept. Twenty minutes after laying down, she ran out of steam and fell asleep.
What brought on this tantrum? I wish I knew. If you have any ideas, please, tell me in a comment below. My hunch is that she was tired and nearly two years old. The so-called “terrible twos” are upon us. Her sense of willfulness and desire for autonomy have outgrown her actual agency and communication skills, and it makes her woefully unpleasant at times.
For instance, she has developed a more sophisticated understanding of what she wants while lacking the skills and ability to communicate this to us. She knows the sign for “eat,” which she uses with us when she is hungry (pointed fingers towards mouth). In the past, she has been perfectly satisfied by telling us she wants to eat by making this sign, because we respond to it and feed her. But now when she wants to eat graham crackers, the only sign she has is the sign for “eat,” because she doesn’t know the sign for “eat graham crackers.” So she signs eat, and we put her in her high chair and feed her ham. Ham does not taste anything like graham crackers, and this is understandably frustrating. But she does not know how to say she wants graham crackers; she only knows how to say “NO!” to everything we feed her. After several unsuccessful attempts to feed her foods that are not graham crackers – yogurt, strawberries, green beans, chicken salad, all painfully unlike graham crackers – she points to the graham crackers. This would work except that the graham crackers are in the pantry, which presents a problem because a) the pantry is on the other side of the kitchen and there are several dozen items in between her pointing finger and the pantry; and b) nearly every type of food we have is also in the pantry. It is only after much difficult trial and refusal that we eventually offer her graham crackers, after which immediate relief and an annoyed eye roll – “Finally! You morons, what took you so long?” – that she settles down.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the upcoming explosion in her vocabulary. Let me tell you, it feels long overdue.
But in addition to the frustration of being unable to communicate her more sophisticated desires and will, her body is just growing at such a rate that it must be literally physically exhausting. She is very active now and big enough to bound and climb and kick and jump, almost clear out of her skin. And at times, it might actually feel as if her skeleton wants to grow through her skin. Sometimes, it’s as if the world doesn’t turn fast enough, and then the very next moment it kills her that the world won’t stop completely. It’s a very confusing time. In some ways, it reminds me of adolescence, except with less name-calling.
Weathering these fits is difficult, I won’t lie. This is far more trying for me than her fits of crying as an infant. In those moments there was usually an easy fix: feed her, change her, burp her, rock her to sleep, or else she’s sick. But all of those things have now developed into exponentially more complex possibilities. Feed her graham crackers; change her hairbow; rock her gently while reading her a book – no, not that book, that book. But through all of this, her patience is just as short as it was eighteen months ago. If you’re not reading that book right now, then expect her to cry with a rapid and steady increase of volume and intensity.
Here’s how I survive them. I let her cry and remind myself that this is her job now. She is growing, she is developing, she is supposed to try enacting her will on everything around and she is supposed to get frustrated when that doesn’t work. I mean, how well would she develop if she just shrugged and gave up anytime things didn’t go her way? “I’m hungry. Oh, you don’t want to feed me? Okay, whatever.” Yeah, that wouldn’t turn out so well. Having a willful child is a pain in the ass, but it’s the right thing for the long run. No parent wants their child to be a developmental slacker.
At least, this is what I tell myself over her screaming.