Not surprisingly, motherhood is packed with an assortment of learning experiences. You learn that you can function on roughly twenty minutes of sleep. You learn that actually, no, four diapers is not enough to pack for your first long outing with an infant.
You learn enough about this tiny new human in your life to fill several books.
But you learn a lot about yourself, too. Sometimes it’s great. (“Hey! I am pretty good at X!”) Sometimes it’s not.
Recently, I learned that I am incredibly uncomfortable with failure.
I don’t feel like that sentence adequately describes the emotional turmoil I experienced when I had this revelation. Let me back up.
A couple of weeks ago, we attempted potty training. Yes, I heard from all the people that this was probably crazy. Yes, I realized that I was also packing for an out-of-state move, so, in hindsight, I should probably have predicted a few bumps.
But Vivi is so smart! She was already exhibiting all the traits of a toddler ready to potty train! She had even successfully peed in the potty a few times! And I had read a book! (Because I have always read a book.) I was so prepared to power through a week of intense training and emerge proud, victorious, and diaper-less.
And then real life set in.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but the essential details of this training method say your kid needs to be naked until they start to get the concept of going in the potty. Obviously, this leads to quite a few accidents. Meaning I was cleaning up a lot of pee. And, yeah, some poo. To be fair, Vivi was actually making really good progress. She went from being totally clueless about what her body was doing to being able to tell me about a second before it happened that she needed to potty. But a week after we started, I hit a breaking point.
For one, I was out of time. I had blocked out one week, and I simply couldn’t dedicate the rest of the month to this project because of the aforementioned move.
For another, my nerves were shot. It’s almost embarrassing how frazzled needing to catch Vivi peeing left me. But every night when I could finally put a diaper on her to go to sleep, I felt like it was the first time I exhaled all day.
One night, every time I would start to drift off, I would fall into a dream where I would be looking at Vivi just as she started to pee on the floor. I would wake up literally lunging to grab her, adrenaline pumping through my already exhausted body.
In short, I was a wreck.
It probably didn’t help that my life was completely turned upside down. We still didn’t know where we were living post-move, I had so. much. packing. to do, and we were beaten out on a house that we wanted to buy. Plus, I hadn’t really left the apartment for five days. Nothing felt like it was going right, and every time I would have to get on my knees to wipe up a puddle of urine, it felt like a personal insult.
That night I kept having the horrible lunging dream, I finally got out of bed around 3 a.m. to read the part of my book about troubleshooting. In short, it said that if your child is 18-20 months, they are capable of being trained, but they are most likely going to need more time. Time I didn’t have.
So, at 3:32 a.m., I made a deal with myself: I would give it two more days, and if Vivi didn’t show serious signs of picking it up, we would put it off until we were settled in our new place. A bunch of people had also warned me that moves can cause even well trained toddlers to regress, and the thought of taking steps backward was literally bringing me to tears.
Two days later, Vivi had improved, but not to the point where I felt like I could comfortably leave her unattended or even leave the house with her diaper-less. So I called it. The diaper went back on, and life continued as it was. (Except that now Vivi tells me whenever she’s peeing in her diaper.)
It was then that I had to face the music: I had failed.
Granted, no one likes to fail. But I realized that it embarrasses me on a deep, dark level. And, having realized, this, I felt embarrassed that I was so embarrassed. Because this wasn’t really failure, right? It’s a set-back. It’s bad timing. Why do I care so much? But I found myself in a position that, no matter how much I tried or focused on the problem, I had to admit defeat.
Defeat is really not my forte.
But, in happier news, this experience has also taught me how to let myself off the hook. Yes, things didn’t go according to my (arbitrary) plan. But we’ll try again, and Vivi will probably pick it up quicker with this experience under her belt (and once she’s in an environment where everything isn’t topsy-turvy). Vivi doesn’t hold it against me (or maybe she does? Guess we’ll have to wait for her memoir to know for sure…), so I can let it go too.
Parent readers, tell me about your own parenting “failures.” Did you beat yourself up as much as I do?
1. Buy a bunch of boxes weeks out from your move date whilst smugly telling yourself, “Gosh, I’m so on the ball! This will be done in no time.”
2. Spend the next week staring at boxes with remorse because #momlife.
3. Two weeks from your deadline, start attempting to pack at least five boxes a day when you first get up.
4. Promptly abandon this plan because your toddler keeps taking things out of the boxes or demanding to be held while you pack. Nap time packing it is!
5. Spend half an hour debating which toys she won’t notice if you pack now. Spend subsequent half hour asking yourself why you even have those toys. Deal with subsequent meltdown when she asks for packed toys the next day.
