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Things I forgot about living with 2-year-olds

Tammy Swift, columnist.

Oh, how I'd forgotten.

It's been years since my nieces and nephew were toddlers.

But I'd somehow forgotten what it was like to be around a human being who is somewhere between 24 and 36 months of age.

Oh sure, I've witnessed the occasional meltdown in the middle of Target.

I know a few adults who act like 3-year-olds and — trust me — it's not nearly as tolerable as when the misbehavior comes from a cherub with huge, blue eyes, chubby toddler cheeks and the disarming ability to switch from sociopathic grifter to "Gertie from E.T." in a nanosecond.

Think about it.

Executive function — that same brain area that turns us into car-washing, crowd-following, multi-tasking rule-followers — is but a wee kernel in a 2-year-old. If a 2-year-old's brain were a factory, this factory would be ruled by a bunch of Sunny D-chugging, belching, brawling, graffiti-scrawling hooligans. There would be chaos, belly laughs and a lot of unqualified people trying to give each other haircuts. There would not, however, be any order, rules or semblance of management. Just people running around, screaming "Mine!" and flushing keys down the toilet.

I was reminded of all these things this last week, when I spent a short vacation in the Black Hills with my family, their extended families, a precious 3-month-old baby, and — star of the proceedings — Olive, age 2 1/2.

Let me start off by saying Olive is arguably the cutest child ever produced by human parents. Blonde ringlets frame a perfect heart-shaped face. A profile that would make a pixie weep with envy. A tiny, compact build, which only manages to make everything she does seem twice as adorable.

She's started to speak in full sentences, so even her most inane utterances — say, "my butt hurts" or "I stuck gum on the dog" — are spoken in a dangerously enchanting baby voice.

I was instantly bewitched. I asked her if she would like to color. She looked me straight in the eye and — with the devastating nonchalance of the world's most popular cheerleader — said, "No."

Then, leaving me feeling like a spurned prom date, she turned and bellered to my sister, "GAMMA! Come color with me!"

That's pretty much how the rest of the week went. Here, in order of occurrence, were a few things I learned from "Surviving Toddlers 101":

Most adults would kill to do what toddlers refuse to do. Relaxing bubble bath? What for? Nap in the middle of the day? Meh. Homemade mac-and-cheese, lovingly prepared by a doting aunt? Nope. I'd rather eat animal crackers dunked in lemonade, thank you.

There can only be one queen. At first, the promise of a baby sister sounded pretty good. But in reality, she's a drag. She just lies around, crying and spitting up on herself. She isn't even fun to play with, as evidenced by her complete lack of interest when you generously dumped that 400-piece bucket of Legos in her crib.

And yet those idiots will spend hours dangling keys in front of her and speaking in stupid voices and raving because she smiled. Obviously, you're going to have to up your game to compete with her.

Maybe it's time to put more gum on the dog.

Why ask why? There's so much to learn in those tender years. Where is my binky? What does a crayon taste like? And, most importantly, why? Why is the baby crying? Why does she wet her diaper? Why do you need to change her instead of read to me? Why hasn't anyone thought about the long-term implications of disposable diapers on our nation's landfills?

You can lead a toddler to Play-Doh, but that won't make her your friend. For some reason, I felt this powerful need to be accepted by this tiny person. It seemed like some sort of test of character — to win over the family toddler and the family dog.

I dusted off every trick in the aunt's playbook to win her over. I spoke in funny voices, made her special snacks and let her use my grown-up gel markers to color in her "Trolls" coloring book.

Each time, she gave me a long stare before yelling: "GAMMMAA! Come play with me!"

Finally, I resorted to the trick that had once impressed so many nieces. I spent at least a half-hour sculpting a tiny, elaborately molded Play-Doh miniature of a little white dog — who looked exactly like her own dog, Ava.

"I made you an Ava dog, Olive!" I said, like a simpering sycophant.

Unimpressed, she reached over and, with one tiny palm, calmly flattened Ava — also flattening my heart in the process.

So much for extending the Olive branch.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.