The Trouble with Two year Olds

Bob at 2

OMG! Our son just turned the age I was when he made his way into the world. What happened to those years, I wonder? This seems like the perfect time to introduce a very occasional flashback to my first newspaper column which appeared in the Toowoomba Chronicle every Friday for three years in the 1980s. I have dusted this one off a few times over the past decade or so as friends and relatives started having their own children. My niece sent it around to her mothers’ group and I have seen a faded copy tacked to a noticeboard in the kitchen of a house where four children were raised. (That’s me left, down in the garden, aged about two).

Parenthood has its joys and despairs, doesn’t it? My rule of thumb these days that if your kids have a loving nature, answer your phone calls and texts at least once a month and try not to write off the family’s second car, that’s all one can expect. We had one child and it still does my head in when I meet people who have had four or five kids or have twins, or foster-kids.

We were late starters when it came to having a baby, but got lots of free stuff and helpful advice from friends who had been there and done that. She Who Sometimes Calls Herself Irate Mother of One had a rich friend who donated a wardrobe full of Pru Acton maternity frocks. My endearing memory of this time was Laurel (IMOO), eight months’ gone and wearing a flowing green velvet number, singing “Careless Love.”

One of my new songs ponders the merits of people pursuing some elusive happiness by crossing things off their “Bucket List.”
Since this is something of a legacy project, I add some sage advice for the man who is now the man I was, 33 years ago.

“I watched our son come into the world, he was wearing my father’s face,
They say children change your life to a slower, gentler pace
Christmas carols in the park, you were one or maybe two,
You fell asleep on my shoulder, you won’t remember but I do
Every day you wake up, say hello to the morning star,
Take time to look in the mirror and be content with who you are”.

April 6, 1984
The Trouble with Two Year Olds
Next time you’re cleaning spaghetti off the wall or sticking the contrast button back on your TV, just tell yourself that two-year-olds are very creative. I’ve been looking for a good book that tells you how to cope with a 30-month old child without having a nervous breakdown or throwing said child out with the bath water. Such literature is rare indeed.There are any numbers of wise coffee table books which deal with the wonders of colic or breastfeeding and baby’s first steps.
But they all seem to bail out when baby gets to the stage where he can open the refrigerator and demand “bottle.” Not caring if bottle contains milk, beer or contact lens solution.

Parents who have passed the sometimes-magic-sometimes-madness time of steering a two-year-old through this frustrating learning period can be infuriatingly smug.
“He’s just two,” they’ll tell you as Horace holds his breath till he turns the azure blue of a jumpsuit. Breath-holding provokes more anxiety, but is easier on the ears than screaming.

As Phyllis Diller once said, “We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.”

Indeed. The 12 to 15 month period when baby turns into a little person can sorely try a parent. But I wonder how many adults could acquire the same skills and weather the myriad ailments which are the lot of the two-year-old?

Measles, mumps, ear infections, cuts and bruises and teething pangs, for instance. Learning to walk, talk, run, play with other children, and distinguish between hot and cold…shall I go on?

You should never feel foolish about peering under your car every time you back out of the driveway, either. The two-year-old has no concept of danger.

Compare the world of the two-year-old with the frustration of learning French, German, shorthand, golf or a musical instrument. They say it takes astronauts a long time to learn how to brush their teeth and perform simple ablutions in space, yet we expect two-year-olds, who find the earth just as alien a place, to get it right first time.

We parents can become so blinded by the extent to which our two-year-olds commit our time that we miss out sharing in their rich fantasy world. At least adults can discuss their frustration with someone else. The super-frustrated can even talk to psychologists or psychiatrists. But the two-year-old can only scream, hold his breath, throw things, sulk, refuse to sleep (refuse to wake up) or gabble at you in that strange tongue which only the wise and patient try to understand.
Take a simple visual illusion like the moon.

“Moon, Daddy!’’ (Points skywards with sharp intake of breath).
Several nights later: “Moon gone, Daddy.”
Yes, but gone where? Do we start discussing the elements of astronomy and meteorology and the influence of tides?
“Yes, moon gone,” I reply, impotently.

I’m hardly an expert, though the trouble is by the time you become expert, the kid is in Grade 6 and pestering you for pocket money.
So how do adults cope with scenes like the ones so familiar to houses where two-year-olds live? There’s Horace sitting on the floor with a blissful grin and he’s pulled all the tissues out of the box, all 360 of them.
“Blow nose?”

Then there’s the endless games where once is never enough. The energetic two-year-old can wring the life out of the rosies or piggy-back ride till you feel like you’re carting a 60kg boar around the room. Then he’ll sink his teeth into your shoulder, cackling hysterically like me watching the A Team.

But they’re charming and delightful, two-year-olds, and 12 months is nothing when you’re caretaking a 15kg human dynamo.
You could be a fading 50, weeping softly on son’s wedding day before you figure out that the time when he was two was all yours for the enjoyment.
The real shame about the magic world of the two-year-old is our lack of acceptance of their fantasy world. They need their fantasies to fill the gaps between learning, knowing, communicating and trying to figure out those complex ogres who alternately smile, hug, or yell and brandish weapons of discipline.
We were all two, once.

Reproduced with permission © Toowoomba Newspapers 1984