Most families don’t talk about this, but there is usually one family member that takes up most of the energy and patience. Sometimes it’s the oldest, sometimes it’s the toddler, sometimes it’s the mom.
For the past month, it’s been the almost-two-year-old.
It happened out of nowhere. One day I was talking with Tom’s mom about how Anna is really changing and becoming independent and completely pleasant. The next day I was Googling “reform schools for almost-two-year-olds.”
I wrote before that she had realized she had a vote, and how that realization changed her behavior. This month she went from realizing she has a vote to picketing on the steps of city hall because SHE WILL BE HEARD.
Her new attitude happened in tandem with some, um, interesting new sleep patterns. She’s been such a phenomenal, predictable sleeper for several months. I do not say this lightly: Anna’s sleep truly changed me and, in effect, our family.
I even commented to Tom that she never did that “5:30 a.m. wake-up thing that all of our other kids did.”
You can probably already guess where this is going.
That’s right, it’s going straight to 5:30 a.m. She also started to wake up once or so at night a few times a week. Timing this new habit with daylight saving time was a real power move.
It’s ok, I know it will pass — that’s what I tell myself when Tom asks me how to fix this. It will pass, it will pass, and if we survived Mary Virginia’s sleep torture then we can survive anything. That is, in fact, my mantra for most toddler parenting challenges — It will pass. And we survived Mary Virginia, so we’ll be juuuuuust fine.
The thing that is making Anna more, um, challenging, is her independence. Or more specifically, it’s that hazy place between wanting to be independent and being physically capable of independence. That hazy place is where two- year olds live, and whenever I think about how frustrating that must be, I really do feel empathy for Anna. She wants to put on her shoes, pull up her pants, sit her doll in a stroller. But all of these tasks require a certain amount of dexterity that Anna is still developing. So when I see her snatch her unacceptably-slumped doll from the stroller, throw it across the room, and collapse into a puddle of tears, I want to help her. “Look, Anna! See doll-doll? She’s in the stroller!”
That makes Anna even more mad. Now Mom’s involved and is consorting with the doll. It’s just all too much.
It’s so hard to watch a loved one struggle when the solution seems so simple, isn’t it? But really, the doll wasn’t the problem. The problem is this big world full of latches and buckles and steps that are too high and words that are too complicated.
It’s even harder for Anna because she has three siblings who are doing all these things that she can’t do. She wants to sit in a chair like the rest of us at dinner, to drink from a normal cup, she asks me to put Thomas’s underwear over her diaper, and she would rather throw herself into the street than ride in the stroller.
None of these things are convenient for me. But this is when you, dear reader, should put your hand on my shoulder and remind me that Anna’s growth isn’t about me.
I am doing my best to give Anna space, support her when she needs it, and celebrate her accomplishments. But also let’s just get real for a minute because sometimes I just don’t have time for this. Sometimes we just need to get in the van and clip those buckles, and sometimes we have to ride in the stroller because it’s not safe to walk on the side of the road. Those are the moments that I give myself a mental pep talk and exhale with gratitude that, for the first time ever, I’m not both parenting a toddler and also pregnant.
To give you a window of what life is like with Anna, here’s a quick look into one of our routines. Like most children, Anna’s favorite activity is accompanying me to the bathroom. I’m fine with that, I’m used to it. But unlike my other children, as soon as I sit down on the toilet, Anna takes both of her hands and pushes against my thigh, screaming “NOOOOOO!” as she tries to get me off the toilet. You guys should hear me Janet Lansbury-ing her through gritted teeth, “Wow, I can see you’re upset. You want Mommy to finish on the potty?”
But really, I’m furious. And since I can’t take out my irritation on her, I add it to my catalogue of resentfulness against Tom, who is surely somewhere, eliminating in peace.
Anyway, when I’m done Anna makes me lift her on the potty — fully clothed — while she pretends to go to the bathroom. Then I have to lift her to the sink while she washes her hands, then dries her hands, then turns off the light.
The whole thing takes forever, and requires every single ounce of patience I have. It is frustrating, time-consuming, and unnecessary. But it is a part of our daily routine because this is what being two is all about. It’s learning routines, words, and figuring out the world — gaining independence and testing boundaries. And one day soon it’ll all stop. That constant hand on my leg, the flop into my lap whether I’m ready or not, the whining and raised hands pleading, “Mommy? Mommy?” because they wanted to be lifted into your arms one second ago and they can’t figure out what’s taking so long.
