Toddler Social Life

Edith turns two next week, so I am looking back at baby photos and weeping softly in my office. When I look at past videos and photos of my daughter, there is not a single one from about six months on when she is not pursuing some objective or other with steely-eyed tenacity. She has never not been after something.

As she enters the terrible twos, she is either a charming and easily delighted child or a psychotic nightmare, and it really pretty much is an every-other-day pattern. I can tell quite early on what sort of day it’s going to be. The main trigger for her rage is a fixation on controlling my movements. Everyone else is immune, but she views me as an extension of her aforementioned will, an instrument she can use to further it, and I need only take a step without permission to send her into an apoplectic rage. This behavior is so focused on me that one of the most frequent compliments I hear about Edith is “she is always so happy!” People are always saying this to me during our public appearances, as I quiver in terror at the brief reprieve from her demands. At home, I am to remain glued to her side, fully focused on her face, and ready to immediately carry out any subtle direction from her. When I realize I am being obedient (it takes me awhile to notice, because I’m just intuitively behaving in a way to avoid the alarm going off), I grit my teeth and go about my business as if nothing is happening while she thrashes on the floor and screams and flails and writes her congressman. I’m told by the books that eventually this will teach her that this sort of behavior does not get a response? But so far, the penny has not dropped.

I was prepared for tantrums, but what I didn’t expect is that even when my child is being patently ridiculous, I still respond to her crying face as if she is genuinely hurt. I hate seeing her cry! Even if I know that she is crying because she wanted me to continue dancing Agatha on and off the bookshelves, which I had already done for thirty full minutes, and instead I briefly dipped out to pee — I still feel terribly distressed by her distress. I realize this is biological, but like, when does it end? She’s not a helpless infant anymore, and is no longer served by my limbic system going into turmoil whenever she is mildly displeased.

I think we’re ready for a new weekend routine. On Saturday mornings, we still go to baby gym, but for some reason, the older toddler’s class which she is in now has more circle time than the one for littler toddlers. Edith cannot sit still for even so much as a minute, and I’m worried for what this means about preschool. Most of the other kids at baby gym sit in the circle and participate in the group activities, but Edith is off like a shot and on the trampoline. I wouldn’t mind except that the staff members there keep picking her up and bringing her back to the circle. They don’t seem to absorb the fact that I can either restrain her bodily and make her stay while she screams bloody murder, or we can just let her run around and play like a toddler is supposed to do on goddamned Saturday morning in a gym full of ball pits and trampolines. I have signed Edith up for baby soccer in the park (fml) which starts in a couple weeks, so we’ll do that instead now.

Edith still loves music class, where she is free to do whatever her heart desires and no one tries to restrain her or make her behave in any way. She can even bring Jojo and throw him around if she wants (and she often does want). She dances, she runs, she plays with the other kids, she has started trying to sing. And meanwhile, I think it’s such a nice communal way to spend Sunday morning, singing with other adults in a circle while our kids play and dance. It’s good for my soul. The music class is at a Montessori school and after class, most of us go to the playground out back and the kids play while the parents stand around and talk, and I really look forward to it. The problem is that since we’re all the way down in Kyle, there’s not much potential for play date friends.

Sadly, it seems that Edith is bored with her swimming class. She has always loved swimming and never minded being dunked underwater or taken from me by an instructor; she’s a happy little fish who has no angst about the pool. And so over the past year and a half as I watched other toddlers tantrum and rage and shriek in terror, I felt very smug. “The trick,” I would tell a fed up mother, “is to get them started when they are very young.”

Well, now my own baby is that age, and I have to bring a little stool to sit on so I don’t get too wet while Edith clings to me and keens every time it is her turn. This has been very sudden. She only has begun over the past few classes — at first, she mildly protested taking her turn and now it’s escalated to outright refusing. I don’t want to force her because I want swimming to be fun, but this past Sunday, she wouldn’t get in at all. It’s not that she is now afraid of swimming or going underwater or anything. She very happily gets in the pool and paddles around independently in her tube when it’s playtime, so she is not afraid of the water or of being in it without me. But I think she’s bored of the work of swimming class; she doesn’t want to float on her back or practice skills. She wants to do exactly what she feels like when she feels like it. And she wants me to get in the damn pool with her. If this keeps up, we might take a break from swimming lessons and just go to the neighborhood pool on our own.

Anyway, I originally signed her up for swimming as a chance for us both to socialize but there is only one other little girl in her class. Edith is really interested in other children now and loves being around them. I’d really love to find more opportunities for her to socialize with other kids locally here in Kyle, but the one little kid dance class I took her to here was so depressing to me personally that we couldn’t go back. Her nanny takes her over to her house a couple of days every week; a family with a five-year-old is currently living with her and this little girl LOVES Edith and follows her around everywhere and pets her head fondly and does whatever she does. Her nanny has a trampoline and a playhouse and a piano, and the kids work in the garden and play in the mud, and Edith always comes home covered in dirt and utterly exhausted.

I do not have anything planned for Edith’s birthday next week, but I suspect this is one of the last years I will be able to get away with that.


  1. Zandy says:

    I love reliving Grant’s toddlerhood through you.
    You really describe the whole phenomenon perfectly. Bob still tells me “you don’t have to respond when he calls for you” BUT I AM CONDITIONED. The rage crying was so genuinely distressing. And now I’ll do anything to avoid whining.

    Grant’s the same about sports, too. He spent a good spell only wanting to do what he wanted to do. Now he’s more interested in being on a team. We’ll see.

    Anyway, you’re doing all the right things, you’re a good mom. Edith is an angel with the devil in her eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Elizabeth says:

      Aww, thank you so much! It’s similarly refreshing hearing that you’ve come through all this. Well, somewhat. I long to get these two together, but I fear the Northern hemisphere would not survive it.

      Liked by 1 person

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