6. Repeatedly stub your toe/smack your funny bone while chasing toddler through growing towers of boxes. Consider burning it all for the insurance money, but stop because, well, you’re setting an example.
7. After bedtime, pour some rosé in a plastic cup (because the glass ones are packed) and tell yourself this will all be over soon.
In some ways, being a parent give you a lot of perspective. You suddenly appreciate your own parents. You reprioritize everything. You stop caring about everything being perfect all the time. (Mostly.)
In other ways, being a parent makes you lose all sense of time, space, and perspective.
Most of the time, Vivi is a really good kid. Like, really good. She’s happy. She’s friendly. She’s smart. She’s sweet. I hit the jackpot, folks.
And then…well, then, other times, things go differently.
A couple of weeks ago, we were at one of our religious meetings. I had spent the night at a friend’s house (she’s pregnant and her husband was out of town AND I DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY I AM ALMOST 30 AND HAVE SLEEPOVERS), so I didn’t see Vivi until the meeting at 2:45.
As soon as I got there, I could tell she was in a funny mood.
Not funny ha-ha. Not funny like a clown. Funny like, “Huh…maybe we should all go back to bed and try again tomorrow.”
She was also only wearing a shirt and tights because DADS. That part was actually hilarious. But I digress…
I heard about five minutes of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting because Vivi started to shriek as soon as the talk started. I spent the rest of the time in the lobby watching her literally sprint in dizzying circles around me while yelping every 15 seconds. Any time I would try to make her stop and calm down, she would full-on smack me in the face. I would discipline her, she would “apologize” (can you really take a toddler apology seriously? you know they don’t mean it), we would return to the public eye, and the spectacle would continue.
Everyone who walked by would give me a sympathetic smile or ask what was wrong with her. “I don’t know, it’s the strangest thing — there’s nothing about this in the manual!!!” I would rave at them. In my head. Out loud, I would say, “I think she’s just tired.” Or teething. Or hungry.
OR A TOTAL MONSTER.
Because, in those moments, in the darkness of parenting, you are convinced that this is your new demon baby and it is never, ever leaving. Your happy kid? Gone. And it’s probably your fault. It’s probably that time you let her eat a non-organic banana because she needed a snack and it’s all they had at the coffee shop. And now, look what you get for forgetting a dietarily appropriate snack: a demon baby. Your welcome, terrible mom.
Even if you don’t blame yourself for getting to this point, it doesn’t matter. It’s your fault that you are not a good enough mom to make the terror stop. Your new baby dictator will now rule for the rest of her days, and all you can do is pretend like you know how to discipline her and hold your breath to see if anything works. Scary voice? No. Pow-pow? Nada. Sticking her in a chair until she says she’ll be good? Nice try, Mom. If that is your real name!!!
Hopefully, by the time you get over a year into this gig, you at least have the rational state of mind to remind yourself (even if you don’t believe it) that this too shall pass. Remember the puking days? Remember the non-sleeping days? Remember the crying-all-day-for-no-apparent-reason days? You thought those would all last forever too, and look at you now. So you grit your teeth and count the minutes until bedtime, all with the faint hope that she will wake up tomorrow your sweet, wonderful baby again.
So back to the day in question. I’d like to tell you that we both had some kind of epiphany where we came to terms and understood each other and returned peacefully for the end of the meeting. But that’s not what happened. What happened is she started doing this thing where she would look me dead in the eye and open her mouth and just scream and scream and scream until she needed to take a breath.
The scariest part? She never broke eye contact. And her eyes were very clearly saying, “What are you going to do about it?”
And here’s what I did: I handed her to a friend and ran to the bathroom to cry. And then I came out, grabbed my stuff and Vivi, and we left. We just went home. Where she could scream and I could cry, and no one could see or judge us.
And eventually bed time came. And the next morning, things were better.
Because that is parenting. It’s crying and worrying you’re screwing it all up one day and loving the crap out of that little perfect monster the next.
So I’m trying not to worry too much if I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. If I don’t know what I’m doing ever. Because we’re figuring it out, all of us. And tomorrow? Things will be better.
One of Vivi’s characteristics that I’m most proud of is her love for books. As a lifelong reader, I love seeing my own passion reflected in her every time she toddles over with a new thing to read.
That being said, when your toddler asks you to read the same book for the sixth time in rapid succession, you start to get a little desperate for options. Not that I know anything about that (no, I have never hidden a book so she couldn’t ask me to read it again, how could you even suggest that?!)(yes, I have.), but in case this is a problem that you have, I’ve rounded up our favorite books that Vivi truly never tires of and I don’t even mind reading again and again.
