Learning curve

Juuust when you think you’ve got the hang of things, when you’ve gotten comfortable with the daily routines and rituals of parenthood, something happens that shakes your confidence so badly, it leaves you wondering if you’re even cut out for the job in the first place.

I’m being overly dramatic, perhaps, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this job of being a parent, and how flippin’ hard it can be from one day to the next. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about it in the context of my daytime job, the one where I get to go out to lunch with my colleagues and have conference calls with Very Important People — the one where I’m not required to wipe someone’s ass — and how I am SO much better at being a working adult than a mom to a toddler.

But, that makes sense. I’ve been at my current job for almost five years. I’ve had time to figure things out, pay my dues, carve out an ideal job description, and make my own schedule. In comparison, I’ve only been a mom for two years. Two years certainly isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, especially parenthood. I’m pretty sure my mom, who has been on the job for more than 31 years, is still figuring things out, plus now she has the dual role of mom and grandma.

These thoughts aren’t new or earth shattering. OF COURSE being a mom is hard. It’s the hardest job out there, but some days and nights, I struggle more than others.

Rowan had been sleeping through the night for many months. I knew announcing this to the world could possibly jinx us, and it has. Ever since turning 2, he’s started waking up again, most of the time just in need of a cuddle before falling back asleep, but twice now, we’ve experienced what I’m fairly certain are episodes of “night terrors.” Wednesday night was particularly awful.

His wakeup during an episode is different than if he’s woken up in need of comforting. Around 1 a.m., he was sitting in crib quietly crying, rather than standing with his arms outstretched, and my first instinct was to scoop him up, as I normally would. So I did, and that’s when all hell broke loose. He did not want to be soothed. He cried loudly, and shouted at both Roth and me to “STOP IT” and “GET AWAY” over and over. He writhed around on the living room rug, flailed his body when Roth tried to pick him up. He scratched at his arms and legs. He acted as though he didn’t really recognize us. He didn’t seem fully awake. This went on for 30 minutes, and Roth and I felt utterly helpless. It was … terrifying.

Then, it just stopped. Something clicked, and again he was the sweet little boy we both know and love.

A quick google search confirmed my suspicions that he indeed had experienced a night terror, and I remembered back to a few weeks prior, right before the New Year, when he was inconsolable in the middle of the night, very similarly to last night’s episode. Everything I read online says to do the opposite of what I did — do not engage him, do not try to wake him up, talk softly, ride it out — and I instantly felt like a failure. My on-the-job training certainly hadn’t prepared me for last night.

In my love letter to Rowan on his second birthday, I sure painted a rosy picture of him, didn’t I? All those things I said about him are true, and my god, I do love him with every fiber of my being, but he is most definitely a textbook two-year-old. Meaning, he also tests me to within an inch of my life. And some days — some hours, some minutes — with a two-year-old are some of the most challenging I’ve ever experienced in my life.

A few weeks ago, after Rowan’s birthday party and some late-afternoon holiday shopping, we took an under-napped, over-indulged, newly turned two-year-old to dinner out at a nearby Mexican place. All three of us were dog tired, having just had a Very Full Day, and Roth and I wanted nothing more than to enjoy an adult bevvy (margarita for me, Dos Equis for him) in the company of our adorable, but now suspiciously quiet son. I watched him focus in on a single crayon, carefully working to peel away the paper.

“I’ve never seen him concentrate so hard before,” I remarked. “And why is being so quiet?”

He was very tired that evening, post party-party that included cupcakes and cookies and sandwiches and presents, oh my! But then, just minutes after I commented to Roth about how wonderfully sweet our son had been earlier in the day, what with the hugging and “thank yeeeew”s, a switch was flipped.

Rowan did not want: to eat his quesadilla, drink his juice, eat more chips, try a bite of my enchilada, color on the kids’ menu, sit in his high chair, do long division. He pulled the classic shimmy-from-the-booth-bench-to-under-the-table maneuver, and then, THEN. He picked up an empty plastic cup and thew it at the table where it landed square in the middle of my (mostly empty, thank goodness for small blessings) margarita glass, shattering it into a dozen pieces. The crash of the glass startled the patrons around us, and I immediately went into get-me-outta-here-NOW mode.

As we drove home, me still shaking from the experience, we chalked Rowan’s bad behavior up to putting him through said Very Full Day filled with too much sugar and not enough nap. I mean, hell, I was tired, too, and I certainly have days where I wish I could get away with shattering glasses and stamping my feet at the littlest injustices. As I’ve said before, we often forget that he is only two. He still cannot properly convey his frustrations in words, and at his age, actions speak volumes louder. But now it’s clear that we need to develop an agreed upon strategy for discipline instead of just whisper-shouting and glaring at each other from across the table that someone needs to “do something!”

Admittedly, everything I know about discipline I’ve learned from Super Nanny. We’ve designated a Naughty Chair, and we plan to give him timeouts when he’s misbehaving, but is he ready for that yet? Would he even understand why he’s being asked to sit in a chair for two minutes? Are we ready for that? We’ve experimented with this a little bit, requiring him to say he’s sorry whenever he’s done something naughty. His latest thing is to swing his arms around like a windmill and smack us, which is just unacceptable. I don’t want a kid who hits or throws things; I want to nip that shit in the bud. But, I feel like he’s a puppy that’s peed on the floor, and as soon as we start the timeout, he’s already forgotten why we’re rubbing his nose in the puddle, so to speak.

