My daughter, Aspen, is 2, and out of our three children, she has easily been the worst toddler. This isn’t to say that each of my kids hasn’t had issues to work through. My oldest, Tristan, was a no-sleeper. It was horrible. To get that child to sleep more than a few hours felt like winning the lottery. Norah, my middle daughter, was accident-prone. She was the first child to visit the ER. She was always on the edge of chairs, always struggling with the stairs.
But Aspen is an altogether new beast.
She’s adorable, no doubt about it. She has blonde hair that we often pull into little pigtails. And her voice is somewhere between Peppa Pig and a songbird. Her smile is sweet but mischievous. Ultimately, though, she doesn’t give a shit.
She’s the child running to the pulpit at church each Sunday with her dad chasing her (hoping to catch her right before she slams her little hands down on the organ keys). She’s the child ripping at the artificial plants at the doctor’s office, or sneaking away to pound the computer keys and mess up some poor patient’s file. She’s the child that, regardless of how far I park the cart away from the grocery store shelf, still manages to grab at a bottle of spaghetti sauce and smash it to the ground.
The really difficult part about her is that she is, more or less, a ninja. She doesn’t throw a whole lot of fits. Rather, she just moves on to the next problem. I take a pen away, and as I’m placing it back in the desk drawer, she picks up a doll stroller and attempts to smash the TV screen.
This isn’t to say that she’s abnormal. She’s 2. They call it the terrible twos for a reason. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less embarrassed as a parent when my toddler breaks stuff. It is embarrassing, flat-out, 100%.
She runs at 100 miles per hour everywhere she goes, so I’m also exhausted. She’s curious. I can see it in her eyes, and I think this is the real downside to having a strong-willed and curious child. These are skills I want her to have. I want her to assert her ideas. I don’t want her to take “no” for an answer. But at the same time, right now, as a parent, I have to live with the damn kid, and it’s wearing me out.
Perhaps the problem is that I’m older now. I had my first two kids in my mid-20s. Now I’m in my mid-30s. Not that mid-30s is all that old, but it’s older than the first go, and I just don’t have the energy to keep up with the little lady anymore.
But here are the facts: This is how it works with parenting. I could be in my mid-60s, and I’d still have to chase her. I’d still have to keep up. That’s parenting. Getting up in the night is parenting. Chasing a toddler is parenting. Keeping those little hands and feet out of trouble is parenting.
Parenting a toddler is, more or less, a million lessons on safety and decency through a million locations, until you feel confident that you can take your eyes off the child for more than 10 minutes without fearing that they will break something, or themselves.
This is the real reason why parents of small children wear sweatpants. This is why they don’t comb their hair, or put on makeup, or wear legitimate shoes unless they absolutely have to. They are exhausted from keeping a Big Brother-eye on their child. They are tired from correcting their children time and time again. They are afraid to spend too much time getting ready because in those 30 minutes or so it takes to look like a regular human, their toddler might just figure out how to make the microwave explode. It’s why mothers go days without a shower, and fathers open the door for a delivery with red, bloodshot eyes and hair mashed on one side.
And while this all seems horrible to those without children, it isn’t really. Sure, it’s exhausting. Sure, Aspen is a handful. Sure, I don’t like leaving her with other people because I feel sorry for them. But ultimately, with each of my children, I have looked back at the crazy toddler years with a smile. I have missed how curious they were. I have missed their rosy little chubby cheeks, and their soft little hands tugging at my finger. There is something about a toddler that, regardless of how big of turds they are, you just love the hell out of them. They are your best buddy. And you are the best thing in their lives, and there is a warmth in that.
Perhaps it’s genetic, this feeling of love for a toddler. Perhaps it’s God’s way of keeping us from giving up on parenting altogether. Regardless, it works. And it makes having a crazy, exhausting, hyper little 2-foot tall person in your life worth every minute.