Have a 2 year old? Yeah, me too. Pour yourself a large glass and watch this…
Tag Archives: tantrums
“Oh dear,” says a friend as she looks down at my son, who is lying prostrate on the floor, chewing the carpet and screaming hysterically, “it’s the Terrible Twos.”
Damn right it’s the Terrible Twos. We are the grand total of 21 days into the Terrible Twos. That’s 504 hours, approximately 273 of which he has been awake and thus, if I were to attempt a bit more mental arithmetic (no, that is not the sound of calculator buttons being pressed, honest) I would calculate that given an average of 32% of his day is spent throwing a strop, that’s over 87 hours worth of hell. I have just tried to work out how many more hours we have left to endure before the Terrible Twos are over, but I inexplicably found myself lying prostrate on the floor, chewing the carpet and screaming hysterically.
Living with my son is like living with a two-foot mutant hybrid of Kim Jong II, Vlad the Impaler and Naomi Campbell. Now there’s a petri dish of genetic material that should be embalmed in twenty foot of concrete and tossed into the ocean.
His tantrums are on a hair trigger. Slice that apple too thickly, pack away that puzzle before he has finished ignoring it for another three hours, or ask him to do all manner of outrageous things like clean his teeth, and off he goes. Boom. I have to say though, he styles his tantrums with a certain flair. He flings his arms skywards as his face screws up in unadulterated fury, a quite fetching puce colour rising to the surface, momentarily resembling a diver poised on the edge of the high board (albeit with significantly more clothes and decibels). At this point, he starts his descent. Slowly, his knees buckle. He lists slightly to one side, arms still aloft. It is the best impression I have ever seen of a seventies tower block being demolished with strategically-placed explosives, ever. Finally, he crumples to the floor and we enter the swimming-on-the-spot phase of the display, before the final act involving the wail of the banshee, a noise so loud my ear drums have been known to tremble in fear and I involuntarily salivate.
Apparently, when babies are born they can only see in black and white. They soon develop the ability to view the world in all its glorious Technicolor, but by the age of two, it seems that for the second time, they can only see the world in black or white. B is resolute. Adamant about everything. In the world of the two year old, there is no room for uncertainty, ergo, he is certain about absolutely sodding everything.
We are in the car, going to nursery. “That way,” he says emphatically, pointing out of his window. “No darling,” I reply, already tightening my grip on the steering wheel, bracing myself. “Nursery is this way, straight ahead.”
“THAT WAY!” he yells, and as we drive past the narrow gap between two buildings that he is convinced is the right way to go, he starts to cry. “THAAAAT WAAAAAY…” he ululates. He cries all the way to nursery, then cries afresh when I have the audacity to park in a car parking space rather than in the small pram store that he would prefer.
My other recent parental indiscretions that have led to tantrums have included:
- Not agreeing to let him eat chocolate coins for breakfast
- Not letting him drive the car to nursery
- Asking him to put a coat on
- Telling him off for throwing a plastic bowl at me (see, I told you he was one third Naomi Campbell)
- Breaking his flapjack into pieces.
Well, when you see it written down in a list like that, it’s no wonder he spends most of his time wearing grumpy pants: I am obviously an utterly unreasonable bitch.
I find the term Terrible Twos a little on the benign side, quite frankly. It’s a bit like describing a severed leg as ‘moderate chafing’. I looked up synonyms of the word terrible: the first was dreadful. Well, I suppose that’ll do. Then appalling, horrific. Ahh, that’s more like it. A bit further on, we get abominable, shocking, hideous. Oh, now we’re getting somewhere. And finally: unspeakable, monstrous, vile. That’s it. They’ve bloody nailed it. So, on reflection, I guess Terrible Twos is the perfect way to describe it. But I’ve been here before. The Terrible Twos can be grim, for sure, but there is something so much more heinous, atrocious and repellent over the horizon. Ladies and gentlemen, tighten your sphincters. Batten down your pelvic hatches. Advance in fear with only a torch and a foreboding sense of doom for company. Because lurking round the corner, licking its lips with an evil glint in its eye is… The Fucked Up Fours.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
What’s that in the distance? It looks like… well, I am not sure. An amorphous blob of angry black cloud? A thousand decibels of imagined pain wrapped up in a coarse swaddling of frustration? Oh yes, now I recognise it. It’s the terrible twos. I’ve weathered this storm of wretchedness before and I seem to remember it being a right barrel of laughs. Shame that the barrel seemed to have sprung a leak, so by the time I got there all the laughs had bloody well GONE.
