The terrible twos. It’s an alliterative parental minefield, isn’t it, surviving the terrible twos. I have a sneaking suspicion though, that the concept of the terrible twos came about for a number of reasons:
1. To hide the fact that the terribleness goes on way, way longer than the year when they are actually two – but to admit as much may make parents weep uncontrollably, and
2. The Terrible Threes, or the Terrible Fours, just does not have the same snappy ring about it.
In my experience (status: amateur parent, achievements: not killing or seriously maiming either of my children by accident, career ambition: to get more sleep) the terrible twos is a misnomer of epic proportions. E did have a few tantrums when he was two, but he was worse when he was three. Perhaps the Throttling Threes then? Although this has more to do with what I wanted to do to him when he had said tantrums or misbehaved, rather than describing his behaviour. Not that tantrums need describing. You ask a parent of a toddler about tantrums, and they will wince, their teeth will involuntarily start to grind together and their fists will clench repeatedly. Oh…right. Just me then.
But now E is four, we have stumbled into a whole new territory of behaviour. Not so much tantrums, but worse. I never thought I would yearn for those days when you were faced with a tantrum, but I kind of miss their simplicity. And the simple strategy to deal with them: walk away. I like this as a strategy. My whole life, I have lived by the principle that I should not to walk away from things: confront problems, don’t hide from issues, stand and fight (not literally fight, you understand. That’s just crazy talk. Unless you are standing in front of someone much smaller, with glasses and no arms). But a tantrum? Get the hell away from it as fast as you possibly can and go and put the kettle on or reach for the wine, depending on whether you can justify a quick glass of red at 2.30 in the afternoon or not. Of course, health and safety fans, you have to make sure the tantrumer is not going to hurt themselves. I tended to put a ring of traffic cones around his prostrate, writhing body and in worst case scenarios, employed two miserable looking men in high-vis jackets with ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ signs and half-smoked roll-ups clutched between their fingers to stand either end of him, waving or halting traffic past as required. Anyway, enough of my parenting master class.
So, here we are, stumbling around this new territory of behaviour – let’s call it, oh, I don’t know… Shitsville, for the sake of argument. Well, I am stumbling, E is stomping and stamping, mostly. E seems to have both regressed two years in behavioural terms, and progressed nine years into teenhood simultaneously. So a request to turn the television off can be met with a crumpling of the face as tears threaten to make an appearance, whilst at the same time a surly and emphatic “no” is spat forth. It is a charming thing to behold. An innocent comment about popping along to the library later can provoke a howl of disdain, a stamp of the foot and a whine that puts fingernails and blackboards to shame in the irritation stakes.
And I have to admit, not for the first time in my parenting career (I call it a career, but I am not sure I should, as ‘career’ makes it sound a little too purposeful, with some forward momentum and improvement) I am a little flummoxed. These little Stand Offs in Shitsville – coming to a cinema near you soon, certificate 18, contains scenes of mild violence as I bang my head repeatedly against the wall – are fairly frequent and bloody annoying and I am not sure I really have the right strategy to deal with them. I am wielding the only stick I know. It is a metaphorical one, of course. For now. I am withholding toys, treats and television: my alliterative arsenal of choice. I admit, I am doing it mainly for the sake of a quiet life – but if anyone asks, I was just following that sage parenting advice of ‘pick your battles wisely’. In the past, I probably wasn’t as strict as I should have been with admonishing naughtiness. Sometimes, I let it slide because a) I was in the middle of rescuing a small object from the mouth of my one year old, b) we needed to get in the car before midnight or c) I was just too sodding tired. All of which pretty much guarantees I will not be picking up the trophy for parent of the year any time soon. But now, wandering around Shitsville without a map, a sense of direction or any sort of clue, I have just become Super Bitch Mummy. At the first sign of trouble, I tell E what is at stake. At the second sign of trouble, he loses the toy or treat. At the third sign? He loses another. This can go on for some time. As I said, it’s not up there with the most effective of strategies, but it’s all that I have at this point.
What is most surprising – and I use the term surprising not in the ‘ooh, what a lovely present’ way, but in the ‘oh, I seem to have chopped my leg off in the food processor’ way – is the barefaced cheek. My four year old is channelling a grumpy thirteen year old. He can deliver a sarcastic “sor-reeee” with all the practised insouciance of a hormonal teenager and can back-chat with the best of them. After one particular episode at bedtime, where there were tears, shouting, screaming, stamping and admonishment (we were pretty honours even in all these stakes) and things had finally calmed down, I went back up to his room to have a chat, point out his unacceptable behaviour and get him settled. Doing this, I felt, would be the grown-up, parenty-type thing to do, rather than throw all his Lego in the dustbin, which was the first thought that actually sprang to mind. He listened to what I said. “So you are going to be good now?” I asked. “No I am not,” he replied bluntly. Christ on a bike. I wouldn’t recommend Shitsville as a destination. Quite frankly, it’s.. err… shit. I knew I should have looked on Trip Advisor before setting off.
There is a tiny cloud in the sky of Shitsville, with a tiny silver lining. Just a small one, but one nonetheless. I have spoken (well, technically, moaned, but let’s not split hairs) with several mums of four year olds, and they pretty much all say the same thing about the behaviour of their offspring at the moment. Lippy, chippy, grumpy, stompy kids. Actually, just add whingey, stampy and rudey and we can reinvent the Seven Dwarves for the iPad generation. Knowing my friends are dealing with the same crap does have a touch of schadenfreude about it, but show me a parent who is not secretly relieved that there are other poor sods in the same leaky, unstable boat. So there we all are, in our boat. Floating up Shit Creek. Guess where the paddle is? Nah, I don’t know, either.