Our children were never terrible at two. The plan, apparently passed secretly from Alison to Henry to Kate, seemed to be to lull the parents into a false sense of security before taking control of the family. They tricked us into thinking that they were the perfect children, or (when we were feeling a bit confident) that we were the perfect parents.
And then it would happen. Sometime on the evening of their third birthday, each child was visited by a demon that would inhabit his or her soul for the next twelve months, wrecking havoc upon our previously tranquil family. Both Alison and Henry recovered in time for their fourth birthdays, but Kate -- ever the overachiever -- is pushing the envelope. She'll turn five in just seven weeks. Some of her friends might have a clown or a reptile wrangler as entertainment at their birthday parties, but we're giving serious thought to hiring an exorcist and passing out vials of holy water as party favors.
Just this evening, for example, she argued for ten or fifteen minutes about whether or not she would eat her taco, then begged me to make her another shell when she finally finished and noticed that Henry had eaten the last one. At bath time she scolded me for getting her ouchie wet, then curled up into a ball and dissolved into tears when I asked her to put her pajamas on. Once she was finally in bed, she hollered down the hall for me to bring her a tissue (I refused), catch a mosquito (I relented), retrieve one of Henry's books (I refused), and search for a spider (I failed). Henry and Alison had been asleep for twenty minutes by the time Kate finally closed her mouth and shut her eyes.
The other side of Kate's coin, though, is sweet, loving, and absolutely adorable. (Clearly this is an evolutionary trick designed to prevent us from donating our children to charity.) She's old enough to begin decoding some of life's mysteries, as when she recently explained that she feels big when she's at preschool but small when she goes with Mama to pick up Henry and Alison at their elementary school, but young enough that she still sees the magic.
Just yesterday she raced into the house to tell me about her latest discovery. "Daddy, Daddy, the golden poppies are growing!" Here eyes were as big as sunflowers and the excitement in her voice stopped the earth from spinning. She knows they're my favorite flowers, and they've become hers as well. "But they haven't opened up yet, Daddy..." And she was back out the door as quickly as she had come.
When she came in for dinner she revealed that she had been singing to the newly sprouted poppies.
"I was signing to them so that they would open up."
"What were you singing?"
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star. But they didn't open." She was disappointed, but not sad. She knew they would bloom eventually.
And that's the moment that gets me through the tantrums and the arguing and the tears. If it's true that we learn more from our children than they'll ever learn from us, then this is what I've learned from Kate. Just like the poppies, she will bloom. Eventually, she will bloom.