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The Best and Worst of Childhood Development Stages-How kids really are

What kids are really like at each age

By Fernanda Moore |

It starts the second they’re born: we count their fingers and toes, then we start waiting for them to DO stuff. Was that a smile? How much weight has he gained? Are her Apgars good enough? Does he sleep through the night? To how many places can he recite pi? Will we ever stop thinking of our kids in terms of when they do what, and what it means?

We’re always anticipating their next development, but waiting for them to grow out of sucky stages and into good ones is pretty pointless. Just when you’ve learned to appreciate the good (and tolerate the bad) that comes with each and every age, the rules of the whole damned game get switched around.

Do not fool yourself by thinking that life will someday return to normal – that way madness lies. There is no more normal. Instead recognize that there’s good, bad and ugly in every age and stage.

And because it’s better by far to be prepared than to have one’s expectations continually dashed, here’s a cheat sheet for new parents.

BABIES

First, the Bad News:

You Have Yet to Give Up. Because babies are, by definition, recent additions to one’s lifestyle, one’s memories of the days of efficiency, good grooming, and an intimate relationship with one’s pillow remain uncomfortably fresh. Alas, those days are gone, and it may take a while for standards to erode. Be patient.

You Are Your Own Worst Enemy. Oh, the information you’ll read! Book after book after website after website, desperately trying to get the kid to sleep. But by the time you stumble upon the magical crutch (swaddling? swing? pacifier?) that simmers little Screamy down, you’ll be so ideology-addled you’ll lie awake fretting, convinced he’s now hooked on something bad. This requires even more books to help him kick the habit. It never ends.

Elmo Doesn’t Live Here – Yet. Babies are immune to the hypnotic power of television. This will have terrible effects on your ability to perform basic acts of personal hygiene.

There is No Such Thing as a Baby Whisperer. Despite the publishing industry that relentlessly churns out those damned books (see above), there is truly no way to discipline or train a baby. Your only hope is to roll with the punches. Happily, babies have very small fists.

Good News:

You’ve Got a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card. Babies provide a failsafe, eleventh-hour excuse for any social engagement or professional responsibility you want to fink on. No need for apologies or explanations, just drop a wee hint about projectile vomiting or explosive diarrhea and you’re off the hook.

Or Scapegoat, if You Prefer. Go on, pin everything on the baby. Your lack of career, your habitual lateness, the circles under your eyes, your poorly toned thighs, inability to return phone calls – you’re blameless, provided you blame the baby. (The baby won’t care. It’s a victimless crime!)

Raffi Can Suck It. Babies can’t yet request hideous children’s music. Keep listening to whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that, should your mother-in-law say “Uh oh! Uh oh!” to your baby, he can’t yet lisp “Bitches Hopping in my Tahoe!” right on cue.

The Big Weep. Babies cry a lot – which may seem like bad news, but it can be a kind of companionship, as new parents of babies cry a lot, too. If you can’t calm them, join them.

TODDLERS

First, the bad news:

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat. Toddlers are babies writ large – faster, stronger, louder, heavier. When you thwart them, you will pay.

You Can’t Turn Back the Clock. You’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for your baby to walk and talk…but the truth is, mobility and language are wildly overrated. If he can walk, he’ll run away; if he can talk, he’ll talk back. Belatedly, you’ll realize you should have aimed for the far side of the developmental bell curve.

All Id, No Superego. Toddlers have a savant-like ability to suss out the worst possible moments for dreadful public pronouncements. Their phonographic recall is uncanny, as evidenced by their pitch-perfect re-enactment of the choicest rude things you said about your in-laws, right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.

No Appetite, Either. They’re like those mosses that survive on air alone – seriously, they go for days eating nothing. Just when you lose your mind, they decide to eat ONLY ONE THING, until the very day you purchase it in bulk, at which point they never touch it again.

You Might as Well Reason with a Barn Animal. While disciplining toddlers is permitted, it has absolutely no effect. He’ll see your wimpy Time Out, and raise you a full bodied punch in your gonads – conveniently located exactly at toddler-fist-swinging height.

