And this is my two-year-old son:
The other night I offered him and his big sister mocktails with dinner -- it's one of the easier ways in which, I, a stay-at-home mom, can pretend to have a rollicking social life.
Besides the old stand-bys of water and milk, those lucky children could choose chocolate milk or pomegranate juice. My daughter asked for chocolate milk and my son asked for, "Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo! Joo!"
I poured him some joo. Then he climbed up onto the table, skittled over to the Bunny Sauce (a.k.a. Nestle Quick) and, tilting the bottle of chocolate syrup into his glass, set about to inventing, oh ye splendid courts of Bacchus: Chocolate Juice!
"Nuh-nuh-no," I said, stopping him. "You can have chocolate milk OR juice. Also, you're not allowed on the table."
He crumpled on the floor in a heap of tears and heaving sobs.
"Mommy, you wreck all his good ideas," my 4-year old informed me.
I do try to see things from his point of view. I do try to respect his autonomy. But from where he's coming from, yes, I do wreck an awful lot of his good ideas.
Why, this very morning I stopped him from throwing an entire case of peaches down the stairs, one at a time, though the first couple were so delightful to watch bounce; I prevented him from eating a tube of toothpaste even though he'd risked life and limb climbing the toilet and balancing on the pedestal sink to acquire this minty snack from the high cabinet; I made him wash his hands before lunch even though he made it perfectly obvious he'd rather wash them never; I insisted not only that he wear a diaper but also, adding insult to injury,clothing! when he'd indicated clearly that his preference was to go sans; and then I flat out refused to let him put a metal bucket on his baby sister's head even though he was holding a pair of drumsticks in one hand and, obviously, little sister + tin pail = excellent drum.
It is frightfully easy to believe that toddlers were put on Earth to push you to the brink of sanity, to fill your boots with Lego and oatmeal when you are looking over said brink instead of wondering why they're so quiet all the sudden, and then to push you over.
But really, they're just small people who don't have a lot of say about how their day goes.
And they really are not capable of thinking things through because they live so thoroughly in the moment. Much like this:
It's all revelry all the time. And they don't quite get why you won't just chill out and be more fun.
It is easy to assume that life is carefree when you have no other responsibilities than to play until you crap your pants or topple over with exhaustion or both things at the same time. And why not if there is always someone to pick you up,clean you up, jammy you up, hug you up, and tuck you in bed to sleep for as long as you like every damn day of the week, never mind the bills, the housework, and the economy?
Could there be a downside?
Have you ever gotten your baby all trundled up in his stroller and wheeled him around outside and received the comment from passers-by, "Must be nice. Got room in there for me?"
It is, apparently, the thing to say to a mom pushing a stroller these days.
No matter how often I hear that comment, I always think, "Really? You wouldn't rather walk? Cause you're out for a walk. Be careful what you wish for. Because some adults are wheeled around all day but I'm pretty sure they'd rather walk."
Anybody who I've heard talk about being laid up so that need help with preparing meals, eating, dressing, undressing, getting things down from impossibly hard to reach places, opening things, making basically anything that isn't a teddy bear work, and, sigh, toileting has not enjoyed the experience at all.
Imagine how you would feel if everybody around you was much bigger, much stronger, much quicker, knew much more about absolutely everything, and to top it off, you didn't speak the language.
If you've ever been immersed in another culture and another language, you know the cumulative stress of not quite understanding how everything should be done, of not getting all the social cues, of not being able to read the signs. You know what it feels like when the things people say whiz completely over your head and you miss every instruction that's not a smile and every joke that's not a fart.
A toddler is so utterly dependent on his parents and caregivers. It really, really, really is stressful being a wee kid. No wonder they so frequently drink until they pass out.
Many people, my 4-year-old daughter included, just look at a toddler and automatically shout the word "NO!" at them. They might elaborate by adding, "You'll get hurt!" or, "You're going to fall!"
Toddlers don't respond any better to these interactions than you or I might if someone walked up to us and shouted, without provocation, "NO!"
The trick to getting along with these little people, I think, is to avoid just telling them "NO NO NO NO NO" all the time. This can be harder than it sounds when your two-year old is, say, growing increasingly belligerent about his desire to climb a smoking barbecue.
Instead of spewing NO at them, it's essential to give them information they can use and instructions they can follow. For example, "Climbing things is fun, and you're good at it. How about you climb up onto this tree stump instead of that hot barbecue?"
Or, "Good idea, let's play the drums. But instead of using baby sister as a drum stand, let's just set this upside down bucket on the floor like this. Sounds good, Dude!"
Or, "You may not throw peaches down the stairs, but you can throw this dirty laundry down there. Hey, you're good at that! What would I do without a good boy like you?"
Maybe this technique is perfectly obvious to everyone else out there, but I had to work at developing a non-adversarial relationship with my kids. I have to work at it almost every day, in fact. My buttons get pushed. My daughter has utterly perfected a sound over the past several years that makes the two frontal lobes of my brain cleave and espresso pour out of my ears in under 3 seconds. It's like a, "Kneee-yuh! Nneee-yuh! Nneee-yuh!" sound. Oh gawd, it's awful, just typing it made my skin crawl off my body and hide behind the curtains with the dog.
But generally speaking, I don't think fighting with babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers, or kids is at all a good idea. Even choosing our battles, as the conventional wisdom goes, is a bit iffy. Battle avoidance -- that's the ticket.