I love animals. I love dogs and cats, because I’m not one of those psychos who thinks you can only appreciate one of the two and have to draw a line in the sand.
But I am not a fan of cat-sized dogs. When I get a dog (it’s gonna happen, honey!), I want a real dog. I’ve never seen the point of having one of those teacup things that you can carry around in your bag.
Of course, having lived with a toddler for the past year, I’m starting to see the point.
I don’t think toddlers and dogs are the same thing. No one could possibly think that. For one thing, dogs have fur. For another, dogs can be trained. They’ll actually listen to commands. You can use a leash without getting strange looks and, as mentioned above, your wife can even carry certain kinds of dogs in her purse. You can’t do that with toddlers.
But sometimes I wish you could.
This weekend, Mom and Buried and I visited a condo complex that was holding a “Margaritaville” party around the communal pool, in order to try and attract potential buyers. We just wanted to relax, ignore the insipid Jimmy Buffett cover band, and drink some free booze.
Unfortunately, we brought our two-year-old. Relaxation was not in the cards. Taking a toddler to a party or a pool or a beach or a bar or a friend’s house or a crack house is the least fun thing ever.
Imagine going to a party and having to carry around a bowling ball the entire time. Carrying something so heavy and unwieldy would make it really hard to relax and hold a drink or eat some food, right? Now imagine that the bowling ball can walk and talk and run and yell and trip and fall and break things and eat things and throw up and pee itself and drown.
Sounds like a blast, right?
It doesn’t have to be horrible. In fact, my wife keeps telling me that if I’d just relax and give him a little more leeway, Detective Munch would be totally fine. Sue me, I get a bit stressed in certain public situations when we’re around strangers and my kid is being hyper and there’s an open pool nearby. But I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to my son, I just love him so mu– GET AWAY FROM THE POOL YOU’RE GONNA FALL IN GODDAMMIT HOLD MY DRINK I’M GOING TO GET THE IDIOT.
It’s enough to make you want to skip right to the teen years.
I’m not crazy. I know teenagers come with their own unique sets of problems and complications. But at least by the time your kids are thirteen, they’ve acquired a certain level of independence. And at least the mistakes they’ll inevitably make aren’t always going to be mistakes that your supervision could have prevented.
The toddler years occupy a strange middle ground between completely helpless baby and actual independent adult. The scary thing is, most of your years as a parent are spent managing that middle ground, especially since, these days, it doesn’t seem to end until your kid hits thirty. You spend so much time waiting for them to get older – while simultaneously being sad about it – and yet when they do, their independence scares you. Every incremental little bit of it.
With toddlers, they are learning to be independent but they have a long way to go. And while it’s necessary to let them explore their limits, there are no excuses when your two- or three- or four-year-old gets hurt. In almost every case, they don’t know any better. They aren’t making educated choices. They’re essentially just saying “why not?” and doing something idiotic. Since they aren’t yet equipped to do it, it’s your responsibility to protect them from themselves. That’s what’s so exhausting and stressful.
So on one hand, my wife is right: I need to relax and let him spread his wings a bit and let him stumble and fall a little. But I also want to make sure he makes it to the part of his life when I can blame his mistakes on him, and him alone. It will still be nerve-wracking, but at least I won’t be carrying a bowling ball around anymore.
I’ll just be trailing after it, from a safe distance, hoping it stays out of the gutter.