Me + 2-year-old toddler + infant + home during maternity leave and then summer vacation from work as a school employee = CRAZY but FUN!
It's meant we've been on the go a lot. When people ask me what my daughter's nap routine is now that she's less a newborn and more a little person, I laugh and say "Um, whenever we're in the car on our way to a playground?!" Truth is, we've needed to get out of the house. Desperately some days. Sure, we've had our share of lounging around in the mornings until 10 before we get our of our pajamas, toys strewn around the house like Christmas morning after Santa's dropped off a ton of loot. But most days we are so eager to find something to kill a few hours out of the house.
So you get the picture. I've been everywhere this summer. Every playground you can find from here to northern Maine. Weekly story hours. Many, many, many family and friends play dates, parties, barbecues, beach outings, lake days, camp afternoons, vacation weekends, etc.
Through all of these travels and adventures we've found lots and lots of kids. Many of them toddlers like my son. And because I'm a mom, an observant counselor, and even a blogger always seeking new things to write about, I watch. I pay attention. And what I have seen this summer makes me so damn relieved. My son is totally average! He's just a toddler! Not a crazy maniac whom I had no clue how the hell developed from that tiny little adorable innocent infant he once was, cooing and laughing yet never talking back or screaming "Noooo, miiinneee!" I want to shout from the top of the spiral slide at the nearest playground my excitement at how normal he truly is!
I've been distraught for months now at my son's shortcomings in this toddler phase, thinking there is something wrong with us or with him. Yet now I know they're all this way! Every single toddler is Crazy with a capital C. Seriously.
Here's what I've learned, in all my toddler watching: Every toddler has his or her thing. They ALL do. I don't care whose kid it is, where they grow up, if they watch Sponge Bob or PBS or no TV at all - they ALL have their thing. That thing that would drive you nuts if you were their parent because your kid doesn't do that thing. (YET!) That thing that makes you silently think to yourself, "Man, I'm lucky my kid doesn't do that," or even more silently judge, "If my kid ever tried to do that, I'd_____" (fill in the blank with some superiority complex you have and your quick answer for how you'd deal with said issue you see in the other person's child.).
Here is what I've seen, again from an array of toddlers, at least 40 kids I'm talking about here. Some up close and personal at family or friends' houses, others from afar at playgrounds, grocery stores and other kid events:
flailing emotional mess on the floor after being told to put toys away
only eating certain foods and screeching at anything that doesn't resemble their well-known pasta or other
gibberish (talking in some random language nobody else understands)
asking why 10,000 times in a row
refusing to nap
waking up too early, screaming at being put to bed at night
playing with poop in the diaper in the crib
unbelievably bad at sharing
screaming noises that sound like an animal giving birth after being told no they can't have something they want
ignoring whoever is talking to them
begging to watch TV / play with the iPad / listen to music over and over
fast, quicker than any parent can go
angry, grunting noises
saying "no," even to things the kid actually wants
throwing (toys, sand, shoes, Mom's cell phone, etc.)
mama/dada's boy/girl, won't leave their side
running away from parent in a public space
stealing food from another child
unbuckling seat belt in car
etc. etc. etc.
Sounds like a walk in the park, doesn't it?
Ah, toddlers! The joy!
Seeing these challenging traits in other kids doesn't make for a pretty picture. It doesn't make me all giddy inside to see other parents struggle to manage this insane phase called toddlerhood.
However, in many ways it kinda does. It does make me feel much less crazy myself. It makes me feel less alone, like perhaps I'm not the only parent out there who doesn't know how to derail the runaway train that is my two-year-old who has learned to do this naughty behavior to get my attention. It makes me feel like my son is just what he is right now, in a phase, a totally active toddler - the way he is supposed to be. Exactly the way he's supposed to be - smart, figuring things out, finding his way in this big world, seeking independence, learning new ways to express himself, easily jealous, self-centered, free-spirited, and tantrum-prone.
It makes me feel like yes, sure, my husband and I have this toddler thing we have to deal with of hitting, terrible, ridiculous hitting of other kids when my son's overtired, hungry, jealous or frustrated and can't explain how he's feeling. This terrible toddler trait that makes us feel like loser parents, including many, many crying fits of our own late at night when we can't figure out how to make it stop before we lose our minds or invites to birthday parties. So seeing others struggle with something that isn't all that great either makes me know for sure that they're all this way. They all are growing, developing and coming into their independent selves. And it's supposed to be messy. No one ever said, "Oh, no, my toddler never ever acted in a negative or challenging way. She was absolutely perfect from age 1-4, no issues whatsoever!"
The biggest thing I have learned this summer through toddler watching is that we parents do the best we can. Our toddlers' terrible tantrums and other behaviors are not entirely a reflection of us as parents. Because my son hits does not mean he learned it from me or that I'm letting it go or saying it's acceptable. In fact, I would venture to say, from personal experience, that those kids who are behaving the worst in front of you probably have parents who are at their wits end from having tried 1,001 things from the Nanny 911 and Dr. Sears books that they are exhausted and have run out of tactics to try to prevent or stop this behavior altogether, and they can't just shelter their kid behind closed doors until the toddler years are over.
The best thing we parents can do is to realize that we aren't alone, ALL toddlers have their things. They're all a little nuts, really! And secondly, we can stop judging other parents and their kids for the messes they appear to be. The brain activity from age 2-4 is the exact same brain activity that is shown when these toddlers become teenagers from age 12-15. They are spastic, hormonal, growing, hot messes! And we get the lovely job of trying to take care of them - and ourselves - during that long phase. The least we can do is be a little understanding in the process.
So the next time you see my son misbehave, look closely to see me sighing and feeling like I suck at life and on the verge of tears because I don't know how to make this toddler thing go away ... just remind me that your kid has a "thing," too. Even if it's not hitting, it's something else on the list, I'm sure. It will make me feel better for one second to know that you get it. And when your kid does something equally embarrassing I'll remind you that "this too shall pass," and then probably ask you to go get a margarita with me during nap time so we can laugh with sad understanding at someone else's kid's thing!