20 months old. Only a couple of months are left before we stop counting the months and go by years instead. We’re well into the toddler phase now, and there’s no going back! The only constant thing about having a toddler is change. As soon as you adapt to the latest insanity, your offspring shakes it all up again. Rules are only good for breaking.
As the summer unfolds, I’ve been learning to prepare better for unplanned events (disasters?) when we’re out and about. Coffee morning in one of the local parks where the Cafe courtyard comes complete with water hazard? No problem! I took note the last time, when Rascal spent an entire hour leaning over the side of the fountain splashing wildly until he looked like a participant in a wet t-shirt competition (and pants, and socks). This time round it’s going to be different. All the other babies arrive in weather-appropriate light clothing. In ambles Rascal bundled up in his still too-big bright purple raingear and water resistant booties. He makes a beeline for the fountain. I confidently sit in a location where I can still see him, and leave him to have a blast spraying water wherever he desires. See, we can do messy play! It’s all good.
Wait a minute. Is he climbing the side of the fountain? Oh god, he’s straddling it now, merrily waving a blue car at me. In the space of mere seconds this situation is going from good to colossal embarrassment, and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from where I am. Mothers pause in their conversations as I mutter “Oh no, YOU DID NOT!” and sprint off in the direction of the fountain where Rascal is now standing. INSIDE the fountain. Casually leaning against the side. Looking perplexed, then rather unhappy as his water resistant booties utterly fail at the challenge of keeping his feet dry in a pond full of water. I reach him just as his face crumples and haul him out, leaking like a sieve from all items of clothing. I spend the rest of our time there hovering nearby as he drives his car around the outside of the fountain, leaving a trail of dripping water in his wake. From now on I’m going to have to be a helicopter parent, at least when there are fountains in sight. Thankfully I do have a spare set of dry clothes to change him into once we’re ready to leave.
It’s all about the simple pleasures in life these days. Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of life’s pleasures for a toddler seem to involve great, big, dirty messes. If there’s no fountain available, a puddle of water will do. A patch of mud. Any random household objects he knows I don’t want him to touch. A race towards something dangerous at breakneck speed is a fun game. Rubbing sauces and fruits through hair and down fresh clothing. I’ve resigned myself to doubling the load on the washing machine going forward, and constantly scrubbing manky hands and dirty scraped knees. I can’t really complain too much because it means he’s developing the ability to play, imagine, and explore by himself. We keep TV very limited, and he’s okay with that. Other than a bit of Sesame Street, he remains oblivious to the cults of Peppa Pig, Sponge Bob Square pants and other children’s programming that I’ve never seen, but friends tell me are a bit freakish and weird. Some days though, it would be nice to plonk him in front of a cartoon that would distract him from his more risky explorations.
My little baby is stretching even taller in yet another growth spurt. In fact I can’t call him a baby anymore, except when he’s tired, sick or upset, and lets all his defences down. He can count to ten. Recite every nursery rhyme in the book. Sing all his lullabies. My attempts to lull him to sleep have turned into him energetically belting out the words to rockabye baby along with me. He spends his waking hours constructing sentences. Repeating all the words he hears around him. These seem to blend into his dreams and he wakes as if he’s mid-conversation, spitting out a seemingly random dictionary of words that eventually culminates in a description of whatever we were doing up until nap time. Like fast-forwarding an old-fashioned tape recorder of all his conversations that day. All caught up, he looks at me as if he’s just announced the meaning of life and isn’t getting the warm reception he was expecting.
This toddler has definite opinions and desires, and he expects to be heard. Mine and yours are becoming concrete concepts as he assigns order to everything. Daddy’s book, granny’s watch, My Daddy, My Mama, Baby’s eyes. He likes to direct our little family whenever he can. Sometimes it’s for a group hug. Daddy’s head here, Mama’s arms there. Now cuddle! As soon as the car moves, a voice pipes up from the back seat demanding ‘Elbow!’. Once the sound of ‘One Fine Day’ is tickling his eardrums, he moves on to the next priority. “(G)rapes!, (g)rapes!”. A grubby hand waves impatiently in the background while I try and negotiate with him because, funnily enough, we don’t always have grapes in the car with us.
It’s total carnage in the house if he’s left to his own devices for even a few seconds. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in the room or not. His energy is boundless as he careens about the house at increasing speeds. I open my mouth, then close it as he chants “Slow down! Slow down!” at himself. He doesn’t listen to his own advice any better than he listens to it coming from me. The collections of scrapes, bumps and bruises grow by the hour. All I can do is patch him up, and let him loose again, shrieking nonsense at the top of his voice. I keep telling myself that free play is good… but I would like my child to stay in one piece. It’s actually more worrying when things go quiet for a couple of minutes though. I’ll glance up and find he’s magically fished something he’s not supposed to have out of a box or off a high shelf, and is sitting contentedly in the midst of his toy explosion, examining it with great care.
Boundaries are being tested. I spend a lot of time saying “Don’t”. “Don’t climb on the table, don’t grab your crotch in public, don’t run so fast when you’re tired, DO NOT TOUCH THAT!”. Then he turns around and parrots me. Great, now my toddler is mocking me. He’s also learning cause and effect (or a more uncharitable me might say, how to manipulate). If he decides there’s been a hug or kiss deficit during the day then he’ll stand right in front of me, scrunch up his little face in his ‘ow, I hurt myself’ fake expression, and whine “ow, ow”, waving an allegedly injured finger at me until he earns himself a cuddle. If he doesn’t feel like going to sleep yet then he’ll try telling me he wants to go on the potty, knowing full well that’s one request I’m less likely to refuse.
He’s loving this exploration phase of his life. I’m wondering if he (and we) will survive it. The other day we had a difference of opinion about whether he could spend a couple of hours trying to break into a yard full of tractors (toddler heaven). “We’ve seen all the tractors”, I said, “They’re gone for a nap now. Let’s go back to our friends.” He paused, considered, looked at me and said, “One minute!”, with all the confidence of an experienced hostage-negotiator. “Ok, one minute of tractors then”, I agreed, knowing full well that this wouldn’t be the end of the discussion. All I could think as he dragged me towards the tractors was that he’s learnt the concept of negotiation. I’m going to be negotiating everything with a toddler from now on. I am in so much trouble…