As my twins and I got ready to walk to the library, I handed them each a hat. As I handed Dulce her hat, I realized that it was slightly smaller than Natalina’s hat, but it was the only one left within arm’s reach, and I wanted to get going as soon as possible, so I put it on her head and off we went.
This was a mistake.
As we started down the first stretch of road, Dulce started fiddling with her hat. It was too small for her liking. She noticed that it didn’t cover her ears, whereas Natalina’s hat did. So, while I’m proud of myself for having seen this problem ahead of time, I still ignored it at the time, and now we still had a mile and a half to walk to the library, and a mile and a half back – all with a hat not quite to Dulce’s liking.
The way there was not so bad. A walk humming with the repeated sound of “hat, hat, hat, hat, hat, hat.” The way back provided a meltdown the likes of which I had not seen since, well, yesterday.
As adults, we’ve learned to ignore the crucial, tiny conversations our mind has with itself over every decision we make throughout the day. Most of the scenarios our unconscious goes through are unlikely, many don’t make sense, and in almost all of them the protests our mind quickly comes up with and discards can and will be ignored for the greater goal. This process becomes so quick, in fact, that we no longer register it. We begin to assume that making as decision is a simple one-step process. Until, that is, we become parents.
I’m still no expert at this toddler logic, but at least now I recognize which tiny part of my logical process didn’t line up with the baby’s idea. That puts me at least three steps ahead of where I was before becoming a stay at home mom. Step 1: break your decisions up into the shards they really are. Step 2: pay attention to each shard as if it is actually important. Step 3: try to determine how your toddler will view this shard of this decision in five minutes.
So, to further exemplify: as I reached for the blue hat that was slightly smaller than the multi-colored hat her sister was wearing, my mind thought, in this order: This hat is blue. It might not have enough color for her. (Overruled, said the adult. It matches her outfit.) This hat is slightly smaller than her sister’s. It won’t cover her ears in the same way. (Overruled, said the adult. Why do her ears need to be covered? We live in Florida.) She hesitated when taking this hat. She probably doesn’t like it and is just excited to get out of the house. I should probably get her another hat. (Overruled, said the adult. The other hats are in another room, and I am also anxious to get out of the house.) All of this discussion in my mind, boiled down to: we’re going out; the babies need hats.
Toddler brains work differently than an adult brain. They put emphasis in places where emphasis simply should not go. They will get tied up in a little detail that you can’t see, so that even when you fix the overall picture, they’re still upset because it’s not the overall picture they’re seeing. So that no matter how many times I adjusted her hat to cover her ears, it was still no use. I still hadn’t procured her another hat. I still hadn’t picked the right hat in the first place.
The easiest way to avoid all this is to offer them choices. Even if they choose something you wouldn’t have expected, something that doesn’t make sense to you, they have chosen something that makes sense to them, something that they will be happy with. And a happy baby means a happy parent.
ABOUT DARLENA: Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned stay-at-home mom to twin four-year-old girls. When she’s not parenting, she’s writing novels, freelancing, going to grad school or blogging at Parent Win.