Why life with a toddler is an extreme sport

alec and eloise

When my baby was tiny, I used to pop her in a sling and take her everywhere. She’d sleep through lunch at Balthazar, exhibitions at the MoMA, and if she woke up, she’d quietly look at the Whitney Biennial with her big blue eyes, taking in performance art at its finest.

I thought I was raising a cultured New Yorker, and expected that as she grew into a toddler that our excursions would be even more fun. I imagined her learning colours from Monet and Van Gogh at the Met, and developing a broad palate from devouring dim sum at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

Perhaps this lies FAR in our future, because today’s truth is that taking my 21-month-old toddler out of the house is an extreme sport. There’s pushing, pulling, lifting and shoving involved. There’s running, jumping, grabbing, cajoling and (yes, I admit it) yelling.

This makes for an exhausting outing pretty much every time we walk out the door. Looking on the bright side though, here are five extreme sports I will never have to try myself – because I’m living vicariously through my little girl.

Skydiving
Everytime we enter a playground, my toddler dashes for the play equipment. The big kid play equipment. She hauls her tiny body up the stairs, and then bolts, squealing with joy, for the first cliff edge. Where she then proceeds to hurl herself off the precipice, as I run, heart in my mouth, to catch her.

Parkour
Just like parkour-lovers, my toddler thinks every single gutter, step, stoop and ladder rung is made for climbing on, over and through. Walking down the street has become a teetering bolt between each apparatus, her little head wobbling just a split second behind the rest of her body, and her mad circuit interrupted intermittently by faceplants, grazed knees, and even the odd busted lip.

Extreme biking
Toys that require toddlers to be pushed by adults bending over are instruments of torture. Of course we bought our toddler one of these before we realised what a trap it was. Now she lights up with glee when she discovers its latest hiding spot, and squawks with demanding insistence until one of us suckers pushes her around and around and around the apartment till we’re dizzy and in the throes of deep lower back pain.

Ice climbing
This winter has been brutal in New York, and we’ve had snow days, with ice that lingers in playgrounds for weeks. Toddlers don’t seem to feel the cold, so off we went every day to play at the park, slipping and sliding over ice, getting numb fingers, toes, legs and noses.

Extreme eating
Ok, so I made this one up. But what else do you call it when you’re foolishly at a trendy restaurant with your squirmy toddler, passing her from parent to parent like a hot potato and simultaneously stuffing food down your throats until you’re both done – and so is the tablecloth, the floor and the restaurant staff, who are not-so-secretly glad to see the backs of all three of you as you slink out the exit after apologising for the mess (and tipping big, of course).

I know this phase is fleeting. Every day she says new words, gets more agile, sprouts more hair on her fuzzy little head. So we chase. We run and catch. We watch and laugh, and store up these insane days in our memories for the day when we are having civilised high tea at The Plaza, and discussing the importance of Impressionism at the Met. Or perhaps we’ll just be buying her every type of protective gear we can get our hands as she takes up sports like kite surfing or motocross, and we’ll wish we were back in the toddler days when we could still catch her with our own two hands.

In Defence of Toddlers

I feel like toddlers get a pretty bad rap for being out of control maniacs. And there is definitely some truth to this – most days Eloise spins through my life like mad squirrel, leaving total destruction behind her. Even though some parts of this stage can be trying (mind-numbing exhaustion at the end of each day!), it’s actually my favourite stage yet. Here’s why:

1. Hugs and kisses. I get them ALL THE TIME. Open mouth French slobbers, little pecks on the mouth, and little hands that grab me from behind and nestle in for a snuggle. Ahhhhh this is the best thing of all.
2. Words! Finally, she is communicating! True, it’s still hard to understand what she’s saying a lot of the time, but hearing this little baby-child wrap her lips and tongue around words like bath, dog, duck, flower just fill me with awe at seeing tiny changes happening every minute of every day.
3. Pretend play. Eloise holds up any phone-sized object to her ear and conducts a deep conversation with it, complete with the correct intonations. Kill me now, I’m dying from the cuteness of it all.
4. Dance moves. The little girl has her own groove going on. Put on music and she’s swaying and tapping her feet out of natural instinct.
5. She can feed herself. Here’s the food, off you go, baby.
6. She’s not that screaming, refluxy infant anymore who made me doubt my ability to do this parenting job. Compared to the first ten months of her life, toddlerhood is a breeze so far.