Over the weekend, Eric was mowing the lawn while the girls played outside. Kiwi followed behind him pushing a green plastic toy mower. Peeper was blowing bubbles but wanted a turn with the mower.
“Can I have a turn? Here, you can take a turn with the bubbles,” Peeper offered.
“MO!” Kiwi yelled. Then she left the toy mower, picked up the bottle of bubbles and dumped out the whole thing on the grass. Then she went back to her toy mower and happily pushed it along as if everything were right with the world.
Eric told me the story and we laughed hysterically—partly because the scene so perfectly exemplifies the feisty, sometimes ornery, stage our almost-2-year-old is in.
Finding the words for feisty
Remember the campaign to ban the word bossy, since it ended up being used as a put-down for assertive girls? Well we may have to ban a whole bunch of other words in my house because Kiwi, who is now 22 months old, has a very strong personality. If we were writing her resume, we might call her exacting, detail-oriented, spirited and unafraid to stand up for what she believes in.
What we don’t call her: willful. Difficult. Manipulative. Controlling.
She is 22 months old, not 22 years. She doesn’t have the mental capacity to be manipulative.
Sometimes she doesn’t have the skills to do what the world asks of her, so this spirited toddler ends up throwing a tantrum or dumping her milk out on the floor. I try not to get mad (and sometimes succeed). After all, she’s still learning how to be flexible, patient and reasonable. (No one ever said those traits were a toddler’s strong suit!)
Reframing the difficulties of living with a spirited toddler
Even still, days with our spirited toddler can be challenging. Her fits are epic, and her screaming jags have stamina. Maybe she’ll be a CEO; maybe she’ll be an opera singer. But her strengths are already becoming clear.
She is determined. She will outlast your attempts to distract or dissuade her from asking for what she wants. If she wants to eat parmesan cheese by the handful for dinner, then forget about your plans for a balanced meal—or a peaceful evening.
She is spirited. Nearly nothing is mellow about this child. We call her a pistol, we call her a spitfire. She is passionate and opinionated and fiery.
She is articulate. Although she doesn’t talk a ton, and the words she does say are mostly unintelligible to anyone outside our immediate family, she gets her point across. For example, when I’m rocking her to sleep, she demands a song. After a line of, say, “You Are My Sunshine,” she’ll say, “Mo. Tah.” (Translation: No. Daniel Tiger.) I can just imagine her shouting, “Alexa—next song!”
Won’t try to change my spirited toddler
I’ve been thinking a lot about honoring Kiwi’s personality. It’s easy to compare and contrast her and Big Sister. They are so different in many ways: Peeper can sit and read or paint for literally hours; Kiwi needs to be moving at all times. Peeper was making puns before she turned 2; Kiwi knows a lot of signs but still struggles to communicate. One is not better (even though it’s much easier having a child whose tantrums don’t last an hour and a half.)
Something a blogger friend of mine wrote recently has really stuck with me.
“It’s crazy how my expectations of HER were just as unrealistic as my expectations of myself.”
As Megan Joy wrote about her daughter turning one, we can imagine and hope and wish our kids (and we as parents) were a certain way—cooperative, patient, willing to smile for the family portrait that cost $400—but wanting a child to be different obscures the wonderful human being she already is. (And to paraphrase my dad, you can wish in one hand and you-know-what in the other and see which fills faster.)
I’ll do my best to recognize the person Kiwi is and not try to change her. Sure, I can help her learn the skills she’ll need to navigate the world (and hopefully throw fewer tantrums). But I will not try to mold her into a child she is not.
So as my spirited toddler turns 22 months old, I celebrate her—my feisty, sassy, energetic, opinionated, strong daughter.