School vacation week is coming to an end. As in other years, with time off Tess blazed new trails. We never know when she'll hit a new phase of development. She's on her own timeline. But it's safe to say that this week she finally reached a new phase. One that we've been dreading in a big, big way.
At age five and three-and-a-half months, Tess has fully entered the Terrible Twos.
If you listened to my podcast last week, you know that nothing motivates our girl more than food. As a result, about 95% of her communication happens at the kitchen table. Her signs happen over bowls of applesauce and cutting boards littered with raisins. "Want more, Tess?" we ask. MORE, she signs. If we're not fast enough with her next forkful, her signs grow more emphatic: MORE. MORE. EAT. MORE. MINE. MY TURN. MORE. MORE.
This week, though, Tess has started to say no. She says no by shaking her head. Shaking is an understatement. It's all the way to the left and all the way to the right, like looking both ways at a crossroads, eight or ten times. It could not possibly be clearer.
On the one hand, we're overjoyed that she appears to understand basic questions from us. Sometimes, at least. "Tess, do you need to go potty?" *Headshake.* "Tess, do you want to read?" *Headshake.* They tell us at her school that she's consistent, that when she says no she means it.
On the other hand, we are not entirely overjoyed. This is because she often gives us the no without being prompted. Just to be difficult. I see it mostly when she's on her way into the carseat. Once she's in there, she arches her back, to make it impossible to buckle her in there. Her brother used to do the same thing, when he was in this phase. She looks at me, fuming as I practically kneel on her sternum to get her buckled, as if to say, "I told you no, Dad. What did you think was going to happen here?"
Tantrums ensue. She has strong opinions. We curtail errands. We end phone calls with friends and family, because we can't hear anything over the T-Bird. We fetch her from her bed, thus undoing years of attempted Ferberizing.
My wife reminds me what we did with Dana in this phase, when he'd say no and make faces and fold his arms and we wanted to smack him. We gave him choices. Gave him some control. But being parents, and having agendas, we stacked the deck against him, giving only the illusion of choice: "Would you like to drink your milk before you change your sweater or after?" (See how either way, he's drinking that milk?)
Believe it or not, Tess understands choices. It's a communication skill that her speech pathologists have been working on with her for months, and she's starting to get it. If we present her with a preferred item and a non-preferred item, she can reliably point to the preferred item. A few seconds later, she's playing with the thing she likes most. But it's hard, because she isn't yet capable of higher-level choice making, like among abstract ideas. In other words, we can't reason with Tess when she's saying no. We want to acknowledge her no, but we can't present choices.
We're crazy superstitious in our house. We talk of karma. Watching sports on TV, there's a lot of discussion of pre-game arrogance and how it can bring bad juju to players and whole teams. On car trips in winter, no one is allowed to mention how great it is that it's not snowing. And being superstitious, I can only conclude that this is some cosmic payback, that by not giving real choices to Terrible-Twos Dana years ago, I doomed us to nuclear-level Terrible Twos with Tess. In which she turns the tables on us. In which she essentially gives us no choices. Because unless safety is involved (carseat), when she says no and whips up a tantrum, we have to yield.
There's something nobody talks about, when they talk about having kids. I remember when I realized it with Dana, and I was kind of pissed, to be honest. It's this: most often the Terrible Twos don't end when your kid turns three. They keep going. Until they end. There's no exact timeframe.
Until it ends, we're pursuing another strategy, one that never worked that great with Dana. It works on Tess, though. It's redirection. You don't want to put on socks and boots? Oh, look over here! It's your favorite whistle! [*Whistle sound*, *socks on, boots on.*]