I never understood what people meant when they talked about the “terrible twos.” My first child, Peter, has never had that kind of behavior problem. My second one? Well, Ian is a different story. When people ask if he’s a terrible two, I’ll usually come back with, “He has been since birth.”
Peter and Ian couldn’t be any more different. From the womb until the present, Ian has made sure everyone knows he’s his own person.
Still, I couldn’t help but compare my kids. And to aid me, I keep “baby’s first” books, where I record when they cut their teeth and ate solid food and took their first steps. Both of my boys walked and said their first words about the same time, so I made the bad assumption that their development would be pretty similar.
With such opposing personalities, I should have known better. For instance, Ian is a screamer. Granted, he had a rough start with colic and reflux – but so did Peter. Yet Peter got over his colic and was a happy baby. For Ian, however, the screams never stopped. He screams in his sleep, screams when he’s happy, screams when he’s upset, screams when he meets someone new. After witnessing one of these episodes, a woman told me, “That’s because he doesn’t know how to communicate yet. When he learns how to talk, he’ll stop.”
What I wanted to tell her was that I had a whole list of words that he’d said, but as soon as Ian learned a new one, he seemed to forget it. I made an effort to teach him baby sign language (after all, it worked with Peter), but Ian only ever picked up two or three signs. For the longest time, I would talk to him and get a blank look – or he would avoid looking at me altogether.
When Ian was about eighteen months old, we pulled out an old video of eighteen-month-old Peter. The difference was striking. Peter talked in complete sentences, told us his eyes were blue, and re-enacted scenes from his favorite book. We weren’t sure Ian even knew he had eyes, much less their color, and forget trying to read him a book. Thomas and I felt we had failed him at some point.
We knew we had to make an effort. We struggled to hold Ian in one spot to read a book. I took him for walks and pointed out lizards and flowers and told him the colors of things. For the longest time, it didn’t seem like he understood that a yellow house was, in fact, a house that was yellow. He said it like a compound word: “yellow-house.” He was months and months behind Peter.
But slowly, so slowly, he started using more words. Communications improved: I could say, “It’s time to clean up,” and he would clean up. There was one-way understanding, at least, even if he sounded like the Muppets’ Swedish Chef when he talked.
After Peter was diagnosed with several learning disabilities, we expected the same for Ian. In fact, when I researched the cues for reading disabilities (slow speech, late speech, trouble speaking complete and complex sentences), Ian fit them all. If our well-adjusted child had dyslexia and a practically non-existent working memory, what other surprises were in store with the kid who had behavior and communication problems? Instead of trying to force concepts into Ian’s brain (like we did with Peter), we hoped he would absorb things via osmosis, and we crossed our fingers that something would take.
Something did. A couple months ago, Ian started to recognize shapes. And colors, too. Not all of them but enough to show me that he understood that “yellow” and “house” were two separate things. And he started counting things – usually without skipping numbers. Thomas and I admitted that he was actually ahead of Peter on that score. He was learning, just at his own pace.
Then last week, the biggie:
We have letter and number magnets on our fridge. I have to keep them out of Ian’s reach, otherwise they’ll be all over the house. In fact, I’m not sure why I never got rid of them, but now I’m glad I didn’t. Out of the blue, he pointed up and said, “Bumblebee.” I looked all over the fridge for a bumblebee but only saw the magnet letter B. I pulled it down, and that’s exactly what he wanted.
Later that week, Thomas was wearing a shirt that said “FLORIDA,” and Ian started pointing at the letters and naming them. He got them all right. Shocked, we began writing uppercase letters at random. He knew them all, including Q and Z. Well, X did trip him up a little. He called it K. But as soon as I told him the difference, he got it. Peter, who is four years older, still gets M and W and B and D mixed up. I don’t think it will be long before Ian will be able to read the easy reading books that still challenge his dyslexic big brother.
After so much frustration, we’re watching our child blossom. I don’t know what triggered this change, only that I am grateful for it – that this is the turning point I have prayed for since we came home from the hospital with an inconsolable baby.
Not only does Ian know his letters, but he’s talking more than ever. He cracks us up with “Oh my goodnets” and “heeky-boos” (peek-a-boo). He often offers a spontaneous “thank you” when someone gives him something. He’s even able to entertain himself independently, something that he could only do sporadically a couple weeks ago.
I’m sorry I let mothering Ian be a chore for so long. A lot of it was that we were just out of sync. The greater part, however, was that I wasn’t one hundred percent okay with his pace.
I am well aware that there is plenty of room for all of us to grow. He still screams. And he still has to be potty-trained. But I know he’s not Peter, and I’m done wishing that he would be more like his big brother. I am fully aware of how unfair that is to him – and the frustrations it will cause if I expect him to meet someone else’s milestones. I am ready to parent him along the unexplored and exciting Ian Way.