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We’re in a fairly challenging state of parenthood right now. We have a toddler and a preschooler. This may arguably be better than having an older toddler and a baby (actually, thinking about it, it’s definitely better) but we’re still stuck right in the middle of the bum-wiping, tantrumming, wanting to be carried, needing to sleep by 6:30pm, can’t sit still stage. It feels like we are incessantly caring for their needs in a very physical way. Sleeping, eating, toileting and dressing are still very much reliant on our help. And for the last few months we have declared this stage the “hibernation” stage – when it is beyond the laws of the Universe to take them out into public for a meal. Doing this is kind of like defying gravity – a futile exercise. At least they’re sleeping through – dear God, thank you!
Yet, there is something about the toddler years that make this my favourite stage of childhood and babyhood. Actually, many things. Babies are lovely but once my first baby turned into a toddler, I found other babies, well, boring. The occasional goo-goo-ga-ga paled in comparison to my toddler’s antics. Preschoolers are also lovely but they talk a lot and they have begun to take on the inhibitions of childhood and adulthood. But toddlers – oh they are a species in themselves. And when my toddler turns three, I’ll be looking back with some relief but lots of fondness and sadness too. So here’s why I love toddlers.
1. They are cute.
Poddy bellies, chubby legs and round cheeks make for an adorable bundle. And there is nothing cuter than a very short little person waddling furiously around the house like there is no tomorrow. Especially if they are dressed in a onesie. Once children start to lose the roundness of the cheek and start to sprout gangly limbs, I feel an inexplicable wistfulness.
2. They (can be) super cheerful.
Except when they’re super grumpy, of course. But a lot of the time, toddlers bounce around like sunbeams (or like pogo sticks?) Ever cross eyes with a toddler that you don’t know only to be greeted with the biggest grin? Doesn’t that make your day?
3. They love cuddles.
Not only do they love cuddles, they NEED them, and demand them. And launch themselves at your legs in a warm heap just revelling in being right next to you. Leg hugs are the best!! (Extricating clingy toddlers from your leg is another matter, of course).
4. They don’t talk. Much. Yet.
This can be frustrating when they are having a tantrum because they can’t communicate their needs verbally. Honestly, one time my toddler was furiously pointing at the dinner table, but refusing everything we offered him that was in his line of sight. He was absolutely distraught with anger. To this day I still don’t know what he wanted. But, on the whole, having a toddler who only says “Mam!” or “Cheese!” or “More!” is a relief. They babble in their own language, and all you have to do is listen to the tunefulness, nod, and babble back. There is no brain action involved, unlike the “Why? Why? Why?” of preschoolers.
5. They have long afternoon naps.
There is a book called Naptime is the New Happy Hour. That says it all.
6. They find everything fascinating.
This can certainly slow you down, and is somewhat of a damper when you’re in a hurry, but a toddler notices everything – and never ceases to wonder at the little things. The stones on the sidewalk. The dustballs in the corner. Random twigs. The rubbish bin. They are always investigating. What’s in here? What does it do? Once I was in a meeting with a visiting researcher from Korea. I had to bring my toddler along. I was deep in conversation then looked down and realised she had emptied the contents of my handbag onto the floor, and was particularly interested in my feminine hygiene products. I tried to discreetly put everything back without my (male) colleague noticing, or laughing too much. That was the last time she accompanied me to an important meeting.
7. They love to dance.
Nothing is more endearing than a toddler spontaneously breaking out the dance moves. Mine once dropped everything to shake her booty to “Last Christmas” by Wham in a shopping mall. I filmed it but the video was incredibly shaky because I was laughing hysterically. Toddlers also love being at weddings and monopolising the dance floor, when they should be fast asleep.
8. They love to imitate.
How adorable is pretend play? Star was once obsessed with takeaway coffee cups. (It says a lot about my lifestyle!!) She had a collection of them at one stage and was never seen without one in her hand. She even pretended to be a barista one afternoon! Pretend play also gives us valuable insights into our behaviour with our children as mirrors, as you can see!
9. Their sense of joy is enormous.
As is their sense of rage and frustration, but the joy is just beautiful. When a toddler is happy, they are REALLY happy. Like, exploding out of their skin happy and excited. It’s almost frenetic. Your toddler’s face when he sees you after a separation, or when he is given ice-cream, is an example. When Star was two and I went to the kitchen to get her some ice-cream, she was jumping up and down, clapping her hands and squealing “Good girl mummy!!! Good girl!!” If only we could all be this enthusiastic about the enjoyable things in life. All too often we barely even notice the happy times, whereas toddlers simply throw themselves into life, good and bad. And the ice-cream.
10. They teach us to be Zen masters.
Yep, that’s right. Nothing like a toddler having an epic meltdown and you learning how to keep your cool to build your patience and self-soothing behaviours. Everything else after that is a piece of cake in comparison. If you can remain calm and retain your sense of humour during those inevitable, daily and repeated tests, you can do anything, in my opinion!
There is just something about toddlers that is incredibly special. Their no-holds-barred approach to life is admirable. Their innate duality (contentment followed by rage and tantrums all in one minute) teaches us that we have to embrace the totality of life – it may not be perfect, it has its challenging moments, but there is something beautiful and amazing about it at the same time. And the rate at which toddlers are learning is mind-blowing. There is something very humbling about watching a small child, transitioning in between babyhood and childhood, learning the basics of walking, running, eating, communicating, and controlling impulses. It’s a privilege I’m glad to be enjoying – despite tantrums, meltdowns, loud screaming and all (which I assure you are happening in large quantities in our household!!)