Scrolling through some Facebook memories today, I stumbled upon this photo of the Boy Child: 2 years old, with cherub curls, the face of an angel, and enough destructive, unbridled energy to fell a small country.
This picture was taken 48 seconds after we had played a game of “pack up the toys” together. And for 48 seconds, the toys stayed in their tubs.
This picture perfectly captures the essence of life with a toddler for me.
As a midwife, people ask me all the time about how to prepare for a new baby. We talk about things like managing sleep deprivation, and feeding options, and safe sleeping guidelines. We talk about baby items they might find useful, and support networks they have in place, and what their expectations of raising children are. During these discussions, I always mention baby- proofing their house, in preparation for their new arrival. And guaranteed, someone will always say something along the lines of “Oh, do you really think that baby-proofing is worth it? We are planning to just teach our children not to touch things”.
And my Inner-Rysie laughs her arse off, as my Outer-Rysie suppresses an intense eyebrow-twitch, and says calmly and non-judgementally in a voice so soothing that it could be used in meditation mantras, “oh, it’s definitely worth at least considering. Babies can be quicker than you think once they are on the move.”
Because Inner-Rysie remembers uttering the same “not touching things” sentence, with a belly full of the Boy Child, and a very calm, soothing midwife making the exact same suggestion to her.
Here’s the thing.
Newborns, although challenging in a multitude of ways, are brilliantly floppy, immobile little creatures. For a good few months, if they let you put them down, you can lay them on their rug on the floor while you go and pee, and the little critters will still be there, where you left them, when you get back.
But it’s short-lived.
Because before you know it, they start rolling, then crawling, then bum-scooting, then walking, and THAT’S WHEN THE CHAOS REALLY BEGINS.
All of a sudden, you go to pee, and your kid is stuck headfirst under the couch, or playing gleefully in the cat litter tray.
Not. Even. Joking.
I’m going to put it out there, straight down the line.
If you’ve got nice stuff, and you’re about to have kids, I implore you to put the nice stuff away. For like, ten years.
So many new parents have absolutely beautiful homes, with stunning white couches, designer rugs, and artfully placed cushions, complementing their one-of-a-kind table lamps and artisan-made ornaments. I look around these homes and feel terrified for the future of these beautiful things. As their adorable baby lays cooing on it’s sheepskin rug on the immaculate lounge room floor, those beautiful parents are completely oblivious to the carnage ahead.
Guys, be prepared. You might think a coat of scotch-guard on that couch will protect it from any damage, but you’re underestimating what your child is capable of. Toddlers drool, a lot. They get snotty, a lot. And you might wipe that adorable little button nose 542 times a day, but I GUARANTEE you, at some point, your tot is going to smear their face across your couch with their goobers. They’re stealthy little units, adept at silent nappy removal, sudocream discovery and secret food-into-lounge smuggling (usually vegemite toast that they hid in their nappy.) They vomit, abruptly. They lick things, constantly. And they love to bite things, especially expensive, irreplaceable things.
While you think they’re playing quietly with the Duplo tub and watching playschool, they are actually creating artwork with a lip-liner they discovered in your handbag, or the pen that was on the desk in the study, that they had to pull the desk chair across to, to get to. Those videos you see of kids covered in sudocream on YouTube are just a glimpse into toddler life. In fact, you should watch lots of those videos. Consider it something like training for the warzone.
When my kids were little, I had 6 ornaments that I loved: 5 willow tree statues, and a little gecko my dad had sent me for my birthday one year. I was smart; I kept these things out of reach of little hands. Yet EVERY SINGLE ONE has been broken, repaired, re-broken and re-repaired. Although they couldn’t actually reach the statues, each of the kids at different times bumped into the shelf where they stood, or threw teddies and toys inadvertently just high enough to knock them all off. Once I found the Girl Child scaling up the shelves where they sat, like a ladder, to get to mummy’s “pretties”. That was the day they all got put away, completely.
Despite being “out of reach”, the heads got knocked off every statue, and all of the wings torn off. All four legs of the gecko got broken off, one by one. Without any intent, or malice, those angelic looking kids of mine had completely destroyed the only fragile items I owned (Not to mention a giant bay window, which got shattered by a catapulted marble one day). I still have my statues, although they are all a bit….wonky these days.
So you can see why I fear for houses with one-of-a-kind anything.
In toddler land, nothing is sacred.
Now, we took the advice we were given, and we child-proofed our home. And Hot Husband and I were attentive parents. We practiced distraction techniques, and growled about power points, and tried to keep the place as safe as we possibly could. But despite our best efforts. our toddlers smashed us into the ground.
We had soft-close drawers and cupboards in our house, and most days, without fail, little fingers and hands got pinched. Once, the boy child got his head caught between the dishwasher and the bench. The Girl Child tried climbing up a glass shelving unit. The Boy Child drank the dog water. The carpet got painted with nail polish, and the walls vandalised more times than I can even remember. The Girl Child shoved toast in the VCR, the Boy Child ate an entire jar of Vaseline while I was changing his sister’s nappy, and on a separate occasion, ate the fat from the grease trap of the barbecue, while I was hanging out washing. The Girl Child constantly found and ate insects, and filled up the toilet with all of the toilet rolls she could find, and the Boy Child bit the tops off every lovely scented candle I owned. They’d both pull everything they could reach off the bench, just to see what it was. Don’t even get me started on the good times they had with dog poo.
Day in, day out, every toy basket was upheaved, every washing basket was pulled apart, the linen was pulled off beds and clothes and nappies were pulled out of drawers and the change table. And this always occurred in the shortest of intervals: usually when I was in the toilet with one child hanging off my leg, or attempting to pack the nappy bag to get out of the house.
I’m pretty sure the Nurse-On-Call file on our family was almost exclusively filled with weird shit that my kids ingested, as I sat frantic on the end of the phone, mentally preparing to go to the Emergency Department and be interviewed by the Department of Children Services.
In all seriousness though, I’m thankful every day that the really dangerous stuff was properly locked away. Because even as a second-time parent, I found myself surprised by how quickly and quietly they could get into things that I didn’t expect, and how completely absent their sense of survival really was.
I love the theory of simply teaching kids not to touch, I really do. But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that toddlers are not reasonable little humans. They are one hundred per-cent impulse driven, curious, exploratory little beasts, with an attention span far less than you expect, which means they are constantly moving, constantly seeking, constantly TOUCHING.
You COULD choose to spend your days chasing them around with a damp cloth to protect your beautiful things, but the novelty of that will wear off quicker than you can dial Nurse-On-Call (because your kid drank dishwashing detergent while you were wiping the couch).
So, scotch- guard that couch, then scotch-guard it again, and one more time for good measure, then cover it with a blanket and understand that there’s probably no salvaging it.
Then, enjoy helping your little ones to explore their environments in the safest way you can.
They won’t stay this crazy forever, and before you know it, you’ll have that one-of-a-kind lamp back on display with it’s matching artisan statue, and you’ll be wondering where the years went.