At the end of next month, my baby boy will be 2 years old – so not actually a “baby” any more, then: gulp! – and as I fast approach the end of my second year of parenthood, I thought I’d take a quick look back at some of the things I’ve learned about toddlers. Things like…
IN TERMS OF DIFFICULTY, TODDLERS MAKE BABIES LOOK LIKE COMPLETE AMATEURS
My first year of parenthood was the hardest year of my entire life.
The second year was much, much harder.
I’m not saying that to scare anyone, because, of course, every child is different, house prices can go down as well as up, blah blah blah. Seriously, though: I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but when I think back now to those newborn days, and – well, most of that first year, actually – I kind of struggle to remember what it was I found so mind-bendingly difficult about it. I’m guessing this is probably why people go on to have more than one child, actually (Well, that and the fact that, once they start to outnumber you, at least they can try to entertain each other, right?): it’s because, once you’ve had to deal with a toddler, babies seem like an absolute doddle, really, don’t they?
Toddlers are hard work, in other words. I’m sure they’re not ALL hard work, of course, but, for us, we’ve found that, the older Max gets, the greater the impact he has on our lives: in both good ways and not-so-good ones. We’ve worked significantly less this year than we did last year, for instance, and, although we’ve travelled more, we’ve gone out less: partly because we can no longer rely on him napping in the car seat or pram, but also because he’s no longer content to just sit in a highchair in a restaurant, say, and take in the sights – he wants to be on the ground, getting involved in everything that’s going on, which makes it impossible for us to enjoy a meal, or even just a cup of coffee. It’s hard work: and it just keeps getting harder, too…
TODDLERS ARE ARCH MANIPULATORS
The upside to toddlers being so much more difficult than babies, of course, is that they’re so much more rewarding, too. I mean, when Max was a baby, I assumed he couldn’t possibly get any cuter: in fact, if I’m totally honest, I used to sometimes feel a bit sad to think that, as he grew and changed, we were going to ‘lose’ the adorable little baby he used to be. Then he started talking, and that was pretty much the cutest thing EVER. Words! He was using WORDS! Then, however, he learned to use those words to shamelessly manipulate me, and that was the beginning of the end, really.
I knew I was beaten the first time I tried to leave his room one night, and Max held up his little arms to me, and said, “Cuddles! Want mummy cuddles!” I knew perfectly well that he was just trying to delay bedtime: nevertheless, it was another 50 minutes before I could bring myself to put him back down again, and when I closed the bedroom door on the plaintive wail of, “MUMMY CUDDLES!” I immediately burst into tears.
“Well, he’s definitely got YOU where he wants you,” observed Terry, when the same thing happened the next night, and the night after that. I’ve now managed to get the “leaving the room,” part of his bedtime routine down to roughly 20 minutes, but he makes sure I feel really, REALLY terrible about leaving him, and he is remorseless in his attempts to manipulate me. If Terry tells him off, for instance, he listens carefully, and then says, “Sorry, daddy!” If I tell him off, on the other hand, he just laughs, then says, “Want to cuddle yoo, mummy!” It’s the cuddles, people: the cuddles get me every damn time…
On the subject of speech, meanwhile…
THERE IS LITERALLY NO LIMIT TO THE NUMBER OF TIMES YOU CAN ANSWER THE SAME QUESTION. NONE.
