* This story also appears on the author’s blog, Size Seven Shoes.
Life with a toddler is crazy! Not sure if this is the case for everyone, but Jamie hardly ever sits still. Whatever mess I clean up after him is almost immediately created again. It’s like his goal in life is to upset everything.
His enthusiasm for life is refreshing though. For a 30 something year old me especially, who sometimes can fail to comprehend how intriguing it is to taste silly little things like dust bunnies (well, back in my day I ate tissue just to try out how it feels like on my tongue) or how satisfying it is to repeat a new word you’ve learned ten thousand times.
This toddler phase seems to have dawned upon us very suddenly. I knew, of course, that once Jamie turned a year old, lots of things about him would change. But I would not have been able to imagine beforehand just how vast the differences would be. It’s almost as if Jamie flipped an internal switch upon hitting his first birthday, and it immediately altered everything about him.
But well, despite all the ups and downs and trying times (screams are at unbearably shrill pitches and we are also starting to see the beginnings of tantrums), there’s much to be savoured about this phase in Jamie’s life. I’m doing my best to make the most of it. Before long, he’ll be all grown up and not the clingy little tot who adores me so much. *sniff*
Here are some things I’ve learned about toddlerhood so far:
Keep them in sight. As before, it’s inadvisable to leave the child unattended for too long. In fact, it might be even more important to keep this mind than it had been when they were still infants. Just avert your gaze from them for a few seconds and next thing you know, they’re popping something dangerous into their mouths or putting themselves in harm’s way somehow. *gasp*
Feed them adequately and vary meals. Appetites soar even more than before now. I realise the importance of tea times now. And snacks, wherever necessary. That means lots more food planning, preparation and cleaning up afterwards. It’s also been a priority of ours to make sure that we offer Jamie a variety of food in his meals. That has worked out really well as he seems to like most foods these days.
Toddlers will eventually want to self feed if they aren’t already doing so. I loved the idea of baby led weaning, but never quite understood how to pull it off in the first year of Jamie’s life. You could say we more or less failed, although in the end, we at least managed to get him to eat with his hands. However, once he entered his second year, he showed keenness to learn how to feed himself with a spoon and to drink from a normal cup. So we decided to teach him and to let him continue to play with his food and attempt to feed himself. The results have been great. (It’s a lot of mess to clean up though, sometimes, but well, I’m home based and have a flexible schedule so it doesn’t matter as much).
Irritating behaviour mostly occurs for a reason. Prior to having a child, I always found it annoying whenever someone else’s kid started to scream or cry or kick up some kind of a fuss. Now, with a child of my own, I understand such behaviour better. I’ve found that Jamie only screams for a few reasons: (1) He’s reached his energy limits and is tired and in dire need of sleep; (2) He’s frustrated about something and needs my help; or (3) He wants something that he was told he cannot have. So before reprimanding Jamie for screaming, what I do nowadays is to first observe what he is doing to determine whether he is just simply asking for my assistance or in need of my attention.
Undivided attention matters. It isn’t enough for Jamie that I am in the same room as he is. He often walks all the way to where I am just to communicate with me. He wants me to be within arm’s length and to be looking him in the eyes. Even sitting next to him while being occupied with my smartphone is not acceptable. He wants me to be focussed on him. And perhaps, that’s as it should be. I need to constantly remind myself of that.
Continually teach them new stuff because they are eager to learn. It amazed me just how fast Jamie picked up new words over the past few months. Back when he turned one year old, the only words he could say were “papa”, “mmm-meh” (in reference to me), “nen nen” (breastmilk) and “dog-dog”. Now, he can say at least a dozen or more words. It’s almost as if he is learning a new word every few days. I need to remind myself to keep introducing new words and concepts to him though.
The imitation habit begins. Toddlers imitate what we do a lot. Which means I really have to be careful what I do or say around him. There was a brief period where my Mum and I observed that Jamie would utter something that sounded close to “stupid” and so, I had to re-evaluate whether I had been saying that word a lot around him. Thankfully that habit has seemed to pass. Or we could have just heard him wrongly. But either way, it’s something to be mindful of. What we do around our toddlers.
Childproofing is troublesome, but worth it. I bet you most Malaysian families don’t think too much of childproofing their homes. For us, though, it would be hard to imagine NOT doing so as Jamie is really inquisitive and super active. We have two safety gates installed at home, limiting his freedom to roam to only the living room. We have also started installing drawer locks, sliding door stoppers and much more. For a parent like me who is often alone at home with a toddler, this really makes a difference as I can at least disappear for a few minutes here and there to get things done around the home without worrying that Jamie will put himself in grave danger (although there are still some hazards present, those are minimal; nevertheless it’s important to still monitor them constantly – see my first point above).
Toddlers need assurance to move towards independence. This I read from somewhere. It may seem like your tot is clinging to you more than ever, and it may be surprising since you expect them to become more independent by now. Truth is, they ARE growing more independent, but it’s a back-and-forth process whereby they’ll still periodically come back to you for assurance. In my case, this comes in the form of Jamie constantly clinging to my leg, leaning on my back (when I’m seated on the floor) or arbitrarily asking for “nen nen” though not being actually hungry. But as frustrating as this seems, I’ve discovered that this is normal for their development so it doesn’t bother me as much as it might be expected to.
Self weaning can happen, as long as you are patient. I posted something about this on one of the breastfeeding Facebook groups that I am a member of. From the responses of other mothers, I realised that Jamie might already be on the path to self weaning. He still nurses in the middle of the night, but much less. And daytime feeds seem to be decreasing too, in terms of demand and also duration. I’ve less instances where my breasts feel full (of milk) and absolutely no more necessity to pump for relief. I read that nursing sessions that are first thing in the morning and last thing at night will be the final ones to go. Nowadays, Jamie also tends to ask for “nen nen” more for a chance to be close to me than to actually feed. It’s a little surprising and occasionally makes me feel sad because I think of how our nursing days may soon be numbered, but it’s a good sign that he’s graduating to other things in life. For which I am proud of him.
There’s probably more to say than what I’ve listed here but I can’t seem to think of it at this hour of the night. Perhaps I’ll share it with you in other posts when I regain my memory (if that’s even possible).
But well, if you don’t remember anything else from this post, just take note: Toddlerhood is challenging but so rewarding to be a part of. It’s just a season. With lots of help and encouragement, these kids of ours will get one step closer to one day facing life on their own without us. That’s the goal. We’re shaping future adults here. One wobbly step at a time.