Where is the love?

My son Ben is turning three in June. Someone alert the authorities. Seriously.

Basically, I’ve been telling people that my son has become an asshole — for lack of a better word. He started giving up his nap a few months ago, and as a result, the seven seals of Armageddon kinda opened up and the demons of Hell have descended up on my toddler’s little being. When we’re out at the supermarket or playground, of course, I like to tell people that he’s “just tired.” Usually while he’s knocking over a ten-foot-high display of canned chicken broth and stamping on the foot of the bagger boy. And that goes over really well.

Ben hits. He kicks. He pushes smaller children off play structures if they get in his way. He shrieks. He throws toys — directly at his six year-old sister’s head. He whacks the dog with his sippy cup. He talks back to me and ignores me when he runs in the opposite direction into oncoming traffic — usually while I’m screaming to the point of permanent vocal cord damage. He yells at grown-ups to go away when they speak to him and does some sort of bizarre toddler “talk to the hand” gesture. When I ask him why he thinks he’s in timeout, he shrugs and says, “I don’t really know” and asks to go and play while I’m explaining the wrongfulness of his latest two year-old infraction. Do you see how the word asshole could come into play?

Ben was such an easy baby that I should have seen it coming. He did give us a run for our money when he stopped babbling at nine months and needed speech therapy at two. But I thought, naively, that in teaching him to “use his words,” we would head off the terrible twos and he would magically share all of his toys and snacks, say please and thank you, win the Nobel Peace Prize and be potty trained in the same week. So I set the bar a little too high. Whatever.

I’ve heard all the reassuring chatter at the playground about how normal his behavior is. I had a girl first. He’s my second child. He’s all boy. And terribly smart and stubborn. (Not for nothing, but the kid started writing his name at 2 years, nine months and he knows all his letters and numbers up to 20. He also has the fine motor skills of a 46 year-old brain surgeon. But now I’m bragging. Sorry.) But some days, I’m convinced that our mother-son visits will only take place with bulletproof glass between us and that “8-10″ will mean something completely different than the boys’ clothing department at Lord & Taylor.

It would be slightly psychotic of me to want him to remain a sweet, docile little infant forever. There’s nothing pretty about a 43 year-old sitting in a five-point harnessed car seat and needing his “ditey” changed after Monday Night Football, beer and nachos.

Yet I can’t help but wonder sometimes where that sweet little baby has gone. The one who cooed and smiled at every move his sister made, giggled at the sight of every dog he met, and gasped and pointed at the first sight of an airplane, a cardinal, or the full summer moon. Sometimes, when I look through my kids’ growing photo albums, it’s devastating to realize that I will never hold those fluffy little bundles of onesies and blankets and footed sleepers ever again. The bottles and rattles are gone. Those sweet early mornings and quiet nights when tiny, translucent hands clutched my fingers and we sat together, dream-like, they’re gone too, like the last bits of newspaper that burn as kindling in a fireplace, curling and flying into nothingness.

I welcome the t-ball games and the lunchboxes and the sleepovers, don’t get me wrong. And I’m trying to live with the realities of Hannah Montana.

But couldn’t we just skip over the terrible twos part? Please?

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