The Best-laid Plans of Parents with Small Children

Note: This column first appeared in the Barrow Journal on November 30, 2011.

As you know from my previous column, we were looking forward to our first Thanksgiving at home with just the four of us.  No traveling.  No need to power clean the house.  Just a quiet, relaxing day with a turkey dinner.  Unfortunately, my two-year-old woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. It’s typical at his age to have tantrums.  He wants to be more independent, and he can’t always communicate his needs, which leads to a lot of frustration.  It’s stressful being two.

However, there are some days when he’ll go from calm to tempest quicker and more frequently throughout the day.  Is it the terrible twos?  Teething? “Unmet needs” as the family therapist says in the parenting book that is sitting on my bedside table? If I knew what his unmet needs were, I would gladly take care of them!

I have no idea why he is like this sometimes. Unfortunately, he picked Thanksgiving to have an off day.  We all have off days, don’t we? Two-year-olds are not excluded from that.

He cried and pointed to objects that he wanted and then didn’t want after I handed them to him.  He slept well, I held him and played with him, yet he was unsettled all day.

Mid-morning I changed his diaper and he decided he didn’t want to wear another one.  Okay, I thought, we don’t have to go anywhere; we’ll start potty training on Thanksgiving.  Not what I had planned, but I’m game.  Fortunately, it didn’t take long for him to find out why diapers are helpful.  To clean him up, I put him in the bathtub, and his older brother stayed in the bathroom, and they played together with the water and toys for a long time.  That wasn’t so bad.

After the bath, he screamed about the clothes he had to wear.  Did I mention he’s refusing to wear a coat outside and has to pull his long sleeves up on his arms?  Oh yes, he’s spirited.  Someday that spirit will serve him well.  For now, it will cause more gray hairs on his mama’s head.

Right before dinner he was upset too, crying as I helped my husband put the finishing touches on our dinner table.  (A big thanks to my husband for cooking the Thanksgiving turkey.)  With a child clinging to my leg, I finished the mashed potatoes.

By the time I sat down at the dinner table I was sweating, my husband was irritable, but the two-year-old was finally happy eating his meal.  That’s all we were thankful for at that moment.

The day wasn’t all bad, though.  In the morning my boys and I put on some finger puppet shows, and during the two-year-old’s nap, my five-year-old and I played outside in the beautiful weather, and in the evening, we watched a movie.

Later that night I was reading Falling Through Space: The Journals of Ellen Gilchrist.  In one essay she wrote about spending 38 hours alone with her two grandchildren, ages 4 and 1.

She states, “I am here to report that taking care of small children is the single most exciting, complicated, difficult, creative and maddening job on all the green earth.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, but I’m still grateful for my boys, bad days and all.

How do you deal with the unpredictability of children?

2 thoughts on “The Best-laid Plans of Parents with Small Children

  1. The “unmet need” might just be the need to not be two. Sometimes there’s no understanding it at all, just dealing with it. Mine has great days, and then he’ll have a day when I’m ready to sell him to the circus. Experts may have opinions on why toddlers do what they do, but sometimes there’s really not a way to fix it. Just ride the storm out. Glad the meal was good!


    1. I agree with you! Thanks for leaving the comment. I do think that sometimes kids just have off-days and there’s nothing I can do about it. Growing pains of sorts. Like you said, I just have to ride out the storm.


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