Good News:

Everything’s Still Their Fault. Toddlers make even better scapegoats than babies, so you can keep riding the wave of shiftlessness, sloth, frumpiness and forgetfulness. Actually, since toddlers can trash a room as expertly as any rock star, you can take it up a notch and let your house go straight to hell, too.

They Sing Like Canaries. Worried your in-laws are violating your healthy snack rule behind your back? Toddlers are born stool pigeons, eager to turn over state’s evidence in a heartbeat.

Don’t Feel Guilty – It Builds Vital “Watching Skills.” Say hello to television – your new best friend. You may now shower in peace.

PRESCHOOL

The Bad:

You’re Live. Preschool is parenting without a net. Is your precious darling a biter? A pusher? A non-cleaner-upper? You’ll find out – and so will everyone else.

Time to Get Ill. Preschool will bestow at least one rhinovirus a week on your child, which she’ll pass on to you. Unfortunately, Blowing One’s Own Nose is a sadly neglected part of modern preschool curricula. And her perpetual snot drip makes your preschool child much less appealing.

And No Time for Much Else. Between pick up and drop off, preschool lasts all of seven minutes. (And she’ll be home sick 50 percent of the time, anyway.) Make no commitments you can’t break. Don’t even sign up for a yoga class – why stack the deck against yourself?

The Good:

The Alibi Lives. Forget that vague pressure to “do” something with your free time – like we said above, you won’t have any. If your kid’s not home with a cold, you will be. Cut yourself some slack, and if you DO luck into a free morning, blow it reading magazines and drinking coffee. No guilt.

You Can Always Go on the Lam. No matter what, the stakes are low. Preschool will not appear on anyone’s permanent record. So your baby bit the teacher – so what? Feign disillusionment – you were told there would be organic snacks! – and hightail it to a rival school across town.

It’s Not Required. If it’s really not working out? What the hell – yank him altogether. You’ll save a bundle on tuition – and Kleenex.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

The Bad:

They’re – How to Put This? Not as Cute as They Once Were. Sometime between first and second grade, the transformation begins: your sweet-smelling toddler morphs into a swaggering ruffian. Overlarge front teeth and smelly feet are the tip of the iceberg: there will be attitude; there will be head lice; there will be mandatory dioramas detailing the life cycle of the dragonfly, due tomorrow.

The Good:

The Milestone That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Finally, your kid can reliably wipe his own ass. Entire DAYS may pass in which you don’t interact with another human being’s bowel movements.

On the Other Hand: It is possible to have an objectively interesting conversation – say, about the life cycle of dragonflies – with a school-aged child.

MIDDLE SCHOOL

The Bad:

Where Did They Come From? The term “tween” was invented by corporate marketing executives; given this hateful origin, the demographic’s pretty much what you’d expect. Old enough to approximate many of the true teenager’s most loathsome characteristics, your tween will cling to childish ways whenever it’s inconvenient for you. For instance, instead of sneaking drinks, they’ll count yours.

It’s What Your Great-Grandfather Thought About The Beatles. Their music is atrocious, yet horrifically catchy. Insipid lyrics and dopey synthesizer riffs will colonize your brain, permanently displacing all that moral philosophy and metaphysical poetry you studied in college.

The Good:

Fifty Ways to Say “You’re Grounded.” The gadgets they love – the iPod, the Wii, the Nintendo DS, the holy cellular phone – are ripe for confiscation. This makes discipline a total no-brainer.

Time to Get Mean. Though they lack the wherewithal to get into serious trouble, tweens are plenty obnoxious, which gives you ample opportunity to flex your authority. Think of it as a low-stakes rehearsal for adolescence, which draws ever nigh. (Brace yourself.)

And Lame. Really Lame. Overnight, the sweet child who doted on you will find your very existence acutely embarrassing. Skip the hurt feelings; seize the power instead. Remember how embarrassed you were when she threw that epic tantrum in the grocery store at age three? It’s payback time.

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About Fernanda Moore

bcfernandamoore

Fernanda Moore

Fernanda Moore has two sons, 8 and 14. One was colicky, one never napped, one took forever to toilet train, one wet his bed, one talks back, and one can't bear to lose a game--any game. They are, however, the lights of her life, for which she blames biology.

