(This is a follow-up to the first: “25 Things You Should Know About Life With A Toddler.”)
1. Chimpanzee Superspies
Toddlers are fifty percent supergenius and fifty percent drunken orangutan — sometimes they’re brilliant little robots, other times they’re the family Roomba that someone spilled wine on last year and it hasn’t worked right since. The problem is: you don’t know which version you’re getting, so it’s nearly impossible to prepare. Will you get the version that sprints into the room and runs face-first into a chair? Will you get the toddler who knows how to design a catapult to fling herself to the top level of the pantry where she can hunker down and eat all your M&Ms while you roam the house looking for her? You have to approach each task, each situation, each room by recognizing that it will be under attack by either a) a flailing, pee-soaked cokehead or b) a tiny version of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. We underestimate and overestimate toddlers in equal measure.
2. Deeply Inane Conversations
You will find yourself locked in the dumbest and/or strangest conversations when conversing with a toddler. You have to be ready for that. You have to be prepared to talk about trucks and puppies and can puppies drive trucks and whether or not you like pretzels and if he’s supposed to like pretzels — oh, god, and then they start asking why about things, and then it’s just that one question, why, all the way down. It’s an infinite ladder, the rungs made of why, why, why. You’ll be sitting there thinking, this is literally the dumbest conversation I have ever had, and I once had a two-hour discussion about whether or not Darth Vader takes shits, and where he takes these shits and what do they look like. But you have to realize: this is how toddlers manifest language. This is how they learn about things. These kinds of goofy-doofy discussions are how they develop opinions and test your opinions in turn. You gotta be present and engage.
3. Neck-Punched By Unexpected Profundity
Sometimes you’ll be wrapped up in one of these conversations and then out of nowhere this meteor of toddlerian profundity will tear a hole in the atmosphere and hit you right between the feels. I was sitting in our son’s room the other night and he was crashing trucks into one another and then he was narrating these car crashes (angrily demanding that I turn my head and watch this toy-level snuff film again and again), and suddenly he stops crashing them and the trucks start to talk. And the trucks are unfailingly polite to each other — “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “Let’s go get cake and ice cream together.” And I’m like, aww, hey, cute. But then the toddler looks to me and says: “Friends go get ice cream and cake together. Friends make you not sad anymore. Sometimes I’m sad. But then I know that friends will make it all better. It’s good to be happy. It’s good to have friends.” And I’m like, blink blink blink, we’re we just talking about poop five minutes ago? Did you just school me on a lesson that many adults could stand to learn? You’re not even three. Dang, kid.
4. Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat
Can I have a snack now? Can I have a snack now? Can I have a snack now? Can I have a snack now? Can I have a snack now? Can I have a snack now? Now now now snack snack snack. CAN I HAVE A SNACK NOW SNACK NOW PLEASE SNACK CAN I SNACK I WANT A SNACK MOMMY MOMMY DADDY SNACK AAAAAAAH SNACK. There. Now you know what it’s like.
5. La La La La Rah Rah Rah Rah Gibber Jabber Wail
Sometimes it’s not about the Department of Redundancy Department — sometimes toddlers are just holy shit loud. They run around babble-shrieking, clanging toys together and singing some discordant song that you’re pretty sure will raise the Elder Ones from their brine-born city underneath the dark waves of forgotten oceans. You’ll go into the playroom and they’ll have a bullhorn and a drumset that you don’t remember them ever having before this moment. They have poor impulse control and absolutely no volume control. The trick is, it’s not always about the constant level. It’s about the unexpected decibel spikes. Out of nowhere they’ll go to Volume 11 on a simple question — “I like that color oh look flowers I HAVE TO POOP NOW CAN WE GO POOP?” — and you’re like, jeez, kid, we’re at a funeral, could you use your inside voice? Unfortunately, toddlers have the inside voice of a running wood chipper.
