Yes, they can. And in fact, could “the terrible twos” be…precious?
The twos probably get a bad rap, but not necessarily for the wrong reason. Age two is really the time in our development that we realize that we understand that we are our own being. That we have thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and try to assert at least some control over our lives.
Think about it, for two years, you’ve had these people (or person–shoutout, single parents!), who, really, do everything for you. They’ve fed you, clothed you, propped you up on the floor, laid you down in your crib, and carried you where you needed to go. And now all the sudden you have the mental and physical capacities to determine where you want to go and how you want to get there, and what you think about where you’re going.
As a parent, it’s amazing and really humbling to see the world through the eyes of a two year old. The observations made, the philosophies spoken, and the memories remembered. My son can recall some of the most benign memories. He understands that when we’re out of oatmeal, it means that Daddy has to go to the store to get some, as he reminded me just yesterday when I was making a quick run to the store (“Daddy, we need bread for sandwiches and oatmeal!”). He assumes that when the sun is out, it’s warm outside, and perhaps he doesn’t understand it fully, but he’s making the connection that the sun generates warmth (I’ve tried to explain the Earth’s axis tilt relative to the plane of our revoltion, but I think we’re still a ways from that).
But at the same time, there are still things that he can’t do on his own and decisions that still need to be made for him. He can’t pour his own drink yet, which often leads to him making decisions like carrying a gallon of milk up a flight of steps. He still needs to be told that it’s time for bed–though the discovery of the digital clock has helped in keeping it consistent from night to night. Sometimes, the decisions we make for him are not the decisions that he would make for himself. And sometimes, this leads to some disagreement.
But thankfully, with the ability to disagree comes the ability to reason–at least a little bit. Often, a calm talking-to can diffuse a heated discussion about picking a book for nap, or why we need to eat our dinner before playing. And sometimes, it means we have to go into separate rooms and let ourselves cool down. But in the end, there’s at the very least a big hug waiting for both of us.
I try to remember all the little things he says, the scenarios he imagines, the observations he makes. Because every one of them is a bit of learning. And he’s learning these things for the first time. And he’s learning spontaneous social interaction–and not just mimicking what he sees. We’ve started down the road of bargaining (“How ’bout we go upstairs for bed at eight zero five?”). He’ll always say “I love you” to us, but sometimes, he’ll come over from playing with a puzzle to put his head on our leg and say “Awww, I love my daddy.” These were things he didn’t do at age 1, and probably not something that we’ll get a ton of when he’s a teenager. And it’s probably what I’ll remember and cherish from “the terrible twos” the most.