Last week was arguably one of Vivi’s and my worst weeks. I mean, really I should say it was one of her worst weeks, behavior-wise, but I don’t feel like I handled everything as well as I could have.

I know, I know, I just got done telling you how magical two is. But while all I said in my last post is true, the fact is, two is still really challenging.

Two doesn’t reason. Two doesn’t bother with logic. Two commits wholeheartedly to the strangest things and fights, teeth (literally) bared, to get its way.

That was my daughter last week. Her sass has been at an all-time high, bordering on disrespect to both her father and me, but also our adult friends. Every instruction provoked an argument, even when I tried this that would normally get her to happily acquiesce.

For example: We have a hard and fast rule that, if you made the mess, you clean it up in our house. While Vivi is never thrilled to pick up her toys, I can usually cajole her into cooperating if I first sit down by the mess and say, “Can you help me clean this up?” Then she’s usually pretty happy to be involved.

Yesterday? Nah.

People who follow my Instagram stories saw my series about Vivi’s meltdown over picking up the potty she had flung across the floor. It was pretty epic. (I won’t share here to avoid triggering stressed out parents 😉

After that 30-minute screamfest (that ended with her wetting her pants to spite me, hoo-boy), Vivi managed to maintain her bad attitude through gymnastics (her FAVORITE thing), lunch, and most of the afternoon. We finally went to a friend’s house to at least give us a change of scenery, which seemed to help.

The thing is, toddler freakouts? Pretty normal. Whenever my husband or my parents or a well-meaning person asks, “What is wrong??”, the answer is (99.9% of the time), “Well, she’s two.”

What I want to get better about is my reaction. A lot of people who witnessed yesterday’s stand-off complimented me on my patience, which I appreciate because OH MY GOODNESS SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY SOMETIMES. My patience is a constant work in progress.

But what didn’t make it to the Instagram reel (because, let’s be honest, I’m only going to show the #truelife moments that I think will entertain) was the moment she wet her pants out of spite, and I lost my cool. After cleaning her up and then making her clean up her toys in the living room (I had to win SOMETHING here), I took a minute to sit with Vivi. I apologized for losing my temper. I reminded her of our house rule about cleaning up after ourselves. We hugged and kissed and said we loved each other.

Life went on, and a few minutes later she was wreaking some other kind of terror.

Honestly, we’ll both probably forget this week, this “fight” we had. (Well, maybe not since I’m memorializing it here.) One day, very soon, Vivi won’t be two anymore. One day, she’ll be able to reason. She’ll bother with logic. She’ll probably always be a tough cookie, but she won’t be a terror.

In short, it will get better. But for now, for those of us still in the thick of it, here’s a video of us taking deep breaths to calm down (you’re welcome):

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the subject of identity and motherhood.

Partly because it’s my job. But partly because I feel like it’s one of those things I’ve slowly been working out for the last two years.

When I first got pregnant, I was so absorbed by the process. I’m one of those freaks who LOVED being pregnant 99.9 percent of the time, and I was fascinated by every single bit of it. (Classic nerd.)

After Vivi was born, I had no other choice but to be consumed by mama life. And here’s a fun fact about me: When I see no way out, I find a way to love it. Really, I’m too Type A to see all these lemons sitting out and not try to make them useful. Ergo, the lemonade of early motherhood.

Longtime readers will also remember that I made a very active effort to truly appreciate every bit. Loads of people want to be parents and can’t for whatever reason; who am I to take this actual miracle for granted?

And I can’t honestly say that I HAVE enjoyed every stage of Vivi, despite those “the days are long” moments that surely I did not enjoy at the time. I recently told a pregnant pal that my strategy for pregnancy and babies (and toddlers) has been to go in with the lowest expectations. After that, anything seems pretty okay!

But another fun fact about me: I commit…and not always in a good way.

I go all in. I’ve done it with jobs, I’ve done it with relationships. There have been so many times in life I’ve gotten six months into something and then paused to think, “Wait…what happened? Who am I? How did I get here?”

