I should’ve known when the belching began. Eyes widened, chin tucked, head sloping back, my son would build as much anticipation as power and let out a surprisingly boisterous belch, alerting us to a new reality:
He was no longer a baby.
The cosmic rotations have officially struck three and now we have a toddler — a true to every connotation toddler. Modern parenting is quick to point out that “terrible twos” is a misnomer; “I found threes to be much harder,” quip parents who have moved onto new battles called, “navigating grade school parent drama” and “pubescent odors” and “teenagers.”
There’s also this gross “rebranding” some parents try to pull off, calling them “terrific twos” and “thrilling threes.” I can’t say I’m consistent about much, but I’ve kept one thing constant as a parent: Acknowledging that two things can coexist at the same time. My son can be an asshole and the greatest thing that’s ever happened to my life. We can love our kids in indescribable ways but also hate how creatively inept they are at missing the thumb hole when putting on mittens. We can be repulsed by our child projectile vomiting at Applebee’s and still be drawn to swoop in and help him save face while Carol the crotchety old bird glares.
Twos were terrific and terrible at times. And, just a few weeks deep, I can already see that threes will be both thrilling and therapy-inducing. Three is the magic number, but it’s also tragic to see your baby spark into blazing toddlerhood. How do I know my kid is officially a toddler? Because of these 9 research-based magic and tragic signs of toddlerhood (sample size of 1).
Magic: Developing Imagination
Hearing a child in another room, talking aloud, making up his own world, has been one of my favorite things about parenthood. Even though his imaginative play can be confusing (e.g. when we heard him say to his trucks that a “package of vaginas” was coming), it’s a soul-satisfying mark of a growing (albeit weird) toddler brain.
Tragic: Imagination Applied in Gross Ways
On the list of developmental milestones is categorizing things into groups. Sounds great until your son labels — with remarkable accuracy — the shape of his poop. A dog paw. Snow man. Big worm and little worm. If you’re grossed out thinking about it, imagine hearing and seeing such classifications and thinking, “Ewww…but you’re right…good classification…?”
Bad days are instantly wiped clean when I pick my son up from daycare. A child recognizing you from a distance, sprinting excitedly, yelling your name, is a beautiful new thing in toddlerhood. It feels good to be known as more than just “snack prepper” or “butt wiper.”
Tragic: Recognizing Specifics
Buuuut, toddler brains get much better at recognizing specifics. It’s jolting to hear your kid say, “I love you Mom,” followed seconds later by, “Chase! I need a snack!” And what do you do when your kid starts yelling in Target about which strangers have penises and which have vaginas?
Magic: Pleasant Emotions Intensify
I’m convinced that there is no greater sound than a toddler belly laughing. Baby giggles are cute, but it’s a new stage when your kid starts understanding humor and jokes back with you. And, affection as a baby seems more necessity; a toddler randomly saying, “I just really love you…Chase Toot Mielke” is a choice.
Tragic: ALL Emotions Intensify
Each joyful moment of toddlerhood, though, is a venus fly trap. Because as soon as you think — or dare utter — how sweet your child is, he will f#!&ing flip the demon switch on and screech blood-curdling enough to make you google “exorcists near me.” Trying to squash toddler tantrums quickly is just throwing water on a grease fire: You’ll know you’ve reached toddlerhood when your child is hoisted over your shoulder, shrieking till he pukes, in a grocery store parking lot.
A few months ago, my son would last all of 2.67 seconds trying to fix one of his toys before whining about how he can’t do it. A true toddler can average 5.29 seconds of solving his or her own problems though.* Progress.
Pseudo-problems, however, reveal an unquantifiable level of toddler persistence. I never knew “Mom” could contain so many syllables.
And screw every book that references a cookie or a donut because my kid will be asking for a treat until you expecto patronum one out of thin air.
(Bonus) Tragic: Welcome back, you sleep-time cluster!
Sleep rituals work for babies until they are smart enough to fabricate crises. Mommmomomomomom! I need water! Help! I can’t put my water down! My leg is uncovered! I can’t get my sock off! I want my sock back on! I’m scared! Or my favorite is when you ask why they are crying and they say they are crying because they are crying.
There’s no doubt that, of the three years we’ve kept a human alive, this phase has some tragic new challenges. But, no doubt, the magic makes it all worth it. I’d love to hear your “signs of toddlerhood” below. And, I’d love to raise my drink and send all you parents a cheers: May your parenthood days be full of magic and may your package of vaginas arrive unscathed.
*Alexa refuses to tell me if this stat is accurate.