Oh, mommies. I read so many blog posts and articles about the trials and tribulations of raising toddlers. And YES, oh sweet 18-month-old Jesus, YES they are all spot on: having a toddler (or two) at home is kind of like having the most obnoxious, handsy, drunk frat guy at the party living with you 24/7. Parenting the two, three and four year olds deserves its own special child-proofed circle in Hell some days.
But let me tell you something, ladies. There will come a day when you look back on these years with something that feels like wistfulness. A longing, even.
Because that pea-soup spewing, head spinning, chicken nugget-clutching abomination in the car seat behind you is going to be a teenager some day.
And then things get really fun.
I can’t write something like this without first pointing out the merits of teens. They are a wonder to behold. Watching your own little flesh and blood bundles navigate the treacherous teens transports you back in time. You get to relive your teen years, good or bad. Every single thing you did as a teenager comes back to either haunt you or to give you fodder for speeches and diatribes and guilt trips to lay upon your own teen.
You can have actual conversations with teenagers, which can be cool. They can do things like drive and tie their own shoes and use the stove without supervision. Most of them are adept at personal hygiene and rarely need help in that area, except when they scream from the downstairs bathroom that they need a towel.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my teens. Which is good, because at the moment, I have four of them living under my roof. We have some good times, the five of us. We have interesting debates, we watch The Walking Dead together, some days our coexistence feels a lot like harmony.
But the past few weeks have been a doozy. I’ve gone apeshit with my teens for being…well, for being teens. The low point was the night I spent an hour driving around like a tourist in the dark, trying to find the restaurant my 17-year-old daughter and her friends needed to be picked up from. My girl called and whined, “OMG mom, we’ve been waiting, like, forever! When will you be here?” I screamed back: “I CAN’T FIND THE MOTHER-EFFING RESTAURANT!” I heard muffled teenage giggles and realized with a hot, shameful horror that I was on speaker.
Yep. I’m that mom. The spastic f-bomb dropping one. In my defense, I’m also the one who always lets the kids have oodles of friends sleep over and I provide donuts in the morning. Bacon if I’m feeling generous. That redeems me, right?
But a few mornings ago, I got to thinking of my kids as they used to be. I actually got moist eyes thinking about my restaurant-going daughter as a toddler. She’d wear these stretchy knit headbands all the time, so that she looked like a mini-John McEnroe. She loved wearing her older brother’s training pants and we’d often leave the house with her wearing Batman undies beneath a sparkly tutu. She was obsessed with backpacks, so much so that I took to calling her “Packy” and at any given moment she’d have one strapped to her back, stuffed with toddler treasures.
I then remembered her tantrums. I remembered the poopy pants and the croup and the sibling rivalry and the endlessssss bedtimes.
But still…for just a moment, I kind of wished I still had toddlers. And I came up with a few reasons why TODDLERS TOTALLY TRUMP TEENS:
1. SLEEPING: I’m sure you’ve heard of the book “Go the F*ck to Sleep“. Get ready for the teen version I’ll be writing called “Get the F*ck Up, You’ll Miss the Bus”. Seriously. These people sleep like vampires. Sure, no more being awakened by two scary eyeballs peering at you from the side of the bed at 5:00 a.m., but waking a teenager is kind of like reenacting “A Weekend At Bernie’s”. God help you.
2. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TOILETRIES: Oh it’s so funny when Junior gets into your lipstick or maxi pads and makes an adorable mess. Sometimes you take pictures of them and post it on Instagram. But get ready for the waves of nausea when you find your good bottle of body lotion under your teen son’s bed. Alongside two dozen wadded up tissues. You won’t be so quick to post those pictures, my friends. I learned this one the hard way: HIDE THE EXPENSIVE LOTION, LADIES! Suave and St. Ives from here on out.
3. HOMEWORK: Your toddler has none. Boom. Teens have a lot of homework and while you may not be asked to help out with it as they get older, you will certainly have to hear them bitch and moan about doing it. And you might have to run damage control when it’s 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and they magically remember that they have a ginormous project/paper/4-course meal to prepare for culinary class. I actually lived through the 4-course meal thing. Thank God for a best friend who can cook like a boss and who doesn’t even blink when you call her, sobbing, and ask if she can “HELP US MAKE A FOUR COURSE MEAL” at 10:04 p.m. on a Sunday night.
4. AXE BODY SPRAY: You think you’re sick of smelling poo and pee and sour milk and ketchup? Just wait.
5. SLEEPING (YES, AGAIN): When you have babies and toddlers, you want to sleep but you can’t. When you have teens, you finally can sleep but you don’t want to. Because teens go out. Without you! And sometimes, you don’t know exactly where they are, or who they’re with. Out of sight definitely DOES NOT mean out of mind when it comes to being the parent of a teenager. Out of sight means your imagination goes into overdrive and every worst case scenario unfolds in your head with ugly clarity. Visions of abductions and choking are now replaced with nightmares about drinking and drugs and sex. You don’t mentally exhale until you touch base with your teen/baby.
You will never know the true power of texting until you get the one that says, “Hi mom, we’re fine. On our way home.” Or even the one that says “U totes need 2 chill, mom.”
Those are just five ways toddlers are easier than teens. Now, we could flip this around and go all Opposite Day and say Oh yeah, Jenny? Here’s how teens are easier! They can talk! They don’t crap their pants! They don’t crawl into bed with you and lose control of their bladder! They don’t need their hot dogs cut into non-lethal bite-size chunks! They don’t cry at Target! They don’t wear snowsuits! They don’t go boneless and refuse to move in the middle of your Mommy and Me class, the one with the perfect women who silently judge your sub-par parenting!
And you know what? We’d be right. Having kids is hard. It doesn’t matter if your charges are tiny and have soft little feet or if they tower over you and sometimes startle you with their man-voices.
Just different kinds of hard, that’s all. And here’s a little secret for you, something I think about when my four teens are all seemingly conspiring to make me insane:
If you look hard enough, you can still see your toddler. It might be the curve of a cheek, it might be the way they twist their hair, it might be the way they sleep with their mouth open and one hand curled up near their face (yes, it’s okay if you sneak a peek at your snoozing teens, people…just not when they have friends over. Or in their dorm rooms.). You will glance at your beautifully awkward teen and the toddler they used to be will jump out of nowhere and shout “BOO! I’m still in here, mommy! Miss me??”
And when you do get that glimpse of what once was framed so beautifully in what is yet to be? It takes your breath away. In that glimpse you begin to understand what all of those annoying-but-well-meaning old mamas are trying to say when they blather on about how fast time flies, and how we should enjoy it while it lasts.
For a fleeting moment, you see the gorgeous, bright arc of parenting. Its beauty is often hidden under layers of monotony and stress and life…but it’s there. And it’s bigger than you could ever imagine.
So, here’s to all of us and our sometimes-impossible children, big and small. May they always keep us tired and worrying and cleaning…