I was talking with a friend one recent Monday who has 18-month-old twins. She told me that she and her husband had taken these twins over the weekend to a relative’s home for a belated Father’s Day celebration. “Oh, how fun!” I said, and then I came to my senses. “I mean, geez, I’m sorry. You must be exhausted!”
When my starter child Benjamin was an infant, holiday get-togethers were still something to look forward to. Sure, sure, there was the inevitable crying from being passed around too much, and the seemingly constant need to excuse myself to go somewhere private to feed him. (In fact, I did miss an entire Thanksgiving dinner, start to finish, when he was going through a growth spurt at 5 months old.) But none of that prepared me for the horror of following a curious toddler around our relatives’ homes at holiday functions.
THE SEVEN HORRORS OF TODDLER HOLIDAYS
1) Naptime. Every holiday function begins right in the middle of naptime. If it doesn’t, then the rule is that the food is served right when naptime would normally begin. Every parent knows that a naptime missed is the opening chapter of an epic tragedy. The novelty of the situation will briefly put the inevitable on hold—but eventually fatigue will win, and the child will stage a dramatic meltdown, the likes of which will leave an indelible impression upon all who bear witness. You’ll feel like people are judging you, and it’s true…they are.
2) The food. Your child won’t eat any of the food served at the holiday, because none of the dishes are on the list of the four or maybe even six foods the toddler deems permissible. You’ll make a plate for the child anyway, secretly hoping that maybe this time will be different. You’ll present the plate to the child with enthusiasm. “Look what I brought you! Mmmmm!” The child will grimace, maybe poke at a scalloped potato, and then exclaim something along the lines of “YUCKY! YUCKY YUCKY NO NO NO!” The older relatives will look down their noses at you for raising such a picky eater. Someone might sigh and cluck their tongue and say, “My kids always ate their dinner…children these days are given too much freedom,” or “My Jenny was always such a good eater that I could take her anywhere and leave feeling proud.” It’ll sting, but keep in mind that their memories have been rewritten by time and vodka.
3) Knickknacks and/or holiday decorations. Your sweet munchkin will hurl themselves at fragile, precious family heirlooms as they stumble unsteadily through the unfamiliar house. And who can blame them? It’s fun. You’ll lurch anxiously along behind them, crouched down in an approximation of their height and lunging radius, the unnatural posture causing debilitating and lingering back pain for at least a week. The other guests can’t help because they’re busy drinking and eating and judging you.
4) Diaper changes. There will be a ton, far more than in a similar time period at home. So, let’s say that you normally change 3 diapers between 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm at home? Bring at least 6 diapers for the same time period at a holiday function. The other ironclad rule is that somehow, some way, you’re going to end up getting poop on something important that belongs to someone else, like a white guest towel or a silk throw pillow or maybe even Aunt Betty’s vintage mink coat. You could change that diaper out in your CAR, and I still guarantee someone else’s valuable item will be contaminated.
5) Which brings me to potty training. Someone is going to see you changing one of those diapers, and they’re going to start grilling you on potty training. No matter what stage you’re at, you won’t be far enough along for them and everyone they know. They’ll recount at least 3 of their friends or family members who did it faster, better, and much, much earlier than you are doing it. You lazy, lazy, incompetent slacker.
6) And if anyone asks about your child’s sleep habits, I’m begging you to LIE, even though it goes against your truthful nature. Unless the child goes to sleep promptly and independently at 7:00 pm, never wakes up in the night, never gets in bed with you, never gets up at 4:00 am for the day for no good reason, never demands water or another book or more snuggles. If you have one of those (fictional?) children who goes to bed, sleeps all night, and wakes up at 7:00 am rested, cheerful and refreshed, then go ahead and answer truthfully.
7) But then be prepared for them to say you’re abusive for not co-sleeping. My advice is to excuse yourself from the conversation to go and clean up all that poop.
The good news is that all of those people will forget about how obnoxious your kid was (or they never really noticed or cared in the first place…a lot of those feelings of judgment come from the inside rather than the outside). Or they’ll have toddlers of their own someday, and you can be the kind and generous one who tells them how great they’re doing as their child hurls Great-Great-Grandma Daphne’s one-of-a-kind Austrian crystal vase to the floor, the one that she smuggled out of the old country cleverly baked into a loaf of simple peasant bread.
The Daddy and I are now past this phase, and it is AWESOME. Our kids, now 4 and 7, arrive at holiday gatherings and disappear with friends or cousins, not to be seen again until dinner time. I’m not gonna lie—it is fun to again be able to participate in holidays again.
There is a part I miss, though. It’s the part where I carried a tiny, warm, sleeping babychild into the house after the car ride home, carefully taking off their little shoes and ridiculously teensy-weensy socks before tucking them into bed. Awwwwww.
So cherish that part. All the rest of it is for the birds.