Toddlers Aren't Here For "Manners"
My friend’s 3-year-old really served it up to the cop that pulled her mom over for a broken taillight. “You not even wearing a hat. Why you not wearing a hat?”
Toddlers are not here for your mild comedy of manners.
My daughter bit into a sugar snap pea the other day. “Ugh, Momma, yuck!” The husk sailed across the small, too-hip-for-moms café, landing dangerously close to a well-shaved, well-bronzed ankle. I shot my hand out and caught the stringy green gob my daughter was loudly, fiercely chucking. Every fiber had to go. Her precision was terrifying. Women in skimpy workout gear, picking at even skimpier salads, were giving us looks. My skin began to warm. “Stop,” I scolded my child, then paused. Who was I to judge? Me, the woman who once carelessly lobbed a gelatinous chunk of goat liver into my mouth at a dinner party in Greece, and was instantly too revolted to swallow. I didn’t know much about toddlers then, but I’m certain now that my 2-year-old would have approved of my ninja-style hunker to pick up the fork I’d conveniently dropped so I could expel the velvety wad into my husband’s cupped palm.
“Yuck.” My daughter was now attacking her tongue with a cheap napkin that was slowly dissolving. Frozen with dread, I waited for the inevitable wail when she realized she was coating her tongue with tiny wet shreds. “Oh noooo.”
My toddler’s earthquake emotions drive me to the edge. To the fridge. To the wine bottle. Banging your head against the floor because the tip of your pigtail got wet during your bath is utter madness. Is it madder still to admit that sometimes, I admire my toddler’s fearless and unstoppable drive to self-express?
“It’s smelly,” she announced on a rush-hour subway car with no AC. Of course it was smelly; she’d insisted on holding the pole by herself, so her head was wedged against a summer-in-New-York-City crotch. Her face crumpled as she whined, “Get me off of here.” I glanced around, hoping for a smile and receiving only stony looks. I answered one woman’s glare with a shrug. “Don’t we all feel that way?” Her mouth tightened, and I wondered — was she any better for bottling up her discomfort and pretending her make-up wasn’t melting down her face and lending her the look of a drowning clown?
The moment passed, and she began singing 'Old McDonald had a butt.'
We learn early on to keep our mouths shut and our opinions to ourselves, in the name of civilization. Especially girls. Play nice. Don’t talk back. Swallow the goat liver. What if we didn’t?
What if we shamelessly stuck our fingers into uncut wedding cakes and licked the frosting off? If we tossed ice cream cones into the air just to see what happens, or just because we felt like it? What if we shouted, “Leave me alone, I’m a grumpy face” when we didn’t feel like making small talk with people we don’t like anyway? Or if we answered prompts to apologize not with a humble “I’m sorry” but with a bold and sincere, “But I’m not sorry”?
When my toddler melts down at the sight of a malformed cookie, could it be more than aggravation that sends my blood pressure skyrocketing? Could it be empathy? Maybe part of me wishes I could call a shitty cookie out for what it is — a shitty cookie. Maybe I should. I’m really good at playing nice, but not so great at confrontation. Last week, someone young, spry and blissfully unladen dashed in front of me, my stroller, my over-full basket and my tightly-swaddled newborn as we chugged toward the grocery line. Congratulations, you’re first, I thought as I quietly inched back and gave them room to unload their hummus and La Croix. “It’s not their turn,” my daughter trumpeted. “Mommy it’s not their turn; it’s our turn.”
I bent down and gave her a kiss. “You’re absolutely right.”
Then the moment passed, and she began singing “Old McDonald had a butt.”
What if we laughed more with our children, and cared less about how we looked? Would we have more fun? Feel less stressed? Drink less wine?
I can’t say for sure. But I do know that there’s nothing quite like running through the park with my toddler, screeching like primates in plastic tiaras.
For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.