It occurs to me that one of the most difficult things about parenting a 2-year-old is that while this small person is testing out the bounds of everysinglethingaboutbeingalive (What happens if I tug on this cord? How long can I survive on only milk, raisins, and strawberry toothpaste? How many times can I climb out of bed at bedtime before Mama loses her shit?) this small person is also very closely studying YOU, the parent, to learn how one reacts to someone else testing out her bounds. The other day I was disappointed to hear myself saying something stupid like, “Even if you’re feeling frustrated you can’t just have a temper tantrum.” Then my brain countered, too late, Dude, that means you can’t have a temper tantrum when you are frustrated either. And that is a bummer.
After all, these days Harper has a keener interest in me than she probably ever will again. She wants to eat whatever I am eating. She likes to wear my underwear like a jaunty sash from a very strange pageant. She paraphrases me to her dollies: “Don’t ever touch anything ever or you’re in time out.” That’s just what I sound like, by the way.
So, annoyingly, I feel an especial responsibility not to lose it even when I really really really really want to. Even when she’s bucking like a wild bronco in the stroller as we walk down the street, attracting horrified looks from passersby, or screaming her head off in the echo-chamber of the Central Library, or taking a naughtiness tour of the apartment, methodically touching everything she knows she’s not supposed to. I would like to yell and throw things and then weep uncontrollably and then two seconds later demand a snack cup full of bunny crackers. I really would. And it’s just so annoying that I can’t. Instead I have to be a GROWN UP which as it turns out is sort of hard, even though you do, as you suspect when you’re a kid, get to stay up late and eat junk food if you want to. At least there’s that.
The thing about Harper’s temper tantrums is that she’s so immediately reflective and apologetic about them that it breaks your one-second-earlier-furious heart. During the aforementioned library incident as I was dragging her away without checking out her books because she was losing it so completely and publicly and loudly, she managed to take a deep breath and snuffle, “Can…I…please…get…my…library…books?” I felt very cool and like a very nice lady for threatening to leave them behind. Not like the most evil person in the world at all! Why would you even think that?
Then tonight, after refusing to eat dinner, stalling up a storm, then going nuclear in the bathtub, fraying my last frayed nerve (did I mention it’s 1,000 degrees out, and the baby was fussing?) she took a break from kicking and screaming as I put on her diaper and said, “Sorry I’m doing what I’m doing.” Can you imagine? She sat up and wiped her nose and let me comb her hair as she explained, waving her hands around, “Sorry that bath wasn’t great. I think…I think there were bugs in that bath that made me crabby.”
Bugs in the bath! Must have been. Because suddenly neither of us could ever imagine being upset with the other one. We had a lovely, civil bedtime, and before she fell asleep, Harper said, “Sorry I had a temperature.”
I swear. This kid makes me want to be a really, really, really good parent. I mean, otherwise she will probably call me out on it.