The terrible 2s times two

The tyranny of toddler twins can be twice as tough


Erica Salem


When Charlie and Sophie were babies, I would glowingly tell my older sister how adorable they were. She warned me that babies come this way so that we fall deeply in love and don’t kill them later. While she was likely thinking of her own adolescent children, I have come to see what she meant.

For me, the “terrible 2s” with twins are really not so much terrible as they are more of a balancing act—the agony and the ecstasy. I have never felt so challenged in my life, nor more delighted by the amazing development of these two beings whom I still can’t believe I brought into this world. Every day is an adventure, and we do have our days—the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good At 2½, Sophie and Charlie have made the transition to little people and can, at times, make for wonderful company. They frequently share a conversation during mealtime; play together; chase each other around in circles, laughing uncontrollably and sing duets (most recently, “My Girl” by the Temptations).

I could sit for hours and watch my children interact with each other. This is when I am most grateful that I am a mother of twins and my heart spills over with love for my children.

They also can be considerate, when they choose. When Charlie has a cup of water in hand, he will often run into the other room and return with a comparable offering for his sister. When Sophie is given a snack, she’ll typically follow up with, “Can Charlie have some?” And when one is crying, the other will approach and ask, “Whassa the matter? Why are you so sad?” 

We started working on manners in our house early on. Charlie and Sophie have mastered “thank you,” “you’re welcome” and “may I please have .…” Now, instead of a defiant “no” when asked to pick up their room, I get a defiant “no, thank you.”

Charlie and Sophie also have started to help around the house. They mix pancake batter, bake cakes and toss salads (everywhere). They try to clear their plates after dinner, though the effort often proves more messy than helpful. And, though they have mastered pulling all their toys out at once, even Barney’s clean-up song hasn’t helped tremendously with our efforts to pick up the playroom.

Another good thing about this stage is the promise of a day without diapers. While I solve many household problems by paying someone else to take care of them, I have resisted the urge to pay the $150 per child for the one-day “booty camp” offered by my pediatrician’s office.

Shortly before the twins’ second birthday, Charlie looked up at his nanny, Emily, and simply said, “poop.” Off they went to the bathroom. Once undressed, Charlie sat on his potty and with Emily and Sophie watching with great anticipation, Charlie actually pooped in the potty. The audience went wild with a standing ovation and unending applause.

Charlie took so much delight in this praise that for the next few weeks he would sit on the potty, fully clothed, and clap for himself. Despite the fact that their primary interest is in flushing the toilet, I nonetheless do see a light at the end of this tunnel.

The bad With 2½-year-old twins, it is often a case of “monkey see, monkey do,” and this is seldom a good thing. When I ask Charlie not to suck his thumb, Sophie immediately pops hers in her mouth. If one child is banging a cup on the table and I ask that child to stop, the other soon starts. It’s a game for them and a headache for me.

One night at dinner while Charlie was happily eating, Sophie gleefully threw her plate on the floor. I turned her chair toward the wall for a timeout, returned her plate to the table, and when she calmed down, let her resume her meal. The second time it happened, I put her in her room, only to return to find Charlie emptying his plate onto the floor. I picked him up, put him in his crib and shut the door. As Sophie and Charlie stood in their cribs screaming to get out, I quietly sat on the kitchen floor picking up spaghetti, fighting my anger and tears of frustration.

The worst is not that they don’t always do as I ask—after all, they are just toddlers—but they seem to take pleasure in defying my wishes and tormenting me. The fact that I do not remember the last time I wasn’t exhausted doesn’t help.

It’s not always two against one in our house. They sometimes turn on each other. There was the day when Sophie dutifully shouted, “No biting!”—just moments after Charlie had burst into tears, a perfect little set of teeth marks appearing on his cheek. “No biting!” Sophie repeated, as if saying it somehow meant the indentations on his face wouldn’t give her away.

The twins have also reached the age when they delight in intentionally antagonizing one another. If Sophie is playing by herself, Charlie will sometimes approach her and, smiling widely, whack her on the head with a toy. Unlike Sophie and me, he finds this very funny.

Sophie, for her part, will scream to possess whatever toy Charlie is playing with until he surrenders it. Then she simply places it on the couch and moves on to something else. It’s not so much that she wants it, but more that she just doesn’t want Charlie to have it. It was during a shared bath that Sophie discovered Charlie’s penis—the one toy she could never take away. She seems to have finally come to terms with this realization and is satisfied just spreading the news that “Charlie has a penis, Sophie has a banana.” 

The ugly We have reached the big-kid bed stage—the point at which the bad becomes ugly or worse. Their new beds are great fun to jump off, but the children have little interest in actually sleeping in them.

Sophie would try to fall asleep only if I sat in the room while the lullabies played. Just as she seemed about to go to sleep, Charlie would begin to run around their room in an effort to keep the action going. Figuring he needed my help to calm down, I’d pick him up and rock him. Once, as I cuddled the little boy I adore, he grabbed two handfuls of my hair and yanked it with all his might. I am actually proud of myself for resisting the urge to throw him across the room.

As with all things, that stage passed, but the next is proving no better. What begins as quiet conversation between the kids in their bedroom (with me happily eavesdropping from another room) often turns into demands. A request from Charlie for his lion will remind Sophie that she must have her tiger; he needs his oversized cow, she needs her equally large duck. And on it goes. 

Soon, the kids find their second wind and are running around. In our new, more polite world, my requests to get into bed are met with “no thank you.” Just as I think they finally are ready to sleep, an adorable little face will peak into my room, tug my heart strings and announce, “I wanna sleep in Mommy’s bed.” 

The days that follow nights like these are pure torture, filled with meltdowns and tantrums. Changing into clean diapers, finding an acceptable meal to eat, outfit to wear or video to watch—everything is a battle. And trying to get a decent nap is an exercise that can bring all three of us to tears. 

Despite the bad and the ugly, in many ways, having twins at age 2 has been wonderful. Family hugs with four little arms wrapped around my neck warm my heart, as do the quiet times on my lap interrupted by a little voice stating, “This is nice.”

And “I love you, Mommy,” are the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard. Yet what is truly amazing to me, is the absolute craziness of it all. The highs are incredibly high and the lows unbelievably low. And I marvel at the speed at which the good turns to bad and the ugly reverts to good. 

I’ve heard 3 is worse. 

Erica Salem is the mom of Charlie and Sophie. She lives and works in Chicago.


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