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Jul 3 2014

The Secret to Dealing with Your Toddler’s Infuriating Tantrums

By at 10:08 am

The secret to dealing with your toddler's tantrums

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Balak. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Oh, the terrible two’s. It’s almost like Sylvie sees things I can’t see.

One moment it’s all sweetness as Sylvie carefully spreads a blanket over my shoulders, stroking my hair with her small fingers and singing: “Go to sleep, little baby.”

The next moment, during a diaper change, she’s truly distraught: “I want that diaper!” (Pull down clean diaper from pile). “No, that one!” (Take down second diaper.) “No, I want that one!” (Pointing to first diaper).

In the moment, this behavior can be pretty infuriating…if I take it seriously. But fortunately it’s so ridiculous that it’s not too hard to take a step back. My current spiritual practice is working on the fine art of nodding and saying “OK” in these moments.

Not “yes” or “no,” just “OK.” Just taking a step back and compassionately watching her flail about and knowing this little storm will be over soon, and if it’s a real issue, we can deal with it calmly later.

Bonus: this turns out to be a helpful strategy for my own personal freak-outs too.

Not to compare my Sylvie to a talking donkey, but, well, I couldn’t help but think of her while reading the part of this week’s Torah portion, Balak, about a talking donkey (who also happens to see angels).

This might sound insulting to Sylvie, except that the donkey’s the hero of this story. It’s his mother owner, Balaam, who’s the butt of the joke.

Basically, Balaam is a foreign prophet, trying to ride his donkey out of town to curse the Israelites. But in order to avoid running into the angels only she can see, the donkey keeps stopping. She swerves, she scrapes Balaam’s leg against a wall. Balaam is not pleased, and beats the donkey, at which point she finally starts talking to explain her side of the story.

I understand Balaam’s frustration. During Sylvie’s moments of emotional, irrational toddler meltdowns, I too get frustrated with the total lack of perceptible logic–especially when we’re trying to get somewhere, or I’m trying to get upstairs with groceries and Sylvie and my nine-month pregnant belly.

Being 2 years old, and not in a magical story like Balaam’s donkey, Sylvie can’t explain her own swerves, stops, and desires for identical diapers. But I have a feeling it has a little bit to do with wanting some control over a world in which a 2-year-old controls very little, and a little to do with her experiencing pure desire–bigger than the desire for any specific diaper.

This is one of those Torah stories where the person in power is blind to what’s really going on. Balaam thinks he’s in charge and that his donkey is being ridiculous, but actually God is in charge and Balaam’s the one who doesn’t see the angels.

In other words, there’s an invisible force at play, as there so often is.

Sometimes I like to think of that force as God. Sometimes I prefer to think of it simply as the life force–that energy of life itself, ever growing, bigger than any one of us.

As the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, it’s “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” It’s the force that runs through Sylvie as she grows, that makes her see things I can’t see. It’s the force that runs through me as I approach my due date and my son-to-be grows in the darkness of my belly.

And as I prepare again for the birth journey, it’s something I return to over and over. As I wrote before, I am hoping for a homebirth VBAC. I’m preparing in every way I can, but I am also preparing for a different story. Because birth is bigger than me. Life is bigger than me. Raising a child is bigger than me.

There is so much we can’t see. And sometimes it takes having kids to make us see it.

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