Around the eighteenth month of existing (ex vivo womb), my tot insisted on doing things herself. Sweet! Except for the part where most of the things she tried to do were mediocre-at-best attempts, like clipping her shopping cart buckle or moving laundry from the washer to the dryer or changing her cousins diaper. Her cousin is the same age as her, let us all imagine a wide-eyed 18-month-old being wiped by another 18-month-old. It happened. It was good. Unless it was bad. And disgusting.
From the time Iris could hold her diaper, we asked her to carry it while we walked her over to the trash for her to drop it in. “Trash” was one of her first words. “Trashpit” was one of her first nicknames. She turned two in May, and she now sits next to me while I sew and cuts up paper and fabric with metal scissors. She pins fabric while sitting at my desk. I found her at my desk last week with my rotary cutter. First, I took it away and handed her her own scissors, and instead of exploding over the shredded mess on my desk, I asked, “What are you doing in here,” to which she said, “I working, mama”. In between her (and my own) hysterical fits, I really like this tot.
Around two months in, I said, “Okay, kid, grow up already!”. She might have been a little older, fine. Regardless, whether your tot is still in-utero or a three-year-old devil, here are some ways to help your kid feel empowered:
- Kill the baby talk. There are a couple of words we haven’t corrected, such as the “swimmy poop” (swimming pool), the “swimmy soup” (swimming suit”), and “the lig!” (the lid), but on the other hand, we don’t use those words ourselves. At least not with her. If you want to use funny baby talk, do it with the adults around you, possibly when drunk. There’s really no place for it anywhere, ever. Sure, be a little more sensitive to your kid, but ditch the baby talk and ask them a lot of questions. Doesn’t matter if they can’t answer. Answer the questions if they can’t talk yet, with a variety of responses. Ask open-ended questions, so when you realize you are talking to yourself, at least you are talking to yourself in substantiated English words.
- Take thirty seconds to read what’s around you. Your kid knows that understanding letters and numbers is a large part of what separates you and them. Help them feel informed! Kids generally start reading by memorizing a few words sprinkled through a short picturebook. Your tot can do that already, they want to! Know what’s adorable? A two-year-old “reading” Green Eggs & Ham to herself. I watched my partner’s nephew learn to spell by memorizing things he had to type into Youtube. That works too! Just read what’s around your kid, whether it’s a grocery bag or a coffee cup, it makes them feel more like a grownup and you feel like less of an asshole.
- Put your tot in control of your finances. Maybe you don’t want to give your kid your wallet so they empty it out piece by piece and tear all your money to shreds while you walk around the store. Fine. But when you check out, you can swipe your plastic card through at any time during the transaction. Give that job to your tot. Does the thought of this stress you out? If you’re in a hurry, do it yourself, but if you’re on a grocery-expedition that’s already lasted thirty minutes, let your toddler feel useful and hand over the money. We started entrusting a single dollar bill to Iris when she was super, super tiny, and it ended up in one-million pieces. At first we taped it back together until it wasn’t worth it anymore, and then she started getting that money is barter, and now she’s pretty much as financially informed as we are. Take care of me already, tot.
- Give your tot a job. When we are in my work room, or when we are at the market, I refer to her as my employee, and I say she can do some “work,” whether that work is playing with Play-Doh or eating chips and salsa naked while watching Peppa Pig. When we are out of the work room, we ask her to help us. With everything. When we’re picking up apples outside, we ask her for help. When we planted grass seed a couple weeks ago, we asked her to help plant with us. Christina and her tore a wall down in our kitchen together, Iris equipped with goggles and a face mask.
- Be inclusive. There’s this Daniel Tiger episode that infuriates me, his dad is building a playhouse and Daniel can’t use grown up tools. Daniel walks up to his dad and we see that the playhouse is completely finished except for the door. Fuck that! His dad could hand him the cup of nails, or a piece of sandpaper, or give him a helmet, give him some pieces of wood, like, let Daniel take some pride in helping build his own damn playhouse. I mean, Daniel does get to help hold the door and paint, k, thanks dad, but it still agitates me that his dad tells him he can’t use grownup tools, because he totally could hold that hammer. He ALSO can’t use a screwdriver! How old is he, anyway, five? Whatever you are doing, be inclusive. If your kids gets a little hurt, they’ll be more careful in the future. We got a short shovel as well as a trowel for Iris to use whenever we are digging the yard. She has her own level in her own toolbox that she lets us borrow (because we for some reason don’t have our own level). She sits back when we light a fire in the living room, but she also gets to help bring wood over. Your kid doesn’t need a DIFFERENT, baby-approved activity when you are working on something. Your kid wants to feel important, so let them help and let them learn. Short of letting a toddler on your roof or using a blowtorch, include that damn baby, why did you have them anyway if you don’t actually want them to do anything?