Tag Archives: toddlers are awful

On Parenting: Lesser Indignities

The kids are screaming again.

We’ve been home from work for about twenty minutes, and they’re screaming. And “screaming” is precisely the word for it — this is not a mildly perturbed whine, nor a plaintive cry for help — this is a top-of-the-lungs howl that doesn’t even really call for action or intervention, it simply rails against the great injustice of the world.

And it’s in response to a “stolen” spoon.

Not even a special spoon. In fact, the spoon in question is the exact twin of the one that sprout the younger holds clutched in her pudgy, grubby fist. But the spoon in question has been claimed from the tabletop by sprout the elder, and she has decided that that is the spoon she wants, not eventually but right the fargo NOW, and it gives him great pleasure to deny her anything she wants, and from her tiny lungs comes the mightiest ear-splitting shriek.

That sounds like fun, sprout the first thinks, and then he’s shrieking too, for the pure, unadulterated hell of it. My wife is up to her eyeballs in work she’s brought home from the job that taxes her more and more beyond her pay grade with every passing day, and I’m elbows-deep in chicken slime from cooking the sprouts’ dinner (which they will later totally ignore, for reasons that certainly make sense in the brains of a two- and four-year-old, but for no reason this thirty-something college-educated male can discern), and there’s nothing that anybody can do.

Time out, we threaten, which has about as much effect as you’d expect. Spanking, we enjoin, which they know is an empty threat — I’m not going to turn my salmonella hands upon them, after all.

This is how it goes in our house lately. And as parents, we get really torn, because all they really want is attention. They’re in day care these days, after all, so they only get our company for a few blessed hours in the evening. But, as any working family knows, you come home from work and there’s dinner to cook and baths to prepare and messes to clean up and the stress of the day hanging like an albatross from your neck and it’s almost a better idea if we don’t interact with the sprouts too much, because we might really unload on them, and they sure don’t deserve that. But still they clamor, and sometimes we can push the dark clouds aside and spare them a few minutes amongst the cascading junk pile of demands on our time, but sometimes we can’t, and when we can’t, well, that’s when the screaming starts.

Over anything. She’s in his chair. He’s got a toy that she wants. She dropped that thing I was playing with. He’s painting and she wants to paint too. She’s chewing on the coffee table. He’s holding onto the back of her shirt.

Their cries could shatter glass at a hundred yards.

And again, we endure it, because it’s better that than unloading a day’s worth of frustration and choked-back snide comments and real gut-boiling traffic-induced rage on somebody who has to stand on tiptoes to brush their teeth and who thinks that a dinosaur might make a really cool friend.

And then, somehow, some way, the clouds part, a ray of light shines down, and they stop howling. My wife and I lock eyes in shock but we say nothing. We don’t even try to look and see what they’re up to, lest we break the spell. We hear harmless, idle chatter from sprout the younger, and giggling, broken sentences from sprout the elder.

Just as quickly as the toddler tornado struck, the skies have cleared and they’re playing happily together. If we believed in God, we’d fall to our knees and give thanks, but God will soon make his absence painfully clear.


It’s surprising how much any thumping sound can sound like a toddler’s head whacking any significant surface to a pair of bedraggled parents. We’re sure one of them has somehow managed to surmount the childproof stair gate and toss the other to their doom. We dash around the corner and look.

But they’re not dead. Not even close. They’re standing behind their little toddler armchairs, which have been upended and rolled across the floor, like wheels if they were designed by sadists and masochists working in perfect concert. THUMP THUMP. They push their chairs over and over, and the sound is a bit like carpet-wrapped bricks in a tumble dryer. THUMP THUMP. THUMP THUMP. Giggles. Laughter. Smiles.

Chairs aren’t supposed to be played with that way, for sharknado’s sake, and our teach-them-to-be-decent-human-beings instincts flare and we start for them with our voices already rising in chastisement.

But we realize it at the same time.

They’re not screaming.

Sure, they’re mistreating the furniture. Sure, it’s making an ungodly racket. Sure, they might crush a cat under all that tumbling upholstery (but the cat has it coming, and frankly the cats can go take a flying leap for all we’re concerned about their well-being at the moment). But paint this bald man blue and send me to Vegas, they have stopped screaming.

Being a parent is nothing if not a tactical, well-calculated slow retreat from a thousand lines drawn in the sand. Problem is, the tide never stops coming in. You have to pick your battles, and sometimes you choose the lesser indignity of the children pushing their tiny chairs around the floor like the worst sleds you’ve ever imagined over the perfectly disharmonious symphony of their unending screams.

