Because any day can feel like the beginning of a new phase in your child’s development. Because every day is, to some extent. Phases. It’s really all about phases. Motherhood and life. But that day, when the terrible two’s really hit, you couldn’t have predicted it or really prepared. And you feel completely unhinged, unprepared for what lies ahead, but that’s all of motherhood really, so you guess this new beginning is just a continuation of sorts.
And you can blame it on the terrible twos or daylight savings or those last 2-3 year molars fighting their way through the gum or the stuffy nose, but whatever the cause, three days before his 2nd birthday, your son decides that staying in his crib is no longer something he is willing to do. You’ve known he could climb out for a while now, but until today, he would just sit on the attached changing table and flick the lights on and off, signaling you to come in and pay attention. But this was different. At nap time, as soon as you’d kissed and hugged and covered him with a blanket in his crib and closed the door, he’d climb right out and start rattling the door handle. He’d pull out all the socks from the drawer and possibly throw some into the bin with the dirty diapers. He’d pull out the clean diapers and scatter them all over the floor. He’d fail to climb back up onto the changing table, but based on the noises, you could tell he tried. You’d enter the room before he managed to scatter his books and tear their pages. Before he managed to climb up the drawer-steps leading up to the loft where you couldn’t let him play unsupervised. You’d come in before anything bad happened. And you’d go through it all again, the ritual of song and kiss and hug and blanket, again and again and again, a record skipping the same verse over and over again, or a broken clock, just ticking the same hour with no forward progression. And every time, he’d climb out. One time, you found him sitting on his potty, saying “pee pee potty” and going in his diaper. Another time you found him crawling under the crib and trying to get inside the hamper and on and on, until 3 hours later, you decided that taking him out for a run was the last resort.
So just after 4 PM, when the dusk was already starting to set in, you threw on that sports bra—or your mama uniform—and hit the trail. And through the whole hour of breeze and darkening, he stayed awake, but you felt somewhat hopeful that like this run, you could just keep going and eventually make it home.
* * *
You’re surprised because you thought he’d been two for months. He’d been jumping and running and trying to chat up a storm, despite often being incomprehensible. He’d been saying “no” and shaking his head, far more than his once favorite “da.” He’d been fighting whatever you told him to do just because you told him to do it. But the night before his birthday, when you put him down as a one-year-old for the very last time, he held on to you and nuzzled into the crook of neck and you cried a little for the boy who will forever be your baby.
And in the morning, you could taste that the “terrible-twos” were upon you. Maybe your feeling that they were really here brought them on even stronger. And when you think back on that morning today (Nov 16th), you hardly remember it now though it’s only been a week. You know your mom was here and you know you went to brunch and you know he smiled and cried and laughed and cried and cried and cried. And you know that at his music class party, with his favorite music teachers and his favorite friends, he wailed in your arms as everyone sang Happy Birthday. And you said, “Birthdays are hard on all of us,” and laughed, making light of it to all the other mamas. And in your head, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” played on repeat as your son clung on to you and as he pushed the children that wanted to celebrate him and as he hugged them with far too much force, knocking them down and making them cry. So when you think back on that day—one for which you’d spent hours making goodie bags with the inflated microphones and guitars and shakers, hours shopping at the Russian store so you could give out “karovkas,” those delectable chocolate wafers with the cow on their foil—you remember so many tears.
But then, as you walked home arm and arm with your Mama, walked as a Mama pushing your boy in the stroller and singing to him, you felt so lucky to get all these tears. Because every tear was ultimately followed by a smile, even if the tears stung more. Because once he danced and sang and mimicked the shark movements in his favorite “acula” song. Because he climbed up on the stage and then dove off of it, landing someone on his feet and laughing all the while and doing it again and again until he inspired others to join in on the dangerous fun.
And on the walk home, your big boy fell asleep, so you sat outside with him and watched him. You tried doing some work but mostly, just watched the way his lids fluttered and eyelashes moved in the wind. The way his hands clenched and released as if still trying to hold yours, or so you dreamed while he was the one dreaming. And when he woke, he was happier, calmer, more himself, or at least the boy you thought you knew.
And then, his beloved Oy-yi-va came with her Mama and little brother. Came to share the birthday afternoon with you. To open presents in the autumn leaves and enjoy them in the cold grass and busy playground, until the sun came down and the kids still wanted to play in the twilight. And you watched your son try to ride his gifted scooter, and to do it his own way. To push it backwards even as he saw his friend ride forward. To let go of the handle bars and try to fly. And you were reminded then, that he will always do things his own way. That he will fight against your wishes, the way you do against your mother’s. That he will challenge the way things are done. And that this is a good thing, even if it feels difficult, and even if it hurts you sometimes. That this two, this too, is just another beginning of so many beginnings.
And that night, he will reach out for the flame on his birthday cake candle and you will protect him from the fire. But know, he will always reach for that dangerous light, and know, you will be there to protect him as long as you can. But he will always keep reaching, because he isn’t the wax that melts and conforms to the heat, he is the flame—glowing bright, growing powerful (albeit a little dangerous), a warming light without which life doesn’t seem possible.
* * *
Tonight, he will laugh in his sleep, at first, you’ll recall that very first time, when he was weeks old and passed gas through three layers of blankets and your husband heard it, then called to tell you the indescribable sound of unrestrained pleasure that followed, and you weren’t there to hear it. But almost instantly, you’ll think back to yesterday, when his teacher’s hand held out a clump of innocent blond hair and told you, he’s been doing this for the last few days. Grabbing and pulling and holding on until he rips the hair from its roots. And you’ve felt this. His hands in your hair and his mouth laughing.
You’ve been a second too late to stop him from getting a clump from the random girl on the playground swing he wanted to be in. Too late to spare the boy crawling towards him in a pretend log tunnel. Too late to keep him from tearing out delicate red strands from the girl whose name he repeats every morning and longs to see, the girl he will hug and kiss and feed, but also hold without letting go even if it hurts her. You’re always too late to save the cats and the dog, and as for yourself, he’s taken your hair to sleep before, played with the strands he got by turning them into rings and bracelets and then tried to put them back onto your head without much success.
He doesn’t realize yet that once something is torn up from its roots, there is no putting it back to where it came from. That hair is not so different from love. It grows and grows, curls and waves, softens and hardens, but once torn, there’s no return. And like love, even torn, there is always more that will grow in its place and the pain will be temporary while the love, that will just keep on growing—long, wild, unrestrained.