American in Spain

The Terrible Twos Arrived Early

March 1, 2011
Pissed Off

It was like flipping a switch. My cute loving toddler turned into a hateful monster.

Nora had a cold last week, so I got her some cough medicine at the local farmácia. It cleared up her cough, but also gave her an upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting, which made for a terribly long weekend, during which she insisted on watching this video of herself about a thousand times, each time tearing up when her onscreen doppelgí¤nger got upset.

Somewhere among the "Oh, poor thing, she's so sick," whining, twenty-four days before her second birthday, a special, dreaded, kind of behavior arose: The Tantrum. My first morning alone with her after her transformation was really difficult. She woke up crying and was unable to say what she wanted. I asked about fifty "Do you want X?" questions, but got negative responses to all of them. After a while, she calmed down enough to choose a Danonino, drinkable yogurt, from the short breakfast menu I offered her.

Later in the morning, she tripped and fell, hitting her faceplant-preventing hands hard on the floor. I immediately picked her up, to hug her, but she pushed me away. When I set her down, she ran to the farthest corner of the house from me, the kitchen, and continued screaming. I approached her, but she lashed out at me with an angry swipe of the arm. "Do you want me to be here?" I asked, "No!" she responded. To verify her understanding, I reversed the question, "Do you want me to leave?", and she said, "Sí­!"

I left the room, proverbial tail between my legs.

A few minutes later, I entered the kitchen and asked if she wanted a hug. "NO!", she screamed.

This was my first experience of what felt like hatred from my offspring, and it hurt. A lot. I've found that the best way to measure how much you love someone is by how much it hurts when they are mean to you.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of crying, she came and found me and gave me a hug, and then she was fine, though I remained shaken.

From what I've read and heard, this is incredibly typical behavior and it's important not to take any of it personally, because the child is just learning about emotions and how to handle them. But the first time surprised me like a punch to the gut.

Apparently toddlers' emotional states change like the weather in Scotland, where they say, "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes." (Google tells me they say this everywhere, but I first heard it in Scotland.) And it's true. I've seen Nora go from an all out bawl to giggling with delight in about two seconds. And vice versa. That kind of emotional agility is very foreign to me as an adult.

Today she pulled a similar stunt, but I took a deep breath and kept my cool. Sure enough, it was over pretty quickly and she was her adorable self again.

By the time she turns three, I should be a Zen master of tantrums.