My thoughts on toddlerhood

They say not to bribe your children, but you should’ve seen the photo attempts from before I gave Goldie this piece of a chocolate bar.

The other day, I realized I’ve never really written specifically about my daughter, Goldie, but rather have reflected on my own experiences and sort of just mentioned her as I mused on motherhood.

But the thing I’ve felt most acutely about transitioning from having a baby to living with a toddler (Goldie is 19 months) is that she is her own little person, separate from me, and describing my experience without writing about her that way is entirely impossible: toddlers are each so unique and so themselves, and as they navigate a world that has new possibilities for them each day, our lives shift and change in response to, and to make room for, a new and ever-evolving parent/child relationship.

I’ve wondered whether my thoughts on having a toddler might differ from some (many?) other moms whose photos I’ve scrolled through on social media, because I think some of the wonder and ‘love bubble’ baby moments were quite closely entwined with bouts of anxiety and invasive thoughts for me, so much so that while I look back on that tiny baby stage with nostalgia like most others, I tend to be aggressively honest and introspective, and I realize how much less nervous I am as a mom now – and how I’ve grown in love and wonder with each day of Goldie’s life. I am also pregnant again and due to cuddle another newborn next month, so that may be why I’m not aching for the clock to turn back with Goldie. I’m still acutely aware of how fast the years fly by, but I think that’s what helps me appreciate this current stage even more.

I have loved witnessing my baby become a burgeoning person. And while toddlerhood is certainly exhausting and sometimes indescribably frustrating, I truly adore this stage with my daughter. (To those who would say: “Just wait until she’s two!” …. please don’t.)

So I wanted to share a bit of a Goldie/toddler update — bearing in mind that her timeline as a little human is different than other toddlers, because milestones are met at different times by different children, and they have their own personalities. I also wanted to make clear that I would never want to act like I have any expertise when it comes to raising children in general (I think this is why I’ve shied away from writing specifically about Goldie), but that I do feel when writing we should always share what we know, and that what I know isn’t what I might be expert in, but rather what I’m living, and learning, with each day.

I feel like I noticed a really big shift in Goldie’s abilities/personality/stage of development around 15 months old, and I think a lot of that has to do with how she started walking so much more steadily around that age (having had a few months of practice under her belt) and started saying so many more words. As far as verbal skills go, Goldie is a very talkative toddler. At 18 months old, I took the time one day to try and write down all of the words she was saying before the 18-month wellness check with her doctor (keeping in mind that some of her words only I can understand), and stopped recording after we got past 100. And now at almost 20 months there are so many more, and she will surprise us with new sentences all the time. She repeats everything – narrates everything – asks for things incessantly – and wants to be heard and acknowledged all. day. long.

A lot of frustrations arise from moments where she wants to communicate something and I either:

A. can’t understand at first, or

B. am unwilling to give her that for which she’s asking (I think she feels she’s being misunderstood).The drawback of being so excited about her language development was that we’d often try and reinforce her language skills/new words by giving her whatever she verbalized, at first. Oops.

When we one day woke up to a toddler instead of a baby, it was odd because there were so many things she now wanted to control; to do for herself, and was now capable of understanding. But she still struggles to regulate her emotions more than ever, and it feels much harder to meet her daily needs than it did when we were worried about keeping her fed, warm, dry and loved. It just looks and feels so much different and in some ways so much more complicated to love a toddler in the ways they need throughout each day and at each moment (at any point they hover between perfectly pleasant and ready to pitch a fit). It feels like there’s a lot at stake!

I’ve recently felt a particular pressure and responsibility when I realized I was providing my daughter with the words and phrases she uses to describe her world.

There have been many moments where I’ve suddenly noticed words or phrases I often use show up in her vocabulary quiver, so to speak, that she all the sudden employs to tell me something.

