The Good, The Bad, & The Terribly Stinky: Toddlers vs. Teens

I was at a meeting recently with a couple of other parents, making small talk about our kids.

One woman had younger children. Preschool, maybe. Just emerging from mommy-and-me-gymnastics stage and entering into the “Let’s see what kind of activity keeps you most interested but doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg” phase.

The guy in our group had teen girls, big into soccer. Travel leagues. Sometimes the family had concurrent games in towns on opposite ends of the state. The kinds of games college recruiters attend, so God forbid your kid misses one, or you miss watching your kid play one, in favor of watching the other kid at her game.

We all agreed – in that jovial, if-I-weren’t-laughing-I’d-be-stabbing-myself-in-the-eyeball kind of way – that his life sucks, and that teenagers are rough on parents in general, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop time when kids are cute and little and don’t need to be driven all over or talk back or think their parents are stupid?

I know. We actually said that. Sober.

I have no desire for that time when the kids were cute and little. They were balls of activity and sass and as likely to play in the toilet as they were to run up to some stranger’s dog and get mauled.

“I don’t remember you girls being this active,” my mom said to me once about my boys, while we watched them do their whirling dervish thing.

That’s a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder right there: forgetting stuff. I know for a fact my sister and I made mud pies on the driveway, started fires in the basement and cut our own hair when no one was looking. I ate an entire bottle of Flinstone Vitamins when I was little because they were yummy. This was followed by a healthy dose of syrup of ipecac and a round or two of projectile vomiting.

Good times.

Not that older kids are gobs easier. Older kids are hard on their parents in different ways. And they’ve paired their ability to wreak havoc with an eye roll that clearly says they think we’re all dumber than a sack of hammers.

Hello teen years. For those of us trying desperately to ensure the survival of the species by raising people who might live to procreate, it’s time to trade the old Hell for a fresh, new one.

The GOOD: I no longer have to read Red Fish, Blue Fish ad nauseam at bedtime. Instead, my kids read books and then recommend them to me and we discuss. It’s so civilized I’m just beside myself. They’re reading some cool stuff, and none of it posits how many apples I can balance on my head or whether I would ever give a mouse a cookie.

The BAD: Our bedtime reading ritual had been replaced by a whole lotta’ dawdling and the occasional “Oh, I just remembered” some mandatory attendance at some teacher conference, parent meeting, or chauffeur duty tomorrow that will totally sabotage the day.

Then there’s the fact our younger kid has become the family Cliff Clavin, sharing random interesting tidbits at irregular intervals for the next 90 minutes after he’s supposed to have been bed.

“Hey mom, did you know, the last Civil War veteran died in 1959?”

Fascinating. And quite often awkward given the images on screen at the exact moment we have to pause whatever show we’re watching.

I swear, it can take a full three weeks to stream one episode of Orange is the new Black with all the trivia breaks.

The GOOD: Our kid can make Mac and Cheese for himself and his brother if we have an evening meeting, or even *gasp* make time for a drink with friends or to go on a date.

The BAD: Our kid has not yet mastered the art of cleaning up after himself, and can make just as big a mess as any toddler flinging finger foods from a high chair. He may also subject his brother to whatever Netflix movie is most likely to give him nightmares for the rest of the summer.

The GOOD: No more stinky diapers. In fact, there are so many things I no longer need to know about my kids’ bowels, it’s bliss. I haven’t any idea whether they still poop their body weight every day.

The BAD: The worst body odor God ever gave a human, and probably the worst gas as well, seems to belong to the teenage boys who camp out in our basement every afternoon playing video games.

The GOOD: No more diaper bags to remember.

The BAD: Diaper bags have been replaced (at least during the school year) by a daily changing array of lunches, sporting equipment, homework, and musical instruments (and sheet music, music stands, concert attire…).

The (very) GOOD: I no longer worry I might forget a sleeping toddler in a car in the summer heat – my personal worst fear. Don’t be a judge. Anyone who thinks this could never happen to her has never been a sleep deprived parent trying to remember if it’s time for Wednesday’s baby dance class or Thursday’s pediatrician appointment or a meeting with the marketing committee. One who still believes that it’s possible to multitask when she’s experiencing fluctuations in blood sugar that rival the seismic activity of the San Francisco earthquake.

The BAD: My kid’s getting a learner’s permit this summer. Just stay off the roads.

The GOOD: There are moments, these days, when everyone’s preoccupied and there’s no danger of anyone choking on a Lego or smearing the contents of a diaper on the wall and I can sit and complete a thought or two, pick up a paper or finish a cup of coffee.

The BAD: It’s because they’re upstairs with the iPad, streaming porn.