toddler apologist

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Save Your Terrible: 2 Is The Best Age

“All the emotional beats of a classic opera, poured into 27 pounds of tiny human.”

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I don’t have a favorite kid, but if I did, it would be either of my children at age two. Two year olds suffer from some of the worst marketing in the children’s department; there is nothing whatsoever terrible about them. Sure, you’ve left the relative passivity of babyhood in the dust, and now you have a walking, talking hurricane of movement and will in your home. But terrible? No way.

My first time through the infamous twos, I was braced for the “terrible.” Even as I relished my kid and his growth, part of me was waiting — as I had been told to do — for a shoe to drop. I genuinely liked the age, but I was always looking over my shoulder.

Now, my younger kid, Nellie, is in the midst of two, and the joy I take in her is anything but hesitant. I take fewer videos of her (sorry, second children) but boy, do I ever breathe her in. This is the last time in my life I’ll have my very own two-year-old on my hip and in my lap and I am enjoying her with abandon.

Sure, she’s often wild and stormy; two year olds are nothing if not madly passionate beings. It’s all the emotional beats of a classic opera poured into 27 pounds of tiny human. Lately, it is her habit to scream “I. NO. LIKE. YOU.” at my spouse (very rude), when what she means is she’d prefer that I do her bedtime.

But her loves are likewise vehement and generously sized. Her devotion to a local children’s musician is ardent. She runs head first to her grandparents and snuggles them tight every time she sees them. She is known in our circle for her weirdly long, super squeeze-y hugs. She lives for the thrill of giving her big brother’s teacher an elbow bump at drop off. She scoops up neighborhood cats with outsized affection and (possibly problematic) fearlessness.

The intensity of her presence in each moment is dizzying. When I’m with her and my attention wanders, she plops her sticky hands on my cheeks and yanks me back. Time moves differently for her, and when I let her pull me into her superior chronology — a gloriously handless clock of immediacy — we’re both better for it.

What is terrible about two is the way our grown-up schedules — or more precisely “sense of crushing time pressure” — clashes with our kids’ emerging desire and ability to explore the world, deeply and completely, with every sense.

It’s this clash that makes walking around the block with a toddler feel excruciating. But I’ve learned, as many of us do, that the excruciating pace was only painful because of my initial resistance to it. The natural world and its rhythms are in harmony with two year olds. With our perpetual “Hurry,” we parents are the problem. On a walk, my kid and a crow (or cat or squirrel) meet eyes and pulse together in a shared experience of earth and wind and light in the sky. Embodied presence — the thing that I chase with 90-minute yoga classes and heart rate-tracking jogs or app-led mediation practice — is a default for her. When I lean into her pace, and let her set mine, I can see that it’s an invitation to everything I truly want: Time, awareness, joy.

Our toddlers, no longer content to be pushed in a stroller at our quick pace, demand the freedom to which their humanity entitles them. They are spiritual beings having a human experience — at least that’s what one of my favorite teachers would tell me to remember. They are here to investigate, to absorb, to stop and stare at a leaf like they’ve never seen one before. Their eyes are new, after all.

My two year old is not angelic. Even better; she’s intensely, relentlessly human.

My two year old is not angelic. Even better; she’s intensely, relentlessly human. She is devastated beyond repair if I present a sandwich cut in half instead of whole (or whole instead of cut in half, depending on her mood).

Some people love the baby days, but I’m not really a baby person. Getting to Nellie’s second birthday was mostly a relief. She’s stronger, she’s more capable, and she understands so much. Lots of things that used to feel like emergencies when she was a baby are much less alarming now. A runny nose, a fever, skipped nap? No biggie.

As my own stress has receded, my capacity to savor her has increased. The ups and downs of her moods don’t ruffle me like they did with her brother because I’ve done this before and I know they will pass. Simple tricks like repeating her words back to her when she’s upset seem to pop into my head when I need them — a sort of toddler management muscle memory.

This time around — my last, I know — I am taking all of my two year olds’ storms and passions in stride. Sometimes I even delight in them. I know this passes fast, and I know I will miss her when she’s grown into the next wonderful thing. I know I will revisit this tender, explosive, hilarious version of my daughter often over the years, in whatever ways I can. She’ll be in memories and videos, and her funny made up words will linger in our family lexicon. But for now, she is here and I am here, wide open and ready to experience her in all her spectacular, inflorescent twoness.

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