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31 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Childhood Development Stages-How kids really are

  1. Stephanie says:

    Love it! Hilarious and scarily true.

  2. tiny says:

    loved this, but why does it suddenly stop getting titles part way through?

  3. CocoStranger says:

    I’m going to have the first piece of toddler “bad news” tattooed on my arm. Well done!

  4. Great job says:

    This is awesome. I can’t wait to show it to my pregnant friends!

  5. MomofBeans says:

    So perfect!

  6. Lucky says:

    I laughed the whole time!

  7. Michelle Horton says:

    I laughed out loud through this! Love it!

  8. nval says:

    What a brilliant article — on so many levels. It’s wonderful to read a piece which is clever, humorous and true — all at the same time.

  9. Free2Speak says:

    I laughed so hard I fell out my chair:) So True :)

  10. Melissa Sher says:

    This is a fantastic piece. So funny and so authentic as well. I really loved it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Love this!

  12. lesandapril says:

    I am so very tired of the Cult of the Child and the sacrification of all things parental–it’s a delight to read a writer who clearly loves her children and possesses hard-earned, real-life wisdom, but doesn’t take it ALL so ohmygod inCREDibly seriously. Well done.

  13. Julia Angel-Phillips says:

    This is so refreshingly normal, funny, conversational, like girls get together and laugh their pants off. No preaching, no high-pitch motherly righteousness: “I am bigger that a world, organic food feeding, schedule obsessed and TV prohibiting best parent in the world”. Well done!

  14. Sarah Bryden-Brown says:

    All too true! I love this clever piece of writing about parenthood.

  15. Julia Skochko says:

    Hee hee… I love it. Especially “The Milestone That Dare Not Speak Its Name” (which, alas, sometimes comes with The Sudden Need To Purchase Tide Stain Pre-Treater in Bulk at Costco). And the reminder of how delightful an excuse a baby was for, well, EVERYTHING. Like having double pnemonia, only tiny and cute.

  16. TaylorNelson says:

    How funny and true!

  17. sleepymum says:

    This is so refreshingly honest & blunt…..loved it!!

  18. AngryMom says:

    Totally hilarious and smart to boot. Can’t wait for her kids to hit high school.

  19. Rufus Griscom says:

    Well done Fernanda! I love this take on the upside /downside of each child developmental stage. The crime is that all too often we only fully appreciate stages of life in retrospect, because we don’t understand in a given phase of life the scarcity value of certain experiences in the great sweep of our lives (such as silence on airplanes). Thanks for helping those of us with young kids see the big view.

  20. Fernanda says:

    Thanks, Rufus. Just you wait. AngryMom: I have a freshman in high school right now. Stay tuned.

  21. Louise says:

    Hilarious!

  22. Kim A. Mason says:

    Thanks. This was just the laugh I needed. I am so looking forward to this one:

    The Milestone That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Finally, your kid can reliably wipe his own ass. Entire DAYS may pass in which you dont interact with another human beings bowel movements.

    I yearn for day when I will not hear,”Mom…can you wipe my butt?”

  23. good chinese mother says:

    From a mother who is an empty nester…

    The good news is that your children will go to college and move out of the house, and you will be free to live your life.

    The bad news is that when they do move out, they will take you heart with them, and you are left with memories.

    The advice is…

    Enjoy it while it lasts, and do things that will create memories you want to remember.

    http://www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com

  24. Jean-Marie Devory says:

    If you need a laugh in all the parenting chaos here it is…

  25. January Soden says:

    So good.

  26. Alison Hoskins says:

    Funny read for all you mommies.

  27. Denise Queme says:

    Is that the cutest picture or what? The website isn’t too bad either. Memoirs of an older mom.

  28. laurie wegman says:

    this is hilarious … and so far (I have a 13-month-old) right on the money. your writing is awesome. thank you.

  29. Bekah Lang says:

    your right on the money.

  30. April Joy Stalker says:

    omg… i’m scared!!! and i should be, i’m in mommy boot-camp! i have a 4mth old baby girl and a 26mth old toddler boy (all boy!)

  31. sassypiehole says:

    and THIS, my friend, is why we live near a liquor store.

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