Toddlers cry. A lot. They tantrum, they yell, they toss themselves on the floor. They have all of these emotions, and not only do they not understand the effect of emotion on a person, they don’t even know what an emotion is. On top of all of these feelings they have to learn and learn about, they also are still trying to learn language. This is a recipe for disaster. This is the cornerstone of the terrible twos. Almost no parent is a bad parent to a two year old, even when they seem out of control. Even the wisest among us cannot teach a baby to handle emotion, cannot teach a baby to speak a language they do not know, even as that emotion bubbles up within them.
My babies are sick. They have a stomach virus. This makes everything so much worse because not only do they not understand emotion and don’t know how to tell me about it, they also don’t understand physical feeling, and can’t grasp why their stomachs are hurting. In fact, they don’t even know there is a difference between that physical pain and the emotional trauma they suffer when I fail to give them the correct number of ice cubes in their juice.
This is where a parent can help. As my babies’ misery increases, their demands increase, as well. I find myself alternating between feeling bad that they are sick and feeling utterly frustrated at their complete lack of logic, which is only exacerbated by illness.
My babies cannot tell the difference right now between annoyance that the right Raffi song isn’t playing and irritation because their stomachs are exploding. They only have experience with the former, so instead of being able to broaden their horizons and tell me they’re in pain, they scream extra loud about the Raffi. If I’m not completely aware of the situation, I become exasperated with them and can quickly make matters worse.
It’s up to us, as parents, to remember all that faces a two year old everyday – the information, the pain, the emotion. We need to realize and remember that to the baby, it’s all rolled into one. And that one magnificent feeling will manifest itself in a million little tantrums over little things because it’s the little things that they understand.
And really, we’re not so different ourselves. How many of us break down into tears when the cookies burn, or someone makes a flippant remark that hurts our feelings, when really we’re stressed out about money, or health issues or something really big is looming on the horizon. People deal with things they know and attack things that they can handle.
It’s almost heartening to see my babies relate their illness to whether they’re holding the exact spoon they wanted. It’s optimistic in a way. It reminds me that this virus, as well as all things, will pass.