Transitions, Two-Year-Olds, and the Emotional Toil of Mothering.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image above from our recent trip to East Hampton. Micro is wearing his TBBC gingham sunhat (also available in seersucker; look for less here) and a Minnow Swim rash guard and boardies.

I am forever followed by a sagacity a Magpie shared a few years ago: “Never wish away your child’s age.” Any time I find myself flustered or fatigued by a certain phase, I am positively haunted by those words and by the lived truth that I already miss my son as he was at two weeks, and two months, and so on. Each age has manifested its own challenges and worries and exhaustions alongside its unique tendernesses and excitements and developments. I have been thinking of this recently, as my son turned two and it seemed as though a switch flipped. He went from the calm, sweet baby on my hip to a sharp, inquisitive little man with opinions who will stamp his feet in fury when denied milk before dinnertime and will writhe out of my reach more often than not and wants to do everything on his own and of his own volition–especially when his older sister is undertaking them simultaneously. Taking him to the Hamptons last weekend was an exercise in patience in the sense that we were in a new place with tons of stairs, tall grasses promising to hide deer ticks (a big problem in that area), and a million new threats not yet sufficiently observed or de-risked or put off-limits by yours truly. One morning, I was preparing breakfast in the kitchen and micro turned one of the bright red knobs on the cooktop, no doubt entranced by the fun color and large gauge. He knows not to touch the stove at home, but how to resist an oversized red knob in a new place with unenforced rules? He routinely tumbled down stairs or wavered at the top of them in imbalance, giving me a thousand heart attacks over the course of the weekend, and of course what two-year-old can deny the lure of traipsing through “forest” in pursuit of birds while unwittingly attracting ticks, rashes, and scrapes?! Like all two-year-old boys, he is over-confident and adventurous, and I swear I spent about half the vacation trailing him, removing his wriggling body from danger zones, and reminding him to hold onto the bannister on his way down the steps. The friends we were visiting also have a two-year-old, and though their child was acclimated to the surroundings, had been exposed to steps for years, and had a good three months on micro, I found myself sheepish at the helicoptering I felt the situation demanded. Was I being too careful? Is this how children learn — through occasional bumps and bruises? (Micro came away from the weekend with more than his fair share, even with my hawk-like watchfulness.) I have always aspired to be the mother who offers her children enough space to afford the impression of independence, while being close enough to intervene when necessary. Have I been coddling my son too much?

I presume that our move to Bethesda, MD and to a home multiple times the size of this Manhattan apartment, with steps and a big backyard, will force my hand a bit. The space will demand accommodation. He will need to learn to go up and down the stairs safely on his own. He will need to learn to acquit himself in a backyard and avoid whatever areas we demarcate as unsafe. In the meantime, I suppose I must not be too tough on myself. The steps were new to him and a bona fide hazard to his wellness, as he initially assumed he could walk straight down the middle without hanging onto a hand or bannister! It takes time to learn new things, and certainly cannot be expected to be mastered within a weekend. And perhaps in general, having raised him in New York City since his birth, I am inclined towards vigilance on his behalf, having had to routinely yank him out of the way of dog excrement on the sidewalk and unsavorinesses of various kinds. A mom friend recently told me, flatly: “New York is not built for toddlers.” Correct.

Having been through all of these phases with my daughter, I know that though the transitional periods are ungainly and mildly harrowing, I will fall into a rhythm and figure out how to manage my way through. I am trying to drink him up at this age, to appreciate how exciting the world must be through his eyes: suddenly accessible to him, on his own, without my screening and preening presence intervening at every other minute to help him toddle around, or reach something, or what have you. I am trying to resist the urge to “get to the other end,” where he is aware of the rules and threats and knows how to handle himself in our new space, and to instead embrace the growth that is happening right before my eyes.

But it is tough.

Still, I have this: a few weeks ago, I wrote that I could not remember the last time I had rocked my son to sleep. Almost immediately after publishing that post, micro shifted into a new habit of occasionally crying out for me after being put down to bed. Now, a few times a week, I will go into his bedroom, pick him up, and sit on the upholstered bench in his tiny New York City bedroom with him in my arms. I will run my fingers through his hair, rock him, whisper to him, and he will lay there calmly and quietly with, first, an enormous smile on his face, and then, gradually, the hazy far-off look that precedes slumber, before slow-blinking himself to sleep. Each night, it feels as though I’m holding onto my baby boy for the last time, and tomorrow he will wake up a full-on child, and oh! — the agony of these evolutions, the relentlessness of these changes, the unsettling hesitancy between welcoming and shooing-away the next phase. All in, the emotional toil of mothering a young child. In the meantime, I will treasure those narrow spans of evening, when he melts into my baby again.


+Shared loads of cute patriotic looks for the entire family here, but a few other options…







+Lake just launched some new patriotic striped jammies ideal for the occasion too: eyeing these for myself and these for my littles. You can get a similar look for less with these from Gap.

