The toddler roller coaster is one wild ride

Published 5:42 pm Saturday, July 20, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

Why is that baby pointing at me and screaming like Donald Sutherland at the end of “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”? Because that baby is no baby. That baby is a toddler.

My daughters, Gertie and Clara, turned one last month. So what? Twelve months is only 52 measly weeks. We still had time. Time for cradling them as they fell asleep, time for all that baby stuff where we are the googly-eyed parents and they are cute little lumps of lullaby wanting only to be held and cared for. Then the needle scratched all the way across the record, and they became toddlers.

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The first thing I realized about toddlerhood is that change is no longer gradual. Everything happens at the speed of Roadrunner and a parent just has to keep hoping an anvil doesn’t fall on her head. They wake up different every day as if God or Lucille Ball anointed them with new skills and a fresh slapstick routine as they slept.

Where there was once random movement there is purpose, where there was once passive acceptance there is undaunted opposition, where there were reasons for crying there are tantrums.

Tantrums are all the rage with the toddler set. They are quick to fury. Gertie throws her head to the floor in impossible anguish, but not until she scrambles from the hardwood to the carpet where she can lose her mind in comfort. She is her mother’s child. Clara’s screams reach heights that Mariah Carey would envy. For her, I predict a career as a great soprano or a translator of dolphin language.

Nothing is as it was. This morning I watched Graham trying to change Clara’s diaper. He ran after her waving a Pamper like a white flag while she flew around the room escaping him with the speed and impunity of Steve McQueen on a motorcycle.

Diapering used to be so easy. The babies would lie on the changing table listening to a music box playing the theme to “Somewhere in Time” while we swiped, wiped and diped. Now they giggle, bob and weave threatening our floors with their unpredictable bladders as they crawl away wearing only Aquaphor and free will.

Toddlers want what they want when they want it, and woe to anyone who stands in their way. They are little megalomaniacal mobsters. Imagine living with The Godfather, only two of them. I can’t understand a word they say, but I know if I cross them I’ll wake up with a “My Little Pony” head in my bed.

It’s so hard to know what to do. Do I try gentle reason and discipline or do I get down in the muck with them in a kind of can’t-beat-them-join-them-do-what-the-Romans-do gesture of solidarity fake-out? Just now Gertie swept all of her Cheerios and banana off her high chair tray and because they never stop copying each other, Clara did the same thing a second later. They both snorted and guffawed like it was the most hilarious thing in the world.

What is the proportional response to an attack of this nature? My first reaction is to laugh. I know that’s not right, but I can’t bring myself to fold my arms and shake my head disapprovingly either. I end up on my hands and knees picking up breakfast refuse muttering, “Why? You girls like Cheerios and banana. Why?” as they throw clumps of cold oatmeal at my head. Somewhere I read that’s good for the hair I think, hopefully.

I’m beginning to learn the answer to my own question. The girls may like their breakfast but there’s something they like more, cause and effect. It’s the toddler’s addiction and the parent’s dilemma. The most powerful question in a toddler’s brain is, “What happens when I do this?

What happens when I sink my teeth into my sister’s arm? What happens when I wave my tambourine in the dog’s face? What happens when I eat grass, gravel, crayons, any old thing? What happens when I….

It doesn’t matter what the question is. The answer is almost always, nothing good.

The more unruly they become the more I wonder, “Are they drunk? Did they get into the cough syrup? The sugar bowl? A Roman Polanski movie? Why are they so devilish?” My husband, Graham, ever the rational scientist simply stands back and observes, “It is very interesting dealing with creatures who have absolutely no conscience.”

He’s right of course. As soon as I realize that the world is their oyster and they will throw, sit on, beat and devour that oyster as they choose without any thought for the poor crustacean who has to clean up after them, the one with oatmeal in her hair, it’s much easier to accept them as they are.

The best way to describe the toddler stage is with that worn out comparison, the roller coaster. That’s exactly what it is. I’ve become a mass of adrenaline and mixed emotions. What is this fear bound by great joy? What is this excitement tinged with worry that all may not go as planned?

It’s the ride of my life, the kind that makes me giddy and a little nauseated. And just as it starts to slow down I look at Graham in blissed out terror and ask, “You wanna go again?” And I know the answer is yes. We’re going to ride that ride as long as we can, as long as it lasts.


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is at