Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Almost from the time your child is born, you’re aware of the ticking clock counting down to the toddler years – particularly that second birthday. You’re prepared for it. You’re ready to embrace your toddler’s new-found independence. Of course, if your child starts beating his head against the floor because he can’t get his purple stuffed barney to stand up by himself when he’s 18 months old, you might panic.

I did.

Parker just turned 18 (finally moving through the worst of the teen years – a stage closely related to the toddler years), but when he was a toddler, he had the worst temper tantrums I’d ever seen. Something would set him off, and he would literally beat his head against the floor or scream and cry. Or beat his head on the floor and scream and cry. He even managed to give himself a lovely goose egg trying to beat his head against the bar of the shopping cart while we were grocery shopping.

The new-found sense of independence (blah blah blah) aside, this was frightening. Even though I was raising Derek, Kira, and Kyle with Dave, Parker provided me with my first trip through toddlerhood. It was scary. We had to leave places (restaurants, stores, people’s homes) because he would be so loud and out of control.

In those moments, especially when sitting in the parking lot in Walmart the one day a week I had the car to do grocery shopping and wondering if we’d even be able to get out of the car and go in, I felt like a failure as a mom.

As we approached Parker’s 3rd birthday, I was still naïve enough to think that we were moving out of the danger zone. Of course, between ages 2 and 3, Parker had his first seizure (and don’t think I didn’t torture myself about that being caused by one too many head beatings against the floor before I could intervene, even though the neurologist assured me it was not).

If twos are terrible, the threes are…terrifying.

By three, not only is your toddler self-aware but has a voice and a tiny, budding sense of reason. But it is all about wanting control.

Being a control freak myself, I found ways to help Parker manage his expectations that minimized our stress, doing things like telling him 30 minutes before we were leaving the park that we’d be leaving (shortly after his first trip down the slide) and remind him every 5 minutes.

By the time Anika came along, I was a lot more confident in handling the tantrums. Anika’s tantrums were a hint at the passionate theatre to student to come…they were incredible performances.

It was hard with Parker. In addition to being my first experience with this stage of development (where are the warning labels?!), we know now that there were some things going on – sensory issues, seizure issues, and an undetected iron deficiency and an overarching undiagnosed Asperger’s  syndrome – that likely impacted our ability to successfully resolve some of issues.

But a lot of it (as I’m coming to realize watching my darling daughter navigate this stage with her daughter, who will soon be 2) is simply the stage. As I listen to Hallie scream at the top of her lungs and hear Kira attempt to soothe and reason with her, I rest easy knowing she’ll survive this stage.

It’s a rite of passage for every kid – and every mom. It’s tough, and exhausting, and it can be a real blow to your ego when you can’t solve your child’s problems or appease them. It’s worse when you have to be the person who sets the boundaries so that they learn the behavior is not acceptable so that eventually they move through this stage.

I sometimes wanted to escape, but I never stopped wanting to be a mom, even when I was in tears on the phone with my own mother thinking I was a complete failure. And now I can reassure Kira that it will pass. Not as soon as she wants it too, but it will pass. I’m just not sure she’ll appreciate how similar the situation will be when Hallie turns 14 or 15.

That’s motherhood, though – and you know, now that Parker is taller than me and I can’t rock him to sleep anymore because wow, that would be so uncool Mom, I’d give anything for just one more temper tantrum that we could resolve with hugs.