Being a parent does not come with an owner’s manual, as many of us lament after that first baby is thrust into our arms and we are made to figure it all out on our own. But there are plenty of things you’re told about right from the start, and made to expect. Like that puberty is going to be hell for everyone, that most babies don’t sleep through the night until they’re no longer babies, and of course that age 2 is, well, terrible.
And while I’ve always been hugely appreciative of whatever camaraderie I can squeeze out of fellow parents in passing or within the confines of a close friendship, some of the advice is limiting. When my daughter started acting up at around 16-months-old, my husband and I began rolling our eyes at each other in a statement of, “Here we go!” We considered the daily tantrums, tossing of food off trays, pulling of the dog’s tail, and so on, to be a sort of early onset of the dreaded Terrible Twos.
But funnily enough, we’re now a few months into 2-years-old and I’m discovering every day how lacking all those warnings were about this age and stage. Sure, my toddler can be unpredictable. She acts up in public, squeals in restaurants, defiantly writes in crayon on the wall, and wails like a little monster when she doesn’t want to take a much-needed nap.
But it isn’t all terrible, really. In fact, for the most part it is wonderful. In a way I wish I’d known ahead how much there was to love about the twos, but finding out on my own has been pretty amazing, too.
Two-year-olds are still babies, but they can communicate a little better. No, this does not mean that my daughter shares the details of her thought process with me in a logical way or listens to my every instruction. But we still spend mornings and evenings cuddling, she still reaches for Mama when she’s hurt, tired, or sick, just like she did as a baby. And yet she knows what I mean when I say it’s time for one more story before bed, and she can tell me whether she’s hungry, thirsty, or wants to play with a different toy. It’s like magic.
The sense of wonder a 2-year-old possesses is nothing short of beautiful. As my daughter puts more and more words together with their meanings, she lights up. When she sounds out a new word and points to the object associated — “Boots! Remote! Water!” she giggles uncontrollably. She turns things over to investigate how they work; upon figuring out how to flip an unfamiliar switch or reaffix a fitted lid, she claps for herself. I never knew the amazement that could come from simply watching the rain fall from inside, and hearing all the associated words repeated after me — “Rain, drops, puddles, wet,” and so on.
The Wonderful Twos mean not only new words, but the stringing together of them. When my 2-year-old whipped out one of my own sassy expressions this morning for the first time, “Girl, bye!” I cracked up. Her sentences go up to three and four words now, and each time she comes out with a new one, I cheer.
You can watch the brain of your 2-year-old working from the outside in; this is not something I even thought to look forward to all those months I spent dreading the Terrible Twos and the loss of my baby’s sweet temperament. You can also see what frustrates them, and often it’s because they’re trying to learn something, to put it together. Of course it can be draining, but it’s also fascinating. It’s something I treasure, on most days anyway.
My 2-year-old knows no true heartache, no abandonment or sorrow. But unlike younger babies, she’s learning empathy already. When she sees another child sad, or even an adult, she scrunches her face with pain. “Baby’s crying,” she eeks out, hanging her head in shared sorrow.
Two-year-olds know very well how to create drama out of nowhere, how to play the victim. But they’re also learning how to feel pain for someone else’s; this is the foundation of the type of people they will be. What a privilege it is to watch my girl learn how to react to the moods and needs of those around her.
And at 2, they still want to be just like Mom and Dad. My daughter loves applying her fake makeup next to me while I put on the real thing in the morning. She clomps around the house in her dad’s snow boots, gabs away into what object she can hold, cell phone-like, next to her ear. I cringe to think about the day when she won’t think I’m cool, though I’m sure that age will have many redeeming characteristics as well. But for now, I’m having a blast with my mini-me, who totes her little purse everywhere and tucks her own babies into bed at night with a “Love ya, baby!” just like she hears from me.
Look, I won’t lie. There’s plenty about the Terrible Twos that have mothers everywhere gripping that morning cup of coffee for dear life and often the stem of a wine glass hours later, when the insanity of the day is (almost) over. The tantrums are epic, there is no reasoning with them when they’re too far gone, and naps are not a sure thing.
But I wouldn’t trade the wonderful parts of this chapter of life for anything in the world. After all, one day not long from now I’ll wake up with a notorious Threenager on my hands. Let’s just hope that stage has some surprises in store for me, too.