I was standing there in the middle of the animal parade wondering how the hell things had gotten so messed up.
It had all started out so peacefully, you know?
There we were, Violet, age 3 1/2, Henry, age 1 1/2, and me, age 40 and 9/12, setting up the coral snake behind the pig, putting the octopus in the grand marshal’s position up front then switching him out for the zebra; all of us smiling and happy, the long line of plastic critters forming a twelve foot meandering display of single-file awesomeness across the playroom carpet.
I don’t know what set it off really. It happened so swiftly, like a kamikaze wasp shooting down out of the wild blue yonder, stinger-first, into my damn eyelid.
Violet went from perfectly happy toddler to child bitten by bubonic madness in .07 seconds. I was dilly-dallying with a stegosaurus, trying to get him to fit in between an elephant and a cow when her sudden blood-curdling screams exploded out of her.
“What the..?,” I started to say as I looked up in startled amazement , but I couldn’t even get it all out. I was interrupted by the sight of Henry in the middle of a Nestea Plunge, his short body pretty much horizontal to the floor.
By the time he hit the carpet, he too was engulfed in sobs and snot bubbles.
I stood up then, saying my “Hey-Hey-Hey’s!” but it was useless.
The demon had entered the room behind my back.
And just like that, out of nowhere, I was a man alone, standing in the tempest of the Terrible Twos.
The term ‘terrible twos’ is a loose one, I’m finding out, at least according to calendars and birthdays.
My daughter went through her second year of life as sweet as a hunk of diner pie. Her mom and me, we kept waiting for the bombs to drop, for her behavior to turn on us, but it never came. And so, by the the time Henry was born, we had somehow convinced ourselves that we had done it; we had avoided the whole dreaded epoch of legendary wickedness that young toddlers typically pass through.
Hmph. Oh, how green we were.
It took her a bit longer, but Violet found her ‘terrible two-ness’ about a year later, halfway through her third year, this year.
And what perfect timing. Turns out, Henry decided to break his wild streaks out a little early. As in: at the same exact time as his sister.
Now, in this very moment, as I sit here in my garage and write this stuff, it’s raining down hot lava all around us.
And it sucks.
Of course, there has enough research and writing about all this terrible two stuff to fill a jet hangar. The mysteries of this trying time in a young child’s life when certain wires begin to tap other wires, when fresh sizzling nerve endings start poking at heart strings on one side of the street while sly voices whisper evil commands on the other side, they are introduced to us, in a thousand ways, long before our first baby is even close to being born.
Other parents chuckle and grin at us. “You’ll see,” they say, their voices dripping with slightly sinister joy.
Parents-to-be start hording books about raising kids and not a one fails to mention this period of life when that sweet bumbling burrito in your arms will turn on you with the force of a thousand starved hyenas circling your body in the savannah dust.
And if you are so daring as to Google those simple words, ‘terrible twos’, and then delve into the macabre postings of all the moms and dads who have had to sludge through that gauntlet before you, you are typically quick to make your escape, to click back over to Facebook or ESPN.com or whatever as fast as you can, your very breath taken away by the first few tales of parental horror that you allowed yourself to read.
We are privy to their impending approach, these ‘terrible twos’, but naturally, we flee from them for as long as we can. I mean, let’s face it, in the back of our minds, we sort of hope that maybe our kids will just skip that crap altogether.
We fantasize that it will miss us.
We dream ridiculous dreams.
At least, that’s how I was.
That’s what I was hoping.
But, as you can see, I was a fool.
I picked Henry up.
He swatted his hands and gargled fire and he caught me across the bridge of the nose with a left hook.
And in that fleeting instant, I was caught somewhere between two worlds in that moment, I reckon.
Part of me, the part whose face was now a fat stinging welt, the part whose ears were filled with the cacophony of children being tortured by their own temporary insanity, that part of me was in complete panic mode. I was suddenly in the middle of an epic two-headed breakdown, air-raid sirens going off behind my face and my blood spilling up over it’s brittle banks as the raging river of parental uncertainty washed across the town of my guts.
The other part of me was clinging hard to some kind of half-submerged flagpole though. As the boiling waters tried to sweep me away, I clung as hard as I could to my sympathy and my empathy. I knew that both of my kids had essentially no idea what the hell was happening to them.
“It’s the terrible twooooooos!,” I hollered at myself above the roar of the driving rain.
They were like turkeys all hopped up on each other’s crazy gobbling. The second that one bird starts opening his beak and sounding off, the guy standing next to him does it too. Then, in an instant, they’re both gobbling in crazy masterful unison, neither one of them sure at what the hell they’re even going on about.
Henry was flopping around in my grasp and it hit me then that he was utterly exhausted. His nap time had come and gone and when you combine that with just the slightest spark, in this case his older sister’s screams, his big red premature ‘terrible two’ button had been thumped hard.
Violet, for her part, seemed to have lost her mind over something I will never comprehend. That’s nothing new around these parts lately. In fact, it’s kind of the status quo.
From the best I could make out, as she guffawed and hiccuped a slightly decipherable word here and there between a million muddled ones and tears, she was pissed off that Henry had moved the giraffe she had just placed in the parade line.
The seas had parted.
Tranquility was deader than a doornail over in the corner, his throat cut with a dollar store toy.
All I could do was stand there and speak my words, as calmly as I could muster them.
We would do our ‘time outs’. We would go our separate ways, naps and bedrooms, my return to the scene of the crime.
And, just like the past fifty times in a week, the fires would gradually smoke themselves out, leaving me standing there staring at a hundred plastic beasts and quivering in my carpeted tracks.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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