THERE'S a battle brewing in my house, with a line drawn firmly in the mashed potatoes. "No!" roars my son in a surprisingly loud voice for such a tiny child. "All done!"
It's the 50th battle of the day, or maybe it's the 51st. I lost count after breakfast. I remember the days when my house was quiet, mostly peaceful, when I only had one easy-tempered daughter to parent, a child who bonded with me from Day 1.
In the supermarket, while other mothers struggled to keep their toddlers in the cart, preventing them from playing Canned Goods Soccer, Mandy sat patiently, holding the coupons and playing "I Spy" with me. She dispensed kisses and hugs with abandon. No tantrums, no discipline required beyond an occasional stern look. She was a child who could be reasoned with, talked to, and, in my naiveté, I thought this was due to my supreme parenting skills.
Then along came my son. At 2-1/2, Derek has a smile that captures the sun and radiates joy back tenfold. He is as much a part of my heart as my daughter. But ever since he was born, he's managed to turn every notion I had about parenting inside out and upside down.
By his first birthday, he was a walking, havoc-wreaking machine. He undid most of the locks in the house, dismantled the window hardware, and, like a master thief, managed to circumvent every baby-proofing device we installed.
He's grown more inventive as he's gotten taller. He's been known to grab his sister's hair and try to swing from her head like Tarzan. For hours he'll stubbornly refuse to eat, just because we put something green on his plate. My boy is now the one kicking his way out of the grocery cart, while old ladies shake their heads in disapproval. He has tested my patience to its outer limits, pushing buttons I didn't know I had. He's made me question whether I really knew how to parent at all.
My worst day as a mom came at the water park. My husband went off to ride the water slide, leaving Derek with me. "Daddy, I want Daddy!" he screamed, reaching for empty air, shoving me away.
"Daddy will be back in a minute. Why don't we -"
"Daddy! Daddy! No! No!" More determined shoving and wriggling. "Let go! Daddy!"
My dear, sweet son, babe of my breast, put up such a fuss that three people approached me, asking if I wanted help finding his real parents. That hurt.
After that day, I started devouring the books and articles I'd shunned before. No matter what I tried, I couldn't seem to find common ground with him. Every day, nearly every minute, was a battle.
Tonight, he's decided that giving his toys a bath is far more fun than eating his potatoes. He's shrieking, "All done! Sink! Now!"
I explain that he hasn't eaten his dinner. "Sink!" he cries, hands outstretched, like a dehydrated nomad who spies an oasis just out of reach.
"If you want to play, you have to finish dinner first." I pick up the fork and make for the carrots. "Do you want Mommy to feed you, or do you want to feed yourself?" He grabs the fork, telling me he'll do it himself, thank you very much, and shovels the food in before I can blink.
Finished, he scrambles out of his chair and runs by me, a blur of energy. I scoop him up and give him a hug before he says, "Mommy, I'm stuck," and squirms away. I try not to be upset that he ignores the hugs my daughter has always accepted.
I sit down for a breather and tell myself that having Derek has given me more dimensions as a mom. Someday, I know, all these frustrating days will become funny stories we tell over holiday dinners.
Someday. But for now, I watch my son, his toddler-round face serious and cherubic, his lips pressed together as he concentrates on scrubbing Scooby Doo. I think about the joy each of my children, with their different personalities, has brought into my life, and how much I'd miss if I had one child and not the other.
JUST as I'm about to get teary, I realize that warm feeling isn't love - it's water. My son has pulled out the sprayer and is flooding the kitchen.
"What are you doing?!" I ask, already grabbing for a towel and readying a lecture.
He points with pride to the growing puddle and says, "Derek make big sink!" He jumps up and down in the water, splashing in his homemade puddle. And then, amazingly, he puts out his hand and waves me over. "Mommy, play!"
I let the towel, and the lecture, go. Instead, I stomp around and laugh in the middle of the ocean that used to be my kitchen, with my little boy merrily holding my hand, showing me the best spots for splashing.
Sometimes, I realize, the best way to communicate is not to talk at all.