My son recently turned 2. And he’s so good at it.
My husband came home from work one evening and pointed at the newly installed childproof latch on the refrigerator with a knowing look. I explained that after our boy had opened the fridge numerous times that day to handle raw chicken, drag a carton of strawberries to the living room rug, and bring me a tub of strawberry yogurt, I had conceded to the childproofing. He nodded, naively thinking that was the end of the conversation.
But I went on with a tired, end-of-day, crazed look in my eyes to tell exasperated stories of little hands playing with the toilet, turning on the BluRay player, rummaging through kitchen cabinets, throwing potatoes in the recycling, and climbing everything in sight, including me. If an older child or teenager were to commit such acts, it would be considered intolerable, juvenile, unacceptable. But my toddler meant absolutely zero harm to anybody. In fact, he did all of these things with the sweetest, happiest disposition, which is so true to form for him.
At dinner, my toddler started throwing food that he deemed “yucky” onto the floor. His big sister stepped up and said, “That’s OK, we can vacuum, buddy.” I impatiently snapped back, “Well, I vacuumed yesterday, but you can’t even tell now.” I saw her little body stiffen at my remark.
And then it hit me: They are both just acting their age.
My 2-year-old is supposed to throw food on the floor. He’s developing cognitive learning skills that enable him to problem solve and express his opinions the best he knows how. And my growing 4-year-old is testing out her independence and reasoning. She knows we can clean the messes we make. She was trying to help the situation. They are both right on track for important, age-appropriate, developmental stages. And stages are just that: temporary.
The only person at the table not acting their age was me.
“You’re right,” I smiled at my girl. “We can always vacuum again.” She proudly straightened up, and I thanked her for reminding me of that.
Occasionally I will encounter moms of older kids who look at my children with an expression of unmistakable nostalgia and exclaim, “Oh, I miss those days.” Some days, in the throes of raising two young children, it’s hard for me to hear that. But, I believe them.
One day, way too soon, my son will not destroy a room in two minutes flat. One day, he won’t need me to clean up after him. One day, he will have gained the autonomy and reasoning he is testing out now.
One day, I will look at his empty chair at the dining table and ache for these days.
His only job right now is to grow, to explore, and to learn all that he can, however he can. Of course his dad and I set limits, provide structure, and discipline as necessary. He needs all those things too. Our protective presence allows him to feel safe while he tests limits, pushes boundaries, and builds the foundation for self-sufficiency.
This does not mean that guiding our children is not challenging. On its best day, parenting is tiring. On its worst day, we will host a meet and greet with our wits’ end. But, when I find myself staying up late scrolling through pictures and videos of my kids on my phone, even after a long day of struggle, I understand one thing: They are worth it all.
And so, to my dear little boy, keep adventuring, keep playing, keep being 2. That’s all I ask of you. I’ll always be here to help pick up the pieces, to cheer you on, and to celebrate you. Please, keep acting your age.