Breaking brains

I’ll actually be able to write at the end of this week or early next week once the filing season slows down.  But until then, a conversation I had with my very tired and almost 2 year old son.

Do you want a cookie?


Do you want blankie?


Do you want Team Umizoomi?


Do you want water?


Do you want a squeeze?

No, no squeeze daddy

Do you want to say no


Fuck you dad, you just broke my brain

46 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    And that’s how serial killers are made.

  2. 2
    grillo says:

    On topic, the current Newsmax Headlines include ‘These 7 Things Activate Alzheimer’s In Your Brain’. I wonder which number Newsmax comes in at.

  3. 3
    PurpleGirl says:

    Your son has entered the terrible twos, a time of contrariness and will require great patience on your part. Wishing you much luck.

  4. 4
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    The first thing one has to learn about raising 2 yr olds, is you never ask them what they want. You tell them.

  5. 5
    big ole hound says:

    The “terrible twos” have swooped in on his brain. Luckily they last less than a year and the best thing to do when an exchange like you stated or just general orneriness start, leave the room. Do not stoop to his level and thus let the rascal win. Beware those children who win for they shall become awful brats.

  6. 6
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Oh, I agree, or if a choice is given, it is an extremely limited choice set (Blue socks or green socks). He was wicked tired and the way he was acting, he wanted something but could not find the words for it yet, so I went through the normal litany of wants.

  7. 7
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @big ole hound: I found 2 to be easier than 3 with my daughter. At 2 it is still mostly control assertion with minimal manipulation but at 3, she tried to negoatiate and freaked out when that failed. no 11:00pm is not an appropriate bed time, and no, a plate of brownies is not dinner no matter how good you are.

  8. 8
    Gordon, the Big Express Engine says:

    Based on the title of this post , I thought this was a post about last night’s Game of Thrones episode…

  9. 9
    Elizabelle says:

    Ah Richard. Wait until you are having those conversations with your aged mother.

    Have not tried Team Umizoomi with her yet.

    How fun (and exhausting) to have young kids in the household. The in-home exercise program.

  10. 10
    aimai says:

    @big ole hound: I really disagree. Its an important developmental step and it should be (to the extent it can be) enjoyed and witnessed and engaged with. The process of raising a child is not a battle which one side “wins.” You are trying to raise someone, in a developmentally appropriate way, who will one day be an adult and need to be in control of their own assessments, emotions, ideas, plans, and choices. The “No” stage is as necessary to their development as the “why” stage and people who try to short circuit that are both missing the point and doing some seriously bad parenting.

    I do remember that stage well. My daughter proposed to me that we should play at tea party and she would be the mother and I would be the daughter. As soon as I said yes she invited me to make a request–and then denied it. Of course while I saw my then existence as built around doing things for and with her she saw my immense power to deny things–seemingly at random–and she wanted to taste that power.

    All of this will pass. Just enjoy it, as you (Richard) are doing. That is all that is necessary.

  11. 11
    Cervantes says:

    @aimai: Good comment. I agree.

  12. 12
    Mike E says:

    Yeah, to paraphrase some drug-addled rocker somewhere, if you try to reason with a 2 to 4 year old, you have already lost.

    Oh, and Skinner proved that in order to make children grow and thrive, you hold them. Too.

  13. 13
    Boudica says:

    @Richard Mayhew: I say the same thing almost. I found 4 to be the most difficult age. I always say at two they’ll tell you no, at four they’ll tell you no and then tell you why.

  14. 14
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Boudica: Agreed, but the I love listening to 4 year old logic as to why the Purple Slide playground totally sucks today and the ambulance playground which is another 10 minutes walking with her on my shoulders is the only place where she could conceivably play. The explanations make me laugh, maybe not at the moment, but always after bedtime when I’ve had a chance for either my cup of tea or glass of lemonade to sit down and process the day.

  15. 15
    John M. Burt says:

    And when a four-year-old explains something to you, your brain will really break.

  16. 16
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Richard Mayhew: It’s all fun. My oldest at 2 was sitting bare butt in my hat once and said deviously, “I’m gonna pee…” Not paying attention, I replied, “You better not.” “I’m gonna peeeeee….” he said again. Still not paying attention, I repeated myself. With the 3rd, “I’m gonna peeeeeee….” I finally looked up and saw where he was sitting and said, with great menace, “You better not!”

    At which point he got this “Oh Sh!t” look on his face and took off running like a bat out of hell.

    I was too busy laughing to make chase as I picked up my now urine soaked hat.

  17. 17
    low-tech cyclist says:

    My son will turn 7 next month, and there have been easy times and difficult times at every age so far. I fully expect that that will continue for another decade or two.

