My son likes to play this game called “Give Mommy and Daddy a heart attack!”
The rules are simple: he goes about his normal, everyday business, and Mom and Buried and I freak out at every stupid and dangerous thing he does that nearly gets him killed. Toddlers are fearless, to a fault.
Obviously, it’s not quite as fun for us.
Over the past few weeks, Detective Munch has taken to climbing onto and jumping off of everything he sees – as well as climbing on things to reach other things, and jumping on things he shouldn’t be jumping on, and so on and so forth. His new stuntman routine is on top of the other constant bone-headed stuff he does that will eventually result in more than just a little boo-boo that Mommy can kiss away. Because while he knows how to do those things, he has no knowledge of what might happen after he does.
Ever heard the phrase about knowing “just enough to be dangerous”? That’s toddlers in a nutshell. They’re fearless, and it’s terrifying.
My kid knows about some stuff but he doesn’t know the whys of anything. He doesn’t even understand the word “why?” Ask him why he wants something and he’ll just repeat that he wants it again. There’s just no reasoning going on inside that cherubic little head of his, not yet. He knows some stuff, but he doesn’t understand it. And he has no idea what he doesn’t know.
In one sense, this is a good thing. The reckless arrogance and blissful ignorance of youth are what makes being a kid so much fun, and I don’t want to take that away from him. He deserves to be a kid for a while, and being too quick to teach him many of the things he’ll eventually learn all by himself will rob him of the fun that comes along with those experiences. It’s the slow accumulation of life experience – wisdom by attrition – that makes you an adult, and much of that education is not particularly enjoyable.
There’s no way to stop my son from exploring life, or testing his limits, or seeing what happens when he falls face-first on his bed. Nor would I want to stop him. Those are just the typical shenanigans all toddlers get up to. He’ll take his lumps – hopefully that’s all they’ll be – and slowly come to realize what he can and can’t get away with. It’s my job as his dad to try and clue him in, as early as possible, to what edges of the envelope he can push, and what edges will send him off a cliff. Because he doesn’t really have any idea of the difference.
He knows not to shove stuff into the electrical outlets, not because he’s gotten himself shocked and learned his lesson, but because of how badly Mom and Buried and I freaked out when he did it that one time. He knows that he should eat his dinner, not because he needs the nutrition but because he won’t get dessert, or he’ll be put in time-out, if he doesn’t. He knows the what without knowing the why. And the latter will take a while.
At two, he’s too young for us to sit him down and explain the litany of things he’s not allowed to do and why he’s not allowed to do them. So in lieu of that explanation, we are forced to wait for him to do something stupid and then go ballistic when he does that our reaction is deterrent enough. Then, in a few years, we can lay out our rationale and hope he’s got enough common sense to understand it by then. That’s why so much of parenting a toddler consists of raised voices and silent frustration.
But I don’t think “because I said so” ever goes away.
One of the things that makes being a parent so difficult is that unlike our kids, we know what comes after the fall. The reckless arrogance and fearless ignorance of youth have been beaten out of us by life, and as a result we are more cautious and, frankly, a little bit paranoid. This is what makes our own parents so annoying. There’s a fine line between “protecting” and “stifling.” And as your kids age, it only gets finer.
Parents know too much to be carefree; kids know too little to be careful.
I know my son isn’t stupid. He’s not trying to get hurt or to be a punk. He’ll get it, eventually, even if it takes a fair amount of bruises and scrapes to light the way. Because toddlers are stupid, through no fault of their own; you’d be stupid too if every time you did something it was the first time you’d ever tried doing it. The key is to try and remember that the next time yours does something idiotic.
It falls on us to pull back, relax and let our kids be kids, doing our best to protect them without stifling them. Because there’s no way the ignorant fools will realize how foolish they are and meet us in the middle until it’s much too late.
Just ask your parents.