Advice I was told, listened to, then ignored whilst potty training Little Bear, and was all the happier for it:
January this year, I started looking at toilet training Little Bear. I felt under a lot of pressure to make this work, and was slightly terrified about the idea of having to clean poo off the sofa and mop up endless puddles of wee, especially after becoming a nappy changing pro after the last 2 years.
Two and a half thousand years ago, Socrates asked what Justice was. Ever since, adults have struggled with this question. What is fair, how should we live our lives, how should we treat other people? Not so for a toddler. Toddlers have an innate knowledge of justice. They’ve understood it with absolute certainty months before they can even say it. For them, the obvious nature of justice requires swift and outraged retribution for anyone who challenges its unbreakable rules.
When a toddler is well rested, then Justice is kinder, calmer and has more giggles. Justice can be reasoned with. On the other hand, the tired toddler has no charity. When their dispensing their Justice, no quarter should be given, and inconsistency is expected and utterly fair. Whether they want the Weetabix dry and wet at the same time, or want their trousers off whilst staying warm, no clemency should be given to the parent who can’t square these circles.
The other week I was at Story Time at the London Docklands Museum. The kids and toddlers all sat round enrapt by the enchanting puppet show… No. Some of the kids were listening, but toddlers being toddlers were also just doing their own thing. One toddler’s dad was sitting on the floor near his son, waving at his little guy. The toddler stood up, bumped into a bigger kid and fell over. The tears started coming, and the dad leant forward and slowly began to pick him up to soothe him.
Then, as if from nowhere, a woman knocks parent and kid alike to one side to swoop in and pull the child from his father’s arms. Is this a kidnapping!? No, it’s the kid’s mum. She shoos away the dad and takes her son to one side to comfort him, whilst the dad stands there, awkwardly, not sure what to do with his now empty hands.
The scenario and the feelings involved are familiar to most active parents. Some parents are hit by the weight of responsibility, and a need to surge into action at any cost to help their kid. Others will have the same need, but are stopped dead in their tracks by the sense that they’ve just had rank pulled on them by their boss.
Your toddler is always one-step ahead. Every problem that pops up, sleeping, moving, eating (or not eating), you’ll finally get to grips with it just as they move onto the next thing that knocks you for six. Like a bug that keeps on mutating each time your immune system gets use to it.
But this step forward’s different. Finally Little Bear’s moving onto familiar ground. He’s honing his ‘People Influencing’ skills, and starting to negotiate. The toddler’s outmanoeuvring of our ability to parent is no longer an unconscious leap of his developing body, it’s now moving into conscious thinking of how he can outsmart his carers. Working in negotiation for the last 10 years, this latest shift is making me proud (especially when he outsmarts me). He’s gone all these little ‘needs’ inside him, and now he can start thinking about smarter ways of getting them.
The toddler's vocab gets bigger by the day. But however many new ‘words’ they pick up, half the ones they use are always the old favourite: No. There're are plenty of toddlers managing just fine with this one word.
In a short space of time Little Bear's really mastered the ‘no’. All in all he’s got 5 different no’s he uses during the week.
1. The sweet and patronising ‘no’
He tilts his head at us and gently frowns. It’s often accompanied by the wagging of a finger. This comes when we’ve broken a toddler rule: such as suggesting that he shouldn’t switch the washing machine off mid-cycle; that he might like to eat the food in front of him instead of painting the walls with it; or that he needs to take a nap whilst in the middle of playing with the fire-engine.
Little Bear was at the playground yesterday, when a younger munchkin fell over and hurt her knee. The parent swooped up their little girl as the tears started rolling. Little Bear became transfixed by the hurting baby, giving a look that resembled a struggle with constipation. His little awkward anxious grin stared at the baby until she calmed down. A few awkward steps towards the baby: “Is it ok Pappa?” “Yes, Little Bear, the baby was sad but she’s had a cuddle and is ok now”. He then runs off to throw himself recklessly down the nearest slide.