I should also preface that the bulk of these books have been gifts from my friend Erin. She has some kind of sixth sense about what books to buy for a toddler, and she rarely misses. (I credit her years in entertainment media, as well as a long stint working in a children’s bookstore during high school.)
I tell you what: Babies love a lift-flap book. And if you combine it with anything that creates an opportunity to practice animal sounds, Vivi will eat it up. We’ve read this charming book so many times, the spine is currently held together with shipping tape. That is love, people.
Like so many of Vivi’s books, I have this one almost entirely committed to memory. Which would probably be annoying, except this hilarious book is actually pretty fun to read. Plus, it’s full of awesome vocabulary words (like kaleidoscope, aghast, and locomotion) that it will be pretty adorable to hear Vivi say in the coming months.
Here’s a tip for parents looking for books to buy their kids: The more words, the better. Trust me; if you think it’s hard to read a board book seven times over, try doing it with a book lacking a script. It’s painful. BabyLit books eschew the original classic plots in favor of primer-style educational books, and Wuthering Heights is one of my favorites because it includes full-sentence excerpts from the original book as a way to teach your toddler about different kinds of weather. Pride & Prejudice is also pretty good.
I had always heard that parents had a love-hate relationship with this book prior to becoming a parent, but we’re pretty big fans in this house. The rhyme is catchy (I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree!), and Vivi always seems impressed with my alphabetical rapping skills. (Come on; if you read this book without pretending like you’re rapping, you are missing out.)
If you have known Vivi since she was born, odds are you have had this song stuck in your head at one point or another. We have always been huge Susan Boynton fans, but Personal Penguin has been the book/song that has gotten us through some of the darkest baby moments. Oh, you didn’t know there was a song? Allow me (warning: you WILL have this stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it’s actually pretty cute so you might not care):
So…what are your toddler book suggestions? Share ’em in a comment below!
*Contains affiliate links
Vivi and I really love going to our neighborhood playground. No, like, seriously.
If you follow me on Instagram, you already know this because we post about it almost every day. If the weather is above 45 degrees, we are outdoors.
Which isn’t to say the park is perfect. I mean, it’s a New York City park. If I had a dollar for every time Vivi excitedly held up a piece of garbage and I had to swoop in with a faux-cheerful, “Ooh, let Momma see!,” I could afford to buy a house with a yard and build my own dang trash-free playground. But, for the most part, it is reasonably clean and well maintained.
More importantly, it is frequented. Vivi doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with kids her own age, and while I don’t actually think it’s crucial at this stage of her development, I think she is more likely to learn about sharing and friendly interaction earlier on if she is at least presented with more age-appropriate opportunities. All that is a fancy way of saying that a lot of kids her age go to the park and I think it’s good for her to learn how to be around them without appearing to be a total sociopath.
There is one aspect of going to the park that I don’t seem to have cracked yet, and, honestly, it has nothing to do with Vivi. It’s the other moms. I consider myself a reasonably friendly individual, able to carry on a conversation with literally anyone if I want to, but, by and large, the other moms are just not that friendly.
I mean, it’s not like I don’t understand it at all. We only started going to the park after Vivi could walk, meaning we’ve only got about six months under our belts. That being said, we are regular. We’re at the park way more often than most of the snooty moms. So…I don’t get it. But recently I have started to notice more moms with toddlers Vivi’s age, and they tend to be much friendlier, so maybe it’s just a “stick to your own kind” kind of thing? Who knows?
Regardless, here are ten things every mom has thought whilst at the playground at some point:
1. No one is here…is it too cold for the park and no one told me? Am I a bad mom? I didn’t think I was, but here I am freezing my baby to death and– oh, wait, here comes another kid. Phew.
2. THERE ARE NO DRAWERS HERE FOR YOU TO EMPTY OVER AND OVER WHILE I TRY TO CLEAN! I LOVE THE PARK!
3. Don’t touch that don’t touch that don’t touch that!
4. I love getting a second to actually scroll through Instagram without worrying that my kid is going to do something cra– OH MY GOD WHERE IS MY KID?! I HATE THE PAR– Oh, there she is. Phew.
5. Is that kid crowding my daughter? Should I step in? Should I let her– never mind, she just strong-armed a 4-year-old. She’s good.
6. That kid is crying. That kid is crying and no one is helping. WHERE IS YOUR MOTHER?
7. My toddler is clearly playing with a toy that is not hers. But she’s also not crying, so I’m going to sit here pretending like I don’t see until the owner pitches a fit and demands it back.
8. I know the name of over half the kids here, but I couldn’t tell you their moms’ names for the life of me. “Oh, hi, Sam’s mom!”
