Tag Archives: toddlers are awesome

Every Single Night (A Broken Bedtime Routine)


Kids are smart, yeah?

My son is so smart, he’s running the house right now. He hates bedtime. Going up to his own little room while there is still life happening downstairs absolutely crushes him. He has crippling fear of missing out. And he has learned how to twist his fear to take advantage of ours.

See, his little sister goes to bed about an hour ahead of him, which he’s fine with. Her room is across the hall from his, and… well, let’s just say the walls are pretty thin. You can easily hear another person talking on the other side of any wall in the house, let alone screaming. So when we put him to bed, he screams.

We’ll come to what he’s screaming about in a moment, but the takeaway is, we feel incredibly hamstrung. Intellectually we know that giving him any sort of attention for the screaming only reinforces the behavior. On the other hand, every second we let him go on screaming is another second that might wake his 1-year-old sister, and coaxing the baby back to bed is a taller order than convincing the boy to do the same. (Also, if she doesn’t get enough sleep, she can seriously put the screws to us the next day.)

So, my wife is losing sleep, and I’m losing sleep, and bedtime is now one of the most stressful times of day. It takes upwards of an hour to get both of the bundles of joy down to sleep, and putting big brother down is a recursive process that seriously drives us to distraction every single night.

Which brings us to what he screams about. This is really best described as a series of steps:

  1. I announce bedtime. He screams because he doesn’t want to go to bed.
  2. I threaten to carry him upstairs to bed. (This works because he is at the age where he wants to do everything himself). He relents.
  3. I tell him to brush his teeth. He screams because he doesn’t want to brush his teeth.
  4. I say, fine, come get dressed for bed. (This works because he really does want to brush his teeth and he doesn’t want to miss out on an excuse to noodle around in the bathroom for five minutes.) He relents.
  5. We read a book. These days it’s a seek-n-find the differences between pictures book of all his favorites: Cars, Toy Story, that kind of thing, but whatever it is, he only wants to read this one book for weeks at a time. This makes him happy.
  6. We sing some bedtime songs in the rocking chair. This works, because he loves to sing.
  7. It’s bedtime. I crawl into bed with him, because this is what he demands, and tell him he can have the usual five minutes. For five minutes, there is peace.
  8. Time to go. I get up. He screams because he knows he’s about to be on his own, which he can’t stand. I tell him I’m not listening to this nonsense: it’s time for bed. I leave the room and listen to him scream for about five minutes or so, hoping to god he won’t wake the baby. He’s screaming about one of these things:
    1. He wants his door cracked.
    2. He wants a stuffed animal.
      1. But not the stuffed animal he has with him, a different one that’s across the room.
    3. He wants to read another book.
    4. He wants to rock some more.
    5. He wants his door closed.
    6. He wants me to lay down with him again (if mommy was the last one in the room).
    7. He wants mommy to rock him (if it was me putting him to bed).
  9. He might reuse and rotate these excuses, but he’ll use them liberally just to get my wife or myself back into the room. He’ll work his way down the list, strongarming us into coming back to his room three or four times over before he spots the inadvertent eye twitch or pulsing blood vessel in my forehead that tells him the gig is up.
  10. He asks for a kiss in the most pitiful way possible, gets it, and rolls over to go to sleep.

Again, I know that indulging him is the wrong thing to do, but I really think he’s figured out that we have to see to him to keep from waking up the baby.

The three-year-old has outsmarted the college-educated adults.


Kid Art: In which my 3-year-old teaches me a thing or two about creativity


I’ve been sitting around for the past couple of days when I have a spare minute, watching my son playing with his new chalkboard table.

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Just a sidenote: if you have kids, and the kids are in any way artistically inclined, you owe it to yourself to make one of these. Just take any old crappy coffee table, go to Home Depot and buy a $15 can of chalkboard paint, lay down a couple of coats on top of the table, and let it dry overnight. Easiest and most rewarding DIY project I’ve ever undertaken.

Anyway, my boy has a dubious approach to the thing. He loves coloring but lacks any kind of… I don’t want to say the motor control, because he seems to be doing what he wants to do… what I’m trying to say is, the things he draws aren’t shapes I recognize from this universe. Everything looks like a sea urchin, or a squiggle, or maybe just one long shapeless line. He will draw these designs, over and over again, one on top of another, until the table literally looks like a bucket of chalk vomited all over it, then he will gleefully take a rag, wipe the table clean, and start anew.

