Before having a toddler, the only mood swings I needed to worry about were my own.
But those few days before Aunt Flo comes to town are nowhere near as chaotic as when my toddler sees I’m leaving the room to have a wee.
I’ve learned to control my mood swings – though it’s a different story if someone nicks the last of my chocolate – but with toddlers there is a foreboding feeling that they could turn on you at any second.
More than that, their fits of rage, which would put any dramatic performance in EastEnders to shame, might end as quickly as they begin. Or continue for another hour. You just never know.
From around 18 months to two years this thoroughly unpleasant phase begins. Many call it the terrible twos. I don’t think terrible is quite enough of a dramatic word to describe this horror.
In our home, I feel we are constantly standing on the precipice of a monumental meltdown.
One second everyone is happy, laughing even, and getting along. The next a high-pitched wail is let out along with a violent flailing of limbs and stamping of feet.
Parents of toddlers could talk for hours about the bizarre reasons why their kids had a paddy that puts the Hulk to shame.
You said no to more ice cream, while they were still eating ice cream.
They dropped a crisp on the floor.
Their sibling brushed gently past their arm.
Another child dared to look at them.
The trouble is that you notice this anti-social behaviour far more when it’s your child, and that leads you to believe that your child definitely behaves 10 times worse than other kids their age.
We had a particularly traumatic experience a few weeks ago.
We were at a family-friendly restaurant having lunch on a Saturday. I want to emphasise it was family-friendly, because I think that’s really key to this story. This chain of bars, called The Lounges, has a children’s menu. It advertises itself as a place for families. It has a toy corner. It has crayons and sheets for colouring in. It has baby change facilities.
I’ll be the first to admit our kids were being little shits.
It started with them climbing underneath the tables and chairs while giggling hysterically.
We moved to another corner of the room, further away from people and closer to the collection of toys on offer for little customers to play with.
My youngest was screaming. She wasn’t in pain. She just kept screaming, delighting in the noise and pleased we kept telling her to “shhh”.
My eldest was playing fairly loudly, with the occasional triumphant shout as she managed to build a particularly tall tower with the blocks, but nothing I was feeling embarrassed about.
They were being kids. So, yes, they were being little shits.
Then something horrifying happened. We were asked to keep it down. By a member of staff.
Let’s think about that for a second. A member of staff, at a business that prides itself on being a friendly environment for toddlers, does not allow toddlers to make noise.
Is that not the most contradictory message you’ve ever heard?
I was horrified. Should I have been doing more to keep Isabella quiet? Should I have muzzled her? Left without finishing my drink? Should we have not gone out at all, because our child is going through that “terrible twos” phase where screaming is inevitable?
I issued an angry and disappointed post on Instagram. A regional manager called me the next day and was utterly apologetic, understanding and horrified at what had happened. He promised to speak to staff. He offered me a voucher for our next visit. I thanked him, but said there wouldn’t be another visit. Complaining to the restaurant wasn’t about money, it was about standing up for myself.
I’m a mother of two kids under five. They’re noisy. Sometimes they’re annoying as fuck. But I won’t allow that to make me stay at home all day, with the occasional foray to a local playground where I can spend an hour worrying they’re going to back flip off the slide.
Nothing that my children do is strange or abnormal for kids of their age.
So sometimes I want to pretend I am still an adult human being and enjoy lunch in the company of other adult human beings.
I will choose my restaurant carefully if my little shits are with me, but if I choose a family place then I expect them to be able to be noisy.
Yes they can be little shits. But if you don’t want to attract little shits, then keep nuggets off the menu.
So if your life is being ruled by a tiny dictator whose emotions are constantly on a knife-edge, please remember it’s not just your kid.
We’re all living in fear of when the next tantrum will strike.
We’re all pouring a large glass of wine at the end of a trying day.
We’re all worried about taking our toddler out in public when they’re clearly on the verge of a volcanic eruption of rage.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself, it’s totally normal. One day it will pass. And don’t let anyone shame you into thinking otherwise.