“I couldn’t wait for my child to get out of the newborn stage.” I’ve heard so many of my friends say it, but I could never relate. I wanted them to stay little for as long as possible. I long for another baby just so I can smell their sweet scent and swaddle them up tight. Maybe it was because my kids were both pretty mellow newborns. Maybe it was because I somehow figured out how to survive on very little sleep. Maybe it’s because I love a good excuse to rewatch Grey’s Anatomy on a weekday while cuddling with my sweet little bundle of joy.
My friend continued, “When they start talking and walking and being little people, with personalities and not little blobs who can’t go anywhere and need you all the time.” For me, everything changed when my kids started to be mobile. Gone were the days where I could put them down and they would happily sit and play with their toys. Now they roll, crawl, stand and walk- all while reminding me where I need to babyproof my house better. Don’t get me wrong- I loved when they started to sit up and crawl, but it became a very different kind of motherhood for me when they started to move.
For me, when they became mobile, life became more frantic. I became more anxious as my children became more adventurous. I loved seeing them develop and hit all those milestones. But the more advanced they got, the more worried I became. Are they eating something? Did they just jump on the dog? Watch out for the edge of the coffee table! Basically, everything became a bit more dangerous.
The newborn stage is tough, but I survived it- and I would gladly go back and relive those moments. Yes, even the sleepless nights and all the spit up! What’s killing me now is the toddler years. I knew about the “Terrible Twos”, but did you know there were the “Thunderous Threes” and the “Feisty Fours?” No one warned me that the “Terrible Twos” were just the beginning; that there would be several more years of tantrums, hitting and back talk, and that each year gets a little tougher than the last.
I sailed through the terrible twos with my son. He had a few meltdowns, but overall he was good; considering that in the midst of it, we brought home a baby sister. He ended up rocking big brotherhood like a champ. But then came three. The tantrums kicked up a notch, and so did the terror that he caused. Now fully equipped with a new extensive vocabulary, he could tell me that he hated me and scream it at the top of his lungs. It stung the first time he said it- but after the millionth time, it kind of lost its intent to harm.
The entire year he was three, my mom kept reminding me, “Just a few more months and he’ll be four. And four was just so magical.” Maybe I was magical at four years old, but my kid certainly wasn't. Four was actually worse than three. Four has been tough on all of us. My son started having extreme separation anxiety at preschool, resulting in him crying for hours with no explanation to give. Nothing had changed. He started to get super angry and hit, bite or whatever else he had to do to get across that he was angry. He started to be mean to his sister, the dogs, and to me. I wondered on more than one occasion, “What happened to my sweet boy?”
In the weeks before his fifth birthday, I have been praying that five brings us a little more relief. Maybe he’ll learn to communicate his feelings a little better because anything is better than what we’re working with now. Maybe he’ll realize that pestering his mother until she caves (or doesn’t cave and just gets angry) isn't a good tactic to get what you want.
But even as the years have gotten more difficult, they've also been beautiful. For every hit or scream in my direction, there’s his eventual calm down and realization that he shouldn’t have acted that way. The apologies begin and he wants to be hugged and told that I'm not mad at him. Sometimes after a big fight, he’ll feel really bad and tell me I look beautiful or that he likes my outfit (even when I know he’s lying because I’m still in yesterday’s pajamas). Either way, I’ll take the compliments as they come. I know he’s trying to make it better in order to make me forget what just happened.
I know deep down that he's just figuring out the world and his emotions, and that can be really tough. Hell, I’m 36 years old, and I'm still trying to figure out my own emotions! I never want him to feel bad for the tough moments because even when we both lose our patience, it’s a learning process for the both of us. He’s learning how to be a human, and I’m learning how to be his mother in an unpredictable, uncontrollable environment. We’re both navigating this world for the very first time.
Now that my daughter is three years old and has become more mischievous than her brother ever was, I wonder if I'm in for a really rough road now. I’ll remember those days of endless snuggles and both of them looking up at me with sweet eyes. I'll also remember them on my shoulder as I danced around their room in the middle of the night, trying to get them back to sleep. It was the beginnings of our lives together.
The toddler years will pass as quickly as the newborn and infant years did. In later years, I will remember only the good times of such stages: their cute stories and active imaginations; the way they still want to curl up on my lap when they're sick or hurt. It won’t always be like this, so I'll savor all the times- even the tough tantrums and loud fights. Because I'm sure I'll look back on these toddler years as a mother of teenagers and wish for those them to be toddlers once again.