The other day, my four year old harvested a radish, washed it off in the hose and then took it inside and trimmed it with his scissors. And then put it in the fridge in a tiny bowl of water. All by himself. I didn't even know he had done it until I saw a lone little radish floating in a bowl in the fridge.
I'm strangely comforted by the knowledge that he is self-sufficient in this way. A wee radish farmer who could survive on radishes if his parents were to dissappear. (Hmmmm, this is starting to sound like a dark fairytale.) Anyway, I'm so proud of him!
My 18 month old follows suit of course and was so proud that he too could harvest radishes. Unfortunately, he now wants to pick the entire garden. I can see the tomato plants tremble when he walks by. We walk the delicate balance between trying to protect the garden and trying to protect his enthusiasm for gardening. It is like that with a lot of things at this age.
If we embrace the mess and embrace the chaos then we are embracing him. That is just how it is with an 18 month old in your house. I think the "terrible twos" exist when people don't want messy floors, don't give themselves enough time to get out the door and generally try to overly control a being whose job it is to explore their universe.
I'll get eyerolls for saying this but I don't really think toddlers are all that difficult. Or maybe this is because I have a smart and sassy four year old who argues by saying things like, "No, Mama, you are wrong! You think that I should wash my hands but actually, I don't have to because they are my hands and I get to decide whether or not to wash them. So I'm not gonna!" This is followed by a discussion about germs which then culminates with very high decibels of whining and collapsing boneless on the bathroom floor...him, not me. By comparison, a smiling and jolly tornado of destruction (aka an 18 month old) is so much easier. All you have to to is make sure they are safe and then step out of their way.
The main thing is that I'm an experienced mother to an 18 month old. I've done this before. This is my first time being the mother to a four and a half year old. I wish I was better at it. I wish I had the wisdom of having done it before and the calm and confidence that comes with experience. I'm learning when to just back off and let him decide to wash his hands (or not) or to take a bath (or not) because these types of battles are not worth the scars they leave on our relationship.
So maybe if with an 18 month old the goal is to make sure they are safe in their random chaos of exploration, then maybe with a 4.5 year old the goal is to make sure they are safe on the path they are leading themselves on. I guess the goal is really the same. Keep them safe. Let them lead. I just figured out the secret to this whole parenting thing. Please remind me about it next week when I've forgotten it. Promise?