Mother of a toddler

So here’s what I’m wondering these days: Did Jesus, when he was just under two years old, take mouthfuls of milk and spit them out on the coffee table? Did he then proceed to play with the milk as if it were fingerpaint? Did he do this repeatedly, undeterred by strident admonitions, timeouts, and the confiscation of the offending sippy cup?

And when he did all of this, how did Mary respond?

I have to admit, as my son Matthew enters the so-called Terrible Twos, that I find myself wondering whether Mary’s experience of this time was in any way similar to mine. I mean, how does the whole sinless child/sinless mom thing actually WORK? My son’s behavior isn’t a sin, of course, but still, it’s not the kind of behavior that I imagine the Son of God would have indulged in.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Jesus explored his world in all the ways that my toddler does, ways that invariably result in bumps on the head and sticky spills on the furniture. And maybe Mary too had her days when she just had to take a deep breath and laugh it off rather than go bang her head in frustration.

I once heard an educational speaker talk about how the “Terrible Twos” aren’t terrible for the child, only for the parents. For the kid in question, it’s a thrilling, exhilarating time of discovery and independence. She has a point. In a way, Matthew’s behavior is kind of cool; he’s exploring a new artistic medium. Obviously, he’s tired of the washable Crayola crayons, thick as my fingers, that he uses to draw arcs and zigzags on scratch paper (and once, before I caught him, on the walls). Seen in this light, he’s an innovator, a juvenile Picasso in a dinosaur sunsuit.

But his artistic expression wastes milk. It also mucks up the furniture and repulses anyone who sees it. So we’re putting the kibosh on it, and he’s not buying into it, and we’re getting a little glimpse of what the next year of parenting is going to be like.

And Mary has to understand this, right? I mean, lovely harmonious images of the Madonna and Child aside, she must have had her days where she had to pray for patience. She must have consulted others on how to help her son navigate the line between creativity and responsibility. There’s a learning curve to parenting, I’m finding, and I’m sure this was true of her. I know she gets it — the frustration, the uncertainty, and the tenacious love that lies underneath it all.

Our Lady of the Terrible Twos, pray for us.

Detail of The Sacred Family by Pompeo Batoni

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