6. Parental Translator
I’ve noticed that if I’m not the parent of a particular toddler — and as it turns out I am not parent to most of them — I have often no idea what the fuck that child is saying. It’s all gobba-gooby brrbt can I have wuff and go get a spang and, nope, seriously, no idea. But my kid? I nearly always know what my own toddler is talking about, and when I don’t know, my wife does. We have parsed his alien dialect. Because we live with him. We’ve been privy to his language development since it was little grunts and squeaks. We know what every mouth-fart and burble-bobble means. He is the cipher, and we are those who have cracked it. But don’t feel bad if you meet a toddler and you have seriously no idea what that kid is talking about. They’re working through it.
7. They Are Immune To Privacy
Their shame modules have not yet been successfully programmed by the many degradations of life, and so if you are near a toddler and intend to, ohhh, I dunno, pee, poop, take a shower, have sex, watch Vampire Diaries naked, then please believe me that the toddler doesn’t know or care and will happily barge in and ask you questions. They’re not voyeurs; they’re just trying to figure out how all of existence works. From flushing a toilet to expressing your dog’s anal glands — they’re observers and actors in even the most uncomfortable of life’s moments.
8. They Love You Unconditionally
They love you. They love you so hard. Adults have conditional love — “I love you BECAUSE, I love you WHEN, I won’t love you IF.” Kids have that canine sense of love: just unabashed, wide open, radiating love. (And, by the way, if you’re the parent, you’ll have it for them, too.) It will shock you and melt even the grungiest, muddiest iceball of a heart.
9. They Also Love That Bear, Truck, Sock, Whisk, Unconditionally
They love all kinds of things with an intensity befitting someone on a high-octane hallucinogen. They will love a blanket, a pet, a teddy bear, a Lightning McQueen sticker, a houseplant, a half-eaten Cheezit they found under the recliner. On the one hand, it’ll make you feel a little more common. On the other, it’s wonderful to watch just how completely capable they are of finding love and joy in all the world around them.
10. You’re Useful To Them Until You’re Not
All that love is well and good, but just the same, your use to them will run out. You’ll get them orange juice and the seven specific toys they want. You’ll turn on the show they love (“Law & Order: SVU? Whatever, kid, sure.”). And then they’ll look at you with this dismissive, game-over gaze that reminds you how you’ve expired like old milk. Your value to them is now gone. You are dismissed, giant human. Shoo. Hurry off. Go do some grown-up bullshit.
11. You = Trampoline / Ladder / Puppet
Part of your value to a toddler is as a physical tool for amusement and opportunity. They will jump on you because you are soft and bouncy. They will climb on you because you make a clumsy, but capable, ladder. You’re basically a huge puppet and the toddler is the one yanking all your strings. NOW DANCE, MONKEY, DANCE. Oh, be advised: they will hella kick you in the crotch, so you should put a lunch tray or chafing dish down your pants for armoring purposes. (Our tot uses my crotch as a step-stool to climb on top of my head. So that’s fun.)
12. You Are Both Performer And Audience
Your job, as noted above, is to entertain. Thing is, the table flips here without warning — one minute they’re happily chugging along with the Play-Doh but suddenly it’s all on you to enterain them. “BUILD ME A ROBOT, LEST I TANTRUM.” They are like Roman Emperors in this: clapping their hands, demanding you do as they say lest there be grim, diaper-based consequences.
13. Sometimes They’re You
Parents or relatives of a toddler will occasionally be disturbed by some intimately recognizable aspect appearing out of nowhere. You’ll hear your own laugh echoed back. Or a phrase you didn’t even realize was unique to you. They’ll express a preference that no one else shares — “Hey, we both really like the epic Bruce Willis failure that was the film Hudson Hawk!” It’s this weird thing where you wonder if there’s more to DNA than you think, or if you’ve just been giving off unintentional psychic signals.
