Toddler Time – aka “The Edge of Sanity”
Prior to having kids, I don’t think anyone would have described me as patient. In fact, my first grade teacher once wrote in my report card that “Chioma doesn’t suffer fools lightly.” Yes, even as a child I wished people would just get to the point.
But then I gave birth to the Hurricane and everything changed. I noticed it the other night when I let her have dinner at her own pace, as I often do, and she chose to eat her food one single macaroni at a time. It took an hour and a half, and I just stared at her in quiet disbelief.
Toddlers, generally speaking, crave autonomy. They want to feel heard and appreciated. They want to prove to adults that they are capable.
For this reason I don’t help my daughter with much (until she asks), and every day for two to three hours we do everything in Toddler Time. What that means is I simply let Hurricane set the pace for whatever is going on…
This is not an exercise I recommend for the faint of heart. If there is any part of you that values efficiency, walk away from this story now.
One of Hurricane’s responsibilities in the house is checking the mail (with parent(s) in tow, of course). It’s a pretty short walk to the central mailbox – about 15 houses down the street from us. On one fateful summer day we happened to check the mail during Toddler Time, and it was on that day I realized I’m a veritable saint!
“Put your shoes on, please,” I asked at 3:52.
“No, I don’t want to put my shoes on, I only want to put my slippers on,” she replied.
“Ok, you put your slippers on and I’ll get the key. Alright?”
I went searching for the key, and when I returned three minutes later Hurricane had pulled nine pairs of her shoes from the hallway cabinet. She was playing a matching game with them.
“Oh mommy, look at all these shoes!” She exclaimed. “Are these my shoes?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure they are,” I smiled, slightly amused.
“Ok, I want to wear my boots.”
“But I’ll need socks. I’ll be right back!”
She went stomping up the stairs and I listened for the sound of her sock drawer opening. I heard nothing. I sat on the stairs and waited. After a solid five minutes I called for her.
“Coming!” she chirped. She came bounding down the stairs, sockless.
“Where are your socks?” I asked.
“Oh, I forgot! I’ll be right back!” She was already halfway up the stairs.
“No! No, no!” I called after her. “Maybe we can wear some other shoes? Choose between your sandals or your slippers,” I pleaded.
“No, I only want to wear my boots.”
“But it’s really hot outside.”
“I want my boots!”
“Ok, dear…but you’ll need socks.”
“I’ll be right back!” she stated cheerfully.
After the second time she came downstairs without her socks, I asked her to pleeeeease put her sandals on so we could go check the mail. She obliged, and we were off.
We made it about halfway down the driveway before she stopped dead in her tracks, mesmerized by the clouds.
“Mommy, the clouds are moving.”
“That’s right, the wind is pretty strong up there. That’s what makes the clouds move.”
“Not quite,” I replied. I was prepared to remind her about what we read in her book Rocket Science for Babies, but she was already distracted by some birds flying by.
I nudged her towards the mailbox and we made it just past the next house before she noticed some overgrown crabgrass.
“Oh, mommy, this grass is green, and that grass is green, but they’re not the same green!” She was so excited that she was yelling. It makes me smile when she gets that excited over nothing.
“Well observed, dear,” I cooed.
She spent some time pulling up blades of grass and tossing them in the air; laughing as they fell about her.
After a while I gently nudged her, again, towards the mailbox. She decided that instead of walking she would hop like a bunny. Fine by me…
“Hop with me, Mommy! Salto, salto!” she shouted.
And so, obedient mother that I am, I hopped along for the length of two houses.
She was subsequently distracted by a bird’s nest, a dead earthworm, a flowering shrub, a red truck, a blue fire hydrant, a “dirty” manhole cover, and a large crack in the pavement.
At long last, we reached the mailbox.
Before I share this part of the story, you should know that Hurricane is intimately aware of the number five. She counts to five before jumping in the pool, takes five deep breaths when she’s overexcited, asks for gummy bears five at a time, and high-fives everyone she meets. It’s one of the few numbers she can draw without guidance.
“Mommy, which one is our mailbox?”
“Same as yesterday, love. It’s number five.”
