I LOVE babies, but I have never been a fan of the toddler. Scarred by my two previous face offs with toddlers, I've always just pretty much assumed that the very act of being between the ages of 9 and 36 months renders a person completely and totally irrational and impossible.
Enter The Caboose. He recently turned 17 months old, which is exactly the same age his oldest brother was when the middle brother was born. Have I lost you yet?
This time I'm seeing this age through a whole new lens, as if for the first time.
When my first baby was 17 months old, I had just delivered another baby. The oldest didn't walk or talk well, although he certainly had a mind of his own. The newcomer, a fussy and demanding baby, commanded most of my attention. Suddenly, I lost patience for Big Baby's insistence on doing things his way, his lack of ability to effectively communicate and his exhausting sense of adventure. Two babies, each difficult in their own way, meant I was in survival mode.
When my second baby was 17 months old, I was coming off of four-and-a-half straight years of pregnancy, nursing, diapers, and lack of sleep. I was so exhausted I couldn't see straight. Thankfully the second baby, while difficult as a newborn, was a fairly mellow toddler. He was very early verbal and lacked his brother's drive to go searching for trouble. Still, it was an exhausting job to manage TWO toddlers. The only way to keep myself sane was to keep us all busy, so I orchestrated an endless stream of play dates and baby classes designed to run the wee ones so ragged that they would sleep soundly at nap and bedtime. At play dates with my mommy friends, who were my biggest support system, I longed for the boys to go away and play so that I could chat and drink my coffee. Instead, they just had Constant Needs in a different location. Desperate for time for myself, I happily shipped them both off to Parents Morning Out one day a week and lived for Wednesday mornings.
Fast forward three years to my third foray into toddler hood. It's a totally different ballgame this time. Yeah - some things suck (like squeezing in a toddler nap schedule) because my big boys are school-aged and constantly on the go. But mostly I'm just enjoying the things I didn't even SEE the last two times. Like actually watching and hearing the way my toddler IS communicating with me, even if his language isn't quite as developed as mine yet. Or watching him explore his toys and figuring out how they work, whether he's on his own or trying to get in on his brother's games. Or endlessly repeating his favorite game of running from the across the room to be scooped into my arms. Or the precious way he starts humming "our" song the moment I sit down to rock him before bedtime. The way he finds bath time splashing hilarious, the way he reacts to new foods, the way he stamps his foot when he doesn't like what I'm telling him, and the way he does actually listen and follow directions even though he can't say a lot yet. Instead of finding his strong-willed, high-energy ways challenging or annoying, I find him so precious I could literally eat him with a spoon.
I revel in these moments, but they also make me sad that I was so harried and frazzled that I missed this with my two oldest kids. I would never, ever change my life as a Baby Buncher - siblings close in age are the greatest gift I've been able to give my boys. But I'm sure glad there was an Act Three to this show.
Believe it or not, I've become such a fan of the toddler that I actually request that room (not the most popular one, if you can believe it) for my church nursery volunteer shift. And with a new appreciation for these special little people, I see myself staying there long after The Caboose leaves it.