It has been said that whoever coined the phrase "the terrible 2s" obviously never had a 3-year-old. Since my twins, Charlie and Sophie, spent the first half of their 3s perfecting the art of fighting, I’ve come to believe the truth of that phrase.
I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say there was plenty of biting, hitting and hair-pulling. They each seemed to believe that any offense was acceptable provided that, as soon as it came to my attention, an apology (no matter how insincere) was immediately forthcoming.
Time-outs were a joke and language skills developed with the emergence of important new phrases such as, "I can if I want to," "Wanna bet?" and "You can’t make me."
I once saw an episode of "SuperNanny" in which 4-year-old twins repeatedly got out of bed, and when directed back to their room, taunted their parents by calling them buttheads. Ever since, whenever things get really bad at our house and I need a little ego boost, I take comfort in the fact that my children have not yet called me a butthead.
Yet, somewhere between the fighting, tantrums and time-outs, the bond between these two loves of my life continued to grow. Sophie’s maternal instincts took root this past year and she could often be found offering to help Charlie get dressed or calming him down with a soothing, "It’s OK, Hon, don’t cry."
And with Sophie inconsolable at the prospect of having to go straight to bed after a late-night return from vacation, tears filled my eyes as I watched Charlie stand next to his sister, silently stroking her hair.
Bonds of love
I have come to suspect that the love I feel for my children may only be surpassed by the connection they share with each other. Of course, this only makes me love them even more (which to my amazement is still proving possible).
Eight months into their 3s, we hit a major milestone as Charlie and Sophie were set to begin preschool. As they had spent their lives to this point under the watch of a single caregiver (myself or their nanny), I feared the worst.
I felt Sophie would be OK and relish the new opportunities for socialization, but I worried about how Charlie would fare. This was only reinforced when I announced that I’d be dropping them off on their first day of school. "Drop me off?" Charlie asked. "Are you going to throw me?"
When the big day arrived, my children stood on our porch dwarfed by their empty backpacks and off we walked down the street hand-in-hand-in-hand.
On that first day, Charlie surprised me as he and Sophie hugged me goodbye and happily followed their teacher into the school. As I watched them standing in a line with their classmates and waving at me through the window, I was the only one crying. My children were bold and brave; I was a wreck.
I wondered how they could already be starting school when it felt like they had come into this world just days earlier. Their nanny and I proceeded directly to the neighborhood bar and grill for a cocktail and I immediately started counting the hours until I could pick up my children.
The best we can be
Like most mothers, I just want to be the best parent possible. It seems to me that on the couches of most therapists, the search for life’s answers often leads back to the mother. While I want my children to be happy and well adjusted, my primary goal is much like a physician’s—"first do no harm." I wonder if this will be possible when I feel I am missing out on so much.
I want to be the one who walks Charlie and Sophie to school each day and the first person that hears about their day on the way home. And while my life wishes were once quite ambitious, now I just long to accompany my children on class field trips. This is simply not possible in our family right now.
Nonetheless, my children do seem to be very happy on a daily basis. They usually awake with smiles, play well with others, express themselves freely and are developing my family’s sense of humor (a critical tool for long-term survival).
We tell one another with great regularity how much we love each other and there continues to be no shortage of hugs and kisses in our home. So perhaps the greatest adjustment challenges, at least at this point, are for me and not them.
I am fighting a growing sadness at having to spend so much time working and away from my two reasons for living. And as we now enter the world of 4-year-olds (which my mother has warned me about for the past three years), I will continue to find comfort at having never been called a butthead.
Erica Salem is the mom of Charlie and Sophie. She lives and works in Chicago.