Things You Learn Living with a Toddler

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

Anyone with a young child may well have noticed the desperate attempt being made to rebrand the so called 'terrible two's'. Children's centers and doctor’s surgeries are plastered with posters proclaiming that we should be calling the toddler years the 'terrific two's'. It will never take off, but they do make an interesting point. There are a lot of great things about toddlers; it's certainly an experience like no other. Fun, challenging, confusing and... yeah, it can be pretty damn terrific too. Here's a little look at some of the things in store for you when you live with a toddler.

1. The bathroom is no longer a place of privacy

The bathroom is a sanctuary. The one door it's perfectly acceptable to lock and the one room that, regardless of how long you spend in there, no one will ever question what you are doing. Using the loo, brushing your teeth, taking one of those extra long showers (it's cool – no judgment here) whatever you do, you do in complete privacy. Enter the toddler. Toddlers have no concept of privacy and because their bathroom habits are your business (particularly once you start potty training) they feel it's perfectly acceptable to share in your ablutions.

From wanting to sit on your lap whilst you use the toilet or simply just wanting to stand at the door and stare at you, toddlers can make the bathroom an exhibitionist’s dream. I can't remember the last time I had a shower without hearing that tell tale pitter patter of feet before the bathroom door is wrenched open and the shower curtain is unceremoniously flung aside to reveal the manic, grinning visage of my toddler. I stare at him like a deer in the headlights, he points at me and laughs (does wonders for the self esteem) before he runs out of the room yelling "mama's naked!" For all the world to hear. And what's worse: they don't abide by the "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" rule about bathroom habits. Toddlers have no issues whatsoever telling anyone who might care to listen exactly what goes on in the sanctity of your bathroom. Nothing is sacred. You hear me? Nothing! 

2. They use their imaginations to play really boring games

One of the really cool things about toddlers is they start developing a capacity for imaginative play. After what feels like an eternity of jangling brightly coloured objects in front of them and trying not to let your boredom show, this feels like the flipping jackpot. Until you realise that toddlers like to imagine they do really boring things, like sweeping. Honest to god, I've watched my toddler pretend a stick was a broom and sweep imaginary dirt for hours! Obviously it isn't always like that. Sometimes my kid will pick up literally anything, pretend it's a sword, run around like a lunatic and it's all good fun. But other times it seems that there is literally no better game than pretending to wash up after a tea party (seriously, we don't even get to have the tea party first – it's madness). The bottom line is things that feel mundane and dreary to us are still new and exciting to toddlers. The idea of running the hoover round sounds like an epic adventure to them, one they're keen to repeat over and over and over...

3. Everything is food

Literally anything. Unless it's something you want them to eat, then it's straight up poison as far as a toddler is concerned. A health visitor once told me that toddlers and picky eating go hand in hand, but I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Yes, when you put a plate of food in front of them they can be unbelievably picky. Something they liked yesterday absolutely disgusts them today; if the peas are touching the potatoes then the whole meal is ruined and you better hope you gave them the right plate. Yep, they can be extremely picky.

On the other hand, anything they find that can fit in their mouths will end up in their mouths. Stones, pennies, string. My mother loves to tell anyone who will listen that she once found me trying to eat a woodlouse (what? I'm sure they're a great source of protein). The point is toddlers aren't half so picky when it comes to random crap they find lying around. The key to stopping this is a never ending vigilance and, when you're too late to stop them eating a mouthful of dirt, just tell yourself it'll help them build a stronger immune system in the long run.

4. Everything can make mess

For example, colouring: this seems like a fairly contained activity, right? You poor, ignorant fool. Colouring is a recipe for a mess of monumental proportions. First every colouring book you own is taken off the shelf and strewn around the house, then your toddler decides plain paper is better for drawing. You hand them a sheet of paper, they scribble one line on it before asking for another piece and another piece and another piece and, oh my god you're single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the rainforest! Then your toddler will want to colour with crayons but to get the colour they want they obviously have to tip the whole pack upside down and spill crayons in every direction. Then, maybe crayons aren't the right way to go. Maybe, we need pencils! Or felt tips! Or paint! You know what would set this picture off? Glitter! And lets not forget that at some point your toddler will try to decorate themselves as well, or you, or the walls. Now imagine the chaos when you do something you know is actually messy, like making cakes. Harrowing, isn't it?

5. Clothes are for losers

Lets face it; we all enjoy the freedom of being able to walk around naked. In the privacy of our own homes, away from judgment and those pesky indecent exposure laws, we all like the chance to let it all hang out. Toddlers are no different. Once they work out how to undress themselves, they strip down to their birthday suits at any given moment. It's sweet in a way. Innocent. What's not fun is attempting to wrestle them back into their clothes again. This might surprise you but toddlers are pretty strong, and fast and what's more they have a never ending supply of hyperactivity that you in your old, worn out, sleep deprived state will never be able to compete with. You will find yourself chasing your naked, shrieking little sod all over the house whilst they giggle maniacally thinking it's the best game ever!
The other issue with naked toddlers (particularly boys) is their utter fascination with a certain part of their anatomy. Let's face it: Freud didn't call it the phallic stage of development for nothing. I would never have believed how many times I could say the phrase "no, don't do that with your willy." Now it's a corner stone of my vocabulary. 

6. There are no such things as secrets

Remember how I said toddlers have no concept of privacy? Yeah, well that's going to cause you far more problems than a few invasions of shower time. Toddlers are like undercover spies. They hear everything. No matter how hard you try to speak out of earshot, they will hear and they will pass on that information as well as any other observations they have made. I took my toddler to a playgroup the other day only to overhear two mothers talking about wanting to catch up over a glass of wine. Of course, I wasn't the only one listening. One of the like-informants heard too and turned to the gathered crowd and pronounced "wine is mummy's special drink!" The look on the poor mother's face was priceless.

But, hey let's pretend for a moment that you're used to the ways of these diminutive saboteurs. You don't ever say anything that might be used against you, or do anything you wouldn't want to share with the masses. You think you're pretty safe? Wrong again. Toddlers are pros. If you won't give up the dirt they’re after they'll go looking for it. I've seen too many mothers to count fall from their pedestals because their toddler has unearthed mummy's secret "back massager" and run into the midst of a social gathering waving it around like the Olympic Torch. 
The bottom line is, no matter how much your toddler might embarrass you, frustrate you or run rings around you, this whole stage of development is just kind of spectacular. Your kid is finally showing little glimmers of the adult they will one day become. Inquisitive, cheeky, playful, kind. Toddlers have so many beautiful qualities to offer and then there's a few iffy ones too – but that's people. We're not perfect. We're different and interesting and flawed and those are the things that make us so terrific.