I wake up to a light dusting of snow, just enough to illuminate the neighborhood. It’s a Saturday sprinkle of winter bliss. “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” I ask while filling the coffee carafe with water. The high desert dropped to a low of 25 degrees. Is it summer yet? I slept a solid seven hours, a true miracle. I can’t let all of this energy go to waste. Even if we don’t get outside, we have to go somewhere.
My daughter’s favorite indoor activity is “going to a restaurant.” (She takes after her mother.) “What kind of restaurant do you want to go to?” I ask. “Hmm… how about pizza?! No, ice cream!” my almost-four-year-old squeals. “Well, you can’t have pizza or ice cream for breakfast. How about we go to the little café with the yummy pancakes?” I suggest. Deep down, I know that a pizza might actually be the more nutritionally balanced option. Oh, well.
Everyone agrees on a chilly morning adventure to our favorite café. My husband and I load up the van and secure all three children in their car seats, a feat truly deserving of a pancake reward. I quickly push the heated seat buttons, and I always turn on the heated steering wheel for our driver, known by the baby as “Da.” The nine-month-old is happy anywhere we go as long as it’s early. He does not like that car seat after 4 p.m. The two-and-a-half-year-old wants to be like big sister. If she wants carbs covered in sticky sugar, brother needs them, too.
We order our food at the counter, grab a large table, fill the cups, wipe down the high chair, and clean six little hands. My husband holds the squirmy baby, and I put the big kids in booster seats. Everyone is happy for a brief moment. Cue the tale of two toddlers.
Toddler one: Sits still in her booster seat, patiently awaits the arrival of a warm breakfast, and uses her fork to cut the pancake into bite-sized pieces. The only help she needs is pouring syrup.
Toddler two: Fidgets in his booster seat, asks to eat every five seconds, cries because the pancake isn’t cut, and cries when I cut it up. I have to hold him to quiet his very loud screams. I calmly talk him through the pancake process while hurriedly fixing his plate. (I am a multitasking pro by now.) He gets back in his seat and decides he doesn’t want to use the fork anymore. “You can eat with your hands, buddy. Just pick up the pieces of pancake and dunk them in the syrup.” After a frantic five minutes, which felt like forever, he finally settles.
My oldest children are only 15 months apart. They have been toddlers together for much of their lives. But I see a shift coming. My daughter is almost a preschooler. Her independence shines. The toddler side only comes out when she’s sleepy. And that big kid persona is ever-present when she spells her name for strangers. “W-R-Y-N spells Wryn!” she shouts for all to hear. Little brother is still in the thick of it. His tantrums are regular. He must have a nap or total chaos ensues. He needs to be held; he needs to be the baby. I catch glimpses of what’s ahead when he sits still and paints circles with his watercolor brush. I see the big brother protector when he gently kisses baby brother. But my middle boy is smack dab in the middle of toddlerhood. “ROBOT, ROBOT, ROBOT,” he chants while pulling off the couch cushions and chasing big sister.
Breakfast is almost over. We sit at the table with full bellies and sticky hands. I look to my left. Toddler one is finishing up the sausage she stole from my plate. She smiles at me and gulps some water. I shift my gaze toward toddler two. In the moment of quiet, no one noticed him reach for the syrup. With a big piece of pancake in his left hand balanced against his chest and chin, he tilts the heavy syrup bottle with his right hand. I see the concentration in his face. His brow furrows and his little arm shakes as he waits for the syrup to drip. “Oh! Let mommy help you with that!” I cry. I take the big bottle and swirl a little more syrup around the last piece of pancake. Breakfast crisis averted.
We clean up and get everyone out the door with the promise of making footprints in the snow. I carry toddler two to the van after stomping in the thin layer of powder on the sidewalk. He’s sticky from head to toe. “Did you like those pancakes, buddy?” I ask. “Yummy in my tummy!” he cheers. On the drive home, my husband and I recount the near-miss syrup spill. We talk about how hard it’s been with our middle boy. He’s either too young or too old. He’s either trying to catch up to his big sister, or too rough with his little brother. Doesn’t he deserve a chance to be just right?
My toddlers are so close, yet so far apart. They both need different things from me. Sometimes I forget to adjust myself to their needs. My expectations don’t line up with their limitations. I expect my son to sit quietly, use his fork, and politely ask for more syrup. I expect him to use a napkin instead of his jacket. I expect him to keep up. My daughter doesn’t have to keep up with anyone. There was a time not so long ago when she was the messy one with constant meltdowns. She threw her spoon and screamed so loud it made the table next to us stare. My son deserves the same luxury of being fully a toddler. He deserves to be slow and sticky.
I made a pact with my husband to focus more attention on our son’s needs in three specific ways. First, we would have more one-on-one conversations with him. His voice can be overpowered by the big girl and the baby. Next, we would try our best to do whatever he asks. His chief request is to be carried. He’s telling us exactly what he needs; we just have to listen and respond. Finally, we will cheer loudly for his little victories, even when he’s slow and sticky.
“Where would you like to go today, buddy?” I ask my boy.
“See the animals!” he exclaims.
“Oh, yeah? What’s your favorite animal to see?”
“Gorilla! Ooh-ohh!” he screams as he beats his chest and jumps in the air.
We went to the zoo the next day. The sun was out and the snow had melted. With only 45 minutes before closing time, we raced to see the gorilla. Toddler one ran in her little heels. My husband carried toddler two. And the baby snuggled on my chest in the carrier. We got a great view of brother’s favorite animal. “I love the gorilla!” he cried. Another little boy his age was playing close by. They studied each other for a few moments, smiled, then high-fived.
He doesn’t have to keep up. He’s just right.
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Audra Powers is a stay-at-home mom living in the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She named her three children after birds and loves the great outdoors. On the weekends you’ll find her hiking in the foothills, playing guitar, or thrift shopping. She writes about faith, family, and living motherhood empowered. Catch up with her on Facebook and Instagram.