Who are you and what have you done with my baby?

By Jennifer Margulis 99PhD


GILLIAN WAS THE QUIETEST baby in our playgroup. She curiously looked at the other babies from her perch in her infant car seat. If she fussed her mother nursed her, and she would fall asleep happily, while all the other babies squawked.

Her mother, Ashley, thought she had the easiest baby in the world. Secretly smug, she looked at the rest of us, wondering at the bags under our eyes and the frustration on our faces.

But then everything about Baby Gillian changed.

At about ten months of age Gillian became an absolute terror. She discovered locomotion and rolled, crawled, or cruised anywhere she wanted to go. She became infuriated by diaper changes, livid if she had to get in a high chair. Five minutes in a playpen was enough to make her purple in the face, screaming at the top of her lungs.

The activities she had once loved--the play station, the Jolly Jumper, the car--became torture chambers to her.

As if overnight, Ashley's sweet, quiet, curious daughter turned into a protesting, frustrated, miserable, sleepless terror.

What happened?

Baby books warn you about the trouble that lies ahead: the toddler years when your will and your baby's (stronger and more persistent) will start to clash. But for many babies, the trouble we associate with toddlers usually starts long before a child's first birthday.

Once Gillian had discovered that she could move herself, she no longer wanted to be confined. This turned something as simple as a car ride or a walk in the stroller into a battle that often left both her mother and Gillian in tears.

Like Gillian, my friend Johanna's baby, Noah, had his first temper tantrum at ten months. Johanna wouldn't let him rearrange the books at the bookstore. Noah flailed and howled, kicked his legs, turned red in the face, and cried tears of frustration. This in public, in front of dozens of curious people who turned to watch them. Johanna and her husband dubbed their son "The Beast" after that.

At about nine months, my oldest daughter, Hesperus, started acting like a Terrible Ten-Month-Old. She became indignantly opposed to diaper changes. That her parents would make her lie on her back for even a few seconds was an outrage to her.

"Stinky! Let's change your diapey," I would suggest good-naturedly.

"Noooo." Hesperus, who could say only four words, was adamant.

Though she could not walk, and barely crawled, she could effectively wriggle away. I would have to pin her down to get her diaper off while she would wail as horribly as if someone were sticking needles into her. When I did manage to snap a clean diaper on, Hesperus would invariably kick me in the face.

What happened to my sweet, easy-going infant? She had disappeared so quickly. Next stop: Teenage Town, when we'd be fighting about alcohol and driving the car.

You may think the first time your baby expresses anger or willfulness is cute. My husband described Hesperus's early flares of temper as "endearing."

"I see now that you have inherited my temper as well," he wrote in the journal we kept for her, after he once tried to extract his keys from her clenched fist (she was gnawing on them, happily teething) and Hesperus growled and pulled them back. She stiffened her body, inhaled angrily, turned red, and roared, her whole body shaking with anger.

Cute? After the twentieth fight over changing diapers, or the thirty-third kick while adjusting the straps of the car seat, it can get a little frustrating to be in charge of a human being with so many definite ideas but so little ability to talk (in words anyway), reason, or compromise.

Babies are strange creatures. Part of infanthood and childhood is simply learning how to be . As we all know from the clumsy mishaps of our adulthood, this is not always an easy lesson.

Jennifer Margulis 99PhD lives in
Ashland, Oregon, with her husband, James di Properzio, and children Hesperus, six; Athena, five; and Etani, two. Margulis is the editor of
Toddler: Real-life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love, which received a 2004 Independent Publishers Book Association award, and the author of Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained.


© 2006 Emory University