Saturday, September 29, 2007

Terrible Terrific Tear-ific Turbulent Triumpant

And then she was two.

Una was lying on the floor crying this morning, her forehead pressed to the ground, because I wouldn't let her have another turn on my computer (it freaks me out watching her bashing the keyboard). Martin joked, 'Are you just going to be terrible two now?' and she sobbed, with clear annunciation, 'I'm not terrible.'

I love other people's two year olds - in fact it's my favourite age in children I'm not responsible for rearing. But when Frederique was two I must admit it was a struggle. It was mostly the shock really, that this gorgeous, happy, easygoing baby transformed into a small person filled with rage, frustration and so much misplaced POWER, and most of it was turned against me. At the same time she was funny and delightful, emerging as a social creature, enraptured by her friends (though she was a bit of a thug as well) and developing a sense of humour, with its own referents, not just giggling in response to us or things she saw. Her memory for people and places was awesome (better than it is now). Her favourite movie, delightfully, was Travelling Birds (a documentary) which she would watch over and over and she had these five wooden people who she would arrange in secret corners of the house. But I was pregnant with Una from when Fred was 19 months (she was nearing 2.5 when Una was born) and Fred slept terribly the whole time, up and down and in and out of our bed, more up than down - every few nights she would just be AWAKE for hours in the middle of the night (was it so often? It seems as though it can't have been that bad...but it was pretty bad). She also hardly ate anything except cereal, bananas and yoghurt. Una has had some phases like this but for some reason I don't feel quite so personally involved in Una's body - if she doesn't eat it doesn't bother me, if she won't sleep during the day we get her up if she's wakeful during the night we pop the Noni CD in for her). She would often refuse her day-sleep or she would sleep and then she'd wake up in a foul mood that would rise in pitch until all the local birds evacuated and I'd end up crumpled in a heap in the corner of the kitchen weeping on the floor (literally, once or twice - Fred would either join me or hug me, she's always been very compassionate). Almost exactly around the time Fred turned three she transformed. She started to sleep through the night in her own bed, eat our food and stopped hitting and biting...most of the time.

Una is a very different girl and I'm more balanced these days. So I suspect I'm actually going to, for the most part, enjoy two this time round. Already cranky behaviour and extreme reactions I found bewildering and personally assaulting with Fred I find somewhere between mildly amusing and mildly annoying in Una. Part of it is that I know it's not personal this time. But an advantage with Una is that her language is more advanced, not so much her vocabulary but the way she uses it - she is far, far more communicative than Frederique was at the same age. Language for Fred was always malleable, always a game, more internal, directly connected to her imagination - which naturally led to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication (and still does). There's always been a sense that Fred's language emerges from the subconscious, that she's a postmodern magpie, collecting all these glittering words to arrange and rearrange for her own mysterious reasons (maybe she will be a poet). For Una language is about connecting with people and communicating her needs or inquiring politely after everyone else's. This morning when Fred wanted to hug her she pushed Fred away and said, without any kind of lead from us, 'I'm a bit cranky.' That she is this in touch with her own feelings and what they mean, and that she is able to talk about them in such a useful way, amazes me. For Una, language is more like a set of building blocks, creating structures that are practical, sturdy and quantifiable.

Another advantage is the love object. Una has baby, who looks quite a lot like this:

So much so we had to buy her the book. The only transitional object Fred ever had was a song. Which was unfortunate because it required one of us to sometimes endlessly produce it (though the uncanny sway it holds over her is one of my greatest pleasures as a mother).

Also I now know, nothing lasts forever. With Fred every stage was the new normal. There was always anxiety surrounding it. Only recently have we been able to accept that these things come and go and that there is often little we can do to ward off the harder stuff - we all ride it through together. Sometimes we made Fred's phases such an enemy that it seemed Fred herself was the enemy. Now we know the best we can often do is hold her (when she wants us) until she's ready to let go. Self-blame and guilt, anger and retribution are about as useful as trying to hold a flood back with chocolate mousse.

So two. I am not afraid. We've been here before. And I don't think it was ever really as bad as we thought it was. Or perhaps we have forgotten. The other gentle blessing of parenthood - forgetting.


  1. Happy birthday, Una Pearl!

    ...and motherwishes for you too Penni! (they're meant as a good thing but I can't think of an adjective that doesn't sound silly, happy seems a bit underdone for something so profound...)

  2. Una Pearl - what a beautiful name! Do you know Pearl, the poem from the fourteenth century? Anonymous, from the alliterative tradition - so the language is spiky and strange and beautiful. It also has a rhyme structure and repeating last lines, and a first and last line that mirror each other with the image of a precious pearl. A man falls asleep in a garden while looking for his lost pearl, then dreams of a beautiful pearl maiden whom he realises is his daughter, who died when she was a child. I wrote my masters dissertation on it. It is a lovely poem.

    I find your reflections on parenting so fascinating - thank you for sharing. And add my birthday wishes to the chorus...

  3. Anonymous9:28 AM

    Do you ever wonder whether this blog will exist when the girls grow up? An adult them, sifting through your mindspace and this record of their growing up?

    I think that's pretty amazing.

  4. We had the Transitional Book.

    I could recite Miss Spider's Tea Party in my sleep.

    I think I did, a few times.

  5. Anonymous11:01 PM


    was considering all this today when i realised that the baby hasn't cried for 2 days.

    We just get to him and solve the problems before they become problems.

    willow is still a startling change person, and everything is often fraught, as it always has been with her.

    Zephyr is polite and cheerful and his language is great and he has a wicked sense of humour, very adult, very sly and cheeky. hes a real smoothy.

    i'm so glad you wrote this, its made me very thoughtful.

    and reminded me once more that i ought to try and go to bed before 11pm.

  6. Janet - thank you. As a parent it's amazing the significance their birthdays have. I never got it before.
    Meli - it's on my to read list, thanks. Pearl is such a lovely mysterious beautiful word. I'm glad you enjoy reading about it, sometimes I worry the 'kid' posts are a bit boring for people who aren't in that headspace.
    Anon - I do wonder about this, sometimes while I'm writing. But I love that I have a record of this (I said recently I'm not a diary person) and I must admit I did that typical mum thing of keeping an extensive record for the firstborn and a fairly sketchy one for Una - but I plan sometime to work my way through the blog and jot down some of the milestones I've recorded here.
    Shula - Fred had a book too for a while, Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten. When we moved house the first two times with her :| she had us get up in the middle of the night and read it over and over. I always wondered if it was a coincidence that it was about a girl moving into a new house (Fred was only 14 months the first time).
    Zose - it's interesting what you say about Willow and Zephyr, Fred and Willow have similar energy I think, and use it in the same way. If Fred has a central power source it's fuelled directly by chaos. Una is definitely the more adult focussed child - Fred is much more keen on kids.

  7. Belatedly speaking...happy birthday Una!

    I love 2. 2 rocks. In our house 2 seems to start at 18 months. The 2 year old tantrum is just down right cute, particularly in comparison with the 4 year old tantrum. And of course sleepless nights caused by 2 real non sleeping children and 1 imaginary non sleeping child is easier to bear than 1 non sleeping real child when pregnant.