Typically, children can say about 50 words by the time they're 2, and more than 200 by age 3. "I'm amazed at how quickly he picks up words," says Chantal Sales, of Austin, Minnesota, about her son, Evan. "One day he counts to 3, and the next he's counting to 11 -- skipping 4 and 5, of course!" Kids this age are beginning to speak in simple sentences, although we're not always sure what language they're using. "My son Maxou just started talking up a storm," says Stacey Dolezal Susini, of Dallas. "And those times when you don't understand him, he closes his eyes in exasperation!"
Many a parent has had to master the art of relentless supervision. One time when Danielle Smith, of St. Louis, Missouri, let son Cooper out of view for a few minutes, "he pulled the stuffing out of the couch cushions, wiped Vaseline over the walls, unwound an entire roll of easel paper, and tore his quesadilla into tiny pieces that he then stuffed up his nose." These days, Cooper stays in Mommy's sight at all times. Often, a toddler's shenanigans are purely accidental. Laura Auerbach, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was mortified when she discovered that her son Sam had dialed 911. "When I grabbed the phone, the operator said, 'I've been talking to your son for several minutes,' " she says. "A squad car was already on its way."
Christine Rosmaninho's 2-year-old, Sophia, loves to pitch in with cleaning. The mom from Bayside, Queens, gives Sophia baby wipes to scrub her toys. All right, so this "help" isn't necessarily all that useful, but Noelle Albanito, of Little Falls, New Jersey, is more than happy to oblige her son Thomas's offer to fetch the phone or the remote when she's lying on the couch. (Relish such aid now. It's short-lived.)
At this age, rain puddles beckon. So do ride-on toys, bookshelves, and anything kids can open and close (cabinets, drawers, boxes with 300 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle). "Our son Armando climbs on everything," says Kelly Stettner, of Springfield, Vermont. "And he rides his crib rails like a broomstick." Bonnie Duncan, of Kauai, Hawaii, had to trade in her desk for a locked computer cabinet: "My son Kona would pound on the keyboard, and he tried to impress me with his crayon art on the monitor."
Another delicious trait: A toddler's penchant for soaking up grown-up conversation then spitting it out later, often with a lisp. "My daughter Addison says 'Oh my goodness gracious' all the time," says Melanie Nobert, of Maricopa, Arizona. "And her favorite thing to do is pull all her clothes out of her drawers and say, 'This is cute.'" Katherine Loflin-Van Dorn, of Miami, recently discovered that by her own example, she'd inadvertently taught her daughter Gracie a new way to pronounce the word "please." "One night at dinner, my daughter asked for more milk," Loflin-Van Dorn says. "My husband and I replied, in unison, 'What do you say?' To which she responded, 'Oh, puh-leeeze.'" "Addison lines up her princess dolls," Nobert says. "I'll hear her tell them things I've told her earlier, like 'Don't pull the dog's tail, please,' or 'Would you like something to eat?'"
When you're 2, every day is Independence Day. And each child has her own way of celebrating it. "We've taken to calling Sophie 'Princess Godiva,'" says Rick Julian, of Atlanta. "She refuses to keep her clothes on. Regardless of the activity, she prefers doing it naked. We dressed her up for her birthday party, and one hour later, she was back in the buff."
Among self-respecting 2-year-olds, "I do it myself!" is a battle cry, one they use liberally. "My son Justin can be the sweetest little guy, and then at the drop of a hat, it's his way or the highway," says Suzie Gorski, of Avon, Ohio. "Sydney definitely lets me know if I can help her or not," says Kate Burch, of Norman, Oklahoma. "I cannot dress her. I cannot get her out of her coat at preschool.
I cannot get her out of her car seat." When Burch once overrode that last command, Sydney sobbed for a full 45 minutes and tried to return to the car for a do-over.
I call my daughter Lily "my little sack of sugar." But she's also a little sack of contradictions. Bold and social and demonstrably affectionate, she nonetheless pleads, 'Mommy, you stay?' when I drop her off at Sunday school. Karen Miller, of Silver Spring, Maryland, has noticed similar discrepancies with her daughter. "Isabel wants so badly to be a big girl," Miller says. "She constantly tells us what to do and what not to do! But this 'big girl' is also afraid of the vacuum cleaner and my hair dryer." Which leads to a final, special reason why 2-year-olds are so darn lovable: They still need their moms. On rainy days, Chantal Sales takes pleasure in this. "When Evan puts on new rain boots, it seems he has to learn to walk all over again," she says. "It's a reminder of how much of a baby he still is." And what's not to love about that?
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.