“Tell Mommy what happened at church today,” Tyson said as he walked in the door with Nolan, who was fighting to get his jacket off. (“Work!” he cried, toddler-speak for, “This doesn’t work!”, used whenever he is stuck on either a physical or mental problem.)
I stood at the kitchen counter and cut up the pizza they’d brought home for dinner. “What happened?” I asked, distracted, wondering if Brooklyn would want pizza or something else to eat since she was sick. Her lethargy and almost fever were the reason we’d stayed behind.
“I fight. Kid,” Nolan said, (more toddler-speak), with a slight gleam in his eye.
My brow furled. I paused and turned away from the rainbow of plastic plates awaiting pizza slices on the counter. “Wait. You did what?” I met Tyson’s eye. Did I hear that right? His expression was half amused, half exasperated.
“Yup. They kicked him out. He hit another kid with a toy. Right on the nose. You should have seen the bruise; it was impressive.”
I finally moved to help my warrior-child with his jacket, noting the sticker on his back as I peeled it off his arms. JESUS IS A GOOD EXAMPLE! it proclaimed. The irony.
I probed for more details. No, he wasn’t exactly kicked out, but since it was almost the end of service it was just easier for Tyson to take him. No he wasn’t really in trouble, nobody was mad. In fact, some of our favorite volunteers were in the room and seemed more bemused by the whole episode than anything. Yes, he’d be welcomed back next week.
I sighed, watching this kid, this overly energetic, spirited, precocious, lively two-year old of mine eat his pizza in the messiest way possible. 30 seconds into dinner and he already had a dollop of sauce on his nose, toppings in his hair, more food off his plate than on it. There went our four-year streak of never being called back to the children’s area during church.
I wondered if the volunteers in the toddler room saw what I see: a lovable, unusually active even for his age, typically well-intentioned little boy who has an absolute overabundance of energy. Did they see that he hit the kid on the nose only because the other boy was trying to take the toy from him in the first place and this is how two-year olds solve problems? Surely that’s what happened. I couldn’t see him bopping a kid on the nose for no reason, but I knew he’d have no problem defending himself. Self-confidence was not something he lacked. Did they see any of his redeeming qualities or did all that energy cause him to be labeled only as “the naughty one”?
Nolan gives me a grin across the parachute before he takes off at a run for the 14th time during circle time at open gym. I know the routine. It takes me less than half a second to bolt after him. He has such a hard time sitting still to focus. For anything. Outings I did as a matter of routine with the twins: library storytimes, visits to the local coffeeshop, the simple act of strapping them in the double stroller, are virtually impossible with this one rambunctious toddler. I don’t even try storytime with him anymore. Open gym is great, except for this 10-minute circle time. I look at the other 30 kids, ranging in age from babies to five-year olds, all sitting patiently as the gymnastics coach explains the rules for jumping in the foam pit. As I wrangle Nolan back in my arms, I notice another mom staring at me. Not staring, really it’s more of a glare. My cheeks get hot, hotter than they already are from running after him for the past hour. I meet her gaze, daring her to say something. She doesn’t, but continues to stare me down.
I feel like saying something, but everything I think of sounds pretty awful in my head. Do you have a problem? Too confrontational. What are you looking at? Not any better. Two-year olds, amiright? Too trite. I have three kids under five and I’m doing the best I can!!! Emotional overload.
I’d love to give this mother some grace, but I don’t have it in me today. I noticed her earlier, sitting calmly, while her own five-year old ran around to use the gymnastics equipment. Hasn’t he ever pushed the limits before? What is she looking at, anyway? I realize that every other kid is sitting more or less patiently, but doesn’t she remember what two is like? I’m not sure what she wants me to do. He runs, I retrieve. He runs again, I retrieve again. I’m trying to teach him what it means to sit still and listen without causing too much of a scene. I’m doing what I can. I feel shamed and judged and hate that I feel that way as I take a seat again on the bright-colored mat.
The park just down the street from our house is big. It’s one of the first things I noticed about the neighborhood. The giant blue plastic sea monster made it instantly distinctive and added to its charm. There are swings, plenty of slides, and lots of opportunities for climbing. It boasts a smaller, separate toddler area (“ages 2-5” proclaims a sign), and the large, main one (“ages 5-12”). Every single one of my kids has been pretty much over the toddler area since before they were two years old. But Nolan has really put those recommended ages to the test. He’s been able to climb up to the top of the tallest part of the playground since he was 14 months old. Yes, the part of the playground for the 5-12-year olds. My just barely one-year old thought it was no problem.
I used to run up there after him. I’d take a running start and dash up a slide as he climbed through the tunnels, up, up, and up some more, so I could meet him at the top to help him go down the tallest slides (one of which I’ve nicknamed “the death slide” for how ridiculously steep it is). Leggings and sneakers weren’t just the cliche wardrobe choice as a stay-at-home mom; they were a necessity for all I needed to do to keep up with him.
Now I stand with two feet planted on the ground as I watch Nolan climb the tallest ladder on the playground, one foot and then another. Last summer it was his entire life’s ambition to climb up there (“Do it MYSELF!”) and I wouldn’t let him. One wrong move would mean a twenty-foot drop to the ground and I wasn’t confident in my abilities to catch him. Two years old and I’m tired of fighting him. I don’t have it in me anymore to tell him he can’t when he’s so clearly confident he can.
Other parents will alert me sometimes to what he is doing, their nerves showing as they watch his tiny body climbing higher and higher in the air. I smile, thank them, and say I know. He has so much energy, so much drive, so much ambition. I know he’ll get to the top, turn around, and scream, “I did it!” with his arms raised in the air. Every time. It never fails. I wonder if they see what I see: an active, determined, persistent, daredevil of a two-year old. I wonder if they worry he’s setting a bad example for their own small children as he climbs the tallest ladder, jumps from a step you’d think is too high, dangles like a monkey and drops to the ground from a bar more than twice his own height.
I don’t care what they think. I know what he can do.
I watch him climb. Wait for him to tell me he did it. Watch for him to be proud.