The Need and Grace of Toddlers

Ever see the annoying Family Guy commercial where Stewie just stands there whining “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mommy.” at Lois? They started rerunning them when I was pregnant and my mom said, “You better get used to that sound.” In the last few months, I have truly begun to understand the depth of that sentiment, around the same time I finally comprehended the phrase, “I just want to pee alone.” Because as a mom, especially of young children, you’re never truly alone. Even when you are physically separated from your kid, they are still in the back of your mind saying, “Mamamamama!” But they’re a whole lot louder in person.

This constant need is in no way new. The first few months of Sprout’s life, he wouldn’t tolerate being put down for more than 30 seconds without crying. I felt like I was torturing my baby just by going to the bathroom or attempting to shove food in my mouth. While some moms adore being needed so badly, the pressure and weight of it was almost painful. For me, it was a huge relief both to go back to work and have him gain some small measure of independence as a toddler.

Now, it’s less his specific, constant need than the constant need of life. While he’s fine when I actually leave the house, any moment I have in his presence belongs to him.

His voice is typically the first thing I hear in the morning, either my name or a more generic mumbling. While he seems to have moved it back again (at least temporarily), this was starting as early as 5:45 AM. I am not a morning person. If it’s late enough that I don’t retreat with him to the couch to close my eyes for a bit longer, I get his breakfast ready, then mine. Around 7, we bounce into the bedroom and Sprout wakes Chris up by crawling on him. Unfortunately, that time of the morning, Chris is groggy and Sprout really isn’t interested in his company. So instead, Sprout stands outside the bathroom whining “Mamamamama” while I take my shower. It’s not the whole time, but it’s enough to make me feel guilty about the mere act of getting ready for work. As soon as the water turns off, he’s back. He follows me to the bedroom, where I balance getting myself dressed with keeping him from ransacking my nighstand. Once I’m done, I shuffle him out the room. As I go about my morning routine, I have to repeat this several times, as he’s not allowed in our bedroom, the bathroom, or the spare room alone and I inevitably forget something. Often, he’s trying to shove a book in my hands – after rejecting Chris’s offer to read – or reaching for something he’s not supposed to have.

When I come home around 6:15, I play with him as Chris makes dinner, then bathe and put him to bed by 8:30. By that time, I have about 2 1/2 hours to do every non-kid, non-work thing, including talking to my husband, washing the dishes, exercising, activist work, writing, reading or watching TV. Once a month, I miss a single weekday bedtime to go to a bike advocacy or church meeting.

On weekends, if I have to do something without Sprout, I try to schedule it for his nap. Being a working mom with a long commute, I hate the thought of missing more time with my son than absolutely necessary. In addition, because Chris is the primary caregiver, I like giving him a break when possible. So all of the noise about how “Mom should take time to go to a yoga class” falls on deaf ears. When on earth could I do that?

Frankly, I’m freaking exhausted.

But the worst part is that I have it easy. I don’t need to cook dinner or do laundry most of the time. I don’t have to pick Sprout up from daycare or stay home when he’s sick. I could take a vacation away from him if I wanted, I just choose not to. I could get more sleep if I cut back on my extracurriculars (although they keep me sane). I don’t have to work two jobs to pay the bills. I look at the stories of single parents who finish one shift at 11 PM and start another one at 4 AM and bristle in anger that our society requires that to survive.

Unfortunately, no one really has it easy. There is absolutely no question many people definitely have it worse than others. But we’re all here together on earth and life and people are messy and messed up so much of the time. There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week worldwide. We simultaneously never have enough time and entirely too much time with the people we love, especially our kids. We may not all have a little voice whining “Mamamamama” in demand of God knows what, but we all have competing demands that push each other aside for our attention and energy.

So we need to extend grace towards each other, recognizing the continual fight between the neediness of the world and the limits of our sanity. I remember working at Target and wondering why the women’s clothing section was always the messiest, clothes scattered on the shelves, the dressing rooms, the floor. While I don’t know if this was true, I liked to imagine it was mainly harried mothers who spent so much time picking up after everyone else that having one place they didn’t need to was such a relief. Being able to leave a mess, knowing someone else can take care of it, is a freedom. Remembering the inner and outer toddlers that everyone is dealing with might just just allow us to forgive them, help them clean up their mess just a little.

2 thoughts on “The Need and Grace of Toddlers

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