Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Wonderful Two's

The invisible man
There are a number of childhood misnomers and I'm glad to report that “The terrible two’s” is one of them. Yes, Marty has had his moments; he has been known to collapse gracefully to the floor in a fit of inconsolable tears, he has been known to scream. He can be a bit of a bossy little bugger when the feeling takes him and it has to be said that he can barely look at an envelope these days without wanting to push it.

I had rather hoped to follow all these idiosyncrasies as they occurred but I was struck down with  2 slipped discs last March and they rather took the fun out of sitting down to do anything other than immediately standing back up again. So now that I am approaching full fitness again I thought I’d do a summary of the last year, a year that was far from terrible.

Of course I’d heard of the terrible two’s - most parents of older children can’t wait to tell you all about them and do so with a rather worrying degree of relish. In my mind’s eye I’d built up a picture of a more diminutive version of the teen years; we'd awake one morning to discover our bundle of joy had turned into a mumbling rebel who hated us and insisted on wearing his Thomas-the-Tank-Engine hat back to front and his nappy half way down his arse. Fortunately this was not the case.

In truth this last year has been lovely. Ok, Marty is considerably more likely to break down in tears than he was a year ago but, on the other hand, in between the bawling he’s much more likely to have his parents in tears of laughter.

One of the most fascinating facts that I learnt about a child becoming two was that they finally attain an intellect that exceeds that of the family dog! In truth the word “fact” might be open to question here. Yes I read it and yes the author claimed knowledge on the subject but it’s also very, very, obvious that said author had never, ever, met our dog. I don’t wish to do her down but we have a female Boxer and I swear we have moss growing in the garden that could run intellectual rings around her. I suspect Marty became officially smarter than our dog when he learnt to fart.

That said, during the ‘two’s’ the intelligence of the child grows at an astonishing rate. Barely a day goes by without Marty exhibiting something new, whether it be a new word or a new physical skill. Alongside this, and probably the most impressive change, is that he has started to develop empathy and altruism.

I suspect this is one of the hardest things as a parent to grasp and I have my wife and Dr Chris Green’s book “Toddler Taming” to thank for what little insight I have gathered.

The mistake that is very easy to make is believing that your two year old is just a mini version of you, and the fact that it’s now possible to have a conversation with your child, albeit not a very coherent one, only adds to this erroneous belief. You hear parents berating their child for snatching something off another kid, or for refusing to share and they act as if the kid ought to be aware of the social transgression. In reality you might as well rebuke them for failing to understand quantum mechanics.

A two year old is only just getting to grips with a sense of self, let alone with how that self interacts with others and one of the joys of the two years is watching that change take place. Marty now recognises when people are happy or sad, he’ll share his dinner with me, although usually just after he’s taken a bite out of one end and slobbered all over the other, and whilst he’s still not entirely comfortable with the idea of sharing, he is at least willing to occasionally give it a go.

On the other side of the coin he still firmly believes that the world revolves around him. There’s nothing you can do as a parent to change this belief, it’s just a developmental stage and he or she will eventually work through it – this can often take 60-70 years. The other thing you have to get your head around as a parent is that this “the world revolves around me” attitude isn’t a flight of fancy or a sign of a selfish, spoilt child. It is a genuine belief; it is only during the two’s that a child starts to come to terms with the idea that they are not everything; that mummy and daddy are not actually apart of them, that they have finite boundaries and that they cannot control everything in the world around them. As adults we take our sense of self and identify so much for granted that it’s hard to imagine that we actually had to learn these things.

Marty also knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Sadly this is usually not what his mum and dad like and don’t like. To navigate this shoal of potential friction requires negotiation skills, the ability to know when to make a stand and when not to, and the ability to quickly distract.

The later is surprisingly easy as young kids are astonishingly gullible. Marty can be just about to go off on one and I’ll suddenly shout “Look! Train!” Instantly the bawling stops and he’s looking around eagerly for the train Just in case he picks up on the fact that we're 5 miles away from the nearest railway line I quickly follow up with, “Oh Marty, did you miss it?”

“Yes!” He announces with barely a hint of suspicion.

“Oh, what a shame, it was a steam train just like Spencer...” And off we go, the argument forgotten, the amateur dramatics over for another day.