For example, I’ve noticed her saying:

  • “It’s hard.” She will use this phrase when I’ve told her “No” or she’s disappointed by something, because I often respond to her bouts of anger by saying, “I know, it’s hard when we can’t always do/get what we want,” and I sometimes shorten that sentiment to just: “It’s hard,” when I want to say something to her, but my (lack of) energy won’t allow more of an explanation than that. (Don’t look at me that way – I do pair it with a sympathetic look and a hug as the fit rages on).
  • “So tough!” She’ll employ this one when she falls or stubs her toe or trips, as it’s a tiny phrase I’ve used over and over when she’s stumbled and learned to get back up. Now she uses it almost under her breath to describe herself when she manages to rise after falling, or move on after bumping her head. She also said it the other day when we were watching “The Grinch” and he hurt himself in some way, but then she realized he was okay.
  • “I’m sad.” This is an easy one to understand, and also an effective manipulation tool: she picked this up when she would cry over something and I’d ask if something or other was making her sad, but she also uses this phrase quite often when I’m fairly sure she’s not actually sad, and just wants some extra attention. Along with this is the word “frustrated,” which at this stage is a word I wish I hadn’t taught her because she uses it all the time. But she also often announces: “I’m happy!” and that is the absolute cutest. So it’s not the worst thing in the world to have taught her some of these feeling words, though it is a bit consuming to be told them at regular intervals throughout each day.
  • “Sometimes…” Apparently I use this word a lot when I’m describing daily occurences: “Sometimes there are other kids at the park, but sometimes it’s just us here”; etc. Goldie uses this word when she’s in storytelling mode: “Sometimessssss (it’s long and drawn out like that) dogs poop.” Yikes. She learned about dog poop on one of our daily walks to the park. And after receiving initial laughter when she said it, one of her other daily phrases is: “I like dog poop!” We try and ignore it now but the first impression of our laughter has lingered in her mind, and she’s always aiming for humor.

On that last note, there are many things I truly lament ever saying in her presence now that I’ve heard them repeated (and this is where I sweat each day trying to make sure she’s not going to repeat something weird, untrue or unsavory):

  • I once called her diaper ointment “butt cream,” I’m embarrassed to admit. I don’t know why – but I do know it stuck and she now refers to it as such.
  • I wish I hadn’t taught her the difference between a freckle and a pimple when she began taking note of such details on faces. She likes to point these out with regularity.
  • “No, no, no!” I’ve discovered that I say certain words in sets of 3 when trying to emphasize them. She has copied this — and I have regrets.
  • “I don’t want to.” To be fair, I don’t know where she learned this phrase. I think it may have been from her favorite show – Little Baby Bum (a show which is both a blessing as a distraction and a curse to our ears).
  • I wish I hadn’t used the word “naughty” to describe a little girl on her show, or some of Goldie’s actions in a moment of anger. Because she seems to relish saying “I’m naughty!” And proceeding to do something that could be classified as, yes, naughty. Attention, whether positive or negative, is a motivator for this toddler.

Random other sentences that she says often at this stage that I want to remember are when she’ll list things she likes: “I like mommy, I like daddy, I like Thomas the Train!”

People she misses: “I miss papa and Lola; I miss Gigi and grandpa.” Bless her little long-distance grandbaby heart.

And the always welcome, “I love you, mommy/daddy.” ❤

I just really feel like I need to be on top of my game with the essential world building that I’m responsible for now.

Like, I want to go back to school and make sure I’m as sharp as I need to be to give Goldie the tools to describe and participate in her world – because she is ready to take it all on.

But I want to be very clear and note how often I fail at keeping my cool, and how often my toddler does, too. Because I think we see cute photos of other kids, or hear about their milestones, or listen to parents describe them as the happiest baby/toddler/kid ever – and sometimes it can feel lonely if you’re in the trenches with the hard stuff. I’ve particularly struggled with the “happiest baby” descriptors, because while it may be true that some babies and toddlers are just overall happy all the time (I don’t know why but I struggle to believe you, folks), but it makes me feel bad because I have a kid who feels alllll the feels. Dramatically.

She’s a little bit like, oh I don’t know — her mother?!

So as the mom of a toddler, I try to see things from her perspective whenever possible and remind myself that she is overall a happy child. But she’s also a little human.

Toddlers are just new humans puzzling out the world, getting “frustrated!” — as Goldie likes to announce — every day by their limitations.

But those limits won’t exist forever for our brilliant, determined little ones (I hope you think of Mean Girls here). And I’m trying to let this stage of burgeoning personhood remind me to be in touch with my wild and feeling side, too.

Because toddlers, while dramatic and at times truly nonsensical with their tantrums, are also two of my very favorite things: passionate and honest.

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