When I was home alone with my new babies on maternity leave, I found myself talking to them in ways that extended beyond the scope of "baby talk." They were pretty good listeners (when they weren’t crying or sleeping). They’d look me in the eye with an expression that seemed to say, “Wow, mom. Tell me more. You are the most interesting thing ever.” But as they got older, and more strong-willed, I couldn’t carry on these therapeutic one-sided conversations. I missed those, because there are things every mom wants her toddler to know, and the language barrier — with the kid having a limited vocabulary — does frustrate us at times.
It's mostly that frustration that I’d be so desperate to express to my kids when they were about 2 years old. It seemed they were going through a new developmental stage every other week, and it would get overwhelming trying to keep up with their evolving needs. One day they love hummus, they next day they’re gagging on it. Then there’s the potty training, and starting pre-school, and entering the dreaded, “I’m going to incorporate more floor work into my tantrums” stage. When my kids were pulling these shenanigans, there were some things I wanted to tell them, but that would have gone right over their heads.
There was good stuff too, though. As many times as I expressed my love for my kids, it never seemed to really register. They didn’t seem touched by my affection. That’s natural. I mean, I don’t expect an award for conditionally loving my offspring. (Actually, I do when they manage to grind maple syrup into the dining room rug.)
Toddlers just don’t understand us, sometimes. But if they did, here are some things I would have wanted, and needed, my kids to know:
"There Are No Wipes In This Diaper Bag, So Be Cool"
If there was ever a time I wished The Force was real, it’s when I realize I have nothing to clean up a dirty diaper when we are out and about and I need to will my child to keep himself clean. These were some of the tensest situations I’ve experienced as a parent.
"I Would Appreciate It If Any Game You Want To Me To Play With You Can Be Done From A Prone Position On The Floor"
It’s not laziness that keeps me down here. It’s sheer exhaustion. And really, what is there about Legos or shape sorting or puzzles or even freeze tag that prevents me from participating in the activities curled up in a fetal position as I work in one-second naps whenever you turn around?
"Spill Something On One More Shirt This Morning And You Will Go Topless To Preschool"
It’s like the more I told my son to be careful, the more of a mess he made. Changing him more than once before we even left the house in the morning would make me crazy (and late to work). And if I truly sent him to school half-naked, he wouldn’t even care. He’d probably love it
"Please Don’t Take More Than 10 Minutes To Go Potty Because I Will Literally Die From The Boredom Of Supporting Your Efforts"
No really, I am very proud that you are making it a habit to sit on the potty, but when you bring a stack of reading material in there for me to read to you, it is ridiculous. If you’re going to take this long to work it out, can I step out occasionally for some fresh air. (Note to self: there is such a thing as giving a child too many vegetables.)
"Thank You For Not Wanting To Walk Since We Actually Have To Be Somewhere At A Specific Time"
Yes, I should have been encouraging my toddler’s independence as much as safety would allow. However, I was so grateful when she’d want to sit in the stroller. It meant we could make it to the next block in under an hour.
"Honestly, It Would Be Nice If You Asked How I Was Doing Occasionally"
I would have this totally irrational thought at times, especially after a long day sandwiched between two awful commutes to and from work. Toddlers are self-centered. Their worlds revolve around them. They are not known for their empathy. I mean, I barely remember any words my kids spoke at that age other than “no” and “mine.” It was an unreasonable request, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach kids to care about other people.
"You Need To Sleep. Now."
My son fell asleep without incident most of the time. His older sister, however, was a different story. Not only did she refuse to nap anywhere but her stroller when she was a toddler (which meant we’d have to push her around in circles in the apartment on snowy days), but she’d take forever to fall asleep at night. It’s like she came alive when the sun went down. I honestly don’t know how I survived that stage of hers.
"I May Not Know What I’m Doing All The Time, But I’ll Keep You Safe"
I know you can smell the fear, kid, but that’s because I really, really don’t want to screw you up. I might not always know how to calm you, or myself, down. I might not find the right words of encouragement when you’re working attempting to scale a playground structure that is way too big for you, but please know that my intentions are pure: everything I do (or do wrong) is because I don’t want you to get hurt. (At least not in a way where the blame can clearly be pointed at me.)
"Sharing Sucks But It’s A Small Price To Pay If You Want To Have Friends"
It took me until my second child became a toddler to realize this, but you can’t make everything OK for your kids. That had been my instinct, but when it dawned on me that my 4-year-old daughter was recoiling epically from little dust-ups with friends, I knew I wasn’t doing her any favors by intervening and trying to make it all better for her. There is a ton of stuff about childhood, like sharing, that are totally not fun. But it can’t be all sunshine and lollipops. If I made my kids believe "everything is awesome," I’d be setting them up for disappointments they wouldn’t know how to recover from as they got older.
So yes, kids, you have to share or at least take turns. If you want to build cooperative relationships, or just have a buddy to go down the slide with, you have to do the crappy things sometimes.
"I May Not Always Like You, But I Will Always Love You"
Marker on the wall. Crumbs everywhere. A rip in my bathrobe, and then the scissors mysteriously showing up in the kid’s bedroom. These are a few of the rage-inducing things my children have been responsible for. And as awful as it feels to admit it, I honestly don’t like them as human beings sometimes. Like, I would not choose to hang out with them after some of the sh*t they’ve pulled.
But I’m their mother, and I’ll never stop loving them. My anger doesn’t linger, because my husband and I are raising them to be good people (who occasionally do bad things). No matter how much I yell, I make sure they know I do not let those bad feelings linger. Not a day has gone by when I haven’t told my children I love them. I want them to know their mom will always has their back.