24 February 2010

L'Enfant Terrible

Even people who don't have kids have heard of the phenomenon known as the Terrible Twos. Something you learn as a new parent, though, is that it sometimes doesn't take until a child is two years old to throw a serious tantrum, the likes of which you cannot fathom until you have witnessed it firsthand. They can whine and pout and cry to the point that you want to scratch your eyes out. The caterwauling that can be produced by such a tiny human can really be astounding.

And I'm not sure we've even hit the tip of this proverbial iceberg yet. At this point, we're several months out from the kid's second birthday and he can work himself into a snit something fierce.

He wants what he wants, when he wants it. He's yet to fully grasp or acknowledge that he has certain limitations, as do we, his parents. That there are such things as boundaries and as the Rolling Stones once said, "You can't always get what you want."

The whole second part of that, about getting what you need, is an even loftier concept that I wouldn't dare try to explain to him yet, as I'm not sure he'd be able to fully grasp it.

Screenwriter John August recently blogged about his daughter's discovery of fake emotions. She's four, but the concepts still apply to a toddler. It's really interesting how quickly they learn to manipulate us.

Sometimes there's just no reasoning with him. Though there is, at times, a look in his eyes which I swear suggests that he knows the score, but only he's not letting on that he does. He's playing his cards close to the chest. Or vest? (Is that the phrase? What does it mean? Something to do with poker, right?)

Anyway, this is proving to be one of the serious tests of parenthood. There's all kinds of suggestions and advice you come across for dealing with temper tantrums. But in the moment, it's hard to always act rationally. Do you give in to the demands of the pint-sized terrorist? Something tells me that would simply result in being held hostage for the subsequent 17+ years. Do you ignore it and hope that it (or he) goes away? Do you maintain your composure and coolly explain things to him, whether he really understands what you're getting at or not?

Regardless of how much practical advice you seek on this matter (or the amount of common sense you possess, which hopefully, as a parent, is relatively bountiful), sometimes weird instincts kick in. Almost like you're spoiling for a fight. You know it's irrational, but he's pushing your buttons and you're suddenly thinking, I'm not gonna be pushed around. I'm not gonna be bullied. You're back on the playground and your back is up and -

Wait. He's only a toddler. What is wrong with you?

But you can't help it. It just happens. Is this the start of the power struggle? Can a direct line be drawn from the toddler's temper tantrum to the feuding and infighting of the teenage years? Does it all go downhill from here?

Maybe this is what Pat Benatar meant about love being a battlefield . . .

Then, of course, the strangest thing happens. The whining and whimpering fades almost as quickly as it began, replaced instead by giggles and smiles, hugs and kisses. The good stuff.

Seriously, it's like living in a lunatic asylum. Kids are crazy. And wildly unpredictable. It's a good idea to take up drinking when you become a parent (unless you're already there) in order to cope. Of course, on the other hand, dealing with them often requires a level of definite sobriety so you can keep all your wits about you.

Trust me, you'll need them.

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