With both our kids, we got through the Twos pretty unscathed. The Terrible Twos could (almost, but not quite) have been the Terrific Twos. Sunshine and Starlight both developed a sense of generosity (both materially, and in spirit) as they showed each other, and us, the humanity that is in all of us. Yes, there were tantrums, hard times. We battled through. When they were over, we congratulated ourselves at how well we handled it all. As parents, we assured ourselves, we were ace. We didn’t even know what we were doing, yet we were doing it so well.
Only one part of that last sentence remains true. On both their third birthdays we said “Aren’t we lucky? I mean, everyone talks about the terrible twos, and sure there were moments, but that wasn’t so bad, was it?” (We always talk like characters from a novel, even if our lives could have been plotted for a soap opera).
As Starlight hurtles through her third year, she leaves a trail of destruction behind her. Her personality has burst from somewhere and left its imprint all over our house and our lives and our spirits.
Fit the first (and I steal this expression shamelessly from Lewis Carroll) began with our bedtime stories. We read a story every night, and I tried them once or twice on Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark. Sunshine was not a big fan, not right away. My copy is not a picture book. And as Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland: “What use is a book with no pictures in it?” Well, it turns out Starlight knows. She looks on half transfixed, half smiling at my amateur dramatics and ludicrous voices. She laughs unmercifully. Soon, we have a fight. Sunshine wants a better book. One with pictures. Starlight wants a funny book, one with voices. This book, that book. There is no winning Starlight over with a compromise. There is no more “us” or “ours”. There is only “mine” and “mine” (you need to imagine two voices saying “mine” there). Now we read two stories.
Unfortunately, the Hunting of the Snark didn’t last long. Starlight’s (wilful) personality gathered strength and stubbornness. It also gathered influence from other sources. Namely Peppa Pig. And Ben and Holly. And all manner of other characters who Sunshine had resolutely “grown out” of and Starlight “grew in” to, the better to demarcate herself from her sister.
And so ends our early era of harmonious sharing.
“That’s mine!” comes the cry from downstairs.
“No, MINE!” is the resolute response. The two girls are cry-screaming incoherently at each other. I am noticed in the room, then I am cry-screamed at by both of them.
“Now, you two listen to me,” I say. In control of little more than my voice, “you have to share. What are you fighting about?” More cry-screaming. Waving of pencils. I tell them to slow down. They each want the others’ pencil, but are unwilling to give up their pencil.
“This is LUDICROUS!” I tell them, “You need to learn to treat each other properly. Share. Love each other.” Come on everybody, it’s time to get together right now. More cry-screams, followed by higher-pitched cry screams as I remove both offending pencils. “Do you want me to put these in the bin?!” I ask, drunk on power over a five and a three year old, so drunk I don’t know what to do with it. “Now,” I say, buying time, “play something else. I’m not having this arguing!”
“But… but… Dadeeeeeee!” they scream “It’s MINE!” (they both speak of the other pencil – the one they don’t want. “Look” I say, thinking I have a chance to reason with them. “You want this one?” “Yes” says Sunshine, looking at her feet. “And you want this one?” “Yes, says Starlight, with one eye cast on the colour she wants, the other on the pencil that is hers.
“So,” I say, “why don’t we swap?” I cross my arms, to direct each pencil to the child that wants it. More cry screaming, and now they start shoving each other and grabbing for both. “That’s MINE!” and “I want that one!” is all I can make out through the clamour.
I have no idea what is going on. Not long ago, they were too small to fight. Then, they were too small to fight me. Now, they are too small to care for my large, lumbering attempts at familial justice.
I try to calm them. Tell them to do their jigsaws.
Apart from things that are mine, Starlight has also discovered ways that are mine. She pulls out a jigsaw and starts jamming pieces together. Sunshine and I look on, bewildered. Is this fury? Or does she not know what to do? I show her the box. “Look, love. See the picture? You have to try and make the picture…” I may be expecting too much. Sunshine was doing this jigsaw at 3, but that doesn’t mean Starlight can or should be able to.
“No.” she says.
“What? No, look” I say, “the idea is to make the picture. Here, will I help?”
“No.” she says. “I want to make my own picture.”
“But that’s not how it works love. Look, let me help…” I say, putting two pieces together, dramatically pointing out how the shapes fit into each other.
“No.” she says. “I’m making my own.” she says, pulls my pieces apart, then jams one in beside another piece altogether. Sunshine and I look on. Sunshine is bewildered. I am scared.
“No” has become a popular statement with Starlight.
“Time for bed!” “No.”
“Tidy up time!” “No.”
“Starlight, can you bring in the…?” “No.”
We speak cheerily enough in the sing-song tones of one talking to a three year old. She speaks like an old man in a corner of the pub who’s just been asked whether he’s ready to go home.
Every time she says it – this fragile child – we are bewildered. Where did she get this from?
Her new found personality is not all bad. She has learned to be kind of her own accord, which is a heart-warming (if strange) thing for any parent to witness. We are used to telling her to be kind. We are used to telling her how to be kind (share your toys, say please and thank you, give your sister a hug and so forth). Every so often, if her sister is upset or lonely, she will pass over her inseparable Pink Teddy, or offer a sweet or drink to cheer her up. Sunshine, like her father, can be stubborn in her misery, but Starlight will persevere. Sometimes, she gets through.
Sometimes, we have to separate them again, as a fight brews. Of course, we are very proud of this side of our daughter. Generous, kind, giving.
Then, one day, while having an Alice in Wonderland party, the girls managed to spill juice all over the table and floor. As I came in, I found Sunshine trying to clean it up, as Starlight rubbed the liquid around with her hands.
“What are you doing?!” I asked. I had lost my temper. As Sunshine started apologising, Starlight jumps in, shouts over her:
“But Daddy. This is our house too, you know” Our threenager. We are sure Sunshine was the same, but still wonder How did this happen and what do we do now?