For years, I thought I had a clear vision of what living with a toddler would be like. It would be a bit wild, a lot of fun, and extremely messy. Because toddlers cause havoc, right? And they leave their toys and such everywhere, right? And they throw balls out of ball pits just to see them roll away, and laugh with a sinister little giggle? Okay, that last one I picked up more recently, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not always true.
Widget, and a few of his little friends, are Tidy Tots. For over a year now I’ve kept his secret, but I’m ready to come out of the closet. When Widget makes a mess, he cleans it up. When he spills a dollop of yogurt, a drop of milk, or a pea, he says “uh oh,” points to it, and then points to the counter and says “towel.” If (when!) I hand him a paper towel, he very industriously mops up the spill and then climbs down to put it in the trash, saying “trash.” This is a big deal for a kid who is usually way too busy to talk!
Last week, he unwrapped his favorite birthday present — an inflatable elephant-shaped pool that holds three inch balls. Lots and lots of three inch balls. The thrill on Widget’s face was equaled only by the trepidation on his parents’ faces as we braced for the chaos and fun of throwing all the balls out and having them roll over and under everything else we owned.
Ironically, that didn’t happen. When Widget knocks a ball out, or tosses it out, or we do, he climbs out of the ball pit and goes to pick the ball(s) up. Right away. It reminds me of the parable of the lost sheep, actually. I think he knows that there are dozens and dozens of balls in the ball pit to land on and play with, but he just can’t stand it that there is one rolling away or hiding under the futon.
I mentioned this for the first time to our playgroup this week, and, to my surprise, the first reaction I got was agreement! Two of the four other moms there this week have a child who is the same way! They don’t always pick up the playroom (we have a mutual understanding in our group — we pick up the playroom before and after playgroups, and on Saturday morning, but the rest of the week it returns to the wild), but in our houses, spills have no chance against our Tidy Tot toddlers. If we drop something while making dinner, it must be cleaned up at once. If one of the kids throws a bowlful of veggies, the toddler must pick it up, or have it picked up, before we can move on. And sometimes, we get applause. Or happy nods. Or just the satisfaction of knowing that we communicated. Kid wants something done, kid lets us know, we talk about it, and typically we do it. And vice versa, of course. It’s a big step, from baby to little kid, and it’s all about being a toddler for some of us.
The kids in our playgroup do chores, too. Widget has enjoyed doing laundry with me for as long as I can remember. Now that he’s two, he can do almost all of it himself — he climbs up on the stepstool, scoops the detergent, and dumps it into the open washer. When I hand him the sorted clothes, he shoves them in and moves them around to make them fit in the tub without spilling over. When he was smaller, he just put the detergent in and brought me clothes that he thought should go in (i.e. a random assortment). When he was smaller than that, he played in baskets of clean laundry — yes, before and after folding. And when he couldn’t even sit up, he was snugly hugged to my chest in a baby sling (http://www.mayawrap.com/) while I did the wash. He has always loved the time together, and it means a lot to me that he’s willing to pitch in. Face it, no one likes to do laundry. But it’s good that we do chores together.