Welcome to toddlerhood, the magical time span where your tiny bundle of joy suddenly becomes a little person and makes lots of bittersweet gains — like mobility (I hope you're wearing your running shoes) and an opinion (I hope you're a professionally trained negotiator). You want them to reach those milestones, of course, but why does it have to be so freaking hard?
Toddlers are not for the faint of heart, though raising them will be a smidge easier if you follow these nonnegotiable rules:
- Carry snacks. Everywhere. Sure, your bag will start to resemble a 7-11, but when you're dealing with a toddler, it's imperative to have an arsenal of snacks at the ready. They're handy for distractions, for those times when you're out just a little past lunch time, and for keeping miniature mouths busy when they (loudly) say things like, "LOOK! THAT MAN IS FAT LIKE SANTA CLAUS!"
- Carry wipes. Everywhere. Toddlers are almost always sticky and/or crusty — regardless of whether or not they're in the vicinity of anything else sticky and/or crusty. Forget the wipes and you'll find yourself in Target with a kid who looks like you dug him from the dumpster out back, getting his sticky, crusty funk all over your cart.
- Expect irrationality. Did you ever hear the story of the parent who successfully reasoned with a toddler? No? That's because there isn't one. They will be devastated because you cut up their banana incorrectly and there's no way to put it back together. They will turn into the Incredible Hulk because their favorite blanket is in the wash. No toddler has ever said, "Oh, you can't put my banana back together because it's impossible? That's cool." They will expect you to move heaven and earth, and then be furious when you can't, no matter how calmly you attempt to explain it.
- Expect some serious side-eye from strangers. At some point — it's inevitable — you'll find yourself maneuvering through grocery store aisles with a bawling, snot-nosed, red-faced, tear-streaked toddler in tow. Maybe it's because they're tired or hungry. Maybe it's because you forgot to let them push the button that automatically opens the door (how dare you!). Whatever the reason, you'll be the unfortunate recipient of scathing glances from people who aren't currently wrangling a cranky crumb-snatcher. A key point to remember during this situation: anybody who has ever raised a child knows that your kid is not a brat, just a toddler, so if they're glaring, they clearly don't get it.
- Schedule everything around naptime. To minimize the chances of the aforementioned public meltdowns, your entire life should ideally revolve around your toddler's nap. Doctor's appointment? Pencil it in when your little one is fresh as a daisy. Grocery shopping? Do it early, before that postlunch sleepiness creeps in. Breaking your arm? You'd better hope it doesn't happen during those prime napping hours. Because a tired toddler is a tiny tyrant.
- Don't freak out over their eating habits. Sometimes — for months at a stretch — your toddler will dutifully eat yogurt and grapes and whatever you put in front of them. And other times, they'll eat . . . air. And maybe some stale cereal bits from under the couch cushion. Or they'll decide to only like beige foods for a very long time. But don't worry: this is normal. Weird, yes, but normal. They will continue to grow and develop despite their ridiculously picky palates, and pretty soon the (dinner) tables will turn and you'll be astonished by your little bottomless pit.
- Establish a routine, then try to stick with it. Ever notice how toddlers want to watch the same episode of their favorite show over and over, or read the same story until you practically have it memorized? It's because they like predictability, and a stable toddler is a happy toddler (I mean, until you have the audacity to offer help putting on their socks or something). It's beneficial to adhere to a daily routine as much as possible. And as a bonus, you can blame said routine for almost anything: "Oh, man, I'd love to watch your timeshare presentation, but my toddler turns into a grizzly bear if we don't get him in bed on time. DARN THE LUCK."
- Get used to company in the bathroom. I hate to break it to you, but someone will be watching you on the toilet and in the shower for the next couple of years at least. As soon as toddlers gain the dexterity required to turn a knob, they see a closed door as merely an obstacle to overcome. Even if you lock it, there will be pudgy fingers creeping underneath and incessant inquiries of, "Hello? What you doing in dere? Are you pooping?" But really, this is a good thing. Because if you take your eyes off them long enough to drop a quick deuce, you risk emerging from the bathroom into a world of spilled flour or scribbled-on walls. (Toddlers are quick and destructive, yo.) No matter if they're in the midst of an epic tantrum or ruining your expensive mascara or asking nosy questions about your private parts while you're just! trying! to pee!, remember the most important thing of all . . .
It won't last forever. The days are long, but the years are short. It's true. Yes, toddlerhood is a difficult mountain to climb. They're helpless but want to be independent; they're stubborn and unreasonable and at times downright baffling. You'll be tired — so, so tired — and it will seem like you're going to spend an eternity cutting food into tiny bits while your own dinner gets cold and wiping butts and chasing down your stubby-legged speed demon. But before you know it, they will require less and less assistance and you'll find yourself having actual, rational conversations. And then you'll notice how tall and gangly they're getting and you'll cry (in the bathroom! by yourself!) because you actually miss those toddler years.
Well, except for the butt wiping.