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Column: Mama Said with Emily Martin

As Emily Martin’s baby turns two, she wonders just how terrible can ‘the twos’ be?

Our son’s super rough-and-tough nickname at home is. . . Angel Baby. Or Fluffington. Or sometimes Bunny Face. He’s got white feathers and fluff instead of hair, and his skin is like a sugar mouse’s skin but made of velvet. He has the cutest little face and all he wants to do is smile at you and then cuddle. He rarely gets cross and only cries when his sister cries, because he loves her so much. How my little Bunny Face could ever turn into a kicking, screaming, terrible-twos BRUTE is unfathomable. Or is it. . ?

I’ve heard that even the sweetest baby can turn bad at this stage. And actually, the other night, as the baby and I were snuggling in his bed, my face burrowed into his soft feathers, he clubbed me in the face with his arm. And I think it was on purpose.

I’ve lost count of the number of times a friend has said, “Oh (insert name of child) had a meltdown so we had to leave/we both cried in the middle of the street/I had to shut him in the car.” The word meltdown is usually used to describe a severe nuclear reactor accident, but it can also be accurately used to describe what toddlers do when you try to stop them from eating out of the bin/sticking their fingers in a switch or just asking them to put on their shoes.

Mama Said's Emily Martin with her little darlings(23358384)
Mama Said's Emily Martin with her little darlings(23358384)

Your sweet happy child will suddenly go red faced and start screaming, smashing things, hissing, thrashing, regardless of where you are. At a wedding, in the street, they don’t care. The red mist comes down and you’d better get out of their way.

Apparently, meltdowns are totally normal and it’s something to do with the child suddenly becoming aware of his/her emotions and not knowing quite what to do. I was apprehensive about this stage with Bunny Face. His sister literally never had a meltdown. She has always been a sensible and fairly reasonable child, but Bunny Face. . . he’s a bit different.

To prepare myself for the inevitable I asked my friends: tell me your stories, give me your tales, how bad can it get? And slowly, tentatively, sometimes in barely a whisper, my traumatised friends started talking. There’s the friend who couldn’t do up her winter coat over an eight-month baby bump, causing her two year old to have a meltdown because, he screamed, “the baby will get cold!” They both cried that day, she said.

Then there’s the friend whose daughter threw a book which hit her in the face. The book (to add insult to serious facial injury) was called How To Raise Your Spirited Child. Another, about to embark on a family holiday, had to suffer an airport tantrum because the plane they were getting on was silver and not blue, as the child had hoped.

One friend offered her child some cake which, it turns out, was the wrong thing to do. But then removing the offending cake only made things worse. What about a toddler who needed a full emergency clothes change in a supermarket toilet, and then would only leave the supermarket if it was agreed he could walk to the car with no shoes on? He then cried all the way home because he wanted to hold a piece of plastic rubbish from the footwell.

My research scared me, and the more stories I collected, as if he sensed my fear, Bunny Face started getting really irrationally angry when anyone came to the house, if he hadn’t personally opened the door. He’d run excitedly to greet the person and then, upon seeing that they’d already come in, he’d throw himself to the ground and bang his head off the floor. The visitor’s big smile falling from their face in horror, Bunny Face flailing on the floor screaming, “No! No!”, and me explaining to the frightened visitor that they needed to go back outside and come in again, sorry.

When toddlers behave like this, the official advice is just to let them go for it. Let them thrash it out on the floor and just sit solemnly beside them. Maybe gently say, “Do you want a cuddle?”. Whatever you do, you’re not meant to tell them off because apparently that stifles their ability to express their feelings, or something.

The procedure during a nuclear meltdown is to pump hundreds of tons of water to cool things down, dump boron, dolomite, lead and sand onto the core from a helicopter and then build a concrete sarcophagus around the situation before leaving it like that forever.

But if you come to my house and Bunny Face doesn’t personally let you in, I’m not sure if any of that would even work.


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