By: Amber Leventry
If you were to listen to my partner, Amy, and I talk to each other while we are in earshot of only each other or overhear one of us mutter profanities and inappropriate comments about our children, you would conclude we are miserable. Or that we hate parenthood. This conclusion is not entirely inaccurate, but it’s not the whole truth. We are not miserable people but we seem to be having a lot of miserable moments lately, which make us hate a particular stage of parenthood: the young toddler stage. Specifically, the young toddler stage of our twin boys Ben and Ryan. They are almost a year and a half, two years younger than their sister and about six to nine months away from activities the three of them can do together. What is good for the goose is not good for the ganders and they are frustrated. And Amy and I are in a miserable state of toddler purgatory.
Purgatory implies our suffering will soon get us to heaven. I have a preschooler; I am under no umbrella of naiveté older toddlers are angelic, but I prefer my oldest child over my younger boys. Because she is older and because there is only one of her, dealing with her worst moments is easier than dealing with the dark sides of my twin boys. I will speak of the boys collectively, not because they are twins or because they are both boys, but because they are the same age and displaying the same crazy-making, douchey behaviors that suck the life right out of me.
Here’s a perfect example. One twin is screaming after waking from a 45 minute nap. 45 minutes, people. That is not enough time for any parent or caretaker to recover from the previous five hours with one or more young toddlers. And even though his brother has slept through the last ten minutes of his screaming, I can’t risk it any longer. There is a good chance the screamer is sitting next to me on the couch while I write about him. There is also a good chance his name is Ben.
The boys throw anything and everything—specifically food—for sport and their spoils seem to be the sound of their names said in a tone sharp enough to cut glass. They whine and cry with a conviction of someone pleading for something more worthy than what they actually want. And what they actually want is to be picked up, snuggled with in the middle of the night, or a toy.
What elicits the most crying is the unfulfilled desire to have or do what they should not. In a house full of toys, books, and safe places to play, Ben and Ryan want to scale the oven, empty cabinets, play in the dog’s water dish and climb onto places they can’t safely descend. They have no impulse control or understanding of why we stop them from doing these activities. And they don’t have the words to fully express their disappointment, so they cry. There is a lot of crying.
Some days they cry so much I wonder what I am doing wrong. I question my quality as a mother. And I feel like I have failed as a parent to have two, sometimes three, kids who spend hours out of a day in a state of frustration and tantrums. And while I use actual words with them to explain, tell, and demand why they can’t have what their sister has or why I don’t want the contents of the freezer on the kitchen floor, they cry, grunt, and sign “please” over and over again, hoping to get their way.
They are really good at babbling, identifying everything as a ball, and screaming for Mama—which, depending on the situation, is as flattering as having a stalker. Who would have thought I would have two boys fighting over me and for my attention? And FYI, boys, not everything is a ball. Sometimes it’s a pumpkin, a light, or an airplane. And when it is a ball, I know. Take it easy, Rain Man. However, I would rather hear the word ball on repeat all day if it meant they didn’t cry or whine.
Here’s the thing. We try. My partner and I try really hard to create family memories around activities we think all of our children should be able to do, despite their age difference. We have found that all three kids can simultaneously eat enormous amounts of fruit, dance to Kidz Bop, or play with play dough. The length of time doing these things together depends on how long it takes for someone to throw the fruit, hit the television which is streaming the music, or throw, eat or stomp on the play dough. Anything more than 10 minutes is a success.
What was not a success was our attempt at decorating pumpkins. I was prepared to help my daughter carve a pumpkin while my partner supervised the boys with their pumpkins and a little finger paint. The family event was over in 90 seconds. We put the boys in their highchairs, gave them each a pumpkin and before I could get paint on each of their trays, they declared the pumpkins to be balls and threw them on the floor. Twice. We took them out of their highchairs and decided to try again next year.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but anything from sorting shapes, reading books, or stacking blocks ends up in quality time spent throwing or kicking said age appropriate things. What is fun for the boys is generally not fun for us, unless it involves one of them walking around with a box or bucket over their head. That is fun and funny.
I applaud Ben and Ryan’s curiosity and inventiveness when it comes to getting themselves into trouble, but it is exhausting. And while my partner and I are not miserable by nature, our toddlers have a way of convincing us otherwise.
But even after a long day, Amy and I still talk about our little d-bags with affection. God, they’re cute. And so sweet and goofy. The boys adore their big sister and she loves them. And all of this is much easier to see when they are all asleep. It takes Amy and me about 30 minutes after their bedtime to really let our guards down and for our frayed nerves to regenerate, but when we are finally able to breathe and talk in a voice that isn’t full of failing patience, we recount the good parts of the day.
We’re not really miserable. We’re in toddler purgatory, a place where only time can give our boys more words, better body control, and advanced fine motor skills, all of which will coincide with happier mamas. Sadly, the months remaining in this state also coincide with our chilly, wet weather and looming Vermont winter. Our very long and cold Vermont winter. Serenity now.