Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet as Honey

Before I became a parent, I, like everyone, had heard much about "the terrible twos." Throughout my pregnancy, I could imagine mothering a tiny, helpless, staring-fascinated-at-leaves-on-a-tree baby. But whenever I considered the fact that that baby would someday become a tantrum-throwing, opinionated and loud two-year-old, a cold shudder ran through me. 

Well, those days are here. With a vengeance. And of course it hasn't been a completely sudden transition. The reality is that my son was rarely the kind of sweet, mellow, even-tempered baby I imagined in my pregnancy dreams. No, he has always had a strong will, even before he knew what to be willful about. Now that the two-year-four-month-old version of Elan has very clear ideas (wants, needs, preferences, demands), as well as a vocabulary that grows exponentially to express them, it's striking to me how often he still doesn't really know what he wants. Not to mention what he needs. Which leads to frustration. Tantrums. Exhaustion. His, and mine.

What I would say now is that the twos, as I have experienced them thus far, aren't so much uniformly terrible as they are tempestuous. One moment, the weather is clear and sunny; the next, a scowling wind has blown up; the next, hail is pelting you as you run for cover. Mothering a two-year-old is like reading the weather in storm-prone mountains. You never know what's coming over the horizon, so you best be prepared for all possibilities.

Elan is affectionate and indifferent, loving and fight-picking, flexible and obstinate and loud and quiet and sweet and difficult. All within five minutes.

This morning we had a tough time getting out the door. I had to execute bodily force to get Elan out of the house and into the car, where he made constant loud and whiny demands about what song he wanted to hear on the CD player (number 17, his favorite number, over and over and over again). The exchange culminated with me stopping the car and saying (okay, maybe more like shouting): "I am not a DJ!" When I dropped him off at nursery school, I returned to my quiet car with a sigh of relief. 

Four hours later, when I arrived to pick him up, the kids were playing in the front yard. He saw my car pull up, and started jumping up and down. "It's your mama!" he shouted, running to the gate. But today, something was different. My little boy, always playing on his own when I arrived, had a companion: running alongside him was a little girl, and they were holding hands. "Your mama's here," she said, jumping up and down with him.

"Who's that?" I asked Marina, one of the caregivers.
"Annie," she said.
I had never heard of Annie, but the way she said the name sounded familiar. "Is there a little girl here called Honey?" I asked.
"Honey? No, just Annie." With her rolling Peruvian accent, the words sounded similar. Now I understood why Elan was always saying "Adios Honey" when we went through our goodbyes.
"Elan and Annie have been playing together like that all day," Marina told me.

Annie had pigtails and was about the same size as Elan. They held hands unselfconsciously, having no concept that the gesture held any significance beyond general goodwill. The sight of the two sets of pudgy little fingers intertwined made me melt. Annie led Elan in a lap around the little yard, both of them squealing in delight, and then they returned to me. I squatted down and Annie relinquished Elan's hand. He came to me. Put his arms around me. I picked him up, and he rested against me, tired out from the morning's running and learning. I savored the warm, sunny weather of the moment.

Hello mama.
Adios, honey.

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