That Toddler Life

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.

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.

Technically, I’m not sure if it’s a true regression or just remnants of a toddler not fully adjusted since our move. Moves throw off routine and structure (two of toddlers’ favorite things, despite what they’ll tell you), and sleep is usually one of the first things to suffer.

But the point is, while Vivi started going to bed like normal just two days after we moved, she has progressively been waking up about ten minutes earlier every day.

Today, it came to a head when she started calling me at 5:44 a.m.

It was clear: We needed a sleep training refresher.

If you’ve spent more than four seconds talking parenthood with me, you know I’m a huge proponent of sleep training. It has worked wonders for us since Vivi was about two-and-a-half months old, and I’ve never looked back.

There have been times like this in the past (real sleep regressions as a result of development), so I know we can get back on a good schedule, but I also know the re-“training” only gets harder as Vivi gets older.

And dang if she doesn’t know how to work it.

Because, here’s the thing: It’s really hard to make the informed, adult decision at 5:44 a.m.

You’re asking a progressively sleep-deprived brain to choose “lie awake and listen to angry baby” instead of “get baby and doze in my bed together.” I imagine my brain as a dumb ogre swatting away rational thought and just reaching for the easiest option that ends in more sleep.

Not to mention the fact that listening to your kid cry just sucks. And makes time seem to stand still. You’ll close your eyes for what feels like ten minutes of screaming and then look st the clock to realize it has been 45 seconds. Awesome.

But because I really don’t want to be woken up tomorrow (and every day for the next year) and 5:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., I tell myself to be strong and write a blog post to distract myself.

Because she’s not waking up because she’s fully rested. (I’m literally writing this while she yells, “Dada!! Take nap!!!!”, which means she wants him to come get her so they can go take a nap. Insanity.) She wakes up tired and angry she’s still tired, and she needs to re-learn to go back to sleep when she feels that way.

But that doesn’t mean the learning process doesn’t suck a lot.

Any other sleep regression trenches stories out there people want to share?