Is there anyone more adorable than a toddler? The chubby cheeks, the bright eyes, the little mouth that yells, “You NOT the boss of me!” right before knocking a jar of spaghetti sauce off the table and onto the cat? Nope, there sure isn’t. Toddlers are their own brand of cute maniac that every parent has to survive.
My boys are 13- and 15-years old now, so it’s been a while since I saw them toddling around the house in droopy diapers. But I vividly remember toddler time with a mixture of nostalgia, yearning and flat-out relief that I can now leave pennies on counter without fear they’ll wind up in someone’s nose. Every day back then was a whirlwind of cartoons, snot and counting to three in a menacing voice. Every day left me exhilarated and exhausted.
Parenting teenagers is still challenging, of course, but the challenges are vastly different. Modifying behavior isn’t as simple. I can’t make someone behave with the threat of losing a lollipop. I can’t give a high school freshman a lecture that sharing is caring. And if I send them to their rooms as punishment, they’re happy about it. Lying on their beds and Snapchatting for hours without me bugging them about their homework is a treat.
What’s been most surprising to me about their development, however, is how some of the behavior that bothered me when they were toddlers is A) still around and B) pretty awesome now. For example, tattling. It used to drive me crazy when the boys would rat each other out about the slightest transgression – “He took my toy! He pulled my leg! He threw sand in my face!” Seriously, some days our house was like The People’s Court with me doling out penalties and wisdom like a judge who hadn’t taken a shower for a few days.
But I now see that my willingness to listen to their tattles, then give them my feedback, was a good thing because it taught them about right and wrong, as well as about what is truly worthy of concern. They are definitely much more close-lipped at this age, but they still tell me about their friends who aren’t making good choices – cheating, sassing the bus driver, lying to parents, etc. They’re not necessarily trying to get these kids in trouble, but to affirm that what they think is bad behavior is truly bad behavior.
“Is it bad that Ethan copied his English paper from the Internet?”
“Even if it was from the New York Times website?”
“Um, double YES.”
Another remnant from their toddler behavior is what I call “the last minute news dump.” My boys were notorious for always dragging out bedtime and story time with “one more thing” when all I wanted to do was escape their room like a prisoner who’s just found a secret tunnel at Alcatraz. They still do this, so many years later, but now I love it.
Some days I barely see them, so I’m thrilled to hear “Guess what happened today?” or “I have a joke for you, Mom” right before I switch off their lights. My escape can wait a few minutes. If they’re talking, I’m listening.
Of course, there are a few remaining toddler traits that I couldn’t stand then and can’t stand now, like how my 15-year old can’t eat a cracker without leaving a mountain of crumbs, or the way my 13-year old takes every book out of his bookcase on a regular basis. But I’m okay with these small, annoying behaviors because they give me a glimpse at what these boys were like way back when. Way back when their little hands used to clutch onto mine to cross the street. When a kiss from them left a sticky mess on my cheek. When they were adorable maniacs who I didn’t yet know would grow into wonderful teenagers who I adore completely and who make me proud of them every day.
Just in case, I still don’t leave jars of spaghetti sauce on the table.