Tag Archives: terrible twos

A thousand decibels of imagined pain wrapped up in a coarse swaddling of frustration

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.

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Welcome to Shitsville

Welcome to Shitsville

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.