She pointed to mailbox thirteen. “Is this the number five?”
“No,” I replied. I took a very deep breath because I knew exactly what was about to happen.
She pointed to mailbox twelve. “Is THIS the number five?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.
Mailbox eleven. “Is THIS the number five?”
Back to thirteen.
None of them, to her surprise, was the number five.
I slowed my breathing and retreated into my happy place. I imagined cold waves crashing on hot sand and exhaled slowly as I repeated, “No, dear, not that one.”
At last she “found” mailbox five, and then it came time to decipher which of the two available keys was for the mailbox. She studied the big key intently and decided it was for the front door. She studied the small key and decided it must be the mailbox key. She turned back to the mailboxes and then gasped!
“Oh no, mommy! I lost it!” She pointed to mailbox twelve. “Is THIS the number five?”
I began to scream internally.
Deep breath. Cold waves. Hot shore. Deep breath. Cold waves. Hot shore. I can do this, I thought to myself. I can do this. She is learning. She is playing. This is a happy time for her. I can do this.
At last the mailbox was opened. We collected our letters and found a key to a parcel locker. I handed Hurricane the new key. “Okay, now we’re looking for locker ‘E’. Do you remember what ‘E’ looks like?”
Hurricane knows good and goshdarn well what the letter E looks like!
She pointed to Locker ‘A’ and asked, “Is THIS the letter ‘E’?”
I lost my cool.
I dropped to my knees so that I was at her eye level. I held her firmly by the shoulders and hissed through gritted teeth, “The letter ‘E’ has a straight back and three arms.”
While she fiddled with the locker key and retrieved our package, I managed to calm down. I reminded myself why I do “Toddler Time” in the first place:
To foster independence
To make her feel confident and capable
To take the time to see the world through her eyes
To develop her problem solving skills
To develop her vocabulary
To give her a sense of control in some things so she will cooperate with me when I’m in control
We began our long trek back home. She was focused on not dropping the package, so we seemed to be making good time. But suddenly, she stopped.
“I’m hot!” she declared.
“Yes, it’s very hot today. It’s hot in the summer.”
“Mommy, I’m hot!” she repeated.
“I know, baby girl.”
“I’m hot!” She dropped the package and laid down, spread-eagle, on the pavement.
I stood over her for a few seconds, massaging the bridge of my nose. “What are you doing?” I asked in my calmest possible voice.
“I need water,” she panted. “I’m hot.”
I sighed and picked her up from the pavement. I laid her down on the grass and sat down next to her.
“You know where there’s water?” I teased, “at home! If we just keep walking we’ll get there. It’s cool inside and we can have some water.”
“Pick me up!” she instructed.
“I can’t do that. I need you to use your feet and lead us home.”
“Mommy, pick me up!”
“No. We can stay here until you feel strong enough to walk home.” I laid down in the grass next to her.
We stayed there, on our poor neighbor’s lawn, for nearly ten minutes as she asked me question after question. “Where are the birds going?” “Can you flush me into the sewer?” “Does Gogo have an umbrella?”
At last she was ready to walk the rest of the way home. We made it into the house without any further incident… but then came the battle of putting her shoes away and washing her hands. After a few minutes of watching her run up and down our hallway screaming, “No, I don’t want to wash my hands,” I resorted to the age old parental trick of bribery. Admit it, we all do it to save our sanity.
“Hurricane… if you wash your hands right now I’ll give you five gummy bears!”
So her hands were washed and I called an end to Toddler Time at 5:14! And then I had a much deserved glass of wine before starting her dinner, which, if you remember, is also eaten in Toddler Time! I grew my first three gray hairs that day.
Tell me, what’s that one thing your kid does that drives you absolutely crazy, and what tricks do you use to keep your cool?
Hey there! I am...
A homebody with wanderlust striving to balance the thrill of travel with the comfort of home. On the road, I am a photographer and storyteller. At home, I am an interior designer and personal servant to my two kids. In all cases, I seek out good food and belly laughs.
If you're looking for ways to tap into your spirit of adventure - with or without a suitcase - you've come to the right place!