During Sprout’s first few months, every time someone said, “Oh, take advantage of this time while you can,” I wanted to smack them. I was strung out with sleeplessness, lonely, isolated as hell and emotionally frayed. I loved my son and was amazed by his very presence, but was also terrified that I’d break him. Those first few months were definitely the hardest of my parenting experience and some of the hardest of my entire life.
In contrast, hardly ever anyone says that now that I have a toddler, even though I believe it would be much more appropriate. While Sprout certainly doesn’t lack his challenging moments, I enjoy my time with him so much more now than I did when he was first born. Toddlers get a bad rap.
Here are just a few of the ways in which for me, having a toddler is much more fun and enjoyable than having a newborn:
Him showing affection: Newborns don’t realize they you’re a separate being from them, so they can’t comprehend the idea of giving or receiving affection. Wanting mommy to hold them isn’t a choice so much as instinct. Now, Sprout is a very affection kid. He loves hugging, wrapping his arms around my legs and climbing into my lap. He blows kisses with enthusiasm and is learning to kiss people without head butting them. When we’re out, he reaches his hand out for me to hold it, a lovely gesture that shows both his love and the fact that our safety lessons are sinking in.
Giving him affection: I really don’t understand when people say newborns are “snuggly.” With their delicate little necks and big heads, there are only a few positions you can hold them in, none conducive to snuggling. Even though I carried Sprout around all day when he was a newborn, I never felt like I could truly hug him. Now, we constantly hug, tickle, squeeze, and snuggle with him. We give him hug sandwiches with him as the filling between Chris and I.
Showing joy: Most newborns don’t smile for the first few months and Sprout was a particularly serious kid. While he was relatively calm, his two modes were crying or not crying. That didn’t give me a lot of emotional feedback or reward. While he has his cranky moments now, he’s generally a happy kid. He smiles and laughs easily and still thinks his parents are hilarious. Sometimes he’ll laugh so hard his cheeks turn red, like the other day when he thought dripping water into my cupped hands in the bathtub was uproarious.
Communication: As with showing emotions, newborns’ communication skills are limited to crying or not crying. These days, Sprout’s communication skills are increasing by leaps and bounds. In the last few weeks, he’s added ten new words to his vocabulary and more are sure to come soon. While they aren’t proper English words, he uses a number of sound effects, like “Woof” for dogs and “Toot toot” for trains. It’s devastatingly cute. While we failed on the sign language front, a lot of kids his age have a whole vocabulary of signs.
Comprehension and following directions: When Sprout was first born, talking to him felt like talking to myself. Babies love hearing their parents’ voices, but they don’t understand a thing. In contrast, now Sprout’s picking up more every day. If you ask him to get his shoes or a book, he can. (He sometimes ignores us, but that’s a different issue.) He had soup for the first time the other day and I demonstrated dipping my bread in my bowl. After the second time he watched me do it, he was doing it himself. It’s very fun to watch those little gears cranking in his head.
Desire to help: Newborns are bundles of needs, wanting nothing else but for an adult to meet them. Toddlers love to be needed and seen as helpful. While they take forever and aren’t always the most competent, I find it endearing. For us, this started at Disney World, when Sprout decided that he wanted to be “helpful” by pushing his stroller. Thankfully, most of his other efforts are slightly more productive. He loves helping put away his cloth diapers, bringing the shells and inserts one at a time into his bedroom.
Playing: “Playing” with a newborn involves shaking random stuffed objects in their general direction. Now, we have a whole variety of ways to play with Sprout. We can go to the park, where he loves spinning in the egg-shaped chair, climbing up the steps, and flying down the slide. He climbs up me to reach the couch; we tickle and flip him upside down. He’s even started getting into creative and construction play, enjoying his blocks and Lego train set.
Sleep: While sleep has been hard to find lately with Sprout’s molars coming in, I’m still getting a hell of a lot more than when he was a newborn. I do not miss waking up four times a night. Also, if I’m really fed up now, I can call in Chris. When I was nursing Sprout, I couldn’t do that without screwing up my supply.
Independence: When Sprout was first born, he demanded to be held constantly. If you put him down for more than 30 seconds for any time during the day, he would wail. In the swing, he maxed out on 15 minutes, which was as long as it took to put him in there. He didn’t like the baby carrier either. I felt hideously guilty putting him down to carry out basic bodily functions. Now, he can happily sit in his room, flipping through books for 10 minutes at a time. We check in on him, of course, but it gives you a chance to breathe.