It wouldn’t be fair to tell a parent in the middle of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum that one day he’ll think of that little fellow, that cartoon voice, that cherub face, and he’d take the temper tantrum if he had to, just to hold that squirmy, unruly little angel-with-the-devil-scream one more time.
I mean, parents of toddlers are a hassled lot, who ride whiplash roller coasters of heart-swelling delight and meltdowns from hell. There is not enough sleep, there is not enough Tylenol, there is not enough coffee, there is not enough juice. (Oh, Lord, why is there never enough juice?)
But toddlers are magic, I tell you. They are pure, unadulterated magic. Their world is new and around every corner is enchantment.
Unless, of course, that corner unexpectedly brings dignity-crushing parental humiliation brought to you by an emotional and physical F5 tornado: the classic toddler apoplectic fit.“Magic?!” some of you are spitting right now over the screams, as you yoga-breathe your way to serenity in the middle of the storm. Your eyes are glazing over as you seek the happy place deep in your mind that feels like the only escape from the madness: I am better than this. I have read five parenting books. I do not yell at my children in the middle of Target.
And let’s face it, at this point even the Baptists are swearing in their heads, because, you guys: TERRIBLE TWOS. (Yeah. Real talk. I have not forgotten.)
It’s just I know now in a deep and bittersweet way that what all the parents of older children said was true: This too shall pass.
And it does.
This one time I had toddlers. Pixie-dust giggles, Precious Moments-eyes, and hands that still reached for mine: toddlers. With sticky cheeks, dirty knees, no grasp of time, and an inherent penchant for irrational debate.
Their conversation skills were often limited to four little sentences on repeat:
“Wake up, Mama.”
“Watch me again, Mama.”
“More juice, Mama.”
“But I want it now, Mama.”
And I had four of my own:
“Mommy needs rest, baby.”
“In a minute, baby.”
“Say please, baby.”
“I said no, baby.”
And it would be easy to focus my memories on those exchanges and the days I hung by a thread, fearing just one more call to poison control or one more spilled sippy cup would drive me to the brink of insanity, and who am I kidding? Sometimes it did.
But the days weren’t always like that. There is so much more to tiny humans than absurd demands and colossal messes requiring hazmat cleanup.
Newness … remember?
Pure love … remember?
Magic … remember?
It is 2001. He is two and a half and he has been staring at his face in the full length mirror for the last five minutes. I have noticed, but I am brushing past. The baby inside me is heavy, and I have much to do.
But not him. He has no to-do list. He has no plans. He grabs my pant leg with a still-dimpled hand and looks up at me, all smiles, bubbling joy.
“My eyes, Mama,” he says, and points to the big, beautiful brown windows to his soul, fringed in fine chestnut lashes and glowing with the light that will always be his.
“Yes,” I say, and smile, because he’s the embodiment of wonder and perfection in that rare peaceful moment. And I’m busy, but not too busy to see it. “Yes, those are your eyes,” I say and nod, believing our conversation is over.
But he shakes his head, gleeful, still pointing just to the right of his nose, and grinning like he has the secrets of the world on the tip of his tongue. “My eyes,” he says again in that darling deep voice I’ll never forget, “Like chocolate, Mama. Like chocolate.”
Yes, yes. They are the deepest brown, and they are … just. like. chocolate.
And I am in love.
It is 2004. She is nearly three—that baby once inside me—and she’s is laying in the crook of my arm, head on my shoulder, our bodies tucked under the covers of the big sleigh bed. It is almost dinner time, but I am not a new mama anymore. I am learning to slow down. To hold her when she wants to be held.
We are watching the rays of sun steal through glass and shutters, splashing onto vaulted ceilings, filling the room with ethereal shadows and light.
She’s been quiet, in thought, and I am still, inching closer to a late afternoon nap. Our cuddle conversations are usually about dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. And cake. And cats. But she is silent today.
And then she speaks. Sincerity, thoughtfulness, and pure goodness in every breath.
“Yes, my love,” I answer as we continue to focus our eyes above.
“What kind of cookies does God like?”
Now the boy with chocolate eyes is taller than I am, and I wear his hand-me-downs—his softest old t-shirts—to sleep at night. I watched him put gas in the car just yesterday, but he still wants a hug every night.
The girl who continues to ponder what God likes now borrows my shoes. She plants the garden. She makes me food when I’m working long hours.
The children who sat on my lap and curled in my arms have become the teen and tween whose burdens are my burdens and whose joys are my joys. They bicker in earnest and they bicker in jest. When bored, they throw ridiculous insults at each other that end with “your mom.”
And I probably should scold. But I don’t, because I can still hear the pixie dust giggles in their laughter.
These are the adolescents my delicious, adorable, irrational toddlers grew up to be.
I am learning to look past the imperfections and savor the good stuff. We are all growing and we are all doing it together, and that isn’t always pretty, but I love them truly, madly, deeply.
Because I am their mom.
And I know now in my heart that even this—this (mostly) peaceful place between grade school and the inevitable battle for independence—this too shall pass. And all I want is not to miss it. Because maybe the true magic of toddlers or teenagers or any child in between, is that we—their imperfect, probably-going-to-make-them-need-therapy parents—ever get to have these amazing wonders at all.