It’s a weird quirk, and it has led to some difficult self-reflection moments.

So going into motherhood, I made a conscientious effort to NOT do that. I made balance one of my top priorities.

That’s why I kept the jobs (Okay, that was also to pay the thousands we owed the hospital/buy groceries). That’s why I went back to working out as quickly as possible. It’s why I clung to the little things that made me feel like post-pregnancy Justine.

But, here’s the funny thing about motherhood: It’s not like a new job. It’s not even like a new relationship. It’s not about giving things up or even really adding things in.

Motherhood is a metamorphosis. You enter one thing, but you emerge something entirely different.

I hear so many people say they don’t want to lose themselves in motherhood, and truly that was one of my concerns too. But, really, that’s not what happens. You are not getting lost—you’re becoming an entirely different creature. It’s an evolution that would never have happened if you took a different path.

Because you actually get to keep the parts of yourself you like. And everything else gets refined.

Mamas are efficient, so we are skimmed down to our most necessary parts. We are adaptable, so we grow the new abilities we need to do and thrive. We are resourceful, so we develop the skills necessary and walk away stronger than we could have ever been.

Truth is, I can’t actually stop being who I am. But whereas that realization usually came in a jarring moment with other life transitions, with motherhood, it was a gentle waking up. A stretch where I suddenly realized new muscles had developed overnight. This new “Mama” on my resume makes me look and feel more powerful, not less.

The fact is, I never lost my identity. I let it grow.

The terrible twos carry a lot of noteriety. They’re called “terrible,” for goodness sake.

Everyone tells you the same things, but they all carry the same message:

You’re in for it now.

You’re warned of tantrums and fights and struggle. You’re warned that you’ll just have to bear through them.

And while it’s true that two comes with an abundance of challenges and steep learning curves, there’s so much more to be said about two.

No one tells you that this is the age you get a person. This is the age you get a side kick, a partner in crime, a fellow adventurer.

This is the age of silly, nonsense conversations, stories of horses and planes only she seems to see. This is the age of requests for tickles and cuddles and cookies, for serious chats about pretending to be bears and pies made out of pancakes.

This is the age of mischevious, toothy grins and dancing with abandon. Of singing made up lyrics at the top of lungs and crayon scribbles that are actually people and pets.

This is the age of belly laughs and whispered secrets never told. This is the age of the sweetest “dank you, momma” and the sassiest “I gon ticko you, mommy!”

It’s also the age you enter a new season of mamahood. When you start knowing the solution more often than you don’t. When you catch the sippy cup before it hits the ground and stop the speeding toddler before she knocks the plate off the table.

It’s the age when you carry less and sleep more. When you find yourself relaxing more often than you leap. When you start to trust yourself as well as your child. (Okay, your toddler isn’t still probably lying about not needing to use the potty, but #winsomelosesome.)

Two is the age when you start really parenting, which is great timing because you actually start to feel like a capable parent at the same time.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about two, and there’s a lot I can’t tell because it would take ten thousand words. But suffice to say, it’s a special, frustrating, magic time.

And I wouldn’t trade two for the world.

Oh…hey. It has been a while, right?

The first post back after a blog hiatus is always the hardest, so here’s to leaping in with both feet.

As you’ve probably noticed (if you’re my dad because you set aside a day each month to catch up on my blog), I haven’t posted in a while. A minute, as the kids would say.

I could give a lot of reasons for it, valid and lazy, but the truth is that I just didn’t feel like it. The last few months have been so busy, and in a lot of ways tumultuous, and I didn’t feel like I could adequately get it all straight in my head, let alone in an online post for the world to see.

To be blunt: I sort of dreaded the idea of blogging. It felt either insincere (SOMETIMES THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON I DON’T WANT TO SHARE) or just not good enough quality (which is saying something considering the random stuff I’ll post on here).

So…I just didn’t.

