Peak Toddler Hell

16 Month Olds Are My Kryptonite

I mean it as no offense to her — it’s me. It’s just not my jam.

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My daughter wakes up every morning on a mission. I get her up, bring her downstairs for breakfast, and it begins. In the highchair, she throws more food than she eats; she immediately wants to get out of her buckled-in spot. She demands a high-top seat at the table. She climbs on and off the island counter. Each time she climbs up, I put her back down. Over and over again.

When I am too tired to continue I put her on the ground, her favorite game, “open and close,” begins. Every drawer and every cabinet whips open while I follow closely behind, making sure she doesn’t grab a kitchen knife. She becomes more and more frustrated with each limit I set, eventually ending up horizontal on the kitchen floor, head in hands, kicking and screaming.

We’re both frustrated, and I’m tired. And it’s only 6:45am.

It is my fourth go-around with this age and, like clockwork, I am pulling my hair out. And it’s no offense to her — it’s me. It’s just not my jam. Newborns are my Super Bowl, and babies are the best. Three is adorable and four is super funny. But this weirdly transitional middle part — the sixteen-month madness — is my kryptonite.

She is able and driven, but with no regard for safety. And so I spend all day every day thrusting myself between her and things like traffic and playground ladders, like a weirdly overprotective bodyguard. And she is fearless, forever attempting to scale large rocks and climb high jungle gyms. Her agility is impressive, but with a toddler’s spotty spacial and body awareness she often loses her balance, sending a lightning-bolt of anxiety zipping from my toes to my head before I rush to catch her mid-air. So I follow closely behind her, everywhere, like an exhausted sheep dog.

And while she throws most of her food at mealtimes, she is adamant about tasting everything off the floor menu. Bouncy balls, play dough, and Croc charms are some of her favorites. I’ve even found an LOL Surprise Doll microphone and a pair of stick-on earrings in her diaper. Accessories made it all the way through her! Her most sought-after snack is whipped cream straight from the source, squirted into her mouth. Multiple times a day I find her standing in front of the fridge, door open, reaching for the can. Not sure where she learned that trick. (Me. It was me.)

She is the perfectly impossible mix of big opinions and low communication skills. She marches around like a confident dictator, locking eyes with me and yelling her commands. Except it’s all one-syllable shouts with no clear meaning. I do my best to guess as she looks at me in shock, unable to understand my confusion.

Activities with the older kids look very different with her in tow. She adds a degree of difficulty that makes trips to museums, dinner dates, and beach days feel like I’m running a Tough Mudder in a pair of heels. Even at the park, I end up chasing her as she attempts to climb into the trash can while power-eating mulch. The swings, though — she does love the swings. Easy enough, right? I mean, I just have to stand there and push her a bazillion times while she smiles and burps. Trouble is, for whatever reason (and I don’t really understand it either), I hate the swings. What seems like a mindless easy job for me ends up making me both seasick and frustrated. My arms get tired, I have to chat with the lady next to me while she pushes her own little human, and I really, really just want to sit on the bench and watch. Call me crazy.

I am obsessed with my daughter, but she is just currently in between two stages I love. She no longer naps on my chest but isn’t ready to play pretend. I can’t strap her to my body but she’s too young for scooter rides around the block. She’s brave yet unsafe, opinionated yet nonverbal, and determined but often unable. She is lovable, and amazing, and adorable, but she is very, very hard. And although I don’t want to wish this time away, I am really looking forward to the next stage.

Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.