The crazy thing is, he knows what he’s drawing. I can point to this squiggle, say “Sprout, what’s this?” And he will say, confidently, “apple.” Point to this two-foot-long wobbly line: “water fountain.” This wonky-looking unidentifiable polygon: “dinosaur.”

Which is, in itself, adorable and delightful; hours of fun just asking the boy what he’s drawn and trying to imagine how exactly he sees these things.

But it goes a level deeper.

Because sometimes, he’ll decide to draw something himself. “I going to draw a car.” Okay, sprout, go ahead. *scribble, scribble.* He works with such intensity sometimes that I find myself looking over his shoulder to see exactly how he’s going to describe the shape of a car. Of course he isn’t. It’s just a shapeless blob of color. But he will finish, stand back to admire his work, and say, “Oh, that’s not a car, that’s a banana.” And then go on drawing something else.

Or I’ll ask him to draw something. “Draw daddy,” I’ll say, and his eyes will light up with glee, and he’ll begin the painstaking, arduous work of outlining my bald head and bugging eyes and ha ha just kidding, he scribbles a little bug-splat of color, stands back and looks, and announces to me, “Oh, that’s not daddy, that’s blocks.”

This little game simultaneously cracks me up and creeps me out, because I know he knows his shapes from any of the myriad of little puffy books or kids’ youtube videos we’ve looked at together. He can identify a triangle without batting an eye, can tell the difference between a duck and a penguin, and knows his boats from his spaceships. He knows things. But he also has the ability to recognize his nonsensical artistic representations of these things as these things, despite the fact that the two bear no resemblance whatsoever to one another. And I know he’s not just making it up, because he can lay down five or six spaghetti-tangle pictures which he names as completely different things than he originally set out to draw, and then he can point to each one again and tell me what it is with 100% accuracy. And I’m sorry, if he’s just making this stuff up off the top of his head, I don’t think he has the wherewithal to piece together a fiction. I really think that to him, that squiggle somehow says, “dinosaur,” while this one says, “grocery store.”

It’s a nifty little parlor trick, I guess, for a three-year-old to be able to do, but I started thinking about the boy, and I started thinking about creativity and art in general, as is my wont, and then came the lightning strike moment. The moment where the mundane, not-at-all special and completely-by-accident whimsical actions of a toddler shake my preconceived notions of the world to the very roots.

How many times have I found myself banging my head against a moment in a story? A character who just doesn’t seem to behave the way I want him to? Or a fiddly bit of plot that just won’t jive with the pieces all around it? Or an element that I need for the story to move forward, but I can’t figure out how to work it into the story? Or, maybe, the problem is more intrinsic to the story: I’m trying to write a science fiction thriller but it detours into comedy, or I’m trying to write a lighthearted romantic-comedic bit, but suddenly things feel all melodramatic? I always talk about how stories have lives of their own, how the characters have drives and desires buried within them that are sometimes a surprise even to me, but I still find myself trying to force square pegs into round holes. No, the story is meant to be this way. No, I need to focus on this aspect of the plot now. No, I’m trying to send this thematic message.

But not my son. The art takes him in a new direction, he’s happy — even ecstatic — to detour and abandon the thing he thought he was working on. The story changes, he changes with it. He has no preconceived notions of what it should be, there is no consideration for creating the wrong thing. The thing he creates is fine by him, whether it’s what he set out to create or not.

And I think that’s pretty freakin’ awesome. Because when you don’t get hung up on the problems in your story, when you don’t wander off into the bog of unrealized expectations, you can process the project in front of you with the unbiased perception of… well, of a child. To a kid, things are what they are. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


If Toddler Poop Upsets You, This Is The Part Where You Should Stop Reading


Mistakes were made tonight.

I didn’t mean to do it, okay?  I mean, it was all a blur, and then the sharknado was happening, and I had to do something.  You can’t just not do something when the sharknado happens like that.  Some situations demand action.  I’m not going to say I’m a man of action, but every now and then, even the talkers have to step up.

It was my kid.  The toddler.  You know kids.  They get into situations.  They don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just going along doing toddler things and then something horrible has happened and it’s all you can do to mop up the mess and make sure they don’t drown or fall off the jungle gym.

