I have come to two conclusions about all those parenting-your-toddler-books:
1) They all say the same thing: Let your toddler be a part of everything you do! Let him help you! Toddlers want to be useful, they want to be a part of what you’re doing, so just let them.
2) The people who write this nonsense have never actually had a toddler.
I often let Josh help me cook, as long as it’s safe. His favorite thing to make is quesadillas, since he gets to spread the cheese on the tortilla shells and then fold them over. Last night we had been running errands all afternoon, and he was tired and grouchy, and I was tired and grouchy, so I decided that quesadillas would be the perfect dinner. Easy and simple for me and something he enjoys for him.
I spread the tortilla shells out on the baking pan and asked Josh to get the cheese out of the refrigerator. Usually he just opens the door, opens the drawer and pulls out the shredded cheese and brings it over, but last night he decided he was thirsty instead. He took the carton of milk out, pulled the cap off, and then dumped it all over the floor before I could grab it.
All over my carpeted kitchen floor. (Whoever carpets kitchen floors has never had a toddler, either)
I was not happy.
I may have yelled at him a little bit about constantly making messes. Which made his little face crinkle up and tears start pouring out as he ran into the living room and laid down on the floor to cry. He lay there with his head on his Thomas The Tank Engine pillow and his thumb in his mouth, crying like his heart was going to break. Mommy, you see, had never really yelled at him before.
I spread paper towels as much as I could, but the carpet was fast absorbing the milk. It was going to have to be shampooed. Immediately, or I was going to have a kitchen that stank of sour milk until the day we can pull the carpet up.
Sighing, I went out to the living room to get the shampooer. The water hadn’t been changed since the last time I shampooed, and so I would have to clean it out, and it was going to smell–very, very bad smells. For whatever reason, the stinky water in our shampooer always smells like manure and makes me vomit, so I make my husband change it. Except he wasn’t home, and wasn’t going to be until morning.
Josh perked up. “Help Mommy?” He asked.
I should have known better, but I’d just yelled at him, something I’ve never done before. And he was sad. So I hugged him and told him he could help, and we pushed the carpet shampooer into the kitchen. I pulled the water tank off of it and set it on the floor, then tried to unscrew it so I could dump it in the toilet.
And it came apart. Spilling dark, dirty, nasty smelling water all over the carpet, which immediately started to absorb all of it.
I thought I was going to cry. Instead, I threw up from the smell(fortunately, the bathroom was a few steps away). Josh sat there, watching me. Watching what I did. Was I going to yell again? Was it his fault? Would it be okay?
Then my little boy touched my hand. “It ok, Mommy,” he whispered. “It just mess.”
It’s okay, Mommy. It’s just a mess. I’m here. It will get cleaned up. It’s not really that big of a deal.
I love you, Mommy.
And I realized I was handling it all wrong.
The milk, the water, trying to clean everything up–it’s just a mess. It had to be cleaned immediately, but it’s just a mess. My 22-month-old son understood better than I did at age 30–it’s just spilled milk. It’s not worth getting all upset about. It’s a mess that will get cleaned up and go away, but the words I said to my son in anger will never get cleaned up. They will never go away.
And a simple mess on the floor, no matter how frustrating, isn’t worth angry words.
I picked him up and kissed him. “Mommy has to clean this up,” I said, “Do you want to watch Mickey while I do, and then we’ll eat dinner?”
It still took another hour to really shampoo and clean that carpet up, at least so it didn’t smell bad. And Josh got spaghettios instead of quesadillas, but he didn’t care, since he got to smear it all in his hair and get the second bath of the day. And I was exhausted, but, really, it wasn’t a big deal.
After all, it was only a mess.