My children are 9 and 6 and I am still waiting for them to exhibit any signs of self-consciousness. My pre-tween (who is very excited to start calling herself such) is just starting to care about her hair, but because of what other might think. She is still operating from a self-centered position. From the time our kids were born, they considered themselves the center of the universe. It was clear they didn’t think about anyone but themselves (hello cluster feeding) and once they start talking, it’s clear toddlers DGAF. They might be the worst offenders of narcissism, if only because they can vocalize it while simultaneously sounding so damn cute. It's like you don’t even realize you’re being demoralized by these tiny terrors.
I never expected my kids to care about me when they were toddlers. Still, by then I was growing a little tired of everything being about them all the time. Our weekends were built around their nap schedules. I couldn’t open the toilet seat or refrigerator without a fight, thanks to the baby-proof locking mechanisms. Plus, my exhaustion went completely unnoticed by the 2-year-old toddlers who had yet to sleep past sunrise. These kids just didn’t care. Life was for living, parent consideration be damned.
Nothing brought my toddlers’ DGAF attitude about the world into focus more than these phrases, uttered pretty much on a daily basis in that period of their lives:
This is meant as a compliment and is usually paid when my little one snuggles with me. However, as someone with a history of body image issues, I don’t feel flattered by this innocent observation. I understand how my cushy body feels to my little one, but after years of practically living at the gym and trying to get the hardest body possible, it bristles to hear someone remark that it’s soft.
It’s a good lesson, though, and for someone like me who has only seen the value of my body in relevance to its thinness. My body is taking on a greater role than it did before having children, when it just needed to look good to me (and hopefully male adults). Now it needs to serve my children, who have very different criteria. They don’t care how I look, they care how I feel.
“Your Tummy Is My Pillow”
OK, so we’ve established that I’m squishy. However, it gets worse when my kid is targeting the one body part that every postpartum mom (that I’ve known) has feelings about. In my case, those feelings were negative. The fourth trimester, and the symptom of still looking pregnant after giving birth, was an unwanted surprise for me. Still, as my baby continued to grow outside my body, she continued to think its contours for comfort. If my midsection was a pillow for her, and she actually napped on it, I could reconcile the hatred I had towards that particular part of me.
Having a toddler means getting rid of all my worldly possessions, including what’s on my plate when I sit down to eat, because the child will appropriate them without asking. There is no compromise, it’s “mine,” or it’s a meltdown. We suffered through a lot of meltdowns because there were some things — my wedding ring, tampons, Diet Coke — that I was never going to give up.
I swear “no” was one of the first five words both my children uttered. It’s one of the easiest sounds to make. It was their go-to answer for almost anything having to do with getting dressed, going to sleep, eating something that wasn’t super-sweet, or questions about a small crime having to do with letter magnets hidden in a cereal box.
I do have to admire my toddlers’ unabashed attempts to shut down an unwanted conversation, though. I have learned to apply this technique to my professional life.
If it’s good, it just can’t stop. Toddlers own their gluttony. We all want the second piece of cake, but only little kids get away with demanding it.
This was my toddler’s way of demanding that I fork over my dessert. He would play me, employing the "magic word." Oh, no, not “please." The magic word is “share,” something I’d suggest he do ad nauseam. Now, he was using it against me. Clever lad.
I’m all for encouraging my child’s independence but, at the toddler stage, the brusque demand for alone-time comes off as abrasive. Also, a toddler who wants me to get out is a toddler who is about to get in some mischief.
“Sleep With Me”
Me: “Mommy can’t fit in the crib.”
Her: “Sleep with me out crib.”
Me: “No you’re staying in the crib.”
Her: “Sleep with me. Like this.”
Sticks her pudgy hand through the crib bars and takes mine. I fall asleep sitting up with my arm wedged through the crib slats in the most uncomfortable position ever. Genius.
“Move over,” as in, “I’m about to get into your bed and the amount of real estate required is inversely proportionate to my tiny size.” It took many years for my kids to accept the fact that our bed was not their bed. Even now, at ages 9 and 6, they still occasionally invite themselves in.