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Tales of A Working Mother: Drill Sergeant in a Size 3-T

It annoys me when people reference the Terrific 2s. Its not because I dont think 2-year-olds are terrific. They are. Its thrilling to watch the world unfold before their eyes. Everything is new to them and they want to experience it all by themselves, on their terms, independently, regardless of the fact that they still need a diaper change following their afternoon nap and make it snappy sister, because theyve got things to do.

I dont like the phrase Terrific 2s because its a sugar-coated version of the Terrible 2s and Id rather take it straight up.

Whoever invented the phrase the Terrible 2s came by it honestly and theres no reason to try and make this toddler phase seem more carefree than it is just to be PC. The truth is the phase isnt always terrible, and sometimes its terrific. Its just that when it is terrible its an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. And, if youve known kids, youre aware the 2 in Terrible 2s is just a catch-all. The independent-minded, no sharing, its all about me phase can start at 18 months or not until the pint-sized tyrant is 3 (much harder to control when hes bigger and stronger, by the way).

My youngest is pushing the big 3.0 and the order and discipline she demands from her troops (mom, dad, sister and brother) makes boot camp look like a spa day.

Theres no end to the decisions she wants input on and authority over. It all begins when she wakes up. Her insistence on doing things herself has led me to rise 30 minutes earlier than usual to ensure I dont have a mental breakdown trying to balance her need for independence and my need to be on time.

When I enter her room in the morning Ill find her clutching her blanket and leaning heavily against the rungs of her crib. Her flattened curls are like petals against her face. Before I can say good morning, the demands begin.

Mama, I mat (want) to get out. I mat my milky, hot, in a pink sippy cup. I mat to put the top on myself. I mat corn pops in a bag.

I feel like a barista at Starbucks.

But, I have my demands too. I tell her she can have her milky once she gets dressed.

In my book this point is not negotiable. Let them get too comfortable with their milk, cereal and Curious George DVD while still snug in their jammies and youre guaranteed to not get out of the house until the clock strikes 10 and they start asking for a snack.

The clothes come first because they take so long. Although I put my younger kids clothes out every night there comes a time when children realize theres choice in what they wear. Unfortunately, that occurs around the time they learn their colors, which coincides with, yes, the Terrible 2s.

My daughter will lift the clothes Ive chosen onto the edge of one finger and eye them critically, as if shes considering them for inclusion in New Yorks Fashion Week.

No, she says, tossing a blue shirt with a butterfly onto the ground. I mat a pink shirt, I mat to wear shorts, shell add, looking at the pants with horror.

Pink is her favorite color so anything thats not pink often doesnt pass muster with her.

Once shes dressed and milked were off to the car to drive to preschool. This is another exercise in negotiation that should warrant me a Nobel Peace Prize or at least diplomatic immunity.

Not only does she want to climb into her car seat unaided and buckle herself in but she wants no help climbing into the car. This is no small feat when youre clutching a book, a bunny and a sippy cup and your chubby legs cant even reach the cars bottom step. But, its all possible if you have a trusty assistant (a.k.a. mother) to hold your stuff while you huff and puff and climb into the car and into the seat and buckle in while the time ticks, ticks, ticks by. Said mother is of course smiling patiently and not saying things like Hurry up, come on, come on, youll miss breakfast at school and youll starve.

And then theres bedtime. This is how our ritual unfolds. First, she surveys her pajama drawer for either pink PJs or pajamas with flowers. If she finds neither clean then she settles grumpily for whatever is left. After that, sippy cup of hot milky in hand, she chooses her two books. By saying she chooses you might have the idea that she actually picks different books each night, thus exposing herself to a variety of literature. But, sadly, this is not the case. You see, those in the Terrible Twos go through phases where they prefer the same book every night, night after night. A father recently told me hed been reading the same book to his son for a year. I found that idea chilling. I can hold out for a week, maybe two, then if she doesnt agree to a new book I just hide the favorites for a few days so Im assured well be exposed to new authors.

After reading stories, during which Im instructed to place my feet on each side of her as I sit in the rocking chair and she faces me on the ottoman, she then leads us in singing. Im told to sing along to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb and to boink, boink fack, fack and wuff, wuff when she calls on the pig, duck and dog in Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

By that point, drunk on milk and lulled into slumber by the rocking chair she willingly lays down in her crib, making one last demand before she shuts her eyes.

Mama, I want my blankey, she says,the pink one, and I want the soft part on my body.

You got it, sister.

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