Maybe it happened overnight or last week or yesterday.
The exact timing is hard to pinpoint. It happened so suddenly and wasn’t it just a tiny while ago that you were handed this diminutive package of human miracle to love and feed and keep alive and smell and stay awake with? It seems as if you were just counting her fingers and toes or googling every possible remedy for his colic and now you have a certifiable person on your hands and the person is very small but she already has strong opinions.
Maybe this is where the medievals came up with the idea of changelings—one night you rest a swaddled baby in a cradle only to wake up the very next morning to find in its place, a toddler, climbing recklessly out of said cradle, obsessively pulling himself up on the couch, the coffee table, every possible surface upon which one could conceivably use to assist standing.
Walking? Running? Oh my God and climbing. Please stop climbing. Babies are not supposed to climb.
Pointing, wanting, refusing, demanding turns into asking, yelling, singing, splashing. There is the inevitable throwing himself onto the ground in howling frustration which can often be a daily occurrence. You will bargain, you might bribe, you might hide behind the refrigerator door and eat chocolate where no one can see you. You will find yourself doing things you swore you’d never do when you became a parent. You will wonder why all of the advice is for the parents of newborns when right now is when you most need that detailed instruction manual. Looking back, you might think those early days were easy now, even though they weren’t.
Draw a bath. For yourself, yes. Okay, never mind. Take a really quick shower with your child in the bathroom and peek out of the shower curtain every few seconds to make sure she hasn’t ingested a dangerous amount of toothpaste or drank out of the toilet in an impressive imitation of the dog. But use the nice soap. You deserve it.
There is good news.
View this as a graduation of sorts, a celebration. If this were a video game, you’ve finally completed level one and have moved on to level two. Except there are about eighteen more levels to go before you beat the game and at the end, when you think you beat the game, you realize that once you have kids you never really beat the game and you never really stop playing but let’s not think about that now because the thought alone will make you want to guzzle the entire bottle of fancy wine that you were saving for the date night you still haven’t gotten around to.
The swaddling, the constant night-waking, the cluster feeding, incessant nursing, the agonized screaming from gas pain is over! You did it! You have possibly or almost changed your very last diaper. But now, you have a new set of challenges.
First off, always remember this—toddlers are pretty much insane.
Repeating this often will help you keep your sanity and perspective when your two year old is screaming because you won’t let her drink gin (this actually happened to me).
They throw outrageous fits for preposterous reasons. I recently saw someone post on Facebook that their child had a melt down because the wind was blowing and another because he wanted his house moved to the opposite side of the street.
Toddlers will ask for cheese. You will give them cheese only to have them shriek in terror as if you are trying to poison them. They will tell you that no, they didn’t really want cheese. They wanted a strawberry. Give them a strawberry and they will throw it on the floor and demand the cheese again. But a different kind of cheese on a very specific plate and the cheese must be cut to exacting specifications. They are rock star divas with riders that would make even David Lee Roth blanch at their audacity.
Because of this, you will have days when you will want to drop them off at the fire station. Just for a couple hours. You will understand that their cuteness is truly an important evolutionary survival mechanism.
The most important bits of advice for dealing with toddlers.
Get a clamp for the toilet lid.
Ignore this advice at your own risk and the risk of everything you’d never want to end up in the toilet. My daughter in a span of 30 microseconds dumped my entire jewelry box into the big girl potty. It was not endearing.
If they eat cat food, it won’t hurt them.
In fact, most things won’t hurt them. My sister’s daughter took a dead lizard from the cat and popped it right in her mouth. She was fine. My sister was not. Toddlers are tough as nails and the human race wouldn’t have survived if they weren’t.
“If they’re crabby, put them in water.” ~ SARK
It really works. I’ve done it at least eighty-six times. Actually, way more.
Play-doh is your friend, but be forewarned, you can’t prevent them from eating it no matter what you do.
All efforts to prevent the ingestion of play-doh are futile. Go with it. It’s salty.
Like dogs, they need lots of physical play outside.
In fact, get them a gentle dog to play with and turn the two of them loose together in the yard or a park.
Toddlers have bizarre eating habits.
Trust that they won’t starve themselves and if they eat nothing but crackers for four straight days they will actually survive. If it helps, my sister and I ate nothing but ramen noodles and grilled cheese sandwiches for at least seven years and we both grew up to eat tofu, quinoa and green juice with kale in it. Don’t expect a two year old to eat kale. I mean, come on, I can barely eat it and I’m 40.
Yes, they will run away from you but they aren’t really running away.
They just want to be chased. Don’t be sad that it seems like you see more of their backs these days because just as fast as they bolted, they’ll turn around and fly straight back into your arms. Toddlers play around with independence. They’re practicing. Don’t worry because they do still need you. More than ever actually.
Repeat this mantra often “All messes can be cleaned up.” There will be a lot of messes. It’s okay.
Yes, toddlers often seem psychotic. I know. It can be tempting to have an anxiety attack and convince yourself that you’ve somehow passed on a recessive sociopath gene because after all your Uncle Ted is serving time in a federal prison for cooking meth, but it’s not true. All toddlers are psychotic. It doesn’t mean that your son is going to grow up and steal cars or that your daughter is going to be a bank robber. And you know what? Every family has its version of an Uncle Ted.
We create their entire reality.
They believe every word we tell them. Once in a while you can tell them that the park is closed when you’re late for your doctor’s appointment but taking advantage of their gullibility is cruel.
Instead, use your power for good.
Help them to create a positive reality. Pass on to your children the sense that the world is benevolent and that they are safe and well and that there are infinite possibilities for their wonderful lives. If you do nothing else, do this and everything will be okay.
Resist any temptation, however slight, to compare.
Children are beyond idiosyncratic, especially at this age.
There is simply no logical pattern to any of their development.
If a friend’s daughter supposedly waved and said “bye bye” at six months but your son couldn’t walk by fourteen months it means absolutely nothing. Love your child and his or her unique abilities.
Don’t force them into milestones they aren’t ready for.
You’ll just end up fighting a battle that will make your entire family miserable. Respect the pace at which your child develops. Some days they will declare themselves to be big while the very next hour they will decide that they need to be a baby for a little while longer.
They will become your support system and your social life. They will understand when you cancel plans five minutes before you were supposed to meet and you won’t always need to get a babysitter in order to hang out. When you do get together the children will entertain one another enough for you to get in at least three sentences worth of much-needed adult conversation.
Live for the right now.
Remember what I said about the nice soap and the fancy wine and the chocolate you hid in the fridge. Use it, drink it, eat it up. Give up Pinterest (okay, just cut back on it) and accept that parenting is as weird as rain with the sun out. It is no contradiction that your greatest joy and your greatest frustration are the exact same thing.
Watch how you learn with your children.
They scooted to a crawl and pulled themselves up to cruise and finally lifted their little, sticky hands and stumbled (right into the coffee table of course) and then finally one day they stood on their own and really walked. This is a lot like how you are learning to be a parent—a little at a time, through trial and error and crashing dramatically into the furniture and just like your little ones you will fall hard on your ass some days and you too will want to throw yourself on the floor and scream from exhaustion and irritation. But then there will be those days when you will stand up and run. You will have days when you dance and sing and play and see the world in brighter colors and you will know that this is totally worth it and that yeah, you can do this after all.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock