“I think I finally got parenthood down,” I told my sister. We were reclining on the ground in the park, not unlike the stray cats that were napping in the sunlight up the hill. My son’s small feet slapped the grass as he ran by them with his slightly older cousin. I could see their curls bouncing and hear their shrieks of joy.
Overwhelmed by my own feeling of well being, I closed my eyes and breathed in the air of early spring. It took almost two years of learning and adjustments, I thought. “Now that he is no longer a little baby,” I concluded out loud, “I finally know what to expect and how to act.”
My sister made an odd sound. And then she burst into laughter.
Several months later, after my son evolved into an adventurous toddler, I belatedly understood her response.
Watching young toddlers come into their own and discover the world for themselves is great fun. I loved seeing my son, barely out of his baby fat, throwing himself into little adventures. His joy, often derived from the most random experiences, placed many smiles on my lips. And I glowed with pride whenever he tested his limits and strove to surpass them.
Except that many of these limits were the ones I set up, and after my son ran into the road/ climbed on the book shelves/refused to brush his teeth one time too many, I found the whole toddlerhood experience a tad less fun.
“How do they always come up with new ways around us?” I asked a friend a few years later, after a long day with two kids at home. “It’s like they pass each other ideas through some secret club!”
Maybe, I thought later and chuckled, toddlers have their own secret Kveller, or their own Scary Child. Maybe they commiserate with each other on the phone after we go to sleep, and Google tips on how to handle these stubborn and endearingly nonsensical creatures called “adults.”
The toddlers’ Kveller would be full of titles like “Five Ways To Manage Mommy’s Bad Day” and “The Strong-Willed Daddy: How To Skirt His Boundaries Without Being Sent To Bed.” Kids would share them through their private Facebook groups and comment how “this one really helped me when my mom tried to feed me peas” or “thanks for sharing your story about the candy you didn’t get, it’s good to know I’m not the only one with a health-crazed dad!” A typical article might look somewhat like this:
Seven Life Hacks for the Enterprising Toddler
You know how sometimes mom and dad can be downright unreasonable? Well, worry not, because we assembled a list of ways to tackle even the most principled parent! Each of the following tips reflects the best practices in parent-management, tested and refined through extensive experimentation.
1. Adults somehow got the idea that we should do things by ourselves. “It’s a good learning experience” or something. So here is what you should do when they make you clean up after yourself, put your dishes in the sink, help with chores: Do the worst job possible. Smear the puddle of milk all over the floor, break a plate, spill all the Legos on the way to your room…You get the picture.
They won’t ask you again.
2. You know that smile, the cutest and most fetching one in your repertoire? Yes! This one. Well, don’t waste it. We repeat: Don’t waste it. Many inexperienced toddlers do, and it’s always a mistake. Sure, you can flash grade C grins whenever you feel like it, and use grade B beams frequently, but save the heavy guns for special occasions. No, not birthdays. I mean the kind of special occasions when you just broke your mom’s favorite vase and threw one tantrum too many, and you can just see it on your father’s face–it says “I’m about to reach the limits of my patience and put you in the crib.” That’s when you use the grade A smile.
3. If the super-fetching grin didn’t diffuse the situation, go hug your younger sibling. A kiss wouldn’t hurt either. Nothing makes adults “oooh” and “aaah” more than that.
4. Let’s talk about getting your way. Parents like to call “please” the magic word, but it’s only magical when they actually want to give you whatever it is you’re asking for. If they don’t, this so called “magic word” suddenly loses its powers, and you may as well say “parsnip” for all they care. But don’t lose hope! Magic does exist, and we’re here to let you in on a little secret: the real magic doesn’t lie in any particular word. It lies in repeating them. “Please” (or “I want it” or “parsnip” even) should be treated as more of a battering ram than a key, and you must persist to see results. Your parents may hold off for a while, but don’t lose heart. Simply keep repeating your request. Remember: your patience to theirs is what your diapers are to your newborn brother’s diapers. Wayyyy bigger.
5. When parents say, “Fine, I’ll let you have another slice of cake/watch one last video, but after this no more,” they’re basically inviting you to convince them otherwise. They just caved in, after all. Worth trying again in five minutes.
6. Sometimes parents withstand the battering rams and actually mean “no.” Tough luck. But there is always tomorrow! Try waking up early and spilling your water bottle all over your bed. Parents are far less resistant to nagging after early mornings.
A few weeks back, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen since my son was a toddler and her daughter was a newborn baby. “So,” she asked, “are you still struggling with the stubbornness of toddlers? I admit that now that I have a toddler I totally see what you were always talking about. It’s exhausting!”
I thought for a second. “You know what,” I said, rather surprised. “I’m not. They outgrew it, and I grew wise to all their tricks anyway.”
Her face lit up. “That’s great! So I only have to hold it together for another year or two, and everything will be easier!”
I tried to hold it in. I really did. But like my sister all those years ago in the park, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing for too long.
“I’m afraid it’s not so simple,” I explained, once I could speak coherently again. “You see, by the time you figure out how to handle toddlers, kids grow into a new stage, and it’s a learning process all over again.”