They say if you can cope with the ‘Terrible Twos’ you can cope with anything, but as far as I’m concerned, anyone who gets their child as far as their second birthday without having a nervous breakdown deserves a medal of valour, since no stage is more nerve-wrecking than the ‘Woeful Ones’.
My one-year-old has recently learned to walk and overnight has metamorphosed into a suicidal maniac committed to on his own self-destruction. Where once he spent his days happily chewing on his soft toy collection, or contentedly bouncing away in his jumperoo, he now fills them by fitfully clambering up onto chairs and tables – and any other furniture which can be mounted – and then meticulously placing himself precariously close to the edge as if to say ‘I can get up but I can’t get down – it’s your problem, deal with it.’
Either that or he’s busily toddling out to the bathroom to put one of the TV remote controls down the toilet, something which he is inexplicably compelled to do whenever the opportunity arises.
And although everyone in the family, including my four-year-old son, regularly and obsessively scan the floor for choke-able objects, he still manages to track down an endless supply of coins and small pieces of lego to chew on, sending everyone dashing to his aid as he inevitably yaks and retches on them – like a cat with a hairball – several times a day.
One-year-olds are a roller-coaster ride of pink-cheeked, candy-coated charm and utter edge-of-your seat, white-knuckle fear, as they seem hell bent on committing as many acts of kamikaze as they can fit into their day, slotted neatly in between watching the Teletubbies and afternoon naps, and the entire family are in a permanent state of emergency as not a minute goes by without someone shrieking ‘he’s standing at the top of the stairs!’ or ‘quick get him mum, he’s climbing into the washing machine!’.
And babies of this age, whilst for the most part adorable, have a cold, hard quality at times. As I lean close to request a kiss – ‘kiss mama, baby, kiss mama?’ he will grab my hair violently and tug it until my eyes water. Proffering a warm, lovingly-made bottle – with a little dash of honey in it – he will lean forward, snatch the bottle from my hand, and fling it as far away from himself as he humanly can (his gaze not once leaving mine) with all the warmth of a serial killer. All my babies did this, and it never ceased to amuse and disturb me. And just as you start to think you’re hot-housing a mini Charles Manson, they will suddenly snuggle up close, place a soft, pudgy hand on your face, and land a hot wet smacker on your cheek ‘mwahhh....mama...mwahhh!’
And, where once he would sit with me in a café, dreamily gnawing on a biscuit or happily reclining in his chair, glugging away on his bottle, he now spends the entire time either wrestling with the straps of his highchair or tipping his drink over his head. Every now and then he will struggle forward and violently grab anything within reach from my table – a salt shaker, sugar bowl, coffee cup – and fling it forcefully to the ground. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was possessed.
This is surely Darwinism at its best – were it not for the heart-melting cuteness of these little individuals, we’d surely just leave them on the front steps of the maternity hospital with a little note saying: ‘it didn’t work out, returning to sender’, concluding that they were far more trouble than they’re worth. Thankfully nature is clever like that and whatever the negatives of your average one-year-old, they are outweighed by the positives – the gummy smiles, the trusting eyes, the impromptu cuddles. Besides, the Woeful Ones only last a year, by which time the Terrible Twos don’t look half as terrible!