I am writing this on my phone while my son plays with his ducks in the tub. The large duck with the blue bow around its neck he calls Daddy Duck. The slightly smaller yellow duck, he calls Mommy Duck. The little plain yellow duck (as distinguished from his pirate duck, football duck, lifeguard duck and singer duck) is the little boy duck.
The ducks are telling each other “I love you” and giving each other kisses and hugs. Seeing this sort of play always makes me deliriously happy inside. Of course, after a few minutes of such lovey-dovey cuddling, something inevitably happens. Sometimes a robot attacks. Sometimes the football duck interferes and causes trouble. Today, they are practicing diving, which he started doing with his bath toys after watching the U.S. swim team in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This is apparently a risky activity, because sometimes they fall out of the tub instead of diving into water. But the ducks are checking in on each other: “Are you OK?” And still telling each other “It’s OK,” and “I love you,” and “Good job.”
I needed this moment. After three weeks of various family members convalescing with colds, and after the car broke down, one week out of the shop, and rain colluded to keep us penned up together, I needed this. My sweet, funny toddler can also be a clingy, demanding task master, especially when in the grip of cabin fever. I’m not always as patient as I should be, especially when toys are being shoved into my hands as I’m trying to call the garage to check on the repairs. At such times, I’m more like the robot duck, fire in my eyes, intoning, “No toys. Mommy’s busy.” But then, the tears come, and oh, those tears.
Toddlers are so fragile, and he will cry at so many things that wouldn’t phase an older child. A dropped toy, a rebuffed demand, and real hurts from tripping and injuring that baby body I’m always telling him to protect. No matter what caused it — he will even cry if one of us says “Ow” too loudly because he stepped on a foot or whipped his hard head into a chin — I always comfort him. I can’t help it: I’m a sucker for tears.
No one is perfect, and despite the best intentions, despite all the parenting books and articles you might read, you will from time to time say or do the wrong thing: the thing that, instead of redirecting your child, winds him up more; the thing that, instead of calming her, makes her cry.
After a bad day, when we were on each other’s bad sides, it’s good to see that the moments I read and played with him made him happy. It’s even better to realize that his internal dialogue — and his idea of families — is by and large a positive, supportive, empowering one. And yes, some days there will be evil robots, but we’ll get through it together, with love.