The toddler years are periods of monumental change: suddenly, your baby is morphing into a tiny adult, which is mostly awe-inspiring. You get to see them make new connections and watch their cognitive and communication skills develop more rapidly, with more powerful results, than ever before. Like, holy shit, your kid just said “red car gone”! He put three words together! And that fucking car was gone! And he knew, and told you, like a person who sees shit and talks about it – when did that happen? And now you can go eat some pizza to celebrate because that magical little monster is finally off the boob. Toddler life can be excellent – that useless babything has, at long last, grown into your best little buddy.
That’s all true…sometimes.
Beneath all that shiny existential wonderment, things get way. too. real. Your toddler, in addition to having all that enviable curiosity and all those toothy smiles, possesses no sense of social decency, absolutely zero capacity for patience, the personal hygiene of that shower-phobic guy in your freshman dorm, and no regard for whether or not 10PM is an appropriate time for riding in the wagon to the “pawk” (Look, if you’re going to insist on making such asinine requests, at least learn how to speak clearly while doing so. This is not The Departed. We say our Rs in this house.)
Fellow toddler-keepers, the struggle is real. The nights are short. The booze is too weak, as is your spirit. If you stand a chance of adequately caring for your child during these challenging years, you must care for yourself first. Here are a few ways to do that:
Get good at it. Sometimes the line between finding your toddler’s ceaseless bullshit endearing and googling “preschool boarding school switzerland” is a 5-minute romp (the kind where you don’t waste time with taking clothes off, you’re just, like, pushing them slightly up or down to expose the good stuff) and a “bite the pillow so kid can’t hear” orgasm while young smudge-face watches Waybuloo in the next room. If you and your partner (or you and your hand, whatever, do you) wait until you “have real time”, you won’t be getting laid for the next 2-3 years.
Don’t ask if you don’t want to know
Toddlers are gross. And the fucked up thing is that it’s actually good parenting to let to get gross; we let them get messy in the course of attempting more grown up tasks like eating with forks and drinking out of cups and shitting in toilets, and they’re pretty much as adept at any of it as a blindfolded, 3-legged baby goat who is high as fuck. But it’s how they “learn” or whatever. At some point, the sheer range of ways your kid will discover to gross you out necessitates a little self-preservation – in other words, you don’t want to know. Do not ask. Do not hold it up to your nose and smell. The following is a not-even-remotely exhaustive list of things I would ask my toddler not to tell me:
- Where you put the slug you found
- What that green shit on your face (you did not eat anything green today) is.
- Why your hand is wet.
- Where you got that banana you’re eating because we ran out of bananas two days ago and I haven’t gone grocery shopping because I’m too busy cleaning mystery green goo off your face.
- Why you’re laughing at the wall (ghosts? Early signs of mental illness? You’re peeing your pants? It doesn’t matter, I’m not prepared to deal with any of that information right now.)
Remember: Meltdowns are about them being a dick, not you being a bad parent
Long past are the days when leaving your child to cry it out would result in psychological and developmental damage. By toddler time, their sense of security and safety are established. They are no longer crying because their new, mushy brains haven’t realized we don’t live in caves anymore and are experiencing an instinctive sense that a bear is coming to eat them. They are not going to become programmed to stress and insecurity if you don’t respond to them immediately every single time they decide they want your attention right goddamn now. They know they’re safe, they know you’re always going to be there to help and protect them, so for the most part, toddler meltdowns aren’t about real need or fear so much as they are about some little asshole being a little asshole who can’t control his emotions.
Let them scream sometimes
When your toddler is freaking out because…I don’t know…the banana isn’t purple and they’ve just now decided that it should be purple and they are extra pissed that it’s not and they are pissed at you for not somehow making it purple because that makes so much fucking sense…and you’ve already tried talking to them rationally, distracting them, giving them something that is purple, and consoling them when you realize their feelings just need to work themselves out, and they still insist of screaming until the gag and spit drool mixed with snot in your face, and then hitting you as they throw themselves on the ground: walk away. Just for a minute. There’s nothing you can do to reason with that rabid beast right now. Make sure they are in a safe place like their bedroom, and go somewhere else, like the bathroom (pro tip: hiding from your toddler’s meltdown gives you a free minute to examine all your new gray hairs!)
It’s cool to want to punch them (just, ya know, don’t.)
You just do. Not often, but there will be moments when they are ruining your will to live with such complete efficiency that you can swear they are doing it because they genuinely take pleasure in your misery. They will refuse to sleep for hours despite clearly being tired. Only deep, spiteful contempt for your happiness could possibly be driving that utter lack of logic. And in those moments, when all more evolved, mature options are failing you, the impulse to throw your unholy spawn through a window will be there. Don’t feel bad. Thinking these thoughts doesn’t make you a bad parent – acting on them does. And thankfully, most of us never will, and never would, and the world spins madly on.
It’s okay to drink a little
And only you get to decide what “a little” is. You’re a grown ass person! Don’t let society, or your mother, or Child Protective Services tell you what to do. Besides, there’s something so retro chic about telling your small child that “Mama/Dad needs a cocktail.”
Take up running
I loathe running. I’m almost offended by it. When someone talks about how much they love running, I look at them like they killed my father, smeared poo all over themselves, and then came over to tell me about killing my father while smelling bad. That said, I run all the time now, and so should you. It’s half an hour of your child being contained in a stroller while you listen to music in the blissful solitude of your headphones, all while getting a much-needed endorphin boost. Plus, it’s the most you can ignore your toddler while still technically being a good parent.
Watch them sleep
Observing your toddler in their glorious, long-awaited unconsciousness really helps to remind you how much you love them, despite the soul-crushing despair you felt a few minutes ago while putting them to bed. Take a minute and relax, sitting quietly in the dark, calm room, listening to their rhythmic breathing. Think about how lovely and blessed it is, when you really think about it, to have the privilege of guiding this brilliant individual through life. And as you walk out, feeling blissfully restored, re-centered, and reconnected to your child, don’t forget to avoid that squeaky spot on the floor because you swear to god, if they wake up, you will burn this goddamn house down.