Don’t Believe All You Hear About the Toddler Years
Ages 1-3 are infamous. There’s no disputing that. There have been books upon books written on the terror of the twos. There are even books explaining how the threes bear a striking resemblance to the teenage years. Not a day goes by when I don’t see at least one article posted within my parent blogging community describing this stage’s many horrors. I’ve looked into the bewildered, pleading eyes of mothers as their toddlers thrash around in full-fledged, public meltdowns. I myself have worn this look on more occasions than I care to admit.
When I’m having an exceedingly bad day with my angel-faced child, I find solace in the presence of other moms with toddlers. We sigh into our oversized wine glasses and have an all-out complaint-a-thon. The parenting articles give me comfort, too. I nod and laugh at our shared miserable experiences written with levity and cleverness.
This mutual grumbling is healthy and sometimes necessary for our survival as mothers, but too much can be a bad thing. I can’t think of the last time someone said anything positive about the toddler years. In fact, I’ve heard many an argument over which age is worse: two or three. At times it appears as if we're competing for who has the worst life – a competition we really shouldn’t want to win. We scare all the new parents out there, too. We teach them their lives will continue to get worse until the magical age of four.
Personally, I’ve been needing to hear more about the good parts of this stage. I can’t fast-forward through the next 1 ½ years, so I want to do the next best thing: enjoy them. This time can be brutal, I know, but if we only talk about the difficulty, we become blind to everything else. The toddler years can start to feel like a two-year sentence you have to endure, like a phase you have to wait out until something better comes along.
I sometimes find myself taking great pride in the hardship. There’s nothing quite like being the mother of a toddler, so I wear it like a badge of honor. But as trying as this time can be, it can also be nothing short of wonderful. It’s okay to like it. It’s okay to love it, even. This change in perspective doesn’t make our maternal efforts any less valuable or our daily sacrifices any less admirable.
Ironically, this article had taken me much longer to write than any other, because there were a few times I didn’t believe in its title. Some days I honestly couldn’t think of one good thing to say about my son’s age. Then there are days like today when everything goes right, when a good time requires nothing more than a head full of wishes and a field full of puffy weeds.
My 2 ½ year-old has taught me to value the things I almost always overlook. He literally stops to smell the flowers. He squeals with amusement when there’s sand beneath his bare feet. He stares with wide-eyed appreciation at the vastness of the sky. I’ll never tire of witnessing these reactions when everything is so refreshingly new. According to my son, everything is as great as it can possibly be.
I’m in a perpetual state of wonder thanks to him. His curiosity and excitement for life is so contagious and so ingrained in me, I now feel a rush of excitement during the most mundane moments. Spotting a train, cement truck, or motorcycle during our outings makes my heart flutter. Escalator rides are thrilling; they’re the only way to travel. In the company of toddlers, the novelty of the holidays is renewed. They are every bit as magical as you remember, maybe even more so the second time around.
It’s times like these I beg for time to slow down just a little, so I can memorize exactly how he is in this moment.
I’m going to miss his double chin and rounded cheeks. I’m going to miss his insistence on being near me every second of every day. I’m going to miss how he lights up and runs to me no matter how brief our separation. I’m going to miss his love of silliness and his many glances in my direction for approval.
I’d like to try my hardest to give these years the appreciation they deserve. I’m hoping to learn what I can from the many opportunities which call for the best of me, those that require every bit of patience and strength I can muster. I’m hoping to extend the grace my son needs on the days I’m feeling anything but gracious. I want to do this before he gets much bigger and I’m unable to hold him as easily. I want to do this before he stops looking at me like I’m his entire world. I’m going to hold his hands while they’re still deliciously dimpled and still so eager to hold mine, because this sweet season will be over before I know it.
Eden Klinedinst is the author of Letters to New Moms: An Unusually Honest Look at the First Year. A portion of the profits will be donated to The Mommies Network.