Of all the tantrum-inducing opportunities life affords, I could never have predicted that our terrible two-year old would focus so much on hand washing.

Of course he doesn’t limit himself, but this is his most reliable source of agony, running to the bathroom wanting to wash his hands. Somewhere between getting the tap on, the soap out, the hands under the water, rinsing, drying, there’s inevitably a tragedy.

The gap between what he wants to do and what he’s able to do is just too wide

For a while it was that we didn’t quite understand this new phase he’s in. He wants to do everything himself, with absolutely no help. “I do myself!” So turning on the water or helping squirt the soap is cause for him to lay on the floor and wail or shriek. (I don’t worry about the health of those little lungs, that’s for sure.)

But once we got it and stopped assisting (to the best of our ability and where safety allows), it didn’t make that much difference. The gap between what he wants to do and what he’s able to do is just too wide. His dream skills seem bitterly, tragically, inconsolably far away. Any small thing that doesn’t go right breaks his heart.

We are trying to follow good advice, which is to leave him alone so he can work on mastering the spoon, fork, cup, and method hand soap dispenser. Let him smear every available surface with brown sugar and maple oatmeal as he tries again and again to master the tasks he longs to do. Namely, feed and manage himself, just like the rest of us do. Use an adult plate and cup. Handle all life’s needs with his own two hands.

It’s a great goal, and the available evidence suggests it will end in victory. Most of the older children we know (including our five-year-old) eat pretty effectively. And as Jay keeps pointing out, there are much worst things than smelling of maple syrup everywhere we go. But it can take every little bit of my self control to let him fight his battles and learn from experience, coating himself and our house in an oatmeal-jelly-peanut butter residue that may never scrub off.

Maybe a part of me isn’t ready to let this adorable baby, who we’ve had less than a year, get all grown up and independent. I think I’m less shocked by the rage he displays (which is considerable), and more sad that, rather than endlessly scrubbing the damned spot, he’s more likely to master it and move on, becoming a little boy and leaving our little toddler behind.