Yeah, he pooped in the tub tonight.  First time ever.  I know it happens.  The warm water, the relaxing bubbles, it causes an unclenching and next thing you know you’ve got some extra floaters in the tub.  It was a rough poop, too, the kind that can frighten a little kid.  One minute he’s splashing around, all smiles and foamy bubbles; the next he’s leaning over the edge of the tub and saying, with fear in his eyes, “daddy, stomach!”  And I don’t know what’s happening and then I see the first floater and I’m scooping him out of the tub and plopping him down on the kiddie potty and he’s dropping a brown softball in the little orange bowl.  Drain the tub, run him another bath, get him cleaned up, give him a popsicle.  DADDY OUT.  SITUATION HANDLED.  MIC DROP.

There’s good and bad in this.

The good is that we’ve been trying off and on for weeks to get him to take an interest in the toddler potty and he’s been about as game as a member of the A/V club at the prom, so the fact that I was able to toss him down on the bowl and have him sit and stay there long enough to complete business is pretty heartening.  It’s his first potty so we did all the requisite clapping and cheering and hugging and the showering with popsicles and candy.  I think we managed to make it clear to him that potty business is a good thing to do and that it’s in his interests to do it as much as possible in the future, but one way or another, it’s a pretty big first step for him, if a little bit later than we wanted him to take it.

The bad is that I grabbed the poop.  Like, with my bare hand.

I panicked, okay?  He was scared, it was floating, I had the clarity of thought to get him onto the potty but not the clarity of thought to, you know, not touch human feces with my bare hand.  I mean, I had to get it out of the tub, didn’t I?  I couldn’t just leave it floating there.  As a dad, there are things you just don’t do.  Also, there’s the general cleanliness of the house to think about, and cleanliness does not typically go hand-in-hand with floaters in the goldfingered tub.  It had to come out, and it had to come out immediately, and what was there to do?  I grabbed it.

There are milestones in a person’s life.  First broken bone.  First kiss.  First loss of a loved one.  Milestones and moments that, through their significance and specialness, sear themselves into your memory like old tattoos, never to be forgotten.  The day I first deliberately touched a poop with my bare hands is a day which will, unfortunately, live in infamy in my mind for the rest of my days.

Sam’s Club sells bleach in bulk, I think.  I wonder how long I can soak my hands before the bleach starts breaking down my skin.


Chasing Toddlers


I write a lot about how parenting is a pretty raw fargoing deal.  That’s because it is.  You never work so hard for so little appreciation in your life as when you’re parenting a toddler.

I’ve written about how kids are basically black holes, about how I no longer have the freedom even to move around my own house anymore, about how they made me ruin forever my cool by buying a minivan… it goes on.  It was pointed out to me by a loyal reader (*cough*totallynotmywife*cough*) that all this ragging on the parenting life makes it seem like I don’t enjoy it.  And while, sure, okay, there are certainly moments when I long for that simple childless existence again — a time when I didn’t have to live in fear of some sharp-ended plastic doohickey left by the toddler sticking up into my tender underfoot, when I could rest my hand on the coffee table and not have it come away sticky, a time when I could close the door and enjoy a nice deuce in peace — on the whole I really love it.  Being a parent just has a way of filling me with this sense of accomplishment, happiness, and… I dunno… rightness.

That being said, some moments just have a way of refining all that general goodness to a razor-sharp, crystal-clear, shot-to-the-gut point that I could almost forget the week we spent in February washing baby bedsheets EVERY DAY because he was pooping huge quantities of what looked like, but did not smell like, chicken salad.  I could almost forget the screaming fit he has every night when I leave him in bed for the night, his betrayed little toddler eyes welling with tears as I close the door on him and leave him with his nightmares (of course, he passes out two minutes later, but those two minutes really hurt the heart).

I had one of those redeeming moments yesterday.   Continue reading


Toddler Life, Chapter 219


Living with a toddler is two parts awesome, two parts terrifying, six parts gross, and eight hundred parts blinding, world-shattering panic.  One moment you are giving high-fives to your adult family members as he takes his first steps, the next moment you are spilling lemonade all over yourself in a scrambling frenzy as he legs it across the yard toward the street.

