The battle of the terrible twos

September 24th, 2021


(published in The Daily Memphian)

(photo: Mac Conaway, about to be up to something)

I’ve seen my grandson Mac clear the entire end of the table with one gleeful sweep of his chubby little arm, sending everything, and everything in everything, to the floor. So fast that even when you see that challenging glint in his eye, that I’m-about-to-be-up-to-something shift in his shoulders, you can’t get there fast enough to stop it.

Again, you’re getting the power towels. And the bath towels. And maybe a bucket. Again, the dog is lapping and licking up the disaster. That’s only fair since two-year-old Mac got into the dog’s treats just an hour or so ago and ate five or six of them before being discovered.

With a strong arm and a wicked delivery, he can pick up a sippy cup – or anything else – and throw it across an entire room.

“We’re really having a tough time with this one,” said my daughter-in-law, Courtney.

“He might just be the most terrible of the terrible twos,” said my son, Gaines.

I’ve seen Mac take off like an Olympic sprinter down the sidelines, through the spectators, sometimes onto the field of the games of his big brother and big sister, disrupting folding chairs, turning over cups, and covering seemingly impossible distances before being caught and captured by his mother.

Nora and I are no longer capable of the chase. And the chase is constant enough that the father no longer coaches the older kids but has returned to the sidelines to help the mother wrangle the two-year-old. Neither is quick enough to keep whatever is on the ground out of his mouth, whatever is in the hands of another kid out of his.

Even with all that and that yet to come, I’m still not sure Mac can challenge the greatest of all time – the G.O.A.T. of Terrible Twos. And Threes and Fours, for that matter.

His father.

“Those are just stories,” said Mac’s father, Gaines.

Yeah, well, I was there. I’ll tell you a story – just the story of just one trip – and you can be the judge.

When Gaines was turning two, we took a car trip to the east coast.

On North Carolina’s Okracoke Island, we stayed in an inn with a restaurant.

The first morning, Gaines spectacularly swept his orange juice and breakfast from his highchair tray. The widespread result drew the stares of everyone there, and several of the wait staff to help us clean it up.

The next morning, the orange juice was placed on the table – not the highchair – next to a large stack of napkins. Gaines, carefully and unseen, scooched himself down in the highchair and kicked the orange juice off the table.

We took a ferry from the south end of the island back to the mainland, an excursion we were convinced would lull Gaines to sleep. It lulled him to scream for the duration of the four-hour voyage. In the cabin. On the deck. In my arms. In the arms of his mother. By the time we reached shore, the rest of the passengers were as far removed from us as possible. I’m sure some of the passengers entreated the crew and captain to place us in a lifeboat and tow us in the ferry’s wake. I’m also sure the towing part was presented as an option.

On the same odyssey, we drove from my brother’s house in D.C. to Baltimore to introduce Gaines to his namesake, Nora’s father’s first cousin Gaines McMillan.

Gaines was dressed in his very finest for the occasion, a little suit beautifully smocked by his mother. That was the little suit he threw up all over as we entered Baltimore, and all over the back seat and some of his big sister, a velour back seat, a velour back seat with countless nooks and crannies.

We pulled into a gas station, got out and opened the luggage carrier on top of our Honda Accord for clothes, when an attendant approached and saw the carnage in the back seat, and rushed into the garage for rags and industrial strength cleaner.

With Gaines, like Blanche DuBois, we constantly depended on the kindness of strangers.

Later, in the finely appointed home of Cousin Gaines, we rushed to raise all of the glass and porcelain figurines, Imari plates, and assorted knickknacks out of reach, as namesake Gaines circled the large apartment at full speed over and over like a small tornado.

“He certainly is fast,” said Cousin Gaines in polite understatement.

I will spare you all the stories. Like, say, the full story of Gaines leaping from a radiator with a curtain cord around his neck, leaving a red mark causing a dental assistant to later question his sister about parental abuse. Or the full story of his placing both hands on the glass oven window, seeing if his mother was right about what would happen if he did, causing the wrapping of both hands, resulting in his running around house like a little Rocky for a several days. Or the full story of Nora calling the poison control center so many times she had to use an assumed name and buy ipecac in the large family size.

Or Gaines taking out one of his sister’s friend’s teeth with a Fisher-Price fastball.

On one memorable occasion, Nora went to Mother’s Day Out to pick Gaines up. As she waited in the hall, a mother she didn’t know asked, “Which one is yours?” Nora replied, “Gaines.”  The woman leaned in and whispered, “I’m so sorry,” her eyes full of sympathy.

Suffice it to say, the G.O.A.T. was a certifiable handful.

When I tell you that Nora and I both grin while we’re being told what a challenge Mac is by his parents, you probably think we’ll go to hell for that alone. There’s nothing funny about the terrible twos.

The grins are really about what a wonderful, responsible, and responsive father the G.O.A.T. has become, and the parents they’ve both become to their three kids.

Well, okay, some of the grins are about not having to do that anymore. And, fact is, there’s a lot funny about the terrible twos after some time. A lot of time.

Life is like that, and now is a good time to be looking back at it and grin.

Wherever that Honda is, even if it’s scrap metal by now, it still smells.

I’m a Memphian, grinning.

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