Max recently entered the ‘non-stop questions’ stage, which meant that, yesterday afternoon I was asked what I was eating approximately 15 times in a row. (It was sweets. I told him it was ‘medicine’ to put him off the scent. He was not even remotely fooled..) I also find myself repeating the phrases, “Get that out of your mouth!” and, “Remember, we don’t lick the floor!” WAY more times than I would ever want to, really, but what can you do? While Max is more than happy to attempt to eat any random object he can fit in his mouth, however (Today he had a full-blown tantrum because I wouldn’t let him eat a grape he tried to pick up off the floor of the supermarket. I don’t think he’ll ever get over it…), another recent lesson is this:
YOUR TODDLER WAS JUST KIDDING WHEN HE PRETENDED TO ENJOY EATING ALL THE THINGS
As a baby, Max ate everything we put in front of him, without exception. Everything. There was absolutely nothing he wouldn’t try, and nothing he didn’t seem to like, and just as we were smugly congratulating ourselves on having somehow managed to raise the least fussy eater in the history of the world, he suddenly decided that, actually, we’d be doing things HIS way from now on, thanks, and that would mean eating dried mango for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. GAH.
To be fair, he is actually still a pretty good eater, and will eat most things we give him, if not all things. He has, however, very definitely developed a mind and taste of his own when it comes to food, and likes to keep us on our toes by randomly rejecting things he previously seemed to love. Er, all the more for me, I guess?
TODDLERS ARE ONLY GOING TO NAP WHEN IT’S REALLY INCONVENIENT, FROM HERE ON OUT
As babies, they’d fall asleep any time, any place – it was awesome. They did this purely to lull you into a false sense of security, though: they’re not planning to sleep again now until they’re teenagers – unless, of course, it would be really, really inconvenient for them to fall asleep at a particular time, in which case they will definitely do that.
Max, for instance, is now down to just one nap per day, the timing of which he will cunningly vary to make sure it clashes with any arrangements we try to make. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I told him his friend Stuart was coming round later, and he was so excited by this that he refused to nap AT ALL… then got so overtired he had to be put to bed 10 minutes before they arrived. The same thing happened the following week, with a different set of people, and we’re at the point now that my friends all think I’m lying when I tell them he doesn’t nap much, because whenever they bring their kids round to see him, he’s always in bed. in related news, he will only fall asleep in the car if we’ve been driving for hours, and are now 2 minutes from our destination, and/or when we really need to be somewhere urgently. So that’s fun, too.
Thankfully, this whole nap situation is balanced out by the fact that Max does sleep really well at night, so I don’t feel I can complain too much about lack of sleep, really, it’s just… I kind of want to anyway, because, DAMN, it was SO MUCH EASIER to get things done when he was reliably napping at least twice per day – or more, if we were particularly lucky. Of course, I know all too well that, one day soon, even that single nap is going to be dropped, so I’m doing my best to make the most of being able to eat lunch AND clear up afterwards while I still can…
THEIR CLOTHES ARE CUTER THAN YOURS: FACT
You know how babies essentially need a whole new wardrobe every three months or so – less if you get one with reflux, and have to wash their clothes every few hours? Toddlers aren’t like that. Nope, whereas baby clothes are sized in three-month increments (So, you get 0-3 months, 3-6 months, and so on…), I was surprised to find that there are just two sizes for year 2 of your child’s life: 12-18 months and 18-24 months. Theoretically, this means that your child should get more use out of his wardrobe, and you’ll have to buy new clothes less often: in practice, though (By which I mean, “If you’re anything like me…”) toddler clothes are just WAY too cute to resist, so you’ll just keep on buying them at the same rate as before. The flip side of this, of course, is that, because you never actually go anywhere dressier than soft play, you don’t need nearly as many clothes of your own, so you save some money there, only to end up spending it all on tiny little jumpers and hats with ears.
ALL OF THEIR FAVOURITE TOYS HAVE APPROXIMATELY 50,000 TINY PARTS
Lego. Building blocks. Those infernal plastic ‘chips’ that he likes to pretend to cook in his toy kitchen. All of your child’s favourite toys seem to be made up of thousands of tiny parts, and it will be your job to pick them all up off the floor, and put them back into their box, at least 12 times per day. You will come to hate the LEGO with a fiery passion. The LEGO will not care: it will just continue to lurk somewhere inside the living room rug, where you will almost certainly step on it, because LEGO is like that. By the time you go to bed each night, you’ll be so sick of picking tiny toys up off the floor that you’ll continue doing it in your sleep. This is your life now, and the only time you will stop picking the tiny toys off the floor will be when you have to do the never-ending laundry instead. Enjoy!
