Dear Parents of Toddlers,
I don’t have toddlers anymore. But there are a lot of you out there who do. And I want you to know that I see you. I see you in the grocery store. I see you in the shopping malls. I see you at restaurants trying ever-so-desperately to eat a meal that doesn’t involve animal-shaped chicken nuggets. And every time I see you dragging a three-year old who’s suddenly decided to go dead-weight in the middle of a crowded public space while wailing about the injustice of not being allowed to have whatever toy/candy/pony their heart is set upon, I have flashbacks. In that moment, mostly, I’m just grateful that I’m not you, but also I’m also reminded of a time when I was.
Once upon a time, I did have toddlers. And just like you, I started with sweet, innocent newborns. They grew to be one-year olds who tottered across the living room floor to the raucous applause of attentive adults. They did amazing party tricks – like make animal noises upon command and repeat precociously mature statements in adorable baby talk. But these darling little creatures grew up.
They became toddlers.
Toddlers who threw temper tantrums and refused to eat anything but anything but bananas and cheese for weeks at a time. Toddlers who refused to do charming party tricks, but who would gladly have a full-on nuclear meltdown in any public space – preferably one without any other toddlers so that they could achieve the highest level of attention from whichever disapproving (presumably childless) adults happened to be standing nearby.
I remember all too well the feeling of frustration, anger, humiliation, and guilt that accompanies raising these irrational, intolerable, and utterly illogical creatures. I remember thinking that this would never end and clearly, if this is where we had landed in only a few short years, I was destined for visiting hours at juvie.
There was no way I could see a way out of the nightmare that was not being able to shower because if I left the aforementioned toddler alone for three seconds, the contents of my jewelry box would most likely get flushed down to the toilet. Or worse, yet, if I took the toddler into the shower with me (two birds with one stone and all that), I would have to have honest, yet extremely unflattering conversations about body parts I would rather not have to discuss with a person who wouldn’t leave the house without a pair of ladybug rainboots and a tutu…preferably while wearing Mardi Gras beads.
Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
You know that horrid creature that wakes you up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning because they need to know if birds have teeth, and if not, then how do they chew their food? That person is going to get older and gain a much larger vocabulary.
Suddenly, they will be four – and while no less rational – they will become much more logical. They will now know the full extent of their manipulative powers and will not hesitate to use them on you with the force of a highly skilled con artist. You will find yourself having, and losing arguments, about the merits of ice cream for dinner. At this point, you’ll no longer be worried about juvie (this kid is obviously too smart to get caught), but you will now have night terrors that they might end up as the head of an international drug cartel – or on the Supreme Court.
I want to tell you more…I want to talk about the later elementary years when they go through a phase of refusing to shower to the point that your whole house smells like feet. I would love to warn you about the pre-teen years when they start wanting to dress in ways that make you question all of your parenting decisions. Or the early teen years where they begin to emote all of the feelings ALL OF THE TIME…and shower too much. As for the later teen, years, well…all I can say is brace yourself.
But I’ll save those gentle warnings for another time. What I want you to know today is that you are not alone in the toddler trenches. Those of us in the midst of the fray, as well as those of us who have limped to the finish line can stand as witnesses to the struggle. And it is real. Oh…it is so very, very real.
All I can say is parenting is a fluid, and constantly evolving, undertaking.
But every moment will be an adventure. Before you know it, the time will come when you will miss those chubby little fingers covered in a sticky substance that you only hope is grape jelly grasping your face and pressing their tiny noses to yours to say “I love you.” (Even if it comes out as “I want more candy.”) You will miss the soft weight of their little bodies pressing into yours after they’ve fallen asleep watching the 99th episode of Octonauts. You will, believe it or not, long for the days when you’ve dragged them kicking and screaming from a social gathering earlier than you wanted to (but already 45 minutes too late) only to have them fall asleep in the car. And you’ll miss this only because you’ll recall the moment of pulling into the driveway and looking at their tiny face, finally peaceful and slack with the softness of sleep, and you’ll remember how your heart filled to nearly bursting with an overwhelming love.
I know the toddler years are not easy.
But I also know that they are filled with a powerful magic that permeates every waking second you spend with these forceful little people; for these are the days when their minds and spirits are wild and unbroken. And even in the midst of the hardest days, they are moving at the speed of light towards a destiny and future that is yet unseen, but that you wouldn’t want to miss for the world.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Raising kids is not about the moment, but about the end results. Ours is not a job that offers instant gratification or even well-deserved reward. Ours is a job that is based on never giving up, never losing hope, and always loving with the infinite range of our hearts. We’re not here to raise the perfect child, but to shape and influence the happy adult. Sometimes we just need to be reminded.
This time will pass – and chances are you’ll survive. But in the meantime, hang in there and know that you got this. And on the days that you don’t? Well, there’s always wine.
Yours in the struggle,