14. And Sometimes They’re Unrecognizable
Our son has recently taken to pushing away the meat on his plate in favor of the vegetables. Broccoli. Lima beans. Mushrooms. Kale. “Don’t you want your chicken fingers?” we’ll ask and he’ll be like, “No, I’m fine, I’m just eating my peas.” And then my wife and I look at each other and the unspoken communique traveling within our gazes is, WE HAVE NO SON. THIS IS NOT OUR CHILD. SOME FAERIE STOLE HIM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND LEFT US WITH THIS BROCCOLI-EATING ANIMATED BUNDLE OF OF TWIGS AND POSSUM TAILS. Sometimes it’s like, what is happening? Who is this kid? Where did he get these things? Then you start to get it: ohhh, they’re their own little humans, aren’t they?
15. It’s Like Someone Gave Them Sodium Pentathol
Just last night, I put dinner on the table and my son took one good look at the hot dogs and said, “Those look like poop.” And, admittedly, they did — the hot dogs took on that crispy, wrinkly, brown-black you get from having them on the grill, and sure enough, they had a turd-like quality to them. Toddlers are honest to an almost sociopathic degree. They will tell you when you smell weird, when your joke wasn’t funny, when their love for you has died because you did not buy them that $4000 LEGO set (“IT’S A FULLY-FUNCTIONAL TIE-FIGHTER AND I WANNIT AGGGH”). But you can use this to your advantage, too, because toddlers are piss-poor liars. They lie, all you have to do is ask them: “Are you lying?” And they’re like, “Yes.” Ha-ha, busted, tiny human.
16. You Will Learn To Fear Silence
In theory, you welcome silence in Toddler World. You want it to mean that things are peaceful. That the proto-human is in on the floor of the playroom, quietly pushing two trucks around, or gently architecting the Canterbury Cathedral out of Megabloks. But that’s not what’s happening. When things go quiet, it’s the tide being sucked out to sea before the tsunami hits. It’s all the rats fleeing Los Angeles just before the giant earthquake swallows everything. When all goes quiet in Toddler World, do not hesitate. Make haste. For you will surely come upon your toddler performing a task that demands adult interruption: climbing into the ductwork, constructing his own flamethrower, summoning poltergeists with a Ouija board made of Duplo blocks.
17. Highway To The Danger Zone
Toddlers are ninjas who forgot how to ninja. They are frankly fucking dangerous and you need to know that. They will try to jump off couches, pull televisions down on their head, fling themselves into the tiger pit at the zoo. My son walked in here just 30 minutes ago and then tried to walk out of the room with his eyes covered. Why? I have no goddamn idea. He thought it was a good idea at the time. (He tripped on the dog, FYI.) Maybe he hoped he had superpowers, I dunno. Point is, you have to be ready for this level of constant danger in which they place themselves.
18. Poop And Pee Have Never Been So Important
Human waste has never been so important to you as when you are near to a toddler. If you have pets, you get a glimmer of this — difference is, if the dog deuces on the floor, the pooch doesn’t want to have a conversation about it after. But toddlers, man. They want to talk about it. They wanna look at it. And once you start potty training, it takes center stage. You have to get excited about poop because they’re excited about poop. They want to show it to you like it’s a fucking origami swan they just built. And you have to pretend like it’s just that magical.
19. Wildly Independent, Yet Utterly Incapable
I can’t figure toddlers out. I really can’t. One minute, they’re experts at everything. You try to do something complex for them — like, say, putting a DVD in the DVD player — and suddenly they’re all like I CAN DO IT STOP I’LL DO IT LEMME DO IT and you know they can’t but you let them try anyway because ha ha independence and next thing you know the house is on fire and the cat is on your head and there’s a dead homeless guy in your bathroom. But then when it comes to an utterly simple task — like, say, carrying a small toy ten feet from the kitchen to the living room — suddenly the toddler HAS NO IDEA HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THIS TASK. They’re dependent on you for all the wrong things and independent about the things they can’t do.
20. Quid Pro Quo, Clarice
“If you want my help cleaning up the living room, Clarice, I will first need you to tell me about the lambs. Have they stopped screaming? Also, I need chocolate milk. Quid pro quo, mother dear. Quid pro quo, yes or no?” Toddlers are constantly manipulating you. Maybe these little Hannibals don’t realize what they’re doing, but they’re totally trying to figure you out like a child-proof doorknob. They’ll find a way to make you turn. And when they do, you won’t realize it for an hour. And you’ll say, “I think I just got played,” and then you’ll look at the little person in the next room playing with her $4000 fully-functional LEGO TIE fighter and then, mmmyep, yes, yeah, you got played.
