The trouble with toddlers

A year ago I wrote about my life-changing transition into motherhood. In truth, the change of identity from footloose and fancy-free career woman to ‘mummy’ almost blew my head off. And I had a good baby. A baby that slept through the night from 2 weeks’ old (and I’m not just saying that!), a baby that started weaning at 4-months and happily lapped up every new food I tried her on, a baby that didn’t even cry to let me know when she’d filled her nappy.

So after the initial shock of having an actual real, live human in my charge had worn off, and I’d ventured beyond my front door for the first time with my little bundle, my confidence grew. I had my bubba in a cast-iron routine from 8 weeks, and, unhindered by things like sleep deprivation, our house ran like clockwork.

I even, ahem, allowed myself to bask in a bit of smugness, thinking: “I can do this! I’ve got this mummy thing licked.” Famous last words. Enter the era of toddlerhood and my sweet-natured baby girl has swiftly turned into a demanding, highly vocal little diva. Seriously, some days it’s like living with a miniature Mariah Carey, even down to the big hair.

What men don’t get…

One of the most frustrating things about being the mother of a toddler is the toll it takes on the shifting dynamics of the family. Someone always has to be Bad Cop, and invariably, that job usually falls to mummy. Motherhood is hard. No question. Sometimes ludicrously, bring-you-to-tears hard. But it is difficult to put into words how looking after a toddler all day can be so gruelling.

Because in and of themselves all the little, daily hiccups don’t seem like much, it is only when you are dealing with a tiny, whirlwind of demands and destruction hour upon hour that it begins to feel insurmountable. A toddler is like an octopus with the spirit of a lion. They are curious and defiant, irrational and completely self-satisfying. You can’t reason with them. You just have to meet all their needs with little feedback, supervise the chaos and try your best to distract them from accidentally killing themselves.

And then hubby swans in breezily from a day at the office, and is greeted like a returning hero while burnt-out mummy is regarded with much the same scorn as prison inmates regard their jailors. Daddy gets a huge grin and an hour or more of giggling playfulness, and he’ll turn to you and say something like: “I don’t know why you find this so hard. I could handle doing this all day.” At which point you want to ram the millionth dirty nappy you’ve just changed down his throat.

And there’s the rub. Toddlers are demanding little creatures, and they often turn their main caregivers into frazzled wrecks trying to keep up with them. So when your sweetheart gaily implies that he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about, it can turn even the calmest woman into Psycho Mum. And that makes it worse, because then you’re grumpy, mean mummy and daddy is a walking embodiment of fun and frolics. Beyond irritating.

One small step…

When my daughter started walking I was the proudest mummy on earth. She had been flirting with it from 9-months, and finally took her first unaided steps at 11-months. My hubby and I were ecstatic. Little did we know that a whole new, extremely hazardous world had just opened up.

Because with the ability to walk comes the burgeoning sense of independence, and confidence. Suddenly my daughter realised she could get places, fast, and didn’t need me for mobility anymore, coupled with all the previously out-of-reach objects now being deliciously within her grasp, to her the world came to resemble an adventure playground. To me, of course, it came to resemble an obstacle course.

I find this age particularly petrifying, because not only are toddlers newly capable, they are also completely fearless, and very clumsy. My daughter, at 18-months is now a proficient little walker, but when her excitement gets the better of her and she goes too fast and tumbles my heart leaps every time.

I get the feeling that this is a lesson that will be repeated forevermore. I need to let her go, find her way, protect her from harm as best I can, but not rush to save her from falling every time. Sometimes they need to learn to get back up again when they fall, and sometimes all a mother can do is let it happen so that they learn that most important of life lessons: Resilience.

Mealtime mayhem

So my little cherub that ate everything on her plate is no more. She has been replaced with a fussy eater of epic proportions. Mealtimes in our house are like hostage negotiation, she holds bits of food to ransom, dangling them precariously over her high-chair, I try to placate (and bribe!) as best I can.

Mostly I end up wearing whatever I make her. She loved broccoli, so I started making her meals containing loads of it, now she hates it. Won’t eat it at all. Even if I chop it up real small, or even blend it, she finds it, pulls it out of her mouth, grimaces and throws it at me. That’s generally how most meals go. She likes it, and then she hates it. Unless I’m eating it, then she loves it.

Trains, planes and automobiles

And then there’s getting around. There was a time when my daughter loved being in her car seat. Loved it. Now, car seats fall into the realm of containment and of all the things my daughter dislikes, being contained is the worst. This doesn’t just apply to car seats, it also applies to every other mode of transport; trains, planes, her buggy, the list goes on.

I recently did a long-haul flight with my child; Sydney to London, 27-hours of pure, unadulterated hell. My daughter was too big for the bassinet, which meant she was on my lap the entire journey. I couldn’t eat, or watch TV because she kept grabbing both. She wanted to get down, but there was nowhere for her to go. She kept kicking the guy next to us and trying to grab his dinner, so he moved seats.

I took toys; she threw them all over the plane. I took food; she spat it all over me. I gave her milk, and when she’d finished it she thought it was hilarious to bash the head of the guy in front with her empty bottle. There are only so many times you can walk up and down a plane before that gets boring to a toddler, so in the end we just had to sit there watching that little plane move at a snail’s place across the screen – for 27 hours – me rocking her to sleep, covered from head to toe in milk and food and pooh.