Being two is big and wonderful and it is fraught with every sort of emotion and frustration. It is an all-consuming time, and at times it feels like it will swallow you up. But in reality it is a fleeting, unique time. They are toddlers, and then they are not. I will lift her to the sink as long as she needs me to, and then one day she won’t ask me to. This arduous routine will float away and I won’t even notice.
If you happen to know Anna, you might be reading this with a suspicious wrinkle between your eyebrows. The Anna you know is interminably sweet and affable.
This is also completely true.
She is so delightful, it’s almost too much to take. Yesterday I took her to an indoor pool and three people almost drowned at the sight of her walking in her bathing suit, belly-first, with a wide grin and a blonde tuft of hair on top of her head.
She’s sweet, adorable, and so expressive. She is happy, smiley, and loves to cuddle. When she needs a diaper change, she tells you “I POOPY!” and then tucks her chin and raises her eyebrows in surprise, like, “How did this happen?”
She says “I don’t know” like “I-oh-no,” like it’s one word. And puts “Mama” at the end of almost ever phrase as if it’s punctuation. I unt (want) doll-doll, Mama. I unt wa-wa, Mama. Do (shoe), Mama. More, Mama. Me, Mama.
She loves playing with dolls, and she brings one with her anywhere we go, strapped into a carseat. She loves to dress and undress them (or make me do it), and push it in her stroller. I love watching her care for the doll in the way that we care for her. She puts their clothes in our dirty clothes bins, she mock-changes her doll’s diaper, and she gives her doll rubbies — soft slow fingers over skin — just like she loves getting.
She put this hat on her doll and then grabbed my hand and walked me to my camera and asked me to take a photo, just like any proud mom would.
Anna walks around the house babbling nonsensical phrases, and laughing at herself. Whenever I correct her (like saying, “No, Anna, the van is this way” or “No we’re not going outside now, we’re eating dinner.”) she says “Oooooh!” in a “silly me!” tone of voice, as if I’ve just told her that the reading glasses she’s been looking for are on top of her head.
For a while now she’s answered “no” to any question we ask. As is our responsibility as her parents, we enjoy exploiting this by asking her all sorts of questions. Did you have a good nap? Did you like your snack? Do you want a million dollars? Do you want cake for breakfast? Should Daddy go to work? Is David funny? Will Thomas ever stop climbing on the counter?
She answers it with a curt, confident, “NO!”
This month she threw us a curve ball and started nodding. It is a slow, thoughtful, deliberate nod, and we love it even more than hearing her shout NO! It is, I think, because it’s genuine. It’s not just toddler nonsense, it’s a little girl communicating.
Anna has been slow to talk, and this month the pediatrician mentioned getting her evaluated for speech therapy. She asked me to pay attention to Anna’s words and gave me some pointers to help her engage with us verbally.
It’s no surprise that the youngest of four kids can’t get in a word edge-wise. She lives in a loud house with busy parents. But Anna is TWO years old now. She’s not the tote-along baby she once was. She has things to say. This is a reminder to all of us to make space and allow her to speak.
I once heard that your family’s age is the age of your oldest child. That made sense to me. Because we have an eight-year old, we have eight-year old toys, tell eight-year old jokes, and play eight-year old games. Anna’s life is so different than David’s was at age two because of her older siblings and our necessary schedule and activities on their behalf.
But having a two-year old changes the shape of our family, too. We still have board books and sing nursery rhymes. We come home at nap time and push a stroller everywhere we go. She reminds us to slow down, play a round of peek-a-boo, and spend the afternoon on the swing set. Anna brings out a protective big sibling side of each of our kids. She is, in a way, all of our baby, and reminds us that we all belong to each other.
She wrote a song about being happy — “HAPPY! Duck, da-nay-nah-nay!” — and whenever she starts, we all sing along.
The most challenging part of parenting you is that when you have an opinion, you make it known. You are shrill. You are loud, and persistent.
It would be much easier if you were a conformist. Imagine how much I could get done if you didn’t push boundaries and question authority.
The other night your dad and I were talking about how society is changing so much. You are not growing up in the world that I did. Some of the changes are long overdue. Some are confusing, some are scary. Some are wonderful. But what has not changed is that Jesus is King over it all. He is sovereign, he created you, he loves you, and he sent his son to die for you so that you could have eternal life. My prayer for you is that you use your voice to proclaim the truth of what Christ has done. Shout for joy, speak truth in kindness and love, and trust Jesus and you use your bold voice to proclaim hope, and the truth of the Gospel.
The same God that ordains the rising of the sun is growing you.