21. Your Things Are Their Things
The hat on your head. The TV in the living room. That bowl of cereal you just poured. It’s not yours. None of it is. You’re just borrowing it unknowingly from the toddler. The toddler will reclaim it in due time. It’s like protection money. A total racket, and yet — there’s your toddler, running around with your wallet and that nice bottle of wine and the keys to your car.
22. Some Toys Are Punishments For Your Transgressions In An Earlier Life And Oh, Everyone Wants Them To Have The Toy They Like, So That’s Gonna Be Tricky
The toddler likes XYZ (trucks, dolls, thermal detonators), and soon as all the other adults find out, that’s what they want to get for the toddler. Because they — understandably! — want the toddler to be happy. But this is how you end up with 37 toy tow trucks, or 64 teddy bears, or seven brand-new chainsaws. Nobody wants to risk trying to buy the kid something new because holy shit, what if the kid doesn’t like the new thing? (They surely envision that the toddler is quietly adding their name to an unfortunate list. “This is for the toy microscope, betrayer. ENJOY EXILE FROM MY LOVE.”) Worse, they’ll often end up procuring toys that prove to you how life is a joyless, shriek-warbling electronic hell-racket. Toys that beep and scream and honk and rev and play mindless meandering songs that press into your brainmeat like a pushing thumb. Or they’ll get him wildly inappropriate toys (“He likes trucks so I rented a U-Haul truck for him to drive, that’s cool, right?”) And it’s then you realize that toys for the tot are a realm of politics and preferences, of hurt feelings and emotional protectorates. You didn’t expect this. Aren’t toys supposed to be fun?!
23. They Always Know The Curse Word
If you say a curse word — even muttered, on accident — the toddler knows. They zero in on that like a shark hitting a wounded seal. They cling to the word, sloth-like, and they will immediately say it. And they’ll see your eyes go wide and they’ll say it again and again and you’ll tell them no but of course toddlers are anarchic contrarians and so it’s just game over, man, game over, so you might as well get used to your toddler saying “goddamn shit-eating cock-waffle” at daycare.
24. Parental Atavism
Listen. Lean in close. You want to hear a secret? Toddlers are a very fine reason to act cuckoo bananapants. They are an excuse to regress to levels of childish dumbassery and play the role of gamboling giant-size goofball in your own home. See, in public, you need to act like an adult. Wear pants and shoes and not pee on things and all that. But at home? With a toddler? You can devolve. You’re allowed to play with them on their level. You can put pots on your head and bang them with spoons. You can find conversations about poop and pee funny. You can perform silly walks and make funny voices and act like a general dipshit. You have that power. You are granted that advantage. Use it or lose it, because one day that kid’s gonna grow up and the window’s gonna close and you’re going to have to start acting like a proper adult again.
25. These Weird, Wonderful Little Snowflakes
Babies, by which I mean infants, are kinda universal. They have a few little curious eccentricities, but by and large the reason that you hear the same advice for babies is because babies are beholden to certain physical rules. Shushing and swaying and feeding and shaking — *is handed a note* — I mean not shaking? Whatever. Toddlers, though, aren’t that. Toddlers really are precious little snowflakes because they’re becoming people. Sure, they’re kinda maybe sometimes snot-shellacked sticky-fingered jam-handed snowflakes, but they’re snowflakes just the same. They’re all different and all the things I’m saying above may not actually apply. Parenting advice, too, is works for me, but may not work for you. They’re unpredictable, bewildering, brilliant little freakazoids, each as singular as a star in the sky. The best thing about them, perhaps, is how they let us — as adults — bear witness to a time that we cannot remember for ourselves. We can see how we became the people that we became in this volcanic, formative time.