The only thing that made it half-way bearable was the couple next to us, who also had a baby. During the course of the flight we bonded through our collective misery, sharing our baby food and toys and trying to keep each other’s spirits up, and children still. It sounds like a scene from a disaster movie doesn’t it? The few survivors trying to keep morale alive. Well, that was exactly what it felt like.

When our plane finally touched down in London all the parents on board could barely stagger off, having not slept for 27 hours – at all – and hardly eaten, we all pretty much crawled down the aisle as if we’d been in battle. Which of course we had. The babies were, by then, in fine spirits and very chirpy, having had a good sleep on their exhausted mummies’ laps after they’d trashed the plane.

Trains aren’t much better for my daughter. The last two times I’ve taken her on the 1.5 hour trip to London she has screamed the entire journey. Proper stiff-bodied, red-faced, ear-piercing screaming. By the time we’ve arrived I have wanted to turn around and go home again. One one occasion recently I became Psycho Mum in public, so frazzled after a particularly heinous journey I unleashed my fury on a poor, unsuspecting British Rail worker, over some misdemeanour.

During my red-faced rant, in which I was not only shouting, but also swearing (not something I ever normally do, much less in front of dozens of commuters) I caught sight of a mad lady on the platform. Hair sticking up at odd-angles, red-faced, cursing and gesticulating wildly, it took me a couple of seconds to realise that I was actually seeing myself in a window reflection. That’s what happens when mummies go bad.

And then the tantrums

My daughter is fast becoming a master at tantrum throwing. She could seriously tantrum for England. It doesn’t matter where we are, or what we are doing, if she feels aggrieved then she will lie down on the floor, making her body go stiff so I cannot pick her up and scream until she is hoarse. I have lost count of the amount of times this has happened in shopping centres lately, I used to be embarrassed, but motherhood has a way of curing you of such things, so now when she does it I just step over her and keep walking, whilst resisting the urge to run.

Getting into a lather over a latte

I remember the days when I used to love catching up with friends over coffee or lunch. Even when my daughter was a baby, she would just sleep in her pram, allowing me to sip many a tasty hot beverage whilst reading a book. Not anymore. The days of stress-free coffee dates are long gone. Now we can’t even get out of the house until she has tried on every pair of shoes she has. We also have to put spare shoes in the bottom of her buggy, in case she wants to change her footwear whilst we are out. If we happen to forget the spare shoe supply, well, see above on ‘tantrums’…

Then we get to where we are going and she refuses to go in a highchair, so often she sits at the table with me, but then she grabs the sugar/salt/pepper and empties it over the table. I tell her not to and it makes her cross, so she jumps down from her chair and starts going up to other diners, trying to steal their condiments.

So I try again to get her in the highchair and she goes stiff… you can see where this is leading. Invariably these expeditions end up with me apologising profusely to whoever I’m lunching with, throwing my money down on the table and scurrying out of there like a flustered wreck, with a burnt mouth from where I skulled back a scorching hot latte. Not relaxing. At all.

Playing dirty

Pooh is an essential part of motherhood. Any mum will tell you that, from the moment they are born it seems like you spend a third of your day at least wiping dirty bums. But when they become toddlers it takes on a whole new dimension, my daughter has just figured out how to take off her own nappy. And all her clothes.

So now it’s a regular occurrence for me to find her in her cot in the morning completely naked, lying on wet sheets where she has peed on them and smothered in pooh. She thinks it is hilarious and proudly holds handfuls of her faecal matter up for me to inspect. As for me, well I’ve just resigned myself to the fact I will likely have bits of it smeared on me for at least the next couple of years, and that basically, I smell like pooh. End of.

So here’s the thing about mothering a toddler. It is hard, much harder than mothering a baby (in my opinion!) because babies are largely compliant, even if they are poor sleepers or colicky. But toddlers, well they have just found their voice, and their feet, and the world, and they will not be stopped. Least of all by grumpy mummy who only ever seems to say “no, don’t do/touch/eat that”. Suddenly when they reach toddlerhood you realise that you’re dealing with an actual person, with a will of their own, and as yet they are untamed. They want to do/touch/eat it all – particularly if it originated from mummy’s handbag!

I won’t lie; there are days when I seriously want to sell my daughter to the gypsies. Days where I hate every second of the fifty-million outfit changes, the inability to go anywhere or do anything without the aid of toys, flashcards, a picnic hamper of food, and a buggy full of shoes. Days where the tantrums and the pooh and the constant chaotic mess just does my head in.

But then I look at my beautiful, spirited, confident little girl and my heart just swells with love for her. Like when she starts doing the actions to Wheels on the Bus, or she proudly shows me how she can change IgglePiggle’s nappy – in intricate, painstaking detail. And I can’t imagine my life without her.

And I love that about motherhood. The daily challenges, the constant evolution of this little being you’ve made into their own person. And the camaraderie between mothers, one day when my daughter was tantruming in a shopping centre a little old lady came over to me and, placing her hand gently on my arm, said softly: “Just walk away dear, keep walking, she’ll soon stop and get off the floor.”

That little old lady was right, my daughter did exactly that. And I loved that – loved one generation of woman passing down wisdom to the next. Motherhood does that to you, it teaches you a tolerance and acceptance of others that you might not have possessed before. It makes you kinder when you see other Psycho Mums losing their sh*t in public, because you know only too well it could be you tomorrow.

And speaking of sh*t, you’ll have to excuse me now, as I must go and wash this pooh out of my hair before Mariah wakes up…

© Laury Jeanneret, 2011.



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