    And as your son gets older and gets better at using his words, he will be the one breaking your brain, far more often than the reverse. As my dad used to say, “Insanity is hereditary – you get it from your children.”

  18. 18
    Ash Can says:

    I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to stick around for this already awesome discussion, but my former toddler is graduating from 8th grade later today and we all have to get ready. But I’ll revisit this thread sometime tonight and read all the comments and laugh some more.

    Oh, and what aimai said.

  19. 19
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @low-tech cyclist:
    I am enjoying him using his words — yesterday morning he got up after sleeping in to 6:30, so I got up with him. We played, we changed his diaper, got some water, and then walked to the corner store pick up coffee for my still sleeping wife and I. As soon as we got to the front door — he knew what was up —

    Tackle Mommy, mommy get up now. Mommy drinks. Daddy drink, me pancakes

    And that is what happened

  20. 20
    Geeno says:

    Actually when I got to the do you just want to say “no” point, my boys usually giggled when they said “no” again. Some tickling ensued then good nights.

  21. 21
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    And still your son and daughter sound more reasonable than today’s republicans.

  22. 22
    Elizabelle says:


    Very good comment. I shall remember that with Mom, too!

  23. 23
    tBoy says:

    “Do you want a cookie or a bankie?” – see what I did there? (You have to be smarter than the 2 year old)

  24. 24
    Aimai says:

    @Elizabelle: im sorry you are going through this with your mom. We went through it with my great aunt and its a thousand times more painful than even a toddler melt down.

    I loved two, three, and everything after. I really thought their conversatiin fascinating. After 8 they stop astonishing you although they can still be insightful and funny. But their logic and their approach to things, which is usually modelled on you and your partner, stop being so astounding and idiosyncratic.

  25. 25
    FlyingToaster says:

    At 2 and 3, we did the “this one or that one” choices, and could weather the occasional “no” session. When the answer to our choices was “no”, we would say, “Oh, that means you’re tired and need to rest and think about it. Do you want me to lay with you or just lay down with your [insert stuffie name here].” and put her in her bed (or my bed).

    At 4, WarriorGirl started getting creative. At 6 and a half, she’s working hard on her Evil Genius status. Fortunately, most of that is creating machines out of cardstock, yarn, ribbon and drinking straws (there’s a straw blowgun that would be deadly if it shot anything but straws).

  26. 26
    shortstop says:

    Bwa ha ha ha ha.

  27. 27
    scav says:

    Tracking the developing logical chain as it evolves through the early years . . my amusement through the lonnnnng explanations and justifications was to figure out exactly where I could anticipate a jump and pre-empt it taking that eeny step more to utter madness that even they could recognize. I can get a kid looking gravely at me, chin down, saying “You’re. Silly,” in minutes.

    The added insult when the crazy cousin after all that would still at the end have to put on the grown-up voice and refuse was just a sad lesson in life.

  28. 28
    SatanicPanic says:


    a time of contrariness and will require great patience on your part

    Also known on Balloon Juice as a day ending in Y

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Richard, careful with that. You don’t want the kid to go Rethug.

  30. 30
    Tractarian says:

    Did you take him to the emergency room? Broken brains are serious and can lead to developmental problems down the road

  31. 31
    aimai says:

    My oldest is now 17. To my sorrow she had forgotten one of the signal moments in my experience of motherhood. Around 3 she became terrified of “enemy armies” after seeing a claymation cartoon by the Wallace and Gromit guy that featured an enemy army doing something. She couldn’t go to sleep for fear of them. So, pretty much instantly that first night, I explained to her that “enemy armies” could be kept away by sprinkling “enemy army powder” all over her bedroom and around her crib. They had very tender feet and would instantly begin crying and would run away if they stepped on the powder. So for several years we dligigently sprinkled invisible enemy army powder every night and she went happilly to sleep. This was such a big deal to me! I mean I really earned my mommy stripes with that one! And yet she had forgotten all about it by the time she graduated highschool last week. Ah…well! The most important thing is to write everything down because its all so amazing.

  32. 32
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Aimai: I agree- 2 + 3 is the best age. They’re like little Humpty-Dumptys- they mean every word they say. And respond to things in the most interesting ways. Human brains just don’t work like that after the age of 5, so it’s pretty tough to understand what they’re thinking.

    For instance, I see a lot of people respond to their kid misbehaving (for what that’s worth at that age) with “well, he/she is tired so they’re acting cranky”. That might be more or less true, but it’s probably not true to them. They’re like, I’M ANGRY STOP TRYING TO TALK ME OUT OF THAT. I mean, just guessing, but that angry feeling is brand new. And it still feels good to get angry sometimes now, at my age, so imagine how awesome that must be to someone feeling it for the first few times. I’m just spitballing, I could totally be wrong, but I remember my son getting super mad and saying “ok go with it man, just don’t punch anyone”

    I miss having a kid that age.