9. I packed snacks, extra wipes, a towel to wipe wet swings, and toys for the park today. I’m probably the best mom ever.
10. Oh, you just want to play with that stick you found for 20 minutes? Cool. I’m an idiot.
I cried in a dentist’s office today. The office of a dentist I had never met before, so that will forever be his first impression of me, the frazzled, rain-dampened blonde slinging an equally rain-dampened blonde toddler before suddenly breaking down in a puddle of tears.
But I should probably back up. Because, if you know me, I like to think that it would surprise you to hear that the pursuit of dental hygiene would bring me to hysterics.
My morning started much earlier and several miles away from that fateful office. It started at 6 a.m. in my bed, as most mornings do since Vivi’s determined sleep regression. While not every morning starts quite so early, it’s usually between 6:00 and 6:30, and today was no exception. So she awoke and called me, I went and got her, and we both snuggled back in bed for a few more minutes of dozing. When I went back in my room to get my phone, Joey grumbled sleepily, “Your phone is bugging out.”
It’s rare to get a text quite so early, but this one was from our intended babysitter (who I had asked to watch Vivi while I went to the dentist that morning) telling me that her son was sick, and she didn’t want to infect all of us, so she couldn’t come over.
Not a big deal — kids get sick. The only bummer was that no one else I knew was available to step in. Okay, I thought, I guess we’re all going into Manhattan. That’s fine!
We got up around 7:00, and it was already clear that Vivi was having, well, a day. She screamed for milk, tried to refuse to say “amen” after our breakfast prayer (I waited her out and finally got a begrudging one before dishing out her eggs), and took off her pants ten minutes before we had to leave for no apparent reason.
Not a big deal! Toddlers, amiright? We started to pack up to leave.
Fortunately, I glanced out the window and saw that it was raining before we left. Still not a big deal! I decided to ditch the stroller and wear Vivi on my back (actually much more convenient for city travel anyway), grabbed an umbrella, and away we went. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do with Vivi at the appointment, but I just sort of hoped I could plunk her somewhere with YouTube videos for 20 minutes.
This is what I like to refer to as “the best part of our day.” A walk to the subway. In the rain. With a baby on my back. If that gives you any idea.
We got to the station as a train was arriving, but my Metrocard was empty, so we had to refill. As I listened to the sound of the train pulling away, I soothed myself with the fact that one comes every five minutes or so. We were in no rush! I had factored in cushion time because I’m me!
We finally got on a train and rode the 30 minutes to our stop with little incident. Vivi was intrigued by her fellow passengers and only started to fuss right before our stop. Phew. Is there anything worse than a screaming baby in your train car?
That right there? That’s what we like to call a cruel irony. Remember that.
I arrived at the Empire State Building, snapped the above photo because memories!, and approached the desk and told them who I was there to see.
“Oh, they moved out of the building three years ago.”
Cue: slow blink. “What?”
“It’s okay, though, I think they just moved right across the street.”
Okay, I thought with a sigh of relief. Call off the snipers.
“Oh, I’m sorry, they actually moved [insert address that will probably mean nothing to you but suffice to say it was SEVEN BLOCKS AWAY. IN THE RAIN.].”
My appointment was at 10:00. At this point, it was 9:55.
“RaaaAAAWWRRGGG!” I said. In my head.
Out loud, I said “thanks,” hitched up my baby backpack, and hit the street.
Seven blocks (did I mention it was raining?) later, I got to the building, rode up one floor in the elevator, and stepped into the lobby. I gave them my name and Groupon number (dental insurance is expensive, yo). The receptionist looked it up. No dice. She tried again. Nope. The owner came out and tried it. Nada.
“You had an appointment here?”
I show them my texts confirming, and he asks to see my Groupon.
“Oh, this isn’t us.”
A lot more conversation followed. Honestly, I can’t even explain what happened. As far as I understand it, there are TWO dental offices of the same name (but one has “Management” or something at the end?) in the SAME office space, but one of them (the one I wanted) is only open on Thursdays. Somehow, I had called the number of the other one. I should also mention that, last month, I also thought I had an appointment with this office and they couldn’t find it the week of. I’m now pretty convinced that my original appointment was with the right company (so I guess I missed it?), and that this whole office is a vortex where time, light, and sanity go to die.
Anyway, the point is, I had no appointment. After traveling for an hour on the subway and IN THE RAIN with a now-fussy baby strapped to my back. I couldn’t even make eye contact with the guy because it wasn’t his fault BUT WASN’T IT KIND OF?!?
He sensed my displeasure.