The only down side to this use of the fictitious train is that we all now shout out “Train!!” the moment we see one, which wouldn’t be a problem except that it happens to me when Marty is nowhere in sight, which seems to worry my work colleagues.

Of course all this negotiation, distraction and deciding when to make an issue of something has to come from the parents, and most importantly both parents have to approach it in pretty much an identical fashion if it’s going to work. This was quite easy for us as Leanne decided what she was going to do and then told me what I was going to do. 

To be honest, she so patently knew what she was talking about that I didn't have a problem with playing the accompanying fiddle, and it must be said that it seems to have paid dividends in that Marty has quickly come to learn that bawling and tantrums get him nowhere and ignoring his parents counting “One... Two... Three” is never a good idea... although that still doesn't stop him occasionally giving it another try... just to be sure.

I guess the other thing to try to remember in all of this is not to take it personally. Marty is not acting-up because he wants to wind me up, he’s barely capable of even understanding that concept, he’s doing it to prove or disprove this growing idea that he might not be everything. Can you imagine how distressing that must be to a little kid? To have spent all your life so far with the utter conviction that there is only you in the world and that everything you see, hear, smell and touch are merely different facets of yourself. Then suddenly you start to suspect that this might all be wrong and that you might actually just be a tiny, fragile, powerless being set in a world that is almost totally outside of your control. No wonder they break down in tears all the time!

That said, I do still have to remind myself that Marty isn’t an adult , that he isn’t an evil, calculating mastermind, twisting me about his little finger just for the sheer fun of it but that he is in fact just being two.

So on the whole we seem to have managed to avoid most of the tantrums...but if I ever need reminding that an emotional explosion is just a heartbeat away all I need do is change his routine, just a little bit. I have learnt the hard way that two year olds love routine and, far more importantly, will fight tooth and nail if they even suspect that there’s the merest possibility that it might in any way be disrupted.

Bedtime is the most obvious routine and following the now established ‘rules’ of bedtime results in a happy, relaxed, process that see’s Marty fast asleep within minutes. However, change one single aspect of that bedtime routine and the house is going to sound like a cross between an explosion in a fireworks factory and the collapse of the Hoover Dam – his mother once added an extra verse into ‘Bar-Bar Black Sheep’ and you’d have thought the sky had fallen in.

I guess if you live a busy and frenetic life delivering this calm routine might be a bit of an issue, however we are now blissfully dull so it’s rarely a problem... and it does have its up sides – Marty must be greeted in the morning by his mum, if I try all hell breaks loose! Sadly, this means I have to have the lie in’s. Isn’t life terrible!

So that’s why the two’s are not so terrible, but what has made it so wonderful?

Well the fact that you can now actually have a conversation with him is a real joy. Ok, the conversation is a bit limited – mainly to trains, food, dinosaurs and dragons but that doesn’t limit the joy. It’s the pat little phrases and off the cuff remarks that really make you smile.
We were in ASDA when he had a ‘moment’. 

“Marty! Look at all the fruit!” I said in a feeble attempt to distract him. With tears running down his face he looked up at me and said, “I can’t see the fruit! I’m too busy crying!”

Currently his most popular phrase is “Daddy I need the toilet! Help please!” Then, if I’m still sat in my seat a tenth of a second later, he cries “Quick! Quick, daddy! Before the wee comes!”

Many of the conversations are just surreal. We were quietly eating lunch one day.

“I’m not a chip.” Marty casually announced.

“Are you not?” I replied, wondering if he’d somehow managed to break into the drinks cabinet.

“Nooo.” He stopped and stared off into the middle distance, obviously giving it some thought.... “I’m a fish-finger!”

I could go on all day about his language skills - and one day I probably will - but the other activity that really stands out is his love of hiding, or ‘oydin’ as he prefers to call it.

The moment I walk into the house he stops whatever he's doing, clasps his hands over his eyes and announces loudly, “Can’t find meeeee!”

Does he truly believes that the simple act of putting his hands over his eyes renders him invisible? I’ve no idea... but he certainly acts as if he does.

Since he’s obviously so good at hiding he usually feels the need to help out a bit. “Daddy! I’m oydin in the tent!... Can’t find meeee!”

Maybe it’s just me but I do find it all a genuine joy to come home to.