At a recent girl’s night, a good mom friend of mine was talking about her two-year-old, who is currently demonstrating “terrible”. Three timeouts at breakfast—three!—including one incident where the Little Misses went full Soap Opera on her and swiped everything off the table in a fit of rage. “Did your kids ever do that?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “My kids are more of the hit, bite, draw blood variety.”

“What’s that?” She said, sure she didn’t hear me right.

“If they are angry, they look for the nearest person to hurt.” It’s true. Wally first walloped me at 9 months old for telling him he couldn’t play with an outlet. And even my sweet daughter, when she was experimenting with her terrible title, was mad at my husband for teasing her from across the table for dramatically whining about not trying her food, so she turned to the nearest human—who happened to be me, quietly enjoying my delicious dinner—and whacked me with all the force she could muster. I knew then how the big, beefy actors feel in the movies when they are pummeled by the wimp, and they stand solid, smirking, just waiting for the pause so they can chuck their assailant across the room. I refrained from chucking.

So I tell my friend about the hitting problem as a show of sympathy. As a way of saying you are not alone. I know the hitting and biting is worse, because my kids are looking to transfer their pain to another human being, while her daughter is just hurting plates and bowls and food. I mention, though, that I do cringe at her story—whenever the destructive-table-clearing-fit-of-rage happens in the movies, I have heart palpitations and have to look away. Those bowls! Those picture frames! So thoughtfully arranged, now gone, gone! Someone will have to clean that! Some of it will break! You fool!

“That’s true,” my favorite non-mom friend, who is a part of this conversation, says. “It happens all the time on movies and shows, but I’ve never actually seen that happen in real life.”

“Are you free at breakfast time?” Little Miss Soap Opera’s mom asks. “Come on over—we’ll give you a show.”

I then went into diagnosing phase. This is what we moms of little ones do—we see a problem, a new phase present itself, and we diagnose. It starts from birth—why is this cute little lump crying for hours? Hunger? Acid reflux? Or the worst—colic? I say the worst, because WV had colic, and I remember my despair in finding out that it just meant inconsolable crying—meaning there is nothing you can do, no solution but to throw your hands in the air and wait 3-4 months. While your baby cries. And you cannot console him. No action, leaving you as helpless as the little crying lump next to you. Making you, I guess, useful only as someone to cry with for the next 3-4 months. Please let it be 3, you pray. Please let it be 3.

So from our child’s birth, we diagnose, and we want solutions. And often the solution is just to wait. A child who is crankier than usual for any amount of time from 4 months old to 20 months old might be teething. A child who slept according to schedule but wakes up more often now might be going through a growth spurt. A 4 month old who wakes up every hour might be going through a sleep regression. All of these diagnoses have the particular frustration of offering no solution but to wait. It is just as helpful to hypothesize that your child might be a 4 month old terrorist skilled in the art of sleep torture.

With Little Miss Soap Opera, I diagnosed a test. “She wants to see what mommy will do. She senses a box around her, and she is pressing against its limits, seeing if it has any give. If I lose my shit, she is thinking, and clear the table, will mommy have heart palpitations? Will that make this box bigger?” This is what fellow moms can do. We can offer stories (such as, “my kids hit and bite”) to demonstrate that we are co-stars, walking through this movie set of life hand in hand—stories that say “You are not alone.” And we can offer unhelpful diagnoses. Totally unhelpful, only because it is only after the phase is over—only in retrospect that we can look back at the phase as we went through it and say, Yes, that is what it was. And I survived. We all survived.

I acknowledged that my diagnoses was totally unhelpful, since it offered no solution. There is nothing she can do about this testing. “Nothing except put her into 3 timeouts at breakfast,” I said. This, she knew.

I then shared my current struggles with my son. I recently wrote how much I have been enjoying the beautifully in-between age of 5. But the past few weeks he has been arguing with every instruction.
“Put that giant log-stick down,” I say at the playground.
“But I am just going to…”, he raises it higher.
“Put it down,” I say.
“But I’m just,” he swings it back.
“NOW!” I say.
“No!” He wacks a pole full force. PING! The children, the mothers, the birds and squirrels, the full of the town and state and country stares. I am the mom of the kid with the stick on the playground.

I rip it out of his hands, and he scream-cries “No” and “Why” and “But I just wanted to take a giant log stick and flail it around at and in front of all of these small children and their mothers and the birds and squirrels and the town state and country!” Now I am the mom of the melting down 5 year old.

Back to girl’s night. “This is the phase we are going through,” I say. “Actually, he just got his first loose tooth—I diagnose teething.” (Can you do that with a 5 year old?) Then I hear my own advice to her echoed back. “He senses a box around him, and he is pressing against its limits, seeing if it has any give. If I lose my shit, he is thinking, and whack this giant log-stick against this pole and then have a public meltdown, will mommy have heart palpitations? Will that make this box bigger?

“I think Wally is so good,” Little Miss Soap Opera’s mom says. My constricted heart lets up some.

“Maybe I expect too much of him,” I say.

“My father-in-law says, ‘If you don’t expect much, you’ll get what you expect’,” she says. Mom friends are the best.

Then my favorite non-mom friend offers the best thoughts. “I’m sure you just have to wait,” she says. “Wait until they start school. Things will straighten out.” There it is again—just wait. From the moment our child is born, the only thing we can really do. (Non-mom friends are also the best.) She follows up with, “But I am not a mom, so I don’t really know.”

I think of my need for encouragement, advice. I think of Wally’s giant log-stick meltdown. “None of us do,” I say.

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