But then, lately, I started to get the itch again. I also don’t want to jinx myself, but I started to feel a little more settled. I don’t ever really feel like I’m in total control of my life, but I started to feel like I was in a groove again, probably for the first time since Vivi was born.

There were a lot of elements that played into that, and as a means of a brief catch-up, here are a few:

Vivi turned two.

And while this new stage is by far the most challenging I’ve encountered, I think it’s also (dare I say it) my favorite stage so far. Because, you guys? Vivi is a legitimate person now. She has always hinted at her budding personality, but the last few weeks have brought such a burst of new language and actual conversation, and her spunk frankly wows me every single day. She is so funny, both intentionally and unintentionally, and she just brings sunshine and charm wherever she goes. I officially feel like I’m spending my days with a sort-of friend and not just a mostly needy baby. That connection has caused a powerful shift in my own mood I didn’t expect.

Vivi was potty trained.

Um, hi, talk about a shift in my mood/relationship with my kid. I was honestly super nervous to potty train this time around after last time’s PTSD-inducing experience. But this time, things actually went pretty smoothly. (Weird how not being stressed to the point of tears can have that impact, huh?) Vivi picked up on the basics on the first day, and now, a couple of months out, I actually feel we can pretty solidly call ourselves potty-trained. (At least 99.9 percent!)

We’ve been in our new home for five months.

I’m not really good at giving myself time to adjust to anything. It’s the curse of the chronic planner—by the time I get to any moment I’ve been waiting for, I’ve already planned five years past that. So I rush myself. I don’t usually take the time to even realize that I’m overwhelmed until I have some kind of breakdown.

So, yeah, super healthy.

This move was actually fairly seamless for us (and so many things about my life got better and easier), but it’s only recently that I could honestly say I felt settled and in a comfortable routine. I’ve started exercising regularly again, which is such a key thing for my mental health, and I have a schedule I can count on. It will probably never be perfect, but it’s good to be here, folks.

I entered my second year of pioneering.

For those not in the know, I spend about 70+ hours a month in a volunteer ministry service doing a Bible education work. This was my first year dedicating myself to that hourly commitment (840 hours for the whole year), and, while I felt confident I would give it my all, I wasn’t really sure what to expect—or if I could even do it. Now that I’m in the second year, I feel like I can relax a bit. Which isn’t to say I’m easing off the time commitment (I’m trying to cram the beginning of my year with as many extra hours as possible with hopes of taking it easy in the summer), but I’ve lost all of the trepidation and feel like I can spend more time this go-around focusing on others and helping to encourage them. That’s a nice feeling.

I have a job I actually love in every way.

I’ve had lots of jobs that I loved…mostly. But with every role I’ve taken on, there were always things I didn’t like. Things I hated, even. Working at Motherly has been a total dream. I get to be creative and write, and I get to do it part-time so I can focus on being a mom and my volunteering. Plus, my coworkers are these amazing, brilliant unicorns who are incredible at their jobs and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. That’s pretty special, and it fulfills the part of me I know I would miss if I ever quit working completely. So if you’re a mom not reading, you should be.

I turned 30.

I mean, finally, right? I’m one of those weirdos who actually looked forward to 30. I hear mostly good things. And while it has come with a few negatives (I’m officially one of those people who can “do something” to their neck that puts them out of commission for a few days), by and large, 30 came with a quiet confidence. I’m excited to see what this decade brings.

The funny thing for me is that I don’t know if I would truly say I know who I am—completely, 100 percent. But not in that lost, dramatic “I don’t know who I am!” kind of way. More in the sense that I’ve been surprised by myself a lot in the last couple of years. Things I never thought would happen have happened. Things I never thought I would do, I’ve done.

I feel confident and comfortable in myself, but I’m also open-minded to the idea of changing. That maybe who and what I am now isn’t who I’ll always be. And that’s okay—good even.

And while we’re only just entering November 2017, I’m already looking forward to next year. (Chronic planner, I told ya.) We’re hoping to have another baby. (NOT PREGNANT, JUST HOPING.) We might buy a house. We’re discovering new things and new friends in our new home.