They are incredible little critters, capable in single acts of making you shake your head in amazement, shaking your head in wonderment, shaking your head in disgustment; sometimes all in the same single act.  For example (and this is a 100% true, zero-embellishment story), MERE MOMENTS AGO as I was sitting down to think what I would blarg about tonight, I situated myself with tablet on the armrest of the sofa and keyboard in my lap.  I reached over the arm of the sofa to get a sip of my soda and put my hand in a pool of something slimy.

Let me not bury the lede.  I did not at the time, nor do I now, know what the slimy something was.  I was more or less equal parts appalled and curious (a state of mind I have come to live in as a parent), but this time, at least, discretion got the better of curiosity and I cleaned it up without asking the difficult questions.  I should point out (and I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or a parent thing or a me thing) that whenever I come across these somethings in the house, I *must* sniff them.  For some reason, some tiny but unknowable part of my brain just HAS TO KNOW whether what made the mess is benign (masticated cookie bits, fruit juice, melted chocolate) or Just Another One Of Those Things Which Will Make Us Need To Burn The House Down One Day (cat barf, blood, cat poop, human poop), and as long as the stain in question hasn’t yet dried, what better way to test the content of a smear than by shoving it up under your beak?  This happens more than I would like to admit.

As I said, I somehow stopped myself from smelling this slimy something, but it was green and brown and cold and gross and Extra slimy, so I felt it a safe bet that it was something I didn’t want to smell. I cleaned it up, simultaneously wondering at a number of factors:
1) when did he make this mess?
2) what did he use to make it?
3) how did he make this mess in this spot without either my wife or myself noticing him making it?
All at once I am admiring his stealth and choking back the bile rising in my throat at the touch of this slime on my hand.  So, you know, impressed and horrified at once, that’s parenting.

Anyway.

It’s funny how clever he can be when he wants to be and how dumb he can be when it suits him.  We’ve been trying to teach him colors for over a week now, and he is more than happy to call everything blue.  The sky?  Blue.  The plate of spaghetti?  Blue.  School bus?  Blue.  OR, he will happily hold up a brightly-colored object and ask us, “what color is this?” and when we tell him, he tosses it aside in favor of the next bright color that he can “what-color-is-this” us with.  This game can be played for entire minutes at a time (a minute in baby time is worth a good hour of adult time).

So he either cannot understand, or is willfully refusing to understand, colors, but at the same time, he can make a fully-understandable (and in fact perfectly grammatically correct) sentence to tell us, “No, I don’t want green beans”. “No, I don’t want juice.”  “No, I don’t want night-night.”  All I know is, as Bill Cosby once put it, it takes a lot of intelligence to fake stupidity, and if he can pick and choose what kind of vegetable he would like for dinner, then he can Dondraper sure tell the difference between blue and red, no matter how much he calls them both orange.

Then there’s his motor skills.  Improving, by leaps and bounds in fact, but I still wouldn’t trust him with a ginsu knife, or for that matter a tube of toothpaste.  He can conduct himself across a room in 2.3 seconds, arms and legs flailing like a scarecrow in a hurricane, leaping with outstretched legs up the step into the foyer and sidestepping the cat like he’s Jackie Chan in Drunken Master.  The same child will then, while walking AND holding my hand in a grocery store, trip over his own feet so badly that he sprawls on his face and begins screaming like I’ve taken his favorite plastic dinosaur away.

Yesterday we were watching The Tigger Movie for, oh, I don’t know, the thirtieth time this week (those of you without children, don’t judge — those of you with children know exactly what I’m talking about, you know your kid has THAT ONE MOVIE).  For no apparent reason, without any apparent impetus and certainly without warning, he turns to me with the look of greatest purpose on his tiny, innocent face, and says, with all the gravity and urgency of a bloodstained, cyborg-pummeled Schwarzenegger, “I GO.”  And then gets up and dashes from the room, scarecrow arms and legs flapping madly.

I don’t know what was in his head, and it doesn’t matter.  It was awesome.  Things are so immediate.  There’s no doubt, no hesitation, no waffling over “well, if I do this, somebody might think this…” The cookie looks delicious, I GO.  That juice needs spilling, I GO.  That cat needs it’s tail pulled.  I GO.  Simple words for simple deeds.  There’s an eloquence in that to be striven for.  I’m not sure it’s worth the price of all the poop and vomit, though.


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