I have no delusions that my son is or will be a perfect child. I see that twinkle in his eye when he’s testing us. (That devious twinkle that reminds me SO much of my brother when he was little.) I know we have our work cut out for us, and I know we have many, many years ahead of us that will likely include the same brand of parents-defying shenanigans Roth and I and our little brothers put our moms and dads through.

For now, because he’s our only child, we have nothing to compare him to. I think that’s precisely why sometimes I get so exasperated by this mom job. I don’t like not knowing what I’m doing or feeling inadequate in my abilities. Sometimes I just wish there was an easy button, or that I could fast forward through the really hard stuff.

And sometimes there is this.



  1. As a mom of a new two-year-old, I completely understand. While we haven’t experienced night terrors, I do know that very bad things happen with an over tired boy. We try to stick to our routine of nap time and bed time and usually succeed, but sometimes we fail, too.

    From my experience, time out does work, even at this age. Make him stay for a couple of minutes and then tell him sternly why he’s there. If he does it again, rinse and repeat. He’ll figure it out. But, if the behavior is because he’s tired? Put his booty to bed! (Works in our house, anyway. All I have to do is say no in a stern voice and he goes whining to the time out chair– I credit daycare for this because we honestly don’t do time out that often!)

    Good luck!

  2. I still have PTSD from Em’s horrific night terrors in Hawaii. :::shudders:::

    Hang in there, Jen. This age has amazing highs and awful lows. We’ve been using timeouts with Em for a few months with relative success. Now even the threat of timeouts is sometimes enough to stop her. I’m also reading 1-2-3 Magic, but I haven’t started implementing it — mainly ‘cuz whenever I try to count, Em thinks we’re learning numbers so she just counts along.

  3. May I just change the name of your kid, copy your post and say it’s mine? Some people ask how my kid is doing and all I say is, “she is two”.

    I’ve been wondering if timeouts work, as well, but so far she just starts to laugh and play around. She really doesn’t seem to understand them. My friend has boys 3, 4 and 6 and the youngest has just started understanding time outs. My friend also uses the 1-2-3 Magic that Nanette mentioned. I tried it and my kid just started counting along.

    Great highs, low lows. That’s what I’m finding things to be these days. As well as massive back pain from a growing belly. I think you may be on to something with waiting for a few more years for number 2!

  4. Shannon

    Slapping us? Check.
    Throwing things? Check.
    Knowing smirk that she’s pissing me off? Check.
    And you can add screeching screams in public and nuclear tantrums over n.o.t.h.i.n.g.
    This is our first kid too but I think we just might have perfectly normal toddlers on our hands. (Except mine is only 20 months old and I can feel my mother gloating even when she’s not here.)

  5. Night terrors sound just that- terrifying. Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry you’re all going through that. It’s so hard to know what the “right” thing to do. Parenting is the hardest job ever. But I guess that’s why they also make it so rewarding? To balance it?

    Hang in there and know you will figure it all out.

  6. We seemed to have missed the night terrors w/ boy #1 thank goodness, because we’ve hit just about everything else. Time outs in the naughty chair work well for us – I think we started them about 18 months. Possibly younger, due to a bitting issue that needed to stopped ASAP when he was about 12 months. I can’t even remember anymore.
    Counting to 3 also helps. Sometimes. And sometimes I find myself using my “Mommy Dearest Voice,” which makes me feel like the worst parent ever. That’s more often than I’d really like to admit.
    You’ll figure it out!

  7. I think, from what I can tell, you’re doing a great job. Much better than I worry I’d do as a mom. Which makes me nervous as we start exploring adoption. I may need tips someday. :)

  8. I was just saying the same thing to my coworker the other day. We were talking about our boys and trying to get them to sleep through the night. When do you comfort? When do you let them cry it out? Etc. And I said, “It’s SO frustrating. Not him. Just NOT KNOWING what the hell I’m doing.” But, like you said, I think we’re going to always feel that way – at every age. Super!

    Also, glad you get your discipline ideas from Super Nanny too! That’s all I know, as well. ;)

  9. It’s rotten that we feel like we have to keep the good stuff like sleeping through the night to ourselves for fear of jinxing everything, but I understand that completely. I don’t know how they do it, but I swear kids can tell when you’re starting to get too comfortable with things :)

    I’m a couple of months behind you, with an almost 16-month old, so I don’t have any advice or helpful tips on two year olds, but you seem to be doing a great job with it, even in the tough times.

  10. -Jen

    We started time outs at about 18 months and they work most of the time for our little man (now 22 months). There are times that I know Elliott doesn’t know why he is in time out (and those sessions are less effective). There are also times now when he is really upset that he’ll ask for a time out – it’s kind-of touching that he knows he needs to chill out.

    You are a fabulous Mom. We’re all just trying to figure it out with this gig!

  11. MrsBagley

    I had to come back and comment again and say thanks. Because I’d read this, I had an idea of what was going on with my son when he went bat-shit crazy last night. All signs point to night terror and I’m so glad I remained calm and remembered not to push. Scariest 15 minutes of my life but we’re no worse for the wear. Thanks.

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