Heck, I might even start blogging on the regular again.

Anyway, I wanted to check in. Partly because I do feel like you’re owed an explanation for where I’ve been all this time, but also because, well, I wanted to.

It’s good to be back.

Vivi is almost two, and while most of the time I would confidently say that no one knows her like I do, I also have moments of feeling like, “Um, hi? Who is this child?”

Parenthood is such a wild ride of uncertainty and hard-won moments of confidence. When you finally find something you feel like you’ve figured out, often times, the rug is very suddenly ripped out from under you just weeks or even days later.

With Vivi, I’ve long felt like the two things we had down pat were eating and sleeping. We sleep trained at an early age (something I am a proponent of and happy to discuss further with anyone who wants to know!), so getting Vivi to bed and having her sleep through the night has always gone fairly smoothly.

We also started exposing Vivi to a variety of healthy tastes fairly early on, which eventually turned her into a little gal who loved vegetables, fruit, and other healthy flavors.

All that is to say, I actually felt confident in both things.

But, as we know, motherhood is a constant exercise in humility. As Vivi has gotten older, she has gotten more expressive and her desire for some degree of control over her life has increased.

Hey, I get it! I hate having someone tell me what to do all the time. I love getting to make my own choices. Which isn’t to say it’s not a pain in my backside when Vivi regresses in something or deliberately disobeys, but we’re all learning here, right?

Yesterday, Vivi started crawling out of her crib every time we put her in, so we decided to make the switch to a “big girl” bed today. I had been planning to transition her at the end of the month, but I was feeling anxious because I loved our easy-breezy bedtimes and was worried the extra freedom would bring them to a crashing halt. But once those seemed to be stopping anyway, I at least wanted her to be able to crawl back into bed when she finally decided she was tired.

Tonight was our first night with the new bed, and Vivi cried for about 20 seconds before putting herself back in bed and passing out per usual. *phew*

As for eating, she still has a pretty open-minded palate, and most of her favorite foods are nutritious options. That being said, getting her to try new things has become more and more of a struggle. Which is why I’m always on the prowl for simple ways to incorporate more and new vegetables in familiar ways.

Tonight’s recipe was an experiment gone right, so I thought I’d share. Happy toddler feeding! (Note: Also good for grown-up taste buds.)

Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Grilled Chicken and Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:
2 cups brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 head cauliflower, pulsed in food processor to rice-like consistency
3 T amino acids or soy sauce
2 T white vinegar
2 grilled chicken breasts, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss brussel sprouts in 2 T avocado oil and salt and pepper and spread onto a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 30 minutes or until crispy.

Heat 2 T avocado oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once oil is hot, add garlic, onion, carrots, and salt and pepper. Stir until onions are translucent.

Add cauliflower, 3 T avocado oil, salt and pepper, amino acids, and white vinegar. Stirring frequently, cook mixture for about five minutes.

Add chicken and cook for additional five minutes.

To plate, spoon cauliflower mixture into a bowl and top with crispy brussel sprouts. I find it’s helpful to continually tell your toddler about the “yummy rice!” you are about to eat.

Enjoy!

Lately, Vivi’s favorite sentence seems to be, “Yook, Mommy!”

I should probably have mentioned that she hasn’t quite learned to pronounce the letter L yet, so she says it like the letter Y. Okay, we all on the same page now? Good.

When she says it, sometimes she also puts a tiny hand on the side of my face to turn my head toward whatever she wants me to look at.

I find it to be such a delicious impulse, this desire to share whatever she likes with me. To want to make sure that I don’t miss out on whatever new wonder she has discovered.

The irony is, of course, that I’m the one who is supposed to be showing her the world. The one who leads her on new adventures, teaches her about…well, everything.

But isn’t it just the way that my stubborn little girl is the one reminding me to stop, to “yook,” and to appreciate the little things in a whole new way.