In my academic life, I learned a lot about kids' development. I learned about reflexes, brain development, attachment--the whole shebang. I also learned about personality development (or temperament as it's usually called). You can usually tell within the first few months what your baby's tendencies will be--for example, does he or she seem sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, etc.? Is the baby more active or more quiet? With my first two kids, I paid close attention to their development, making sure they hit their milestones on time, watching their progression through the stages of cognitive and emotional development I had learned about.
With my third child, who came along quickly after my second, I didn't have the luxury of time to observe him. I felt overwhelmed with three kids under the age of 6 (which might seem manageable to some, but not to me:) and spent my days putting out one fire or another with not much time to enjoy my little guy. When he was between about 1 and 1 1/2, we went through our toughest period. He is very
independent and wanted to decide for himself when he should cross a street or run to the car in a parking lot. When I made it clear that those things were not ok by me, he let me know that my being in charge was really not ok with him. He bit, hit, kicked, you name it. Just putting him in the car would wear me out. Not to mention that he still didn't sleep well at night so I was permanently exhausted. You know that kind of exhaustion that permeates your brain, your muscles, even your bones? Yeah, that kind. I felt as though I had so little to give him when he seemed to need so much from me. It was a helpless, hopeless feeling. I was so afraid that when he turned 2, it would only get worse. I didn't know how we would both survive it.
Then something magical happened. My little guy turned 2 (which was magical in its own right) but something else changed as well. During the summer after his birthday, Dr. Jekyll became Mr. Cute. His language development almost literally exploded that summer. He went from speaking only a few words to speaking short sentences. Suddenly, we weren't two aliens from different planets, but a mom and a child who could communicate with one another. We understood each other much better, and I began to feel that maybe I wasn't failing him after all. I started to feel as though I could meet his needs, and I really began to enjoy him again.
And my little guy--well, that's the best part. He went from being a mostly fussy, often angry, sometimes very loving little boy to a mostly loving, sometimes fussy, and only very occasionally angry guy. When Mr. Cute kisses me and says, "I love you, mama," I feel such sweet relief after the frustrating, sometimes maddening days we went through this time last year. When he has a rare meltdown now, I have to remind myself that he's 2 and that's normal. This kind of transformation isn't something you can learn from a class or a textbook. As valuable as those are, watching your child grow is just something you have to live through--for better or for worse. When things are really difficult and painful, and we feel like the worst parents in the world, we have to recognize that we're doing the best we can and that sometimes things will only change when our child is capable of change. And, if we're lucky, the joyful moments outnumber the miserable ones. We just have to remember to live in the joy when it happens--that's where I am right now, and loving every minute of it that Mr. Cute sends my way.