One of the things that has come up time and time again for me when reading about or talking to other parents about raising a child is the 'terrible 2's.' Apparently this time in life is something that people throughout history have been fearful of. In fact, I recently learned that in one of Shakespeare's early drafts the soothsayer warned Caesar about the ides of March not only because he was going to be murdered, but because his offspring was going to be turning 2 as well.
Caesar: Ha! Who calls?
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March. Your offspring will turn 2 and you will go blind with frustration over their actions and defiance of you.
Caesar: What hell is this? I'd rather be assassinated than deal with such madness.
Soothsayer: Funny you should mention that...
When Olivia turned 3 I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that we had made it out of those troubled waters. But then parents of older children started telling me that 3 is worse than 2, and that the years after that have their own brands of fun. There are the 'fearsome 4s,' the 'fucked up 5s,' the 'sacrebleu 6s' and the 'seriously (?!?!) 7s.' I'm a worrier by nature, so my mind races at what's potentially ahead of us. Problem is, I need to focus on the here and now because what's going on in present day is quite a lot.
For starters, I'm back to being public enemy #1 with Olivia. She wants mommy most of the time, won't let me do things for her and whines if I try to discipline her. Jodi has been doing her best to remind Olivia that I love her and only want the best for her. She's even gone so far as to wear a massive clock around her neck and be my hype woman. "Daddy doesn't swear he's nice, Olivia, he knows he's nice." Unfortunately for me it appears that rapping does not soothe the savage beast, no matter how fresh my rhymes are.
It also doesn't help that as of late Olivia is saying that I scare her. From what I can gather, my being the disciplinarian of the house has been painting me in this light. It's either that or my new pajamas. I'll admit, there have been a handful of times where I've raised my voice to try and regain some control over situations where she's blowing up and won't calm down. I realize now that in those moments I was pretty much doing the same thing she was: acting out in frustration. In those instances I made sure to apologize and let her know that I still loved her and tried to compromise with whatever the issue was at hand. I know I'm not perfect and that I have my own issues. Every day is a new chance to do better and work on building up patience, understanding and love for my daughter. Yet now, it's as if every time I try to discipline her, she's frightened of me and wants to be comforted by Jodi. How do I combat that?
Come to think of it, disciplining Olivia these days has been really challenging for both Jodi and I, especially since her responses vary depending on which of us it's coming from. If it's from Jodi, Olivia will yell, bite an article of clothing or try to hit her. If it's coming from me, she'll whine and call out for Jodi, seek her motherly arms for protection from my tyranny, then try to either sway Jodi to her side or drag her along to help her do whatever it is we've asked of her. Last, but not least, if both of us are doing the dirty work she'll pull out all the stops and call upon her acting skills to try and convince us that something hurts (rarely) or that she's tired (most likely). 5 minutes prior she was laughing and playing and having a good time. But as soon as Olivia gets in trouble or wants to defy us in any way she pauses, waits for the clack of the slate and the director to yell, "Action!," then does her best 'Meryl Streep has a tooth ache' impression. Sometimes it's her teeth, sometimes it's a spot on her lip, or her head or a knuckle on her finger. When this happens I look her straight in the eye and say, "And the Oscar for best toddler actress in a leading role goes to..." She just says, "Huh? What you say?" I swear I can't wait for this kid to start getting some of my jokes.
Part of my frustration in this also stems from the fact that it doesn't always feel like Jodi and I are a united front in regards to disciplining our child. Let's set a few things straight before I continue:
1) I've never taken a child psychology course.
2) I know just as much, if not less, than my wife when it comes to raising a child and disciplining a toddler.
3) A fair amount of the time I am winging it when it comes to being a parent.
4) I like cupcakes and beer. Not always in that order.
As I was saying, there are plenty of times where it feels like I'm being the hardass by trying to keep Olivia in line and Jodi is being the pushover. Yes, there are times where giving in to our child can help defuse a situation (for example, an extra treat on a subway train to ensure a meltdown does not occur and people aren't staring holes through us and our noisy child). I get it. But if we're at home and she's throwing tantrums to get Jodi to give in to her, or playing it so that it's the two of them against me, that's a problem. To be completely fair, Jodi has a lot more going on than I do. Her arthritis can, and usually does, sap her energy very easily, which makes her give in so that Olivia is calm and manageable. I don't blame her for a second for doing this, but then how do we make it so that Olivia doesn't take advantage of Jodi?
These days it's as if a lot of the progress we've made has gone out the window. We'd taken two steps forward in regards to parenting, but now I feel like we're taking two steps back. (Someone should totally make a song about this, by the way, because it's gold. I'm thinking lots of dancing and choreography. Maybe throw a rapping cartoon cat in there to appeal to the kids. Trust me on this one.) We'd finally gotten her to a place where meals, chores and bedtime weren't a big deal, but now that's not the case. We learned early to try and give Olivia fair warning when a change in activity was coming ("5 more minutes until dinner time!"), and that was working really well. She'd stop what she was doing, 'cause she was about to ruin, the image and the style that everyone was used to. Wait, that's not right. She'd stop and go right into what we needed her to do. Now when the bell tolls for her to eat dinner, take a bath, go parasailing, or head to bed, she blows up. Her temper flares, body rag dolls into uselessness and she does everything she can to prolong the change. One recent night she decided that in order to put all of her Lego blocks away before bedtime she had to touch every single one (about 100+) to a nearby sippy cup before they could be put in their storage bin. Well played, Olivia.
For all the hard times we're having right now, I can't forget about the good that is peeking its head through every day. Olivia loves to sing and we love listening to her do it. Potty training, while still in progress, has been going pretty well. Our daycare has repeatedly told us about how well behaved she is with them, which, after confirming there are no other Olivias going there, we smile proudly about. And lastly, she's becoming much more affectionate towards the both of us. Ok, mostly towards Jodi but I get some love here and there too. She's been saying that she loves us, giving big hugs and spooning out lots of sugar (kisses). That's the tricky part: remembering all of those wonderful things when faced with nuclear meltdowns over putting on pants, having the "correct" cup to drink from or any other things that bring forth her wrath. I'm trying my best to remain calm in the face of it all and not let it get to me, but it's not easy. All I can do is keep trying and hope that while I'm practicing patience it rubs off on her and she can start doing it too. Either that or she'll rub off on me and I'll end up touching everything to a cup before I put it away too. Man, laundry days are going to suck if that happens.