My son is fourteen months old today and exiting infancy as quickly as his meaty little legs can take him. He is increasingly verbal (including recent favorites “No” and — of course — “Poop”), eats with a linebacker’s gusto and smells more like sandbox than sweet milk. It’s a developmental stage I struggle to define: Twinfancy? Pre-toddlerhood? This running, babbling, exuberant child certainly doesn’t act like a baby, but he nuzzles his bottle and needs his mommy more than any independent toddler would dare.
And, oy, pre-toddlerhood is hard. Playing bodyguard to a newly-mobile child with no common sense? Exhausting. Food throwing and public meltdowns? Mortifying. And that precious baby you brought home from the hospital? Vanished, which the first time around left me with a profound sense of loss. Had someone crept into my home overnight and switched children on me? It felt like I was suddenly tasked with raising a tiny stranger. I longed for my baby.
But don’t freak out! The best thing about being an experienced parent is that, the second time around, I saw all of this coming. My son’s pre-toddlerhood hasn’t been a rude awakening from the rosy, sweet-smelling love affair of his babyhood; because I was prepared, it’s actually been a lot of fun. Take the lessons I learned and you, too, can survive (even enjoy) your child’s pre-toddlerhood:
1. Feed the beast. That precious baby who used to sit sweetly in his carseat for long lunches and museum visits? Yeah, that kid just exited stage left. Pre-toddlers will only sit still for snack traps, squeezy pouches or raisins. So, basically, food. Pack the diaper bag accordingly.
2. Don’t sweat tantrums. Your pre-toddler will probably rock his first real-deal, Holyfield tantrum around this age. Limited verbal ability, sudden physical development and burgeoning awareness of the world around him are a one-way ticket to meltdown town. Here’s where being an veteran parent has made me more zen (or possibly just blasé): when my son recently pitched his first proper tantrum at a public park, other mothers offered the comfort that “We’ve all been there,” when frankly, it hadn’t even *occurred* to me to be embarrassed.
3. Appreciate how flipping adorable they can be. What pre-toddlers lack in motor skills and language, they make up for in unbridled enthusiasm. The squeals of delight, spontaneous dance parties and sweet smiles almost make up for the tantrums. My husband and I were, in fact, so taken with our daughter’s cuteness at this age we thought, Hey, let’s have another!
4. They love you SO hard. After months of lamenting to my husband that our son didn’t seem appropriately attached to me, I am suddenly the most important person in his tiny universe. It makes leaving them with caregivers a little more challenging, but please, you’d have to be a monster not to love every second of this.
5. Keep doing “normal” things (even though it’s way harder). Dining out, air travel and running errands are all much less pleasant once your child gains free will and the mobility to do something about it. Here’s your decision point: stop doing those things until your child is more civilized, for which the general public may thank you but then you risk your child becomes accustomed to only doing things centered around his enjoyment. Or, you keep on keeping on, managing your child’s public behavior as diligently as possible and expecting him to rise to the occasion.
6. Trust me: she’s still your baby. I recall thinking my daughter was *so* grown up at this stage, only to look back at photographs of her and think, my god, she was still such a baby. (And we put her on a ski lift! Were we insane?) Confession: I still slather my son with Mustela baby lotion nightly that he does not need just so he smells like baby. Letting go of babyhood is always hard, but embracing your child’s new capabilities can be a terrific chapter, too. Really.