As my last toddler approaches the terrible twos, I am increasingly fascinated by who he is becoming. I’ve always loved watching how kids develop at this age and, with T, some of the discoveries are unexpected. What is really grabbing my attention this time round is what I am realising about myself, as my baby boy grows. And it isn’t all great.
When my eldest arrived, everyone immediately declared him to look exactly like his Dad. After carrying someone for nine months and giving birth, it is kinda annoying to be told your offspring is entirely unlike you. I got my own back when M arrived and she was a spitting image of me. Both the older two have pretty much followed type with their characters too, with H being very close to his Dad’s temperament and M being very similar to me.
Baby T, it seems, has decided to break that pattern – something I am only just beginning to realise. He looks so similar to his big brother that I might struggle to tell them apart from certain photos taken at the same age, but there the similarity ends. T is not very like his brother in character so far. He is a life-lover, full of confidence, delightfully happy most of the time – not things you could ever have said about a nearly two year old H, who was rather neurotic and easily stressed.
All his lovely qualities aside, T is also very intense and passionate. He doesn’t just like something, he obsesses about it. I noted this quality in him some months ago (see The Birth of Obsession), but things have developed apace. I know toddlers are known for being rather single minded but T is taking it to new levels.
We have read the same book at bedtime every night for about six weeks. If it isn’t Clip Clop, he doesn’t want to know. This was quite cute at first but it is getting a tad repetitive, to say the least. I could recite it with my eyes closed.
He is completely obsessed with toothbrushes. Anyone’s will do. He has smeared toothpaste on the carpets, flooded the bathroom and had many a scream up, all in the name of brushing his teeth endlessly.
He is totally taken with a kids programme on TV called Hey Duggee. It is really the only thing he wants to watch and nothing else will do. He’ll point at the tele saying “Duggee” or woofing and sobbing until I relent and turn it on.
My other two had favourites – M took her toy bear literally everywhere with her for about 18 months as a toddler – but there is something steely about T’s obsessions. They are extremely intense but relatively short lived: a pattern that feels painfully familiar. Duggee, cars, toothbrushes and Clip Clop are all he has head space for right now, but not so long ago it was Thomas the Tank and In the Night Garden. He devours his latest love to the exclusion of all other things, and the look in his eye when he is engaged with it is so serious and intense that he doesn’t really seem to be enjoying it as much as living within it, as if it has swallowed him whole.
Seeing how different T is to his Dad, his doppelgänger brother and his easy going sister has really made me look at this intensity and think about where the hell it comes from. The alarming truth is dawning: T is holding up a rather scary mirror to me.
I’m coming to realise that I am basically the same as my near two year old baby boy. I obsess. I devour. I become so keen on something that I am no longer enjoying it, I am temporarily addicted to to. It eats me up. It fills my head and it becomes all I want to think about. It can be utterly exhausting and I often wish I could be more casual in my appreciation of life. But I never really learnt how to do that and, seeing it in my youngest, I am suddenly, painfully aware of what it has always meant in myself.
When I come across a singer that I love, I don’t want to just play their songs a few times, I have to hear them on a loop, read about what the lyrics mean, watch old interviews on YouTube. I watch a film I love and I want to see it again immediately. In my pre-kid days, I once watched the same film three times in one day.
But it passes. The obsession recedes, normal life resumes. I enjoy the relative peace of not being in the jaws of my latest obsession, until the next thing comes along.
It is a very high and low existence and, as I look at T repeating history, I feel rather sorry for him, because I know what it is to be an obsessive personality. Don’t get me wrong: I would rather be the way T and I are than apathetic. Passion, even obsessive passion, can be a wonderful, creative and exciting thing. But it is also exhausting and it doesn’t get any better with age. Ok, so maybe I handle it a bit better than a 22 month old – at least I hope I do most of the time – but I still feel it with the same intensity.
That said, I have to admit that part of me is enjoying seeing my youngest develop and devour his obsessions. I am secretly pleased that there is going to be at least one more in the family who gets it, who knows what I mean when I say I love something so much that I can’t bear it. That thing might be a different thing next week but I know that Baby T and I are both going eat that thing up each and every time, until it eats us up.
Welcome to the highs and lows of obsession, Baby T. You’re gonna love it and hate it in equal measure.