When my last child was born, she held a special place in my heart. She was our last baby and between that and her far from perfect arrival into the world, I’ve always looked at her differently. I don’t favor my children, mind you, but I am a little more protective of her. I’ve enjoyed her milestones as she’s grown, knowing these are the last times I’ll see one of my children take her first steps or utter first words. She’s really been such a great baby – a good sleeper, eats well, and has had a lovely disposition.
Then she turned two, sprouted horns, and became a demon.
I have two older daughters but for some reason I cannot recall them being so… so… two. I guess it’s possible that they were so horrible that my memory repressed it, like when you have a baby and forget what labor is like the second you hold your newborn and you say, “I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!” Maybe Mother Nature knew if I recalled any of it I would never go back for a third helping, thereby depriving her of entertainment as she watches me suffer the wrath of a two year-old. I hope Mother Nature isn’t that vindictive (then again, we women do have periods). Or maybe my older two, who are 18 months apart, entertained one another enough that they didn’t get bored and think of ways to terrorize me like I swear my toddler does now. I know they had tantrums and had independent phases and symptoms of the Terrible Twos but there was never a full blown attack. So really, despite my toddler being my third child, this is all new territory for my husband and I. We’re just like, “What. The. Hell. Happened. To. Our. Child?”
I literally have no idea what I’m doing with her these days. She starts acting up and I freeze, as though I’m hoping she won’t notice me as she’s having a tantrum because I gave her a pink cup instead of a yellow one. My mind races with all the parenting information I’ve read or practiced over the years. “Ok, if I was Super Nanny, I would be in a time out chair with a bottle of wine, right? No, that can’t be right. I need something stronger than wine. So what do I do? She’s getting louder. How can she be so loud? Is this normal? Should I have her lungs checked? That is really loud. I feel like I should try to stop this instead of just standing here like a deer in headlights but it’s kind of working for me right now. She’s stopped looking at me. Should I distract her? Maybe I’ll let her play with the cork from the bottle of wine I’m about to open.”
There are two games played in this house now. My older two like to play “Let’s Make Sister Scream.” Here’s how you play: You take away whatever she is holding and make her scream. Hand it back before Mom comes in, then take it away again. I don’t know why, but they think is absolutely hilarious. They like to play it late in the evening, just before bedtime, when their father and I are exhausted and have no patience left. The only winners in the game are the parents because we just send everyone to bed as quickly as we can, yet they still play it on a daily basis.
My husband and I like to play “Let’s Make Sister Stop Screaming” and the big sisters hate it. I can’t blame them since the rules are simple: If the toddler has something, don’t you dare take it away from her because if Mommy hears her scream one more time today then she is going to lose it. So even if the toddler has something that belongs to her big sisters, we revert to The Toddler Rules of Possession and it belongs to the toddler. 99% of the time, whatever the toddler has found and declared “Mine” tends to be something that the older two have long since discarded. The trouble is that once she has an interest, the discarded item’s worth has suddenly reappeared in the eyes of the original owner and doubled in value.
“Mom! She’s got my stuffed dog!”
“Oh, you mean the one you haven’t touched in 3 years that’s been under your bed collecting dust? Yeah, she can have that.”
I want to add that if it’s something important or costly to the older two, like American Girl anything, it doesn’t go into the toddler’s hands. I’ll take one for the team and pry it from the toddler’s crazy strong grip and suffer her wrath. “Run, girls. Save yourselves.” I also feel that this game benefits me in that this reinforces to the older two the lesson I have been trying to teach them since the baby started walking. “If you value your belongings, they need to stay out of reach of your baby sister.”
There are days when I feel like a contestant on “Survivor.” Both the toddler and I are trying to outlast, outplay, and outwit one another. It’s a constant game of reverse psychology (“Oh, these carrots aren’t for YOU, they’re for ME! They are SO yummy! Oh, you’d like to try one? Ok, I guess so.”), compromise (“Sure, you can wear your pajama top for the third day in a row but Mommy insists you put on pants today!”), and building favor with my opponent (“I guess since the box says these fruit chews are a ¼ serving of fruit, you can have one for breakfast.”). Like the show, my opponent is unpredictable and has mood swings that keep me guessing and on my toes. Unlike the show, and possibly to both of our disappointment, we can’t vote one another off. I’m also not going to win $1 million for parenting her. But we keep playing.
The toddler will be 3 in about six months, at which point I’m quite certain I will get my sweet girl back. I’m clinging to that hope right now. Oh, there are times throughout the day when I get a glimpse of her. She’ll want to snuggle on my lap or will allow me to buckle her into her car seat without any overdramatic theatrics about buckling herself in. I love those times. It makes me think ahead to when I will be able to stop sighing heavily at the tantrums and the phrase, “Please stop crying/whining” will be lost from my daily vocabulary. I’ll get there… and if not, she’ll be 18 in fifteen years.