Olive is smack dab in the middle of toddler life. She is 2.5 years old, and our days are energetic, loud, and endlessly entertaining.
They’re also exhausting. I have a chronic kidney condition which leaves me running at 50-75% of the energy of a typical person, so statements like this don’t really mean anything most of the time because, um, I’m pretty much always exhausted. Just doing the basic day-to-day stuff leaves me feeling pretty wiped out – the best comparison I can give is that bone-tired, depleted, running-on-empty feeling you get when you have the cold or the flu. Except that it’s all of the time. Forever. Yayyyy…?
Anyway, the point of all this is that for me, exhaustion is hard to gauge. It was somehow incredibly reassuring then, when I came home from my trip last week and my mom told me that she had lost 7 pounds, and forgot just how much work it was running after a two-year-old all day. Guys, I’ve never been so happy to see my mom worn out.
I’m not malingering! Or exaggerating! The struggle is real!
It was especially comforting because I hold myself to pretty high standards when it comes to parenting, having been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some really amazing role models for motherhood. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, my close friends, my birth group, and my own mother who raised six kids. SIX.
Every time I feel like complaining about being tired with Olive, I imagine taking care of Olive plus five more, or think about my sister-in-law who runs and cooks gourmet meals and has an immaculate house and has four kids (including twins! I feel like that wholly deserves to be written in italics AND underlined.) I mean, I have one. One! One measly little kid! Complaining would be a dick move. So I don’t. Mostly.
Nonetheless, doing it alone has been tough at times, and I have developed some strategies along the way – things I will definitely use with my next child if I have one. I thought I’d write them down before I forget so that you other toddler parents out there could put them to the test. I’ll post them as they occur to me, and file them under the Toddler Wisdom tag so you can find them all easily when I’m done rambling.
Without any further ado….the first:
I say “toy store” but I really mean any store, because are you aware that in this, the year of our lord 2015, even gas stations sell racks full of toys? Gas stations. Every single checkout aisle everywhere is crammed with tantrum-bait, and I take Olive with me on nearly 100% of my errands so we encounter a lot of it.
Yet, look at me! I can smugly declare that she has probably had less than three actual tantrums when it comes time to leave without the toys. Here’s how we do it.
1. No toys for you! I have never bought her anything she picked up in a store unless we went there specifically for that item. Seriously, never. This is key. My intro to Psych class taught me that intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful kind of reinforcement- even more so than continuous reinforcement.
What this means is that if you give in to the “I want this! I need this!” clutching desperation even a few times, they will try to re-create that same result every single time – because you never know! If you’ve already caved in at the checkout line once or twice or eighteen times (no judgement here!) you can still get on board but it might take a little longer for your little one to adjust now that she knows that you’re weak. WEAK, I SAY!
2. Clear eyes, full arms, can’t lose. While I don’t buy Olive anything, she is allowed to carry things around with her while we are still in the store. This means that if you ever run into us shopping, Olive’s arms will probably be filled with a stuffed animal, an oddly large plastic guinea pig, a pinwheel, or some other essential item she managed got her chubby little hands on. Now, I know that this may seem like the worst idea ever, but it’s actually good. I promise! Doing this means that you don’t have to keep saying “No” a million times as you make your way through the aisles, further increasing the probability of your kid losing his shit in Aisle 4. You simply say, “Sure!” and blithely hand them the toy and move on with your life.
The key here is clear expectations. When she was younger Olive often had to ask me to reach things, and now that she’s older she knows she has to ask before touching something, and so when she asks I always remind her “You can carry this around with you, but we are not taking it home with us, OK?” and I wait for agreement. These days, for extra points I sometimes pretend to be Stuart’s mother and ask, “What does mummy say about looking at things in the store?” and wait for her to parrot, “I just can look at ’em but I NOT take ’em home.” Boom. Expectations: clear. Creepy gold star: earned.
3. The checkout line. Our own Waterloo. As we finish up the shopping and go to stand in line, I let her know that she needs to get ready to say goodbye to the toy. I find 1-2 minute warnings like this essential to any toddler transition, but especially when it involves a neon pink sparkly plush unicorn/pegasus with eyes the size of saucers. So I give the warning and make sure she hears me and acknowledges what I’ve said.
4. The Final Countdown. Before I pay, or while the cashier is ringing things up, I tell her it’s time to say goodbye now. She quite often gets sad about this, which is totally understandable – it’s tough to let go of the things you want. Especially if they rattle or spin or talk to you in an eerily high-pitched voice.
Usually I will have to ask her once or twice, and then we find a nice place to leave the toy (apologies to the store employee who has to re-shelve the item, but it’s probably better for everyone this way
Somehow finding a nice place for the toy to stay makes her feel better, and there’s usually a very dramatic process of hugging, kissing, waving, and saying goodbye to the toy. But then she happily grabs my hand and off we go.
[Edited February 20, 2017 to add: When Olive reached around 3.5 years old – old enough to be trusted to navigate a store on her own – our routine changed to include her putting the toy back where it came from while I waited in line at the checkout.]
Success! YOU WIN! SHE WINS! THE STORE EMPLOYEES WIN!
(Judgy old ladies lose because they can’t judge you today, but I’m sure they’ll get you on something tomorrow!)
I’ve been doing this with Olive since she was old enough to fall in love with inanimate objects, so I am hoping this track record means it might work for your little tyrant, too.
If you have anything you want me to ramble about in future toddler wisdom posts – let me know in the comments! Alternately, if you know of any sort of fast-acting tranquilizer that is safe to administer to a child so that you might be able to get them dressed without eighteen minutes of role play, let me know!
(Asking for a friend. Obviously.)