Family Matters, Jan Sommers
The crab walk, the big puddle under the van, the airplane track in the sky … these are just a few of the elements of my toddler time warp today.
If you have young children, you are likely familiar with toddlers’ ability to make even the simplest transition, say, getting your coat on and getting into the car, the most excruciatingly long and painful process of the day.
The time warp is manageable if you have one child, add in another and the most mundane aspects of your daily routine can feel like herding cats. Our daily exit from the house is the source of many of the gray hairs stubbornly sprouting along my brow. I once read that putting a jacket on a toddler is like trying to put an octopus in a mesh bag, and I can assure you there are days when it seems like my boys have eight arms.
After much struggle, cajoling, and yes, sometimes full on wrestling, I manage to get one arm in the cursed piece of clothing, only to watch that little cherub-like limb wiggle free while I force the second hand to its home.
Don’t even get me started on what happens once they learn how to take their clothes off, a skill that seems to proceed independently putting the clothes on by months and months. Even if I do manage to get Thing 1 completely dressed you can be sure that as I stoop to tie shoes or help Thing 2 with getting ready the first little character is devilishly pulling off an item of clothing.
Once finally ready to make our way to the family van, we bust through the front door as if expelled by some supernatural force. Obeying the laws of natural chaos, the children begin running in opposite directions. I try to make the trip in one go, carrying bags, my purse, my lunch pack, work bag and hanging on to our beloved dog Molly (note, the dog is by far the easiest one to seat in the car). “Come on, we’re going to be late,” I hear myself saying, but we’re in the time warp and “late” is irrelevant. The tiniest things are of utmost existential importance in the toddler time warp, a ball of fuzz on the driveway that fell out of your pocket the night before, or the method in which you open the car door. If not attended to properly by the supervising grown up, it can result in a level-two melt down that will surely make you late if you weren’t already.
Some days, it can feel like they will break you, and I admit that many days I loose my temper, or resort to counting “One, two, three …” in my best official school marm voice. Getting my youngest boy in the car seat is a replay of the jacket shenanigans. Sometimes there are tears (most of the time the children) as I scan the neighborhood to see if anyone has noticed the scene unfolding on our quiet street. I get in the car, and then, there’s silence. Victory? No, I hate it. Yes, we conquered the time warp, but at what cost?
So, after too many of these mornings I resolved to change. I stoop to examine special items of interest; I pay attention to my boys play, being sure not to step in the “lava” to the right of the steps. We have races to see who can get in their seat the fastest. I carry two bags at a time to the car after the boys are strapped in their seats. The extra trips to avoid imitating a Himalayan Sherpa has gone a long way to reducing my blood pressure. I credit my husband for teaching me this. He has the patience of a saint and has been doing this ever since our first son was born. I thought it indulgent and permissive back then. Now I understand that for now, even in these simple, mundane moments finding connection with the boys, greeting the world together is probably more important than being on time. I want them to know that what they find interesting, how they feel, matters.
We still have bad mornings, but hopefully they are fewer and farther between. So the secret to the time warp? Accept it. Accept that you may be late, or build in lots of extra time to take the pressure off getting ready. If you do, what you will find is one of the great joys of childhood, wonder at the beauty, mystery and fun in life’s smallest moments.
Jan Sommers is a local physician. She lives with her two young sons and husband Ryan Sommers in Truro.