“Listen, you came all this way, what I can do is give you a cleaning here for the cost of the Groupon. It’s actually a better deal because our cleanings are more expensive. It’s probably a blessing in disguise [Note: He actually said those words. He was probably right, but it still made me want to kick him in the shin.] because I don’t think you would have been very happy with a cleaning with the other office.”
I took a deep breath and said fine, mentally balancing my checkbook with this unexpected expense factored in.
At this point, the correct office returned my phone call (I had tried to call during the “where are you located exactly” mix-up).
“Hi, I missed a call from this number?”
“Yeah, I had an appointment, and I’m at your office, but no one is here and…”
“Oh, no, we’re closed today.”
“I. Know. But I had an appointment and…”
“No, no, you couldn’t have. Tell me exactly what happened.”
“Um, I called and made an appointment, but they said that they can give me a cleaning here so I guess-”
“Oh, good, well then I guess it’s all fine, right?”
And then I reached through the phone and strangled her. In my head. Not in my head, I hung up because if you don’t have anything nice to say….
The guy came back. “Okay, so what are we doing?”
At this point, Vivi grabbed a handful of flyers and threw them on the floor and my throat started to tighten up.
“Well,” I said, picking up the flyers and trying to shove them back into their display, “I came all this way in the rain with my baby, so I guess we’re sticking with this new plan because if I don’t get my teeth cleaned I’m going to start crying.”
And then I burst into tears.
So, yeah, not my proudest. But, to their credit, the people in the office could NOT have been nicer to me. I was handed tissues and bottles of water, and the receptionist popped up telling me about her four grandchildren and how this was her lucky day because she was going to watch Vivi for me. I was quickly ushered into a cleaning room, where a nice (and obviously prepped for the crazy woman in her chair) dentist checked my x-rays and cleaned my teeth (“We’re going to use this water pick because it’s much faster so you guys can get out of here.”). The hygienist kept sneaking me tissues and asking me if I was okay. (OBVIOUSLY NOT BUT I’M WORKING ON IT.)
By the end of the cleaning, I felt better. Calmer. I actually really like getting my teeth cleaned, so that helped. And, hey, no cavities. So that’s something.
I went out to the desk, and Vivi was happily sitting on the receptionist’s lap, watching videos and eating pretzels (they had asked before giving them to her). Basically, her best day ever.
I apologized to everyone for acting like a crazy person (“Don’t worry! It’s just the rain!”) and thanked them profusely. Heck, I booked a six-month follow-up cleaning because I felt indebted to them. Then I quickly strapped Vivi back on and ran shame-faced from the office. (Back into the rain.)
And THAT is where this story should end. But, because I live where I live, I had to get back on the train. I got to the station just as my train was leaving (again)(because of course), so we waited on the platform for the next one to arrive. We got on…and made it two stops before Vivi started pitching the world’s most epic meltdown.
For the record, my kid doesn’t really do meltdowns. She’ll yell and throw a fit sometimes, but always for a pretty easily identifiable reason and almost always with a 2- to 3-minute time limit. I take no credit for this; she’s just a mostly good kid.
This was different. Vivi screamed and thrashed like she had a scorpion in her diaper, and, honestly, it freaked me out a little.
You know who else was freaked out? Everyone else trapped in the train car with the demon baby.
I took her out of the carrier. Still screaming. I offered her a snack. Still screaming. I offered her water. Still screaming. (And hitting me.) We were THANK GOODNESS on an express train home, but it still meant 15 solid minutes of tortured screaming. More than one person got up an moved away from us in the car, but the majority were too polite and just threw me sympathetic stares. Because is there anything worse than a screaming baby in your train car?
I didn’t freak out. I wrestled her thrashing and took off her jacket, not sure if she was just overheating or something. She kicked off a shoe, so I took the other one off too. Nothing helped.
We finally, finally made it to our stop. Vivi stopped crying as soon as we stepped out of the car, but by then it was obviously of little help. There was no where to set my stuff to get her back into the carrier, so we walked the 10-minutes home (in the RAIN) with my juggling the umbrella and my now still occasionally crying baby. I probably looked like a regretful kidnapper.
We finally got home. IT WAS ONLY 11:58 A.M. I called Joey to tell him the story and promptly started sobbing, which freaked Vivi out and made her start crying too.
For everyone’s sake, I pulled myself together.
So, yeah. That’s the end of the story. I’m letting Vivi watch TV while I type this out because catharsis. And, also, I’m kind of done for today? Plus, listening to her actually singing along with the songs (so cute!) is making me love her again, so I’ll take it. Anyway, I’m exhausted, still slightly damp, and pretty sure I’m never leaving this apartment again.
But dang are my teeth clean.