Ever get the feeling your kid sees you as a liability? It makes sense for teenagers. It’s what everyone expects from them. They’re suddenly more self-conscious than they’ve ever been in their little lives and feel the need to doggedly guard their new found reputations with their mates. They start getting their own tastes in music, films and dress-sense, and see these things as a way to tell the world who they are.
What you don’t expect as a first time parent of a smaller person is that there’s a similar leap for the little people between 1 and 2. Here are some things I’ve spotted that hail that new stage in a little troll’s navigation into social awkwardness and need to prop up their new found reputation.
We were on holiday with family in Sweden last week, and Little Bear formed his first two-word sentence. Well, more of an instruction than a sentence: ‘go car!’,(‘gå bil!’ in Swedish) pointing in the direction of the Volvo in the driveway to the summer house. It’s clearly far from his first successful attempt at verbal communication. But it’s a big step in his learning to articulate his ridiculous desires and inconvenient opinions. What’s his third word in that sentence going to be when he can manage it? We’d like it to be please, but realistically it’s going to be ‘now’.
When I say softer parent, I’m not thinking about round the waist. At the moment I’m leading that one. The question is: out of mum and dad, who is more willing to break when the baby’s siren starts up?
The stereotype is that mums give the cuddles, and dads dish out the discipline. Alternatively, dads leave all the strict stuff and coddling to the mums, and occasionally peer over their newspapers to tickle the little ones. I’m guessing that in most modern families, the picture is no longer so clear.
There’s an obsession with milestones. From the moment they’re out, we’re waiting to see our little ones focus, smile and laugh, then role, grab and crawl, cruise, clap, wave, dance, eat, build, sort, waddle and speak. Should parents be so keen? Why don't we hear about the downsides?
We might be keen on seeing the milestones because we’re building little people, so we like to see when the next brick is firmly in place; or we’re being competitive with other parents because our kid is obviously the best. Dads are generally allowed to be more open about this, although I’ve seen a few mums beam when their baby roles over and 4 months and the 5 month old next to them is struggling to lift its head.
Little Bear has family and friends in Sweden, Germany, the Philippines and even more exotic places like ‘the north of England’. Having such a far flung crew, he’s no stranger to flying. Flying with any little bear can be as easy as a cool breeze or as turbulent and stressful as being caught in a hurricane. Getting ready for the ninth flight with Little Bear, we feel we might almost have it down. The first time we took him with us on a big trip was to the Black Forest when he was 3 months old. It was so easy, we decided that he was a great traveller, and would always just fall asleep in Pappa’s arms the whole flight and get excited about travelling on the train… Turns out, not the case as we found out on the way to Sweden. Here are some things we’ve learnt about travelling with a baby the hard way. Hope you find some of them useful, and please feel free to add yours as comments:
What a week that was. One tiny little germ causing so many problems. The first few weeks with a newborn are probably the toughest because it's all so different from what you've done before, and so exhausting. For similar reasons, caring for a sick baby is almost as tough. I jotted down a few notes for myself for when another terrible baby-bug inflicts my family again [Please add your own tips as comments!]:
Note 1: Don't assume that terrible smell is a broken sewage main. It will only lose you valuable time to change the smelliest nappy you have every come across in your life. People around you will start looking awkward and moving away. If your sick baby looks happy, you are likely to see a brown mark spreading across their baby-grow
But it starts getting really tough really quickly. Both getting up a dozen or so times every night to feed our wide-eyed (not yet so charming) little troll. As a warning to those who are expecting, there isn’t really anything in life that will prepare you for these first few weeks, especially if your little guy or gal has trouble with breastfeeding (ours had ‘tongue-tie’ which wasn’t diagnosed until we insisted the midwives double checked). We discovered pushy and paranoid parenting fueled by grumpy sleep deprivation was essential to helping your baby...
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots