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What the “Terrible Two Year Olds” Can Teach Us About Living the Life

See cutest video ever at end of post!

Ahhh, an unplugged, out-of-town weekend.

Yeah, baby, just you and me. We’re gonna have us some fun! Nothing to do but live life and go with the flow. That’s right… Party time!

Ah yes, my sister finally took me up on my Christmas present to stay with my 2 y.o. niece, Jordan, so she and her hubby could have a grown-up weekend for themselves.

41.75 hours of being on-call. Gulp.

In the week leading up to the Big Weekend, I got worried, you might even call it freaked out. It sounded like a fun idea last December. Now that it was now, it was looking downright scary!

As you probably know, a toddler without her parents is a complex situation.

You’ve got potential emotional upheaval, advanced psychological factors, complicated scheduling logistics, culinary preference factors, and so on.

Not having raised kids myself, would I be able to handle it?

There was no turning back—sis and hubby were something like Excited. I think they’d have laughed that “not on your life” kind of laugh if I had even hinted of trying to back out. They weren’t about to let this opportunity slip by without a fight.

With what I hoped was a brave smile, Jordan and I waved goodbye and forged into the unknown wilds of the weekend.

Exhibiting enormous amounts of self-restraint, I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow account of what happened between Friday 5 p.m. and Sunday 10:45 a.m. (Though I’m happy to gratuitously share every little thing over a glass or three of wine.)

I’m happy to report that the experience wasn’t even in the ballpark of “survival”. It was downright: Jordan and Shawn’s Excellent Adventure.

Sure it helps that I have the Best Niece Ever (What happened to the “Terrible Twos?” This kid is a dream!) but there’s more to why the weekend was a sweet success for both of us.

Admittedly, it didn’t even cross my mind ahead of time to think: How would a natural professional handle this potentially crazy situation? (Silly me!) In retrospect, however, five principles were clearly at play:

  1. Focus on experience of fun
    In my moments of fear-gripping doubt beforehand, I came up with list of things we could do together: wash my car, go swimming, make a Happy Mother’s Day card with finger painting, and the ole standby, go to the park.

    Even though I’d stacked our agenda full of “fun” activities, what was even more important was the experience during those activities, i.e. having fun.

    As it turned out, washing the car was super fun, so once my car was done, we washed her little car. Painting didn’t go as well, so we cut that activity short. In this way, we both stayed in good humor.

    In case the Real Life / Big People application isn’t obvious, replace being driven by your ToDo list with being driven by your experience of well-being throughout the day. Adjust your ToDo list-based activities accordingly.

  2. Disrupt Stress Patterns

    As much of a trooper Jordan was with her Zia (this means Aunt in Italian), by the end of Day 2, her observations that Mommy and Dadda weren’t around started to take on a tone of desperation.


Being (unfortunately) highly experienced in the ways of stress, i.e. the deeper down the rabbit hole you let it take you, the harder it is to find your way out, I used the age-old technique of distraction.

    When Jordan started going down the rabbit hole, I’d declare (not ask), “let’s go to the park” (conveniently right next door) or “let’s do bed jumping” (one of her favorite pastimes).

    [side note: The results of a studypublished in Inc magazine (April 2012 pg 32) reported that there was a lot more push back on a new law or policy if people thought there was flexibility. I.e. Sometimes choice ain’t such a good idea.]

    Breaking her focus on Mommy and Dadda’s absence prevented any of these little sad-bursts from gripping her too deeply. This can also be called changing your stress physiology which Kelly McGonigal talked about in our podcast conversation.

  3. Routine
    As much as I played up the fun Zia persona, I was sure to stick with her eating & sleeping routines— allof them: from what, where, and when she ate to the time of going down for naps and bedtime.

    It was obvious that this helped her relax—which was a surprise finding for me. 

I’ve seen my own morning routine as a simple structure that prevents my mind from talking me out of yoga and meditation (I’m so sleepy… Let’s go straight to coffee. No!).

    I hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of how routine actually allows you to relax into the consistency—an excellent benefit!

  4. Planning
    One of these days I’ll write an ode to planning, the lubricant of a busy day.

    Quiz: if parent-tot swim class begins on the half-hour, nap time is at 12:30, there’s 15 minutes of driving each way, 10-15 minutes changing room time before and after, and add in another 15 minutes of who-knows-what, what time should we leave?

    Rushing with a toddler is a recipe for disaster… on soooo many levels. With the focus (#1 above) on fun experience, staying within the limits of appropriate pacing was key. 

I shudder to think of how the adventure would’ve turned out if I was trying to rush her around.

    Thinking about how many times I’ve rushed to a meeting to get there on time because I didn’t leave enough cushion time… did I really think that didn’t effect me on other levels? Silly, girl!

  5. Keep a pulse on energy level

    I’m talking about my energy level. While our time together was fluid and loads of fun, on Sunday morning I realized my internal resources had taken more of a hit than I’d realized.


Rather than push through until my sis and her hubby got home, I acknowledged that a break was in order.

    We biked (fun for both of us!) to the life-saver caffe a mile away; I checked her in at the big ole play room with attendants (fun for her!); I sat out on the porch, read my Fast Co. Magazine, and enjoyed a latte (fun for me!)

    Funny how pushing through is something we big people tend to do all the time. We don’t even think about it, either because of justification (I’ll just finish this one more thing…) or habit.

    When I considered that pushing through would mean sacrificing the good mojo developed with my niece, it behooved me to take a break and now. Not after one-more-thing, not tomorrow, not after my sister got back, but now.

Quantity and quality can co-exist

Jordan and I had a busy weekend—we did all those things that I’d thought of beforehand… And we had a great time. We stayed rested and in good spirits. We didn’t burn out, lose patience or get frustrated with each other.

Here’s the thing: your mind is typically too smart for your own good.

It talks you out of good habits and sane, healthy practices in the interests of feeling important, having a lot to do, and saying that these little compromises don’t actually mean that much (a blatant lie, by the way).

You can do it differently. Productivity does not have to be sacrificed for a positive experience.

What would you do differently if instead of following stressful, boring, push-too-hard habits, you made decisions to accommodate your favorite 2 year old?


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