  33. 33
    Matt McIrvin says:

    3 is worse than 2, because at 3 they’re able to conceive of more things they want to control, but they still don’t really have any theory of mind or ability to empathize with others yet (that comes in somewhere around age 4).

    Giving the kid two choices to choose between, to give them a feeling of control over a decision to do something, is a good trick that works sometimes. (Not all the time.) They have to be choices that are both acceptable to you, not a “good choice or absurd unpleasant choice” ultimatum, which is all too easy to issue when you’re feeling cranky yourself. The kid will call your bluff on that tactic 100% of the time.

  34. 34
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Agreed —
    that is how my wife and I parent — constrain the choice space to acceptable outcomes and then don’t care what they choose —

    Do you want to read Wacky Wednesday or Monster at the End of the Book?

    Blue toothpaste or Green toothpaste?

    Tortelleni or Bean Taco?

    Hugs or tickles or both?

  35. 35
    Richard Mayhew says:

    My five year old is trying to figure out what “embarrassment” means as we’ve been going through “A monster at the End of this Book” multiple times a night as my 2 year loves that book right now. I’m trying to explain it to her as “sad feeling of silliness about oneself” but that does not feel right to me and she is not getting it.

  36. 36
    Morzer (0th of His PseudoName and Founder of the Walter Sobchak Peacekeepers) says:

    Now you know how Obama feels when he tries to talk to the GOP.

  37. 37
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I loathed and feared “The Monster At The End Of This Book” when I was little. My parents kept trying to point out that the ending of the book wasn’t scary, that the monster was just Grover, but I knew that and it didn’t matter. I couldn’t articulate why the book disturbed me so much.

    In hindsight, I think it was because I was upset at the way reading the book requires violating Grover’s increasingly distraught pleas to stop reading. You may not be scared, but Grover is. Turning the pages felt like a repeated act of cruelty. In any case, it meant violating explicit instructions written on the page, and I was very into following rules.

    My daughter loved it, though.

    There’s a much later sequel by the same author featuring Grover and Elmo. It does some clever metatextual playing with time and space toward the end, with characters hopping between different pages in the book, but it doesn’t have quite the same stylistic panache.

  38. 38
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Richard Mayhew: I don’t think kids really start being able to evaluate themselves in terms of how other people see them until they’re a little older, like 6-7. That’s pretty heavy abstract thinking. Between the ages of 1-7 they make huge steps every year. Then they seem to plateau until they become teenagers. My son’s not there yet so I’m kind of excited to see how that goes.

  39. 39
    brendancalling says:

    that’s great. I have SO many stories like that.

  40. 40
    Tata says:

    Four was my favorite. The four-year-old asked such interesting questions I had to think about what the words meant, what the puzzlement was, what assumptions were in play; fascinating stuff. The whole world was new. The thinking with her was so much fun for me. Of course, then the four-year-old turns five and you want to brick up her bedroom door until she turns 30.

  41. 41
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    All I got is “way to go, kid.” I’d be so proud if I had a kid that said that (no doubt among the reasons I was discouraged from having them). It’s today’s best story. Thanks.

  42. 42
    Roxy says:

    Thank you Richard for posting this. I laughed out loud. It also reminded me of my nephew at 2-3 and me giving him two choices (either one would keep him out of trouble :) ). When he got to be 6 or more the choice was do it this way to or if you do it this way there would be consequences. Of course he would then say “That’s not fair”. I loved every age he went through. Being able to watch and listen how his mind worked was a pleasure to witness. I will never forget and feel very lucky He is now 27 and a great young man.

    Enjoy this, it goes by so fast.

  43. 43
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    @Richard Mayhew:
    The terrible twos go from two to four. That’ sway they’re plural.

  44. 44
    DaddyJ says:

    Parenthood sometimes feels like an arms race. Our daughter eventually learned to counter the “Do you want x or do you want y” tactic with “I don’t like any of those choices!”

  45. 45
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Tata: I agree, 4 was a lot of fun with my daughter as she kept on figuring things out plus she had a little brother to influence/corrupt.

    I was so proud of her when she started to make horrendous puns and wordplays including how she wanted to a TOE Truck to play with as she put her baby brother’s toes into a plastic school bus and tried to drag him around the living room.

  46. 46
    Mike E says:

    2 is my favorite age (3-7 are great for different reasons) and a lot of terrific memories bubble up from that period, like when we were in a moose blind up in Maine, with my daughter yelling, “Mooooose!!” None turned up, needless to say.

    By 4, she was without a doubt one of the funniest people I’d met, and that includes some really funny people. Cherish these ephemeral times!

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