Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Old Age and Toddlers

I sometimes wonder how quickly my two-year-old, Rayden, is aging me. Since his birth, this weird, stern line has snuck in over my eyebrows when I frown, and I know my laugh lines have tripled in this kid’s presence. He’s frickin’ hilarious.

The other day Eli and I came across a picture of me from my freshmen year of college.

            “I looked so much younger!” I whined (I'll admit to the whine).

            My husband, always the logical one, pointed out, “Well, it was 10 years ago.”

            “Yeah, but I’m not supposed to look ten years older!” When we’re bombarded daily with photo-shopped faces without creases and eyes without bags, I guess it’s easy to forget that people age, and that lifestyles (and children!) affect that process.

            Rayden impacts all aspects of my life. He’s sort of sneaky in that way, like a ninja. A ninja octopus on roller skates who never sits still—even in his sleep. I recently got my hair cut, and I laughed with the stylist over the need for something short and simple with a toddler running wild in the house. “I basically just want to mess up my hair with some leave-in conditioner and call it good,” I told her.

            “Your son must be about two,” was her reply.

            These days, my daily schedule looks quite different, and even a trip to the mall becomes an adventure—in both good and bad ways. I think the strangest thing I’ve noticed about parenting, however, is something I call the “judgement factor”.
Yep, feels kinda like that.

            I guess people make snap judgements about everyone they meet on a daily basis. It’s what keeps us from being ourselves, makes us weary of reaching out to new people. Maybe it’s the clothes you wear, your accent, or your facial expressions. When you have a child, though, I feel the bar raises to a whole new level. When I visit “kid-friendly” places, there is the impression that you (and your child, of course) have to behave a certain way or receive raised eyebrows and shame-inducing glares from both the childless and the child-rearing.  

Yesterday, we were at a mall, and I wanted to visit a boutique shop that is usually a bit fancy for my taste, especially with Ray in tow, but we were Christmas shopping. Pulling up with Rayden in his stroller, seated neatly with some Cheeze-Its and his water bottle, I thought we were good to go.

            At first, one of the sales clerks smiled at Rayden and said he looked “sleepy”. Ugh. Thanks, no thanks.
Tangent: My automatic feeling when you tell me my child looks “sleepy” is that you’re telling me I shouldn’t be out in public and should instead immediately go home and get him some proper rest. I’m not sure if that’s the intention of people who say that, but people should stop saying that to parents immediately. It might just be me overreacting because Rayden has never slept well in two years, has slept through the night approximately nine times in 858 days, but if he sleeps in the mall in a stroller and gives me a few sweet moments to get my work done in peace, that is between me and him, in my humble opinion. #sorrynotsorry 
            I quickly located the items I was looking for, but, as any parents of toddlers know, five minutes is more than enough time to kick it into beast mode. Rayden managed to pull himself up out of his supposedly “sleepy” demeanor, smash all of the Cheeze-Its into bits, sneeze Cheeze-Its in an Exorcist-style spray across the shop, and undo the strap around his waist, allowing him to climb freely all over his stroller in acrobatic positions that made the old ladies around me squirm. The smiles on the sales clerks tightened, people began muttering and moving to the other side of the store, the couples around us frowned.  We purchased our items and left, but I felt like the bad vibes followed us through the mall like a lingering stench.
            Now, other days are better, and some are surprisingly wonderful. Occasionally, Rayden is a little angel in public and our adventures go off without a scratch. On one of those days I might see another toddler throwing a full-out, arms-flailing tantrum in the grocery store because his mother wouldn’t let him eat the fuzz-covered cracker lying in the corner of the aisle. I know that I won’t frown or move awkwardly away, or, heaven forbid, say “he looks sleepy”. I’ll smile, say “toddlers”, and move on. I think we can all handle that because anyone who has toddlers knows they’re part human, part totally psycho. It would be great to see more of that understanding on a daily basis.
Toddlers: only part human

            On Sunday we were at my favorite church in the La Crosse area. I like it because there is a separate area where kids and families can sit/stand/roam if they like and still watch the service. Plus, the priest rocks. A woman with a three-year-old sat near us and her daughter upended an entire container of Cheerios during the second reading. Eli and another father began to clean up the mess, and soon the entire room joined in. The woman sunk her head into her shoulders, apologizing, “Sorry, everybody, so sorry.” We all assured her that there was no need to apologize. None at all.
            “We’ve all been there,” one man said, on his hands and knees, picking Cheerios out of the carpet in his Sunday best.
            I know I’ve been there, and many others have, too. Maybe some people are blessed with little miracle toddlers who smile on cue and never raise their voice. That would be cool, and those parents should consider sharing their magical spells with the world. For us non-magicians, though, it would be sweet to see a little more support in the world at large.
Yes, toddlers age us, impact our everyday lives, and make Christmas shopping miserable, but they are also some of the brightest lights in this crazy world. Too young to understand time, they live fully and in the moment. Sure, they stress us out, but, at this age, they don’t yet judge us. We’ve all been there. Maybe we should follow their lead on that one.