B is fast approaching two, but he is not letting the small matter of a few weeks get in the way of him signing up to the terrible twos club. You know the club. The one full of screaming toddlers who spend a large proportion of their time lying face down on the floor. The club with at least a twelve month membership, that gives each new member a free gift of bottomless lungs and an unwavering sense of entitlement. Yes, that club.
Already he is in full practise mode for his tantrums, trying out all the different floors in the house (carpet is comfier, but whilst the wooden kitchen floor is hard, there is the possible bonus of finding a morsel or two to eat whilst he’s down there), experimenting with positions (a standing up tantrum requires less effort but without the dramatic crumbling to the floor it lacks a certain element of spectacle) and exercising his vocal chords regularly to ensure maximum ear drum impact. It is a joy to behold.
‘Here we are,’ I say to him one day, ‘here’s some banana’. I hold out a bowl into which I have sliced some banana. He takes one look at my offering and immediately his mouth springs open into an unholy chasm of half-emerged teeth and flailing tongue. The noise starts slowly, building up in decibels like an air raid warning siren. In fact, if these tantrums persist, an Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden might be the only solution. And I don’t care who goes in it: him or me. Just so long as it is not both of us. As his wail reaches its crescendo, the knees slowly buckle, and he falls prostrate to the floor in slow motion, just to ensure that I don’t miss a moment of the Toddler Tantrum Topple. And there he stays, screaming into the floorboards, as small puddles of tears collect beneath his face and snot is slowly smeared from floor to face and back again, all because I had the audacity to offer him a fruit-based snack. Or because I sliced the banana incorrectly. Or maybe because the slices made a peculiar pattern in the bowl. Who knows. I have long given up trying to understand what causes a tantrum. I sigh, put the bowl on the table and go and watch some paint dry in another room until he has finished. Silence eventually falls, punctuated only by the repeated quick, raggedly intake of breath as B realises that he needs to offset the three million cubic feet of oxygen he has just expended in the last five minutes with a few inhalations.
Now calm, I can offer him the aforementioned sliced banana again. “Yay!” he cries with glee and takes the bowl from me. “Nank noo mummy,” he says and smiles. He is delighted with the exact same offering that provoked nuclear melt down five minutes previously. Of course he’s delighted. Because he is nearly two, and in that world, swinging wildly from two utterly contrary emotions is part of the deal. It’s just not part of my deal. Well, it is. But I don’t want it to be. Which of course, simply means it is. Now it is my turn to lay face down on the floor.
And then there is the screams. Oh my days. This boy has a scream on him. He screams like a naked diva who has got her nipple trapped in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. It is a scream so loud and piercing that if I am within a six foot range, it actually makes me salivate. What the sodding hell is that all about? I can only think what happens is that the nerve endings in my ear drum go into temporary acute overload and my brain, panicked into doing something – anything – to block out that noise, accidentally connects my ears to my saliva ducts. I suppose it could be worse. It could connect them to my sphincter, and then we would all be in serious trouble.
I peer forward, squinting, into the near future. There are things to anticipate with glee, like B getting to grips with language so he can stop saying ‘nank noo’ and start saying thank you. And like him comprehending that ‘sharing’ does not actually mean that everyone gives everything to him right now and don’t even think about picking up that toy that I have discarded because it may look like I don’t want it but the moment you touch it I will scream so loudly your facial skin will melt and mummy will start drooling like a simpleton. And then when I peer some more, there’s the terrible twos and the inevitable tantrums.
Hmm. You know that empty barrel, the one that used to be full of laughs? Pass it here, would you? I may just climb in and nail the lid shut from the inside. Just for a year.
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.