THAT LAST POINT WAS A COMPLETE LIE
… because, actually, their favourite toys won’t even be TOYS at all. No, their favourite toys will be three bars of soap, a handful of faux-pearl bracelets, and a small collection of rubber earplugs. Or, at least, that’s what Max has been obsessing over for the last couple of weeks:
(Yes, I know there’s only two bars of soap in this photo, but that’s just because the third one was hiding in the rug, waiting for someone to stand on it, obviously…)
(He calls the soap, “The Slippies.” I can’t bring myself to correct him, because it’s just too cute, so, instead, I’ve just ALSO started to refer to a bar of soap as “a slippy”. I invite you all to join me…)
I don’t know how or why this started: all I know is that these objects are precious to Max, and must be carried around the house with us at all times. The only things he likes better than “The Slippies” and the “The Bracelets” (Which he calls, ”The Brace-Loots”) are two of my Yankee Candles which have small lumps in their wax surfaces. Max likes to touch the lumps. Don’t ask…) These are, of course, some of the most inconvenient items he could possibly have picked to carry with him at all times, so, when he started trying to insist that we take them OUTSIDE the house with us, too, we did our best to insist he take a soft toy instead. Here’s how that worked out:
On top of the pile: a big-ass elephant. Underneath, and on top of, the elephant, meanwhile, we have ‘Bison Doggie’ (Actually just a bison, but when we tried to tell him that, Max said, “I want to call him a doggie,” and there was just no arguing with that…”) and ‘Other Doggie’ (Actually a bear, but… yeah, same thing.). If you’re thinking this incident must surely have been a one-off, though, although me to submit this photo of Max preparing for a nappy change into evidence:
And after that, Slippy & The Braceloots started to seem quite reasonable, really.
IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW HARD YOU SEARCH FOR IT, YOU WON’T FIND THE GREEN BALL UNTIL IT STOPS BEING HIS FAVOURITE THING IN THE WORLD
Because the green ball is either hiding in the rug with the LEGO, or it’s somewhere down the back of the couch. The only way this situation could’ve been avoided would have been if he WASN’T obsessed with the green ball: because then the green ball would’ve been EVERYWHERE.
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR THE REALITY OF TODDLER TANTRUMS
Seriously, nothing. It’s like.. I’d read about it, I’d even seen it happen to other people’s kids on occasion… But I still wasn’t even remotely prepared for what it was going to feel like when my child turned into Damien from The Omen right before my eyes. Fortunately for us, Max doesn’t have a huge amount of tantrums (And, when he does have one, it’s normally our fault for having misjudged his nap requirements that day…), but when he does, it’s almost always over something so random that it can actually be quite hard to keep a straight face. A few days ago, for instance, he freaked the hell out because I refused to take my sweater off. He was literally sobbing with frustration over it. (I actually DID end up changing it a short while later, purely because a new top arrived in the mail, and I wanted to try it on. He hated that one. too. It was a bad day for sweaters, apparently…) Other tantrums have been similarly random, and that makes them very hard to predict. All part of the fun, I guess.
TODDLERS WILL REPEAT EVERYTHING THEY HEAR YOU SAY, BUT ONLY IF IT WILL REALLY EMBARRASS YOU
Mas recently learned to count to 10. (Well, some of the time, at least. And who really cares about the number 7, anyway?) You’re just going to have to take my word for that, though, because every time I’ve asked him to do it in front of someone, or tried to video him doing it, he’s pretended not to be able to speak AT ALL. He had absolutely no problem telling everyone around the pool at our hotel that time that we were “GOING TO THE BATHROOM BECAUSE MUMMY AND DADDY HAVE DUN A POOP!” though: none at all…