So this morning I was accosted by a member of our preschool co-op, who asked “So, you had a rough day yesterday?”

“It was fine,” I replied. “What’s up?” Because, of course, her question was a preamble to a discussion of the fact that one of the other members of the co-op is upset. This person, whom we’ll call Frannie, is as far as I can tell a very nice woman who loves her child, an only son, very much, and this person’s son, whom we’ll call Charlie, is the one who had a rough day yesterday. I first began to suspect Charlie wasn’t a happy camper when I noticed him punching one of the baby dolls with both fists as he kneeled over it, but I figured hey, we all have to get our aggressions out some way; he then proceeded to throw the same baby doll like a missile at the heads of several unsuspecting children, bean a little girl with a large, hard plastic car, squeeze the breath out of Thing One after sneaking up on him from behind twice, and scream wordlessly in our faces when we suggested he apologize. Basically, Charlie was on a tear, and anyone who got in his way was getting the smackdown.

We all have days like that; it’s just that toddlers don’t have the filters in place to squelch their destructive impulses. A few months ago Thing One finally got comfortable at the co-op, which meant that instead of being the mildest-mannered boy there he became Aggro Gnome, and I was often greeted by a row of concerned shift-worker parents who would list off his many infractions. It sucked, but you know what? That’s what toddlers do. It’s not necessarily a reflection on you as a parent or on the essential character of your kid or on the care you give him. A year ago, I might have felt that way, but since Thing Two was born I have become eminently capable of seeing Thing One through the cold eye of a parent whose primary concern is protecting someone else from his rampages. Really. It changes you. With your first kid, you’re hyper-sensitive to his emotions and you worry about everything, and with your second kid you realize a)sometimes your Pride and Joy is behaving like a prize bull at a rodeo and b)it’s not possible to be as attuned and empathetic as you once were because doing it for two children with occasionally conflicting interests would DESTROY YOUR MENTAL STATE. So you loosen up a bit. You realize hey, these things happen, and I don’t always like the way this kid acts, and that’s okay. There are a few parents who have this ability naturally, but most of us take at least the arrival of #2 to turn down our hyper-attenuated Parental Concern/Protection and Defense Reflex button.

So basically, Frannie is “in tears” because of either the fact that multiple other parents mentioned to her that Charlie committed various acts of aggression yesterday or the way they did it, which was similar to what I found myself the beneficiary of when Thing One’s Reign of Terror began (he has since calmed down, though he still has moments of random violence and/or startling disregard for others’ feelings). And that’s fine. Frannie’s a sensitive gal, she obviously loves “her baby,” and it’s tough to find out the defenseless little being you’ve nurtured from the womb is beating up others (animate and inanimate) at preschool. I can relate.

But what I can’t understand is how that suddenly became My Fault. Because there was a definite tenor of What Did You Do, or at least How Could You Have Been So Mean, in this conversation, and because Frannie didn’t even look at me when I said hello to her this morning, despite the clear rule in our co-op handbook that if you have an issue with someone, you need to talk to them within 24 hours.

She has 2.5 more hours, and I’m not holding my breath. Really, I wish I could say this: I know it feels bad. It does. But don’t kill the messenger when you find out your child is not an angel. The messenger is just trying to help you do your job, which is to adapt to the fact that your former angel baby is now a toddler who has some moments of apparent sociopathy. Harvey Karp writes about this. It’s a normal stage of development. It is not cause for you to run to the den mother and whine SHE’S BEING MEAN TO ME!

Because it’s not about you. And as soon as we all realize that, we can start actually paying attention to what our children are doing rather than worrying about our own egos and our own need for them to be little darlings.

And because when we take the fact that we’re upset and hurt and scared by our child’s behavior, or our own inability to alter or cope with it, and turn that around into a chance to blame and aggress some unsuspecting person who is trying to help (especially when that unsuspecting person actually spent a half-hour outside getting your kid to play on the slide with her own, even though her own was understandably apprehensive about this, and it was the first time your kid cracked a smile all day), then you’re doing exactly the same thing as your child, which is making your issues everyone else’s problem. And while that’s a normal part of toddler behavior, I’d like to think that by our thirties, we learn a little bit of restraint.

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“I am not a crapweasel. I am a supportive and loving husband and partner.”