The Crying Game

October 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

My daughter is thoroughly, completely two years old. “The Terrible Twos” is a bit of a misnomer, though, because it is not entirely terrible. There are the moments of supreme happiness as well. Little Hop expresses great joy at the simplest of things and her grasp of language becomes stronger every day. It is a delight to watch her take part in the world. You just never know when it will all come crashing down.

A Toddler of Two Minds

This is because two not only describes her age, it represents her emotional state. She is like the classic duo of comedy and tragedy masks: in one mind all is a delight and the world is her oyster; in the other all is frustration and injustice. She will switch between the two at a moment’s notice.

For example, the other night I was eating a late dinner and she spotted some green beans on my plate. She finds green beans irresistible so she sidled up to me, happily pointed at the beans and said “I want a bite says please and thank you.” Appreciative of the good manners, I stuck a bean with my fork and offered it to her. She pointed again to the beans and said “Datta one I want datta one, Dada, says please and thank you.”

“Ok,” I say, still offering her the bean. “Eat this one and I’ll give you the other one, too.”

“No, Dada,” she states firmly, pushing the fork away.

Not wanting to get into it, I eat the bean. Big mistake. This brings a look of horror and betrayal to her face. “No, Dada, no no NO NO!”, she exclaims, grabbing at my arm. I quickly stab the bean she originally requested and offer it to her. “No, no, no, no!” she continues, pushing the fork away.

“You don’t want any beans?” I ask.

“No, Dada, NOOOOO!” She puts her hands over her eyes and begins wailing. With the beaned fork still offered, I look up at the ceiling, close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I look down again, she is slumped over the arm of the couch, suffering from the loss of her bean – the one she didn’t want in the first place. The process of sharing some of Dad’s green beans has gone utterly, tragically wrong.

The Sniffle Scheme

Tears are a daily occurrence for Little Hop these days. Until recently my daughter would cry because she was hungry, tired, or in pain and it was a clear, effective means of communication. Now she is crying at every moment things do not go her way. She is wielding tears for everything from requests for popsicles to frustrations with ill-fitting shoes.

It is clear she sees a connection between her actions and the reactions they solicit. The gears are turning in her head and, influenced by weekly gatherings with her cousins (also girls), she is developing an arsenal of behaviors she can wield. Crying strengthens her argument for her need to have a third helping of ice cream, or her need to have the TV on in the living room while she plays in her bedroom, or to express just how wrong it is that the cat is on the dining room table again. The other day she cried because I put a straw in her can of juice when she didn’t ask for one. Stupid Dad.

Learning the Language

Fortunately, I am developing an ear for her wee wailings and can tell the difference between tears from falling down hard and tears from being unable to turn on a flashlight. I’m making sure every crying event is met with an appropriate response; a response that addresses the issue but does not drag me into another play in her developing emotional game. My best strategy now is to remember she is only two and is doing her best to figure out how the world works now that she has more power in it. For her right now there is no “big picture”, no sense of perspective. Everything is new and interesting, frightening and frustrating. I’m just never sure which way her little heart will go.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, I think you could take the opening paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities” and title it “A Tale of Two-Years-Old”. For it is the best of times, it is the worst of times and as such is brought to me by the noisiest of authorities.

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