The day after Christmas I received a special gift from my sister. She gave me her 21-month-old toddler for three days.
My nephew, Robert, is an adorable kid—flexible, sweet and a bit of a ham. But he’s also a toddler. Which means he’s curious, fearless, persistent and fast. In short, one of the most dangerous animals alive.
Example: We’d be playing in the front yard. Robert would fool us by wobbling around on his chubby little legs, looking like he could barely take more than three steps without falling on his padded behind. Then he’d see a car coming around the corner. Suddenly, he’d sprint toward the street, moving like a cheetah on crack. Only the dog could catch him.
Remember that old Coppertone advertisement where the little terrier pulls down the toddler’s diaper? That ad was re-enacted numerous times while Robert was here. Thank God for the dog’s herding instincts.
Then Robert decided not to sleep for two of the three nights we kept him. Poor guy had a racking cough and, according to my sister, doesn’t like sleeping in the portable crib (note that she didn’t tell me this before I’d driven halfway to Atlanta to pick up her child—smart mom).
So, he ended up in our bed dozing, crying and whacking his forehead into my mouth every time he realized I wasn’t his mom. Luckily, he attached to Enviro-spouse. After a couple hours of toddler wrestling, I moved to our 6-year-old’s room and let E-spouse deal with the midnight comforting. After years of nursing our babies at various dark times of the night, I didn’t feel too guilty.
Plus, I’d forgotten how toddler-induced sleep deprivation feels. Now that I’m 40-something, I don’t rebound as quickly from two nights of shut-eye interruptus as I once did. I spent about a week afterward feeling like a bucketful of sand was rubbing against the backs of my corneas. I should not have operated any machinery, including my coffee maker, which produced a geyser of hot water and coffee grounds that almost burned off my eyebrows when I turned it on one morning.
While sleep-deprived and coffee-free, I had to remember to keep my bloodshot eyes on the kid at all times. Like most toddlers, Robert treated the toilet as his personal play toy. After all, it’s the right height and there’s not yet another use for it. Although my family was under strict orders to keep the bathroom doors closed, Robert still managed to get inside. Which I learned when he presented me with a dripping wad of toilet paper. (I hoped that he’d dipped the t.p. in the water himself and not pulled it out after one of my sometimes-forget-to-flush kids had used the facilities.)
Robert also grabbed all open containers of liquid he could get to—glasses of water, juice bottles, a half-full watering can. I got in trouble with my sis the last time I stayed with her for leaving a full bottle of beer on a table for 1.4 seconds. This was long enough for Robert to grab it, run undetected through two rooms and dump the brown beer on the cream-colored carpet in the hall.
And we haven’t even gotten to toddler chimp antics. What joy it is to figure out that you can push a chair, a table or a plant stand over to the kitchen counter, climb on top and voila! Knives, fire, hot foods, pointy utensils. Could life get any better?
When our son was a toddler, we paid a visit to the local Target, a place I typically avoid until I’m desperate for socks. I turned around to say something to my mother and watched as her face went through a quick firing range of emotions: fear, surprise, terror and, weirdly, a smirk. I turned around to see my boy smiling down at me from the top of a towering stack of cola cases. Making sure Mom was ready to dial 911, I climbed up after him. Somehow, I managed to get us both down the soda mountain without having it collapse around us.
Overall, the toddler damage from Robert’s stay in Asheville was minimal, mostly thanks to the dog’s and my kids’ vigilance. When Robert got hold of a can of hair spray and prepared to expertly shellac the bathroom rug, my son let me know almost immediately. When Robert climbed up on a chair that I thought I’d blocked and started hitting the keys on my laptop, my son yelled, “Mom, Robert’s blogging.”
Despite the sleep deprivation, Robert’s visit was great fun for our family. My kids treated him like he was a toy that could perform amazing stunts. “Look, Mommy, Robert’s so smart. He’s using a spoon,” said my girl as we watched him fling yogurt across the room at the dog, who loved this new game.
For the first time in almost four years, I had a toddler in my house. I had a baby gate on the stairs, a high chair in the dining room and a pile of diapers in the bedroom. But guess what? I got to give him back after three days. I think this may be the best gift my sister’s ever given me.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.