Paging Captain Obvious: Raising a Toddler is Hard

I know that this is going to sound like the most obvious statement of the year, but let me just say this: When I was pregnant, all I ever heard from people was this kind of nihilistic-but-only-half-serious commentary:

  • Oooooh my God, I hope you don’t like sleep. Oh, you do? Man, you’re screwed.
  • Wow, congrats! Now’s when the…uh…FUN starts! Yeah…
  • Man, newborns… *shaking head while nervously chuckling*
  • My kid once sharted on me from 7 feet away – I s*** you not! Oh…wait a minute…
  • Let me know the first time you get pee in your eye. But hey, it totally doesn’t sting as much as I thought it would – so that’s good, right?
These well-meaning and commiserative statements were almost always tempered with the nearly universal notion that no matter what kind of mess, exhaustion, or confusion a newborn could hand down, parenthood was still the most wonderful thing any of these folks had ever done. And that proved to be true from Day One.
However, it was around Day Three Hundred and Seventy Five or so that I realized something: 

The truth? Newborns are a piece of cake, and quit’cha bitchin’ about how much they poop – I can guarantee you that newborn poop doesn’t hold anywhere near the same gag-inducing power as that of a toddler who has the ability and often, the predisposition, to eat things that aren’t even intended for human consumption (case in point: crayons). Now, this is not to minimize the work that newborns can be. I’m pretty sure I’ve explained once or twice before what a given night in the life of a nursing mother is like (and I’d imagine it’s not much different for a non-nursing mother – these things don’t sleep, no matter what you feed them). Newborns are work. But in my experience, toddlerhood has beat the pants off of newborn/babyhood in terms of the amount of frustration, the sense of being lost as to what to do, the constantly backing up and regrouping, and the doing/saying the same thing repeatedly (to no avail). As the stretches of sleep became longer and Russ evolved – seemingly overnight – from a baby into a toddler, that’s when some of the biggest challenges revealed themselves to me.

A baby is tiny, defenseless, and can’t speak or communicate – so you never expect it to be easy. But a toddler is only able to communicate so much, and they have an awareness of themselves that lends itself to frustrated fits when their ability to communicate is superseded by their ability to compose voracious, often unreasonable demands. You want eleventeen cookies, in a couch, Russ? Um, no (commence meltdown in the middle of Whole Foods, where everybody else seems to be Zen-in-a-pair-of-Toms and you are the freak with the crazed toddler). Usually, I find that the people who shoot me disapproving looks are the ones my own age who have one or more children who are clearly perfect (ha!), while the older set usually just pat me on the shoulder or say “Oh, yeah…I’ve been there.”

Toddlers are work. They’re difficult. A ten minute drive across town can feel like hours when your child is in the car seat behind you, screaming and kicking your seat, repeating the same three words over and over and over again (“PARK!! Park!! Paaaaaaark!”). And especially if not everything else in your life is going swimmingly, there’s this potential to lose your freaking marbles some days. Though it’s something I think about often, it’s those times especially that leave me in awe of single parents.

This time last year, right before Russ started to become more of a challenge, I was sure that I wanted to get pregnant again very soon. I liked having a summer pregnancy (unusual and “crazy,” some would say – I know), so that meant getting pregnant sometime in the winter. So we sort of figured we’d get to this time of 2012 and start thinking about it again – but that didn’t happen. Of course, life has been pretty interesting lately (to say the least), but even if everything was a lot more simple and predictable, I think we’d still be putting this off. The truth?

Russ probably won’t have a sibling until he’s at least four, maybe five. I’m not saying God doesn’t throw you surprises occasionally – and that’d be fine. But as long as we’re planning things “The Wilhoit Way,” don’t look for any big announcements any time soon from us. The other day I saw a woman with a double stroller with two children who didn’t look like they could be more than a year apart in age – only for her to turn around and have a tiny newborn in a papoose carrier on her chest. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s wonderful and I’m overjoyed for her and in awe of her strength and resilience and patience and drive and…HELL NO! No offense, but just. No.

I used to worry that when I was done having children – like, really, truly “done” – that I’d always be filled with this emptiness and this sadness that I couldn’t have another baby. But I’m starting to realize that there’s a very real possibility that by the time we get to that point, I will be more than done with toddlerhood – and I’ll look at my non-toddler children and say “Yeah, this is okay with me. This is enough.” 

Now, before you go questioning who I am as a parent: I’m not saying I don’t love the daylights out of my little boy – he is the most amazing, beautiful thing in my life, and I wish I could bottle up every day I’ve had with him and pour it out again, reliving every sweet day with him. Even the rough days. Even the nasty post-childbirth parts. Even the midnight trips to the ER. Every one of those challenging, difficult, tiring days was undoubtedly sandwiched in between his precious smile, or a new word, a first step, or one of those similar wonders you get to experience. You get to experience the world anew, through the eyes of a person who means everything to you. It changes your perspective on everything.

It does not make you perfect. It does not always make you patient, calm, or more wise. But it changes you, and more often than not, that change is a good thing. It’s a love that challenges you, stretches you, matures you, and humbles you. You will be asked to make decisions – be they large or small – that will not be fun. There will times that what you want is one thing, but what is best for your child is something else – and those decisions suck sometimes. But you make the right choice and move on, because it’s not about you.

Parenting is hard. Raising a toddler is tough. But even when Jonathan and I are trudging through the trenches of the Terrible Twos (I hear that three is even worse, by the way), there’s nothing I’d change. Because every day changes me.