We let this one slide. I finish cooking and my wife finishes working to the THUMP THUMP THUMPing of their chair game that would rival the dance beats of a few songs I’ve heard on the radio lately. We place a lovingly-crafted dinner of chicken and potatoes and green beans in front of them and watch as they refuse to eat a single bite. And yeah, that hurts my feelings a little bit.

But at least they’re not screaming.

Toddler Life, Chapter 338: Picture Day

Being a kid sucks.

I mean, to an adult, being a kid is awesome: you have zero responsibilities, zero stress; all you have to worry about is whether you want mac and cheese or chicken nuggets for dinner, or how many laps you can run around the couch before you get dizzy and fall over, or how many colored scribbles you can get on the wall before your parents have a hissy fit. (The answers, obviously, are chicken nuggets, twenty six, and anywhere from three to a hundred and three, depending on how much you’re laughing like a maniac while you do it.)

But actually being a kid actually sucks.

You’re always getting hauled off to places you don’t care about. Trips to the grocery store or to Target. Stops at the bank. A daily sojourn to day care. Then, you’re being forced to do all sorts of things that interest you not a bit. Eating vegetables. Going to bed at a “reasonable” hour. Not coloring on the walls. (I should confess that both of my kids are actually pretty well-tempered about these things almost all the time.)

But despite these day-to-day inconveniences, I don’t know that, for a kid, there is any indignity worse than picture day.

You wake up, hoping for a day of cartoons and playgrounds, of candy and sunshine, but the parents are up. And they’re a little bit more wound up than usual. Bustling about. Rushing through breakfast. Nipping at each other about time and duties and outfits and responsibilities. Then they’re stuffing you into stiff clothes that — let’s be honest — are a little long in the sleeve or short in the leg: uncomfortable threads that rub and irritate and constrict and ride up.

Next thing you know, you’re crammed into the car seat — but you can’t have any snacks, because you can’t get any gunk on your hands, and you can’t have anything to drink, because you might spill it on yourself. Now you’re sitting around a lobby, and sure, there are toys around, but they’re not great toys, and your parents are getting mad at you for trying to run around and crawl on the seats, and there’s nothing really to do except sit around and not have fun. Anathema for a toddler.

Finally, you’re shepherded into another room with some other lame toys and a weird adult with a fancy camera, poking and prodding at you and telling you where to stand, how to sit, where to prop your knees, and she keeps telling you to “smile” or say “puppies” and all manner of adults-talking-to-kids-they-don’t-know nonsense.


You can bear it for a few minutes because you’re generally agreeable, and your parents seem really concerned about you doing what the other weirdo asks. But you’re three. There’s only so much you can stand. The ants start creeping in and you have no more patience for holding still. They’re still asking you to smile, but all you can do is bare your teeth like a wild animal. Meanwhile, your baby sister has long ago given up the fight and is intermittently squalling like a hamstrung sheep or swatting you about the face with spit-slick hands.

Somehow, you survive it, and you end up at home again. You’re allowed to put normal clothes on again and have something decent to eat. And what do you have to show for this? A handful of pictures of you, which makes not an ounce of goldfingered sense to you, seeing as the house is full of pictures of you anyway.


You may have heard the expression about “herding cats.” It’s much more apt as “herding a 2- and 3-year old.”


Toddler Life, Chapter 331: Dinner Plans

Parenting is nothing if not a slow ceding of control over your own life to humans less than half your size. You think you’ve got things more or less figured out, and then along come the sprouts and you realize that not only is the world not what you thought it was, but it’s incredibly and ridiculously more dangerous than you thought. I personally can no longer do the dishes without keeping a wary eye on the upturned silverware on the tray in the dishwasher. Incidentally, you also learn just how slippery certain surfaces can become when covered in chocolate milk or melted popsicle or (and this is happening alarmingly often of late) toddler vomit.

Control slips away by degrees.

First, it’s sleep — you are now slave to the sleep schedule of somebody who has no need for an alarm clock to wake up at 4 AM or earlier.

Then, it’s evening entertainment — gone are the days of late (or even evening) movies. Banished are quiet dinner dates. No more can you even enjoy a leisurely glass of wine while cooking. The rugrats steal all this away in great grabbing gusts.

But there was another milestone, another reckoning of just how far we’ve fallen, and it’s come over the past few weeks, because our oldest has started to develop a taste and preference for certain foods. Pizza is a big hit, though he knows he can’t have it all the time. Grilled cheese is a several-times-a-week favorite.

