What I’ve learned spending every Friday with my toddler

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By 9:30 a.m. it was just Aspen and myself. I’d dropped off the older two, Tristan and Norah, at school, and Mel, my wife, had left for class. Every Friday for the past 7 Fridays had been like this (I don’t usually work Fridays). It was Mel’s last term of school, and she was out of options for online classes, so she tried to make sure that most of her on campus classes were on Fridays so I could stay home with Aspen, our toddler.

I’d been a father for 9 years up to this point, and while Mel and I had taken on multiple arrangements when it came to child care over the years, I think these past few Fridays had been the longest I’d spent with a toddler in my care alone. This isn’t to say that I hadn’t taken care of Tristan or Norah alone when they were toddlers for a day or so, or several days, but it was never week after week like this. Usually I had to be to work, or class, or something. Or Mel was home. Surely this had happened once my kids were older, I was even a stay-at-home dad for a while, but they weren’t toddlers.

I always started each Friday with a list of things I needed to get done. And each Friday I assumed that they would, without a doubt happen, and every Friday Aspen got in the way. This particular day, I needed to do laundry and make a trip to Costco.

The thing is, toddlers are not exactly like normal children. They are crazy, unpredictable, emotional, child-like creatures that tend to break things and laugh at inappropriate times. I never really know what to expect when I’m with a toddler, and I suppose if you are new to this age of children, my advice would be to expect the unexpected, because there really is no way to predict someone sneaking into your fridge, eating mustard, and then throwing up in the fruit crisper.

I looked at Aspen standing in the living room. She was dressed in a grey shirt with a rainbow that read, “Have fun.” She had on purple corduroy pants, her blond hair was in pigtails, and when I looked into her eyes I could see little more than curiosity that would, without a doubt, wind up breaking something.

I started sorting laundry, the whole time keeping an eye on Aspen. I’d gotten good at that over the past few weeks. Parenting with a toddler is all about constant vigilance. In the past few weeks I caught her doing everything from stashing half eaten cheese in her mother’s underwear drawer, to fishing around in her diaper to examining her own poop.

I turned my back for a moment to grab a soda from the fridge, and when I turned around Aspen had a doll stroller over her head and she was rushing at the flat screen. I caught the stroller just in time, and I don’t think I’d ever felt like such a hero. She started to cry, like she usually does when I keep her from breaking something, and then she looked around, and I could tell that she was looking for her mother. She always does this. In fact, she regularly pauses for a bit, her eyes a little misty, ready to cry, but not sure if the right person will hear it. And the right person is always her mother. But with me being the only one around it’s become a sense of setting. Dad will do for now.

She let out a soft, sad, little whimper that seemed to say, “You will do for now.” I was still holding the stroller, so I set it down, and picked her up, and as she buried her blond little head into my shoulder, I felt a warmth in my chest that can only come from the ebb and flow of having your toddler freak you out, and then suddenly calm you with a soft sweet snuggle.

Together we sat on the sofa for a bit, snuggling. I’m not sure exactly how long we sat there, long enough to get her calm. But what I do know is that between keeping Aspen from breaking the TV and getting her calmed down again, I’d lost a good 40 minutes of laundry time. Something like this would happen at least four or five more times throughout the day, meaning every Friday I spend two to three hours keeping Aspen from breaking stuff, and then calming her down after she fails, which is strange, considering it seems like someone should be calming me down. It is also a huge reason why I was lucky if I got half of what I wanted done each Friday. Most of the time I was left with a decision: keep Aspen from breaking things and get her calm, or let her break things so I can get things done.

I looked down, and Aspen had fallen asleep. On my sleeve were boogers, and while it’s always good when your toddler falls asleep, this meant that she’d probably sleep for a couple hours. By the time she woke up, and I got her fed, I wouldn’t have time to go to Costco, almost 30 minutes away, before I had to pick up the two older kids.

When I first started watching Aspen on Fridays this would have gotten me really frustrated. I’d have lost it. Or I might have tried to wake her up, only to find that she made my life a living hell the rest of the day because she’d missed her nap.

I’ve learned a few things spending each day with Aspen. I’ve learned that I am a good substitute for mom, and that an open box of cereal in the hands of a toddler can ruin your whole kitchen. I’ve learned that she can make me laugh even when I’m really frustrated, and by 3 p.m., when it’s time to pickup the older two from school, I’m about ready to light the house on fire. But probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is that whatever I had planned for the day, Aspen has her own plans, and chances are, hers are going get in the way of mine.

I placed Aspen in her bed. It was 11 a.m. now. I went back to doing laundry.

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