+Just ordered these fun little headbands for the occasion for my littles. We will be staying put in NYC — our last weekend here as a family! — so looking for little ways to honor the day.

+I saw Being Bridget wear this $25 star-print caftan and she looked SO chic in it! Great buy for a poolside/beachside FOJ.

+Fun printed maxi dress.

+White scallop trim napkins at an incredible price. Remind me of Matouk for a fraction of the price!

+Easy everyday cotton dress.

+Who doesn’t love these cabbage leaf cereal bowls?!

+Just discovered that Pink Chicken has the cutest swimwear — love this and this!

+Fun, reasonably priced drop earrings in great colors for your next dressed-up affair.

+This smocked dress is just so cute.

+A fantastic — and quickly-selling — strappy sandal under $80.

+Lusting after this Tove dress, which I love in both the unexpected yellow and stark white. The yellow one reminds me of a great Farm Rio dress I also lingered over, and the white brought to mind this very popular Lake dress.

+Speaking of white dresses: do not miss this $129 statement.

P.S. Motherhood is a heart rent in too many directions.

P.P.S. Parenting auspiciousness.

P.P.P.S. Slow-burn toys.

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8 thoughts on “Transitions, Two-Year-Olds, and the Emotional Toil of Mothering.

  1. I can relate to what you wrote about the temporary aspect of phases/stages — that’s so true of kids, at any age (as I’m still learning!) It’s true of adults, too, come to think of it (or at least it resonates with my personal evolution! haha) To me, the fact that you are aware of potential “helicoptering” is sign enough that you probably won’t be that way long term. I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself! You are clearly a devoted and loving mother.

    P.S. That TOVE dress is so beautiful, and I cannot believe J.Crew’s current sale prices … insane! I am slightly annoyed that I ordered a couple of new bikinis a few weeks back, when I haven’t worn either one and probably could have waited until this week to snag them. Haha!

    1. Ha, I know — ordering early is always a risk with J. Crew. The deals right now are insane.

      Thanks also for the solidarity and encouragement on the parenting front! So sweet of you to say, and so spiriting to have someone remind me that it is allll a phase.


  2. It’s like you knew I needed this reminder! We’ve had a week with my soon to be 4 year old boy. He’s a strong-willed, brave, opinionated, ever so curious little guy who doesn’t yet know how to articulate his emotions so he’s been acting out as a form of communication. I couldn’t help but be up late Monday night scouring the internet for ‘help’ while also blaming myself as a parent. Should I quit my job and be home with him more? Am I not doing enough? Where did I go wrong? But after reading countless (conflicting) articles/opinions – it was clear that these are all stages/phases that pass. So, amen (!!!), let’s just embrace the moment we’re in – the good and bad – because it passes by so quickly. And heck, you can always have a glass of wine after those hard/bad days.

    1. Hi Gina! Thank you so much for writing in — solidarity! Some phases are just so, so tough. Such a bumpy ride. I remember a particularly trantrum-y period with my daughter around 3.5 years of age and someone told me, “Oh, well — she’s just a spirited girl. She’ll be like that forever.” I was…! The tantrums did prove to be a phase and we are thankfully out of it. Cheers to embracing the moment we’re in, and enjoying that glass of wine after too 🙂


  3. Oh those little years do pass quickly. Do not be too hard on yourself because you are trying to help him grow up and be independent. Some days are harder than others, that’s for sure. I promise you will look back and remember all of those precious times.

    I actually cried at my youngest child’s 5th birthday because I felt like his little years were over and I had a big boy now!

    When our kids were little, before we went anywhere on vacation, I would always map out the closest hospital and keep that information handy just in case. Of course now it is so much easier with map apps, but you do not want to face a quick emergency with no preparation on vacation. “Doc In the Boxes” are not the same as a real ER if you ever need one!

    1. Such a good tip – thanks, Cynthia! Had frankly not even thought of checking for nearby hospitals while traveling!

      I have already shed a tear on several birthdays — such a poignant moment to look back at how far these little ones have come.


  4. Yes to all of this!!! I spent all of Father’s Day at my in-laws following my 16 month old around as she went up and down the deck stairs, in and out of the garage, headed towards the hot grill, etc. EXHAUSTING. And she’s definitely opinionated, but still pretty compliant, so this is a good reminder to enjoy that while it lasts! She has never been one to fall asleep in our arms, but my husband and I do practically fight over who gets to go in and hug her when she (rarely) wakes in the night. Whereas we’re both like “not it!” when the almost-4yo gets out of bed for another drink/potty/etc. Ha. Here’s to finding at least a little something to cherish about each phase!

    1. Oh you get it, Stephanie! I was doing the exact same thing all weekend long. Truly exhausting and it made it difficult to enjoy adult conversation / company, which was what I had been looking forward to! But what can you do?! At some point, I just had to give in to the fact that my job at the moment was trailing my boy and enjoying the feeling of grass underfoot and a glass of wine.


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