But you know the toddlers are running the house when you’re having bacon and eggs and pancakes for dinner on a Wednesday.

Respectable adult life, I hardly knew ye.

Toddler Life, Chapter 211: The Daycare Demon

Our kids have recently gone into daycare. And there are a host of parental tribulations that go along with that. What will the children learn outside of the house that we don’t want them to learn yet? What if they get sick? What if they hate us later? What if a helicopter crashes into the building? (Some of the fears are more rational than others.)

For better or worse, our kids have been fairly isolated in their development so far. Sprout the First was in daycare or in the care of his grandparents for a couple days a week  for a few months after he turned 1 — and he spent time with a few other kids, maybe three or four, during that time. And the kids have some cousins around their age, and some friends of ours (my wife’s and mine) have kids their age as well. But on the regular? It’s just been us.

Which is good and bad.

Good because, if they’re doing something, we can pretty easily isolate the cause. We know, for example, that when Sprout the First began telling his stuffed animals to “shut your piehole,” that we needed to start examining our, uh, turns of phrase around the boy. Good because, as a general rule, we can control the things that go into their tiny and developing brains.

Bad because, well, variety is the spice of life and all that. Maybe we shelter them too much. Maybe they need more interaction with kids their age. Maybe they need to hear the crazy beliefs of other adults in the world.

But I’ll tell you what’s definitely bad about sending them to daycare.

The Daycare Demon.

The Daycare Demon goes to your child’s daycare.

He’s the first child whose name your bright-and-beautiful offspring learns, because it’s the name he hears the most.

He’s the one you can pick out without anybody particularly pointing to him, because naturally he’s the one hanging from the curtains with fingerpaint all over his face, brandishing a paintbrush like a rapier.

He’s the one you begin to hate from afar because you just know that, through toddler osmosis, your precious darling is picking up on his bad habits.

Our Daycare Demon is definitely not named Fred, but I will call him Fred for the sake of not calling him by his real name, which causes my blood to boil and my face to distort as if I’ve chomped down on an enchilada full of ground-up bulls’ testicles and not ground beef, as I had previously supposed.

Every day, Sprout the First comes home with nothing but Fred to talk about. “Miss Smith told Fred to sit down or he wouldn’t get a sticker.” “Fred was getting in trouble because he wouldn’t come inside.” “Fred said I’m a baby.”

Fred is the one who, the first time I dropped the kids off at daycare for real, came and laid a square solid tackle on my knee and grinned up at me like the Joker. Fred is the one who, now that I have to comfort Sprout the First when I drop him off (because he’s upset about not staying at home all day), sticks his nose into our business and asks me WHAT ARE YOU DOING until a teacher can snatch him away. Fred is the one at whose name I brace for impact: what has he done today?

And I know. I get it. He’s just a kid. It’s not his fault. But that doesn’t change the fact that Fred has become something of a magnet for all my unquantifiable but vaguely negative feelings about putting my kids in daycare. It’s comforting to think that I can ascribe all the negative episodes, the questionable interactions, the dubious phrases brought home, to some anonymous ragamuffin.

It’s become a bit of a running joke at our house, to ask what the Daycare Demon has done today. Sprout the First always comes home with Fred’s name on his tongue. And that makes us laugh. But then, when we ask Sprout what he did that day, or who he played with, often the Demon’s name will come out. And that’s maybe a little troubling. Sprout might be fixating on him because he gets his name called so often (even for the wrong reasons). Sprout might be fixating on him because he’s loud and has his nose in everything like a coked-up bloodhound. Sprout might just think that the Demon is cool, whatever cool means to a three-year-old.

Still, there’s nothing to do about it. Fred is gonna stay crazy. So, for way too much time every day, my kid is flying in the same orbit as the Demon. And maybe that’s not the best thing. But it at least reassures me that my kid isn’t the Demon.

Not yet, anyway.

Toddler Life, Chapter 121: Mornings Mean Nothing

A toddler’s life is nothing but phases. A biting phase. A throwing things phase. A take-your-pants-off-and-ride-the-cats-around-the-house phase. Some phases are over in a few days, others drag out for weeks. But rest assured, if the little ones are waist-high or lower, they’re in a phase.

The newest phase is one that needs to be over immediately if not sooner, though I fear it’s one of those marked end date indeterminate. This is the morning means nothing phase, AKA the sprout is his own alarm clock phase, AKA abandon all sleep ye who enter here phase.

