“My baby isn’t a baby anymore.” “They grow up so fast." "I wish it would slow down.” “I miss that new-baby smell.” When I hear people make statements like these, my typical reaction is to smile, nod and then think to myself, “Yep. Sonny’s growing up. Halle-freaking-lujah.”
MOM’S ALL GROWN UP.
The truth is, I think I’m just a better mother for a toddler than I am for a newborn. Considering the physical and emotional stress of childbirth, breastfeeding struggles, and major new-mom insecurities, my son’s infancy wasn’t a very happy time in my life. But toddlerhood? That’s a song I can sing too.
As Sonny grows, my husband and I have grown as parents too. I’m more confident now. I trust myself more. I’ve settled deeper and more comfortably into my role as a mom, and I think it comes down to one word: communication. Now that Sonny can literally tell us what he wants and needs, it’s made motherhood a more rewarding experience for me. And it’s not as if infancy wasn’t rewarding because Sonny couldn’t give me a high-five and say, “Good job, Mommy. You really nailed that diaper change.” But now that he’s two, he’s able to talk to us, listen to us, learn from us, and show us what kind of person he’s growing up to be. That connection has made our interactions more fulfilling to me, and I get to appreciate my child for who he is versus just what he needs.
LEARNING ALONG THE WAY
If I had it my way, the terrible twos would be called the teaching twos because Sonny’s like a walking sponge absorbing lessons everywhere we go. He’s seen me introduce myself hundreds of times, for instance. Then recently, he stuck his hand out and said, “Nice to meet you,” when we met someone new. It was as adorable as it was admirable. That little gesture showed me that Sonny is at the age when he can learn behaviors and actually grasp what they mean. I’ve also worked to teach him that every time I leave, I always come back. He now understands that “bye-bye” is really just “see you later.” We’re building this mutual trust between us, and that’s something we didn’t have when he was younger.
All that being said, having a toddler is challenging. I’d gotten used to certain newborn habits like letting Sonny cry a few minutes longer to encourage him to self-soothe. These days, it’s “Mommy! Mommy!” which somehow pulls even harder at my heartstrings. It’s as if using my name — well, my “mommy” name — ups the ante because his calls are so specific. Likewise, I think about how unsettling it was when he would cry as a newborn. I felt like I couldn’t identify what was wrong and would spiral into worst-case-scenario, catastrophic thinking. So, while the emotional pull has increased in this toddler phase, the fear and insecurity have diffused.
PEOPLE CHANGE, ESPECIALLY KIDS.
One of my favorite parts of watching Sonny grow up is seeing his personality evolve. We used to joke that he had a bit of a “bad boy” edge when he was first born. He was like this teeny-tiny rebel who just wanted to do his own thing. Now that part of him has grown into an incredible sense of independence and curiosity. He has his own agenda, and I like that about him.
In other news, we think Sonny might be a vegetarian, which is an interesting development. His food preferences have been an unexpected source of individuality, and one of the many ways he’s becoming his own person and not just an extension of us. He’s also grown to express some very mature emotions. He’s compassionate, which is something I never imagined a two year old could be. The other night, I was giving him a bath and playing music in the background. A song came on — a classical piece that’s often played when a father walks his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I got teary-eyed thinking about my dad, and Sonny asked me, “What happened, Mommy?” I was amazed! He understands that tears mean sadness and wanted to know what was going on with me. Moments like that give me such pride and prove to me how far we’ve come in our relationship as mother and son.
I LOVE MY TODDLER, BUT…
I recently ended my I Love By Baby, But YouTube series because I felt like I ran out of buts. If I were to make another episode, I’m pretty sure I’d call it: “I Love My Toddler, but My Toddler Loves Screens.” Sonny’s changing needs have led to many teachable mom moments, and I’m still learning how to navigate this one. Whether it’s at a restaurant or the grocery store, if Sonny decides that he wants to run wild, sometimes I default to the phone to rein him in.
While I hate being “that mom,” sometimes screens are my best option. Having tried and failed multiple times to manage these boundaries, I feel like I’ve grown to be more empathetic of parents’ screen-time plight. If anything, I appreciate knowing both sides of this modern dilemma so that I can empathize and hopefully get better as I go. Side note: If anyone out there has good tips on how to avoid a total meltdown when you take the phone away from your child, I’m all ears. The comments section is right down there.
WHITNEY PORT? PRESENT.
All in all, growing up (both me and Sonny) has created a welcome steadiness in our family. I’ve embraced the pace of life right now. Things aren’t moving too fast or too slow, and I take lots of mental snapshots to stay present and appreciate the chapter we’re in together.
It’s funny, actually. I feel like the transition from having an infant to having a toddler has been a lot like starting at a new school. I had so much anticipation. I didn’t know who my friends were going to be or what I was going to learn. I got all the coolest new supplies and tried to prepare myself as best I could and then I realized: there are some things I just won’t know until I’m there. Growing as a mom has taught me to be open, adaptable, and resilient, just like a kid on her first day in class. And now, with Sonny’s “threenager” stage coming up next year, I’m excited to see what my next school will be like.