Toddlers are fighting an uphill battle with their baby selves. As babies they were in 100% need of love and attention at literally all hours of the day. We adults are not equipped, even in those fortunate situations in which there are two of them able to commit to this endeavor round the clock, to easily add this level of work to our lives. As a result nature has made it so we are compelled, through obsessive love and fear, to push through levels of exhaustion far exceeding our experience. An exhaustion that can become just achingly painful. This challenge is met by a force so epic, that has been refined through natural selection to be as powerful as concentrated love. They compel us to scrap all our plans and commit full bore to the job that will see us through to the light no matter how far away it may be with true and profound cuteness. Not just garden variety, either, but a specific blend made just for his parents that plays on every subconscious bias to ensure that we will protect him viciously from the wolves.
And we do. We do everything in our power to ensure this childs safety. At critical intervals where the weight of the task is more than one believes they can stand we are given smiles and tears and laughter and warmth in measured doses to refill our tanks, to power us on past the silly moments we thought we’d never pass. Before you know it that blip in their lives, the part they’ll never remember and the part you’ll never fully forget but will forever edit for perfection, baby world as I call it, is over. And the parent isn’t even aware that it has passed.
The parent still sees the beauty and joy this one can bring. They will see it forever, even when its just an aura, they will know. But for the toddler it’s an impossible thing to overcome. But make no mistake, overcome it they must. For they cannot remain helpless forever. It’s time to see what’s behind the couch and up the stairs and in the potty and on the street. And in order to get the chance to find these things they must create some space for themselves. Some area, even in parents eyesight, to taste independence. So they use natures repellent. Toddler behavior.
Toddlers are legendarily misunderstood this way. They are compelled, and should be. No, they MUST BE. Compelled to poke you and prod you. Pull you and push you. Anything they can do, for as long as necessary to piss you off. and with all the redundancy of love that fuels the baby world it is a high bar that they must clear. But they will. Maybe not when their just getting their legs or when they find their voice. But someday they will finally push you so far that there will be no choice. And like those moms in Target you used to judge so harshly, who you now wish to hug for hours, you will snap. If you’re lucky it’s in the home. But there’s no guarantee. It can, and does, happen anywhere and eventually, everywhere.
I can’t speak to the maternal experience, but as a dad, we’re practically and effectively screwed by the incongruent progress of society and human evolution. For milenia (COMPLETELY MADE UP) us men have been bred to lessen emotions of warmth, and strengthen emotions of rage. It’s really only in the last 500 years or so that that’s started to change. And really in my father’s lifetime when men routinely became involved in any aspect of their children’s emotional well being, other than providing the home and the food to allow for it. Crucial jobs, providing protection from the elements and assuring readily available sustenance. So crucial in fact that it was the essential function of men within the family. But then farming and food and prefabbed homes and suburbia all conspired with some friends to make these tasks far FAR less dangerous and time consuming.
So we men all of a sudden have been domesticated. But we are not yet like the dogs that were once wolves. I’m more dog than my forebears and my sons will be moreso then me, but we are not yet bred to the new societal norm. Nope. We are animals fueled by love, certainly, but also by anger and frustration and discomfort. We are diligent workers at being social, but we do not come natural to it. We have as much instinct still to roam the land looking for danger and food as we do to hug and hold and be held. But we have no outlet for this drive. Until Jr. starts to discover his inner beast.
Then, at least with my boys, we collide. Me and my fading but still evident pile of testosterone and him and his budding desire to get in a fight with me. I can be had. And he provokes brilliantly. And….. boom goes the dynamite. I explode and he recoils, recognizing that daddy is scary. It’s terrible when you see that they know that. Even worse when you know that this aggression by a stronger animal against a weaker one worked. It’s an awful feeling when you see that he to is ruled by the jungle, understands he is in mortal danger (he is not at all. I would never touch him in any way aggressively, but he doesn’t know that yet, and it’s exactly what I intended him to react to.
I go away because my aim was met, but I’m already sick to my stomach. I immediately regret what I’ve done. Yes, meatheads, the commonly scrawled phrase on gym shirts, in what I can only assume is a font called ‘spraycan’, of ‘NO REGRETS’ is absurd, harmful and very very bad. We should all feel regret. Not all the time by any means, but certainly with some frequency. At least as often, say, as you feel like going out for a steak. There is a name for people that feel no regret. The name is sociopath.
So I find myself back downstairs, sulking on the couch imagining a precious little 3 year old curled in bed, silent with fear. I check the monitor a couple minutes after I left and his head is still hidden away so you can’t see his face, flat on his fading Mickey Mouse sheets, shielded by the side of his pillow and his hand, praying that the scary monster, me, can’t see him if he can’t see me. I just want to die. I have won and it is killing me.
This only lasts this long because of my man-ness. This wouldn’t happen to Karen. Sure, she has yelled at her three year old a couple of times by now, like literally twice. It’s not that, it’s the really stupid blindness of masculinity. Or at least of mine, is that when I’m enraged like this, and it is just that, rage, the simplest and most obvious solutions are sometimes lost on me. I’m not being obstinate, I swear. It takes a few minutes, some self-loathing for motivation and eventually the thought of returning to his room, sitting and comforting my scared child and owning my mistaken rage fueled outburst and asking for his forgiveness smacks me in the face. It’s so stinking obvious. And I can see how women don’t believe that we don’t see it, but some of us, some of us with all good intentions, are literally, not figuratively, incapable of seeing that as an option. That does not mean we reject it as an option. Quite to the contrary the second it occurs to us, boom, it’s done. No. We actually don’t see it. Because in this area, the area our emotions fueling socially acceptable, though ethically dubious displays of power and frustration, we’re still evolving.
Unfortunately for my kids, both boys, they may in fact deal with these parts of my personality that the 37 years before they started arriving here didn’t sufficiently get beaten out of my DNA.
So it’s this beautiful, wonderful, motivating regret that puts me right back up in the bedroom, telling my kid, dammit if I’m not a jerk. I mean, I don’t say it like that as that’s such a confounding turn of phrase, so it’s more simple, something like, ‘Hey buddy. YIKES!’ and then I say very clearly ‘I’m sorry.’ Because I am. Because I need him to know that when he is big and powerful, and he very well could be some day, and already is in relation to his little brother in the next bed who wants in on this convo, it is important for him to remember that failure is an option, not a problem. It’s something you can be relieved of by saying you were a jerk when you recognize you were one, and saying sorry to the person you were a jerk to. And I say it until he’s smiling and laughing again. And then I lay into his ass. Cause,you know, it’s a jungle out there.
That’s not at all true. I humble myself as a good role model should. I ask him and his brother if they’d like to skip nap, because you know, I must pay penance, and then we all go downstairs, pop in Ratatouille and hang on the couch giggling and smiling.