Parental sleep deprivation is no joke. To be honest, my wife and I have been somewhat lucky in this department. Big brother started sleeping through the night around 6 months, and little sis at about 8. They still have their moments — the cutting of teeth in an infant is enough to make grown daddies and mommies cry — but for the most part they sleep okay. This is in sharp contrast to a co-worker of mine who wakes up eight or nine times PER NIGHT with her rugrat. Look, it may be a tiny human, and it may need your utmost care and attention, but eight or nine wakeups per night is not really even in the range of the Geneva conventions. You could break Navy SEALS with that kind of treatment.

But the morning means nothing phase is a new animal. Because with your run-of-the-mill midnight baby wakeup call, you get to go back to sleep. It may be fitful sleep, and it may take you a while, but you get to drop off again. In the morning means nothing phase, your only hope is to go to sleep as soon as possible after the child goes down, because the kid is going to wake up, for good and with no hope of going back to sleep, whenever he damn well feels like it. 5 AM? Bet on it. 4? The sprout laughs at 4.  3:30? Challenge accepted.

It’s bad enough that we’re coming out of our summer coma, still drunk on the heady fumes that sleeping until 6:30 brings. School schedule has us waking up by 5:30 on a regular day, so those last few minutes of sleep are critical. But the sprout cares not for those crucial final minutes.

File:Trento-Mercatino dei Gaudenti-alarm clocks.jpg© Matteo Ianeselli / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

The devil on his shoulder nudges him awake at eye-twitch o’clock, and he crashes around his room for a while. (With big brother, there is no such thing as quiet play.) He builds and knocks over towers of blocks. He topples toddler chairs. He hurls stuffed animals about like a twister in a trailer park. Then he’s out into the hallway, where he turns on every light along the way, because he’s terrified of the dark like a vampire flees from the light. Then, because he can only be unsupervised for so long without somebody telling him NOT to do whatever he’s doing before his tiny brain melts down, he comes knocking on our door.

But not so much knocking as tentatively peeking his head inside, like a cat burglar working up his nerve. Let me not omit the fact that he can’t properly open a door yet, so he rattles the knob for a good ten seconds first. He ducks in, then ducks out, then ducks in, and ducks out again, then:


We try to ignore him, because that’s sure to work. When it comes to picking up hints, he’s about as sensitive as an elbow wrapped in a steel sleeve. He tries again.

“Mommy? Daddy? I’m ready to be awake.”

I slide one eye open, the lid fluttering like a garage door off its track. The clock reads 3:45. “Buddy, go back to sleep.”

The whining begins. He’s saying words, but I can’t hear them, because the pitch, pace and warble of his tiny voice has short-circuited every brain function outside of the purely survival-oriented lobes. I gruffly snarl at him to just get into bed with us.

I know as I say it that this is the wrong move, because the three-year-old does not make for a pleasant bedmate. He doesn’t so much toss and turn as thrash and burn, rolling over and over like a Tasmanian devil off its axis, beating his head against the pillow and kicking viciously at my kidneys.

Somehow I endure this for an entire fifteen minutes, pretending that I will be able to get back to sleep with the munchkin drumming out Chopsticks on my spine. Then my wife, who was sleeping on the opposite side of the boy and I (me in between them), has had enough and yanks him over to her side of the bed. His bag of tricks continues and we both sit there, steaming in our inability to even catch a whiff of further sleep. But it’s thirty minutes before the alarm goes off, and we are NOT getting up yet.

Ten minutes more is all I can stand, so out into the hall we stumble, him bounding along with infuriating energy, me stubbing my drowsy toes on every toy he strewed across the carpet. Along the way, he bumps a baby toy that begins chirping out a truly lunatic calliope version of the Wheels on the Bus at a volume which, to be conservative, is fargoing ridiculous. Meanwhile, our dumbest cat has launched himself at the dumb, sleep-addled dog — three times his size — and wrapped it in a clawed kitty headlock, and the two tussle, stumble and crash into the baby’s door.

So now the baby’s awake, too.

I trudge into her room and pull her out of the crib — she reeks of poop, because why wouldn’t she — haul her downstairs with big brother squawking like a tone-deaf crow about how he wants cupcakes, he wants to watch Grover, he wants to go to the playground later, he wants chocolate milk. All I want to do is get her changed and put on some cartoons so that I can lie down on the couch and at least close my eyes for five minutes before my actual alarm goes off.

This is the second day in four days that he’s done this.

The morning means nothing. Clocks are obsolete. The day starts when the sprout wakes up, and woe betide any foolish enough to suppose otherwise.

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