Nothing pertaining to my experience with my first child did much to derail this smugness. In fact, I daresay my preternaturally "easy" child went a long way towards fanning the smug flames into a fire of...-barf-
And lo, the Lord did see my smugness and it did displease Him mightily and He sent unto me....Wesley.
Wes was my easiest birth. He came wailing into the world with a couple of pushes and me actually laughing at one point. He was a relatively mild baby, easy to nurse, quick to learn to speak his first words and crawl and walk, sweet and cuddly but also much more independent than Gwen. He fit nicely into my views on "Good parents make good kids!'
And then he hit 18 months. And the shrieking. The face-melting, macaque-like shrieking when he didn't get his way. That was the first crack in my veneer.
It turns out, he began the "Terrible Twos" about 6 months before schedule. The shrieking evolved into tantrums, hitting, throwing, and a general grumpiness that permeated most of his days. I pulled out all the tricks in my "loving but firm" arsenal- getting down on his level, eye contact, confident communication as I set "boundaries". "We don't hit, buddy! We don't throw things when we're mad, buddy! Hair is not for pulling! Hands are not for hitting!" Mommy needs a drinky. Because none of it seemed to make a damn bit of difference.
Wes was (and is) a law unto himself. In hindsight, I see that his mental capacity had out-paced his ability to communicate with us in a way that we could understand. He would have something he desperately wanted/needed/wished us to comprehend, and no matter how he tried he could not make us see it. And so, rage. Violence. A lot of time spent on the supermarket floor writhing about while I tried desperately to open a bag of Goldfish crackers to placate him. And by the way, in the middle of all of this, I got pregnant with Owen. Holy shit, you guys.
So now I was exhausted in addition to exasperated. And still we toiled. I read books. I scoured websites. We tried time-outs. We tried just doing whatever he wanted for an hour a day. Gentle play. Horse play. Ignoring bad behavior. Making him apologize for bad behavior. Time alone with Mom or Dad. Gentle discipline. Firm discipline. And only one thing ever really worked. And that one thing was TIME.
As he grows his verbal ability is growing with him. It sometimes felt painfully slow to us, parents of Gwendolyn who practically came out of the womb talking in full sentences. But every added word- every naming of a thing or emotion in a way recognizable to us is one more battle shut down before it happens. I know when he's thirsty now because he tells me. There's no need to hurl a sippy cup at my head. It is a study in meeting your child where they are, when they are- not at some predetermined mile-marker you got from an "expert" or from what your other kid did or what might be convenient to your life at the moment.
There was very little we could control besides hanging the hell in there, holding onto our patience with both hands, and having faith that we'd come out the other side with him. We weren't bad parents. We weren't weak or over-indulgent. We weren't too harsh or demanding too much. We were just parenting the child we were given to parent, as best we could. We couldn't magically turn our bear into a bunny, no matter how hard we tried to staple those big floppy ears to his hard head.
And I realize now that in all likelihood, all those parents my 20-something smug ass had been judging were simply along for the ride with their own challenging kid, sweaty and embarrassed at Target, hoping there were no smug assholes like young-me looking down their noses at things that they couldn't hope to control. So I'd like to say, "I'm sorry, moms. I was an ignorant dick. And I'm sorry."
This is not to say we are completely out of the woods. My Wes is still challenging- most recently refusing to nap at all which leaves us at around 4pm with a emotionally brittle nearly-three-year-old, just looking for an excuse to collapse. He still has a problem with even approaching the concept of "sharing". He still gets into everything (and I include, memorably, his own poopy diaper only yesterday. Ermagerd.) I still need to occasionally call my mom-friends to be reminded "It Gets Better". And may God above help me, we're about to begin potty training.
But there are good days now, days when he wakes up with a dimply smile, and tells me over and over "Thank you, Mom!" for some particular toy or favor that has tickled him. He honest-to-God plays with his big sister- laughing, jolly, rough-and-tumble play like I always dreamed of for them. And when he's having a really hard time, I can take him in my arms and hear him repeat to me the phrase I said so many times to him in those rough months when he was raging and flailing and making me question whether he loved me at all: "I got you. I got you, Mom."
I got you too baby, always.