My two-year old can be challenging, as I’ve heard two-year olds are wont to be. Some days this challenging behavior shows up as big mood swings, extended tantrums, or general freak outs over things that matter or not, like a big reaction to a scraped knee – which is totally legitimate – or a huge meltdown over the wrong truck song being played. Then there are days like today where the assholery is so difficult that two-to-three members of the household end up in tears.
Today: A Three People Crying Day
Today I had meetings and was out and about, trying to look professional while I was away from my breast pump for far too long to be comfortable. When I arrived home with my slightly damp shirt, rock boobs and the strong need to get out of work pants and back into mom clothes, one child was up and one was still napping.
Our nanny doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is passable on a good day. I’ve learned a lot of words that help me get by related to foods, allergies, baby care, basic medical issues like rashes, colds and fevers, but I wouldn’t trust myself as the only speaker in a complicated emergency in a Spanish-speaking country (unless of course it’s related to basic medical care, then I’m on it).
As I scrambled to get pumping for sweet, sweet relief, our nanny told me that O, the big man, had injured A in the stroller. I didn’t really understand all of what she was telling me. I thought I picked up the gist of it – something about a bottle, the words push, pull, hold, crying and stomach. I understood that there were some marks on my baby and I asked her to get me at the next diaper change so I could see what happened.
I wasn’t prepared for the damage my toddler had done to my baby.
A few weeks ago I found a bite mark on my baby’s arm while changing his clothes. My toddler hasn’t figured out that lying is a thing and that sometimes it would benefit him to do it, so when I asked him directly, “did you bite your brother?” He said, “yes, I bite him.” We figured out that it must have happened in the stroller and occurred through a puffy bunting on top of winter clothes, the layers may have masked both the biting itself and contributed to the delayed discovery of the bite mark.
When I was called in to take a look at my baby I was horrified by the marks on his side. He has red lacerations and bruising on one side of his tiny, perfect, chubby baby belly, and a scratch mark on his back. I covered my mouth in horror as I choked back tears.
I had to ask two more times to get the story told to me slowly enough, with me repeating what I thought I was hearing, before I got the version that I think I understand.
My boys were in the double side-by-side stroller. The baby had a bottle, the toddler took the bottle and the baby started crying. The nanny intervened and took the bottle back and put it in the parent console cup holder. O started crying and yelling, then grabbed the stroller straps on the baby with both hands and pulled them towards him, at which point A kept crying. Now she’s pushing the stroller toward the park, but the crying hasn’t stopped. She stops and checks A for bite marks, which would have been obvious in the insanely cute one-piece tank top number he’s rocking thanks to climate change giving us a freakishly warm March day. No bite marks, so the assumption is he’s just upset about the bottle. When she changes his diaper at the park she sees the scratched red marks on his stomach and side.
Seeing the marks I had to stop myself from full on crying in front of my baby or storming in to wake up my toddler and freak out on him in some way. I was slammed with the urge to either scream at him, hit him, or make threats about taking away things he loves like he is an adult or older child with advanced comprehension or an understanding of logical consequences. I didn’t do any of those things. I called the pediatrician to speak to a nurse and texted my neighbor with four kids to see if she could help me make sense of what had happened.
There were several questions immediately in play, the biggest one – do I trust what the nanny is saying to me? If I don’t trust what she’s telling me, then that leads to other scarier questions: do I think she hurt him, or do I think she’s being negligent in caring for my kids?
Our nanny came to us highly recommended, well-referenced and background checked. I’ve spent enough time around her watching how she is with my boys to believe that she didn’t hurt my baby. I’ve seen how she is with her own children and even what kind of loving, gentle young women her older daughters are to think that there’s a secretly nasty side of her that would cause her to hurt him.
I can’t explain how she wouldn’t notice excessive screaming unless it really did happen insanely fast and resolve quickly, which is possible.
Having two kids so close in age has brought challenges that I figured I would have to face in the same vague knowing like one day I’ll have to deal with pubescent boy smell – it’s not something that’s real to me yet. Apparently, my baby getting injured by his brother is a nasty manifestation of sibling rivalry that I don’t feel equipped to handle. I have no idea how to handle this at all.
To check whether or not I was overreacting and if the story sounded plausible I called the pediatrician’s office and then texted my neighbor who has four kids. She turned out to be the best person to calm me down.
This mother of four came over, hugged me while I was visibly upset on the phone with the pediatrician’s office and came right on in to check my baby. She handled him like a pro: checking his injuries while getting him to smile and giggle at her while cooing at him and his deliciousness, listening to the story of how it could have happened, and giving me tips on how to deal with my angry feelings toward my toddler for hurting his brother. She said that it looked like a pinch bruise, except for the mark on his back. She was the embodiment of why all mothers need mom friends.
After investigating the stroller strap situation, where the kids had been sitting and the marks, I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion on the course of events. I think that when the nanny said O grabbed the straps and pulled with both hands, he was actually pinching A and pulling his little baby skin.
Since I didn’t get this post wrapped up last night, I had time to sleep on the whole thing. I also took a tip from Kate the neighbor in how to get more information. This morning I took of A’s pajamas and casually drew attention to his injuries. I said, “oh look, A has some ouchies; how do you think he got them?” Without missing a beat, O said: “I did that. I knocked him over.” Thanks for your honesty, sir.
I do believe that O hurt A. I am fairly certain that it happened in the stroller, that it happened very quickly and that what I think the nanny was telling me was the truth. I don’t think she was negligent, but we’re also enforcing a rule where she has to have at least one of the kids fully in her line of sight in the stroller, which we’ve accomplished by unzipping the sun canopy and pulling it far forward to also block some of the unrestricted harassment zone between them. I think the mark on his back is unrelated and may be from O knocking him over like he says he did, but that he majorly pinched him to cause the big injury along his side.
It was a rough day. The nanny said that she had blocked two attempts by O to bite A, but that she had taken a bite from him. I don’t know what his deal is. He didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe it’s his two-year molars, which he doesn’t have yet. She mentioned that he was spitting a lot at the park and her three year old son does that when he’s cutting teeth. Maybe it’s allergies, as he has severe seasonal allergies and gets upset when his nose and eyes are itching him. I don’t want to think he was being an asshole, but toddler assholery is a legit condition.
On days like this it’s hard to feel like I’m doing the best job as a parent. I have to question the person I have caring for them. I think that if I didn’t have to work and I could stay home with them, things like this wouldn’t happen. I wonder how I’ve already done emotional damage to my toddler that he wants to hurt his brother, who happens to be a defenseless baby. I know that my boys will and do get hurt on my watch too and that shit happens really fast with these little people, but I still feel guilty about what I see as my daily shortcomings.
It wasn’t an awesome parenting day.