I’ve written ad nauseum about how challenging I’m finding this particular stage Natalie is in, what with the throwing things and laughing in my face and complete and utter disregard for her own personal safety. I’m proud to say that most of the time, I think I handle it pretty well. Redirecting to more appropriate activities, natural consequences (when it’s not a safety issue), working on my own patience, and understanding that she’s two.
This is not a story about those times.
Last week Natalie discovered that she can climb up onto our bed by herself. It’s pretty high and she has to use the bed frame as a step-stool to hoist herself up onto the mattress, so she can’t really get down without assistance. The bed also sits right beside a wall of sliding, mirrored closet doors. Did I mention that when she’s on the bed, she flings herself around like an over-caffeinated flying squirrel?
Are you, too, noticing any safety concerns? Sensing an impending disaster? Feeling a tingling sense of foreboding, kind of like that time I described a razor blade just sitting innocently on the side of the tub?
Don’t worry, this is a story about me totally losing my cool; not about Natalie losing a finger. No toddlers were harmed in the making of this story.
Anyway, I was feeling all of those things, which is why I freaked out a little bit when I was changing Olivia’s diaper and realized what shenanigans were going on right behind my back. But obviously I couldn’t show Natalie I was freaked out, because c’mon: that’s Toddler 101. They smell your fear and they think it’s hilarious.
So I very calmly and matter-of-factly removed her from the bed. “We play on the floor; not on the bed.”
And then she played on the floor exactly the way I asked, right before she baked me a cake and built the addition.
No, she ran around to the other side of the bed and climbed up again, giggling furiously at this new game.
I removed her again.
Meanwhile Olivia is hanging out on the changing table with a poopy diaper under her butt, since I conducted a Mom Threat Assessment and determined that that was less concerning than whatever her sister was doing. I’m so sorry, kiddo.
Let’s repeat this scene five times? Eight times? I’m not sure how many times. I only know that every time I turned back to Olivia, Natalie scrambled up onto the bed and continued to lurch around like a drunken llama.
I tried staying calm and matter of fact and not saying much of anything, trying not to turn it into a game (too late!). I tried getting right down in her face and sternly telling her that no, we don’t play on the bed. Her eyes slid away from mine as she looked everywhere except my face, and then she launched herself back on the bed the second I turned around.
Again and again and again. Olivia started crying, a totally understandable reaction to being wet and dirty and pantsless. My frustration rose higher and higher and I wanted to scream. Or maybe cry. Maybe both.
This was not a “natural consequences” situation. I’d be hard-pressed to explain to the emergency room doctor why I didn’t intervene when my two-year-old bounced off the bed and crashed through a mirror. That’ll teach her to stay off the bed! Problem solved, problem solved, we solved the problem, problem solved.
After pulling her off the bed at least ten times more (and Olivia STILL wasn’t diapered and dressed yet), I lost it.
“NATALIE ELIZABETH HELMRATH,” I bellowed, “GET OFF THE BED NOW.”
Oh yeah, I went there. I used her middle name. And she was completely unfazed so why on earth do kids even have middle names if they’re not appropriately cowed when their parents use them?
She giggled, flung herself on top of my pillow, and said, “Night-night!”
I had no thoughts at that point, just a jumbled caps-lock mess that went something like HULK SMASH ANGRY ASLKJFAEIW LNALKNV ALIDSFJALWEIFJAL.
This was going nowhere. I could stand there and pull her off the bed until I died of old age and she’d still think it was hilarious.
So I ignored her. I watched her surreptitiously, of course, since I couldn’t actually ignore her (see aforementioned “emergency room explanation”), but I didn’t respond to her laughter; I just finished the quickest, sloppiest diapering job I could (again: I’m sorry, Olivia).
And it was done! Ok! Let’s go outside before I strangle you with my bare hands!
I wrapped up Olivia and really hyped up our next adventure. Let’s go OUTSIDE! For a WALK! We’ll look at LEAVES! And ROCKS! It’ll be FUN!
And Natalie agreed with me. “YAS!” she exclaimed every time.
“OK!” I said enthusiastically, “Let’s put on your SHOES!”
“YAS!” said Natalie.
…and bolted down the hallway to the bedroom.
MOTHER OF GOD CHILD ARE YOU TRYING TO ACTUALLY MAKE MY HEAD EXPLODE
I collected her socks and shoes and followed her into the bedroom.
“Time for socks!” I said, trying in vain to thrust them onto her feet as she wiggled around the bed. She crawled to the edge and I helped her down. She sprinted back to the kitchen and scrambled up into her learning tower.
“Natalie, we can’t go outside until we put on socks and shoes. Do you want to go OUTSIDE?”
“YAS!” she shouted, snapping her crayons into tinier and tinier pieces.
“OK! Then let’s put on socks and shoes!”
“YAS!” she shouted again. I reached for her foot.
“NONONONONONONO MAMA NONONO MAMA NONONO!”
And that, my friends, is the exact moment that my tank of patience, already dangerously low and flashing a warning light, ran completely empty.
“FINE THEN WE’RE NOT GOING OUTSIDE. WE’RE NOT GOING FOR A WALK. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.”
(Yes, I actually yelled that at a two-year-old. That is some stellar parenting right there.)
I dropped her socks and shoes on the floor and slumped onto the couch, Olivia still in the wrap. Natalie watched me from the learning tower, wide-eyed, before her face crumpled and tears started to flow down her cheeks.
“WALK MAMA WALK, WALK WALK,” she sobbed as she climbed out of the tower.
She picked up her sock and sat down on the floor in front of me, trying and failing to put it on.
Watching her try so desperately and ineffectively to put on her sock flooded me with remorse. I started to cry too as I knelt on the floor beside her and pulled her close as best I could for a hug, since I was still wearing Olivia. I helped her put on her socks and shoes while she snuffled and wiped her tear-stained face.
We did eventually make it outside. I wish I could say my patience reserves were magically refilled because I felt like such a heel, but they weren’t. I still found it incredibly frustrating to follow her around and stop her from licking rocks, wandering onto other people’s yards, or trying to sit down in the middle of the road while we crossed the street.
It wasn’t my best day as a parent, that’s for sure, and I was incredibly grateful when Will came home and I could step away for a few minutes (to go pee; what a vacation!) and not have to worry about anyone concussing themselves.
I also wish I could say that I’ve been a model parent since then, that I’ve been patient and understanding and that I learned my lesson about how ineffective yelling is.
I’ve yelled since then. I’ve cried since then out of sheer frustration, because what can you do when your child’s stubbornness is rivaled only by her complete lack of self-preservation instincts?
Ah, but there is one thing stronger than my frustration, stronger than a parent’s wild desire to hug their child and throttle them at the same time.