What happened when I said “yes” to my toddler for (almost) a week
Well, it would have been the full week, but a cute toddler can quickly become a tyrant.
Toddlers start out as adorable little babies. My adorable little baby’s first word was “Mama.” I wasn’t there to hear it. His godfather was watching him while I worked an overnight double shift at the hospital. When I got the text, I had all the feels. I had missed my son’s first word.
I wondered if he had said it like a question, if he wanted to know where his mama was. I couldn’t wait to get to get back him. But when I got off work that morning, scooped him up, and said “Okay, say mama!” he pooped on me instead. My grandmother laughed when I told her.
Over the next three years, there would be thousands of Nos exchanged between us. I am overprotective, so I felt justified in my many rejections.
He often asks for waffles and ice cream for dinner (completely unrealistic). Sometimes, though, he would ask simple things that were totally doable — like going to the park before school, or playing in the Legos store on a weekend, or watching Little Einsteins on my phone. He basically just wanted to do what every toddler wants to do: play and have fun. “No” just became my default.
Can I have sweets? No.
Can we go swim? No.
Can we race? No.
Can we go to the slide? No.
Can I please have sweets? No.
Can you sleep in my room? No.
Can I play with blocks on the potty? No.
Can I watch TV? No.
Can I have sweets please? No.
I realized I was treating motherhood like a list of chores I had to do: cleaning, cooking, arranging play dates, working, teaching, cleaning, blah blah blah. I neglected the the fun parts of having a kid. I was afraid my son was beginning to only see me as someone whose main job was to create and enforce rules.
Back when I was pregnant, I had these grand dreams of being like Solange and traveling all over the world with my child, breaking the internet with our mother/son cross-country escapades.
Before he could even walk, I imagined him as a bilingual, jet setting toddler with a beautiful Afro and a million reasons to smile. I wanted to get back to that dream.
I tried to get a bunch of mama friends to commit to a week where we gave in to our toddlers’ ridiculous requests.
They laughed. I decided not to let them discourage me, and kept it moving. No joke, I made my screensaver a photo of Solange and her son Daniel (aka Julez), and pretended they were in on the challenge with us for motivation. Even before A Seat At The Table, her parenting style was definitely a life goal!
What We Did
“Mama, wake up!” I laid in my comfortable queen-sized bed while my toddler mushed my face with his tiny hands. It was 6 a.m..
“Mama, I want waffles!” He bounced on the bed singing an improvised song, “Wake up! Wa-ffles! Wake up! Wa-ffles.” I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep — but then I remembered that I’d promised myself I would give in to all of his requests. We had no waffle mix, no syrup, and no milk. Thankfully, I am a lowkey Google expert. I found a weird vegan recipe that only required two ingredient: eggs and bananas. We had both. They were ugly, but they were waffles.
After milkshakes, waffles, and peanut butter for breakfast, I let him ride his bike to school. To put that in context, it usually takes 4 minutes to drive. It took us over an hour because he stopped to examine every stick, coin, and butterfly that caught his attention on the way. Instead of checking the time on my phone and rushing him along, I stooped down and admired his newfound treasures.
My workday was peculiarly productive. I picked up my little guy and we went for pink frozen yogurt downtown. He heard music playing and pulled me towards it.
Sure enough, down a street I had never walked on in all the time we’ve lived here, a Cuban band was playing live music. There were no other children, just a bunch of folks gathered around the band. People seemed to be enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t until my trendsetting child created an impromptu dance floor that everyone joined in. I smiled and laughed so much that my jaw hurt when we left. It was another really awesome adventure.
The morning started out great. We woke up on time, washed our faces, brushed our teeth, ate three bowls of cereal, and headed out the door without any out of the ordinary requests. In the car, we had a great conversation about Bubble Guppies, chocolate milk, and colors. Standard toddler stuff. When we got to school, he happily sprinted across the yard with me. I opened the front door for him and he hugged me. “I love you,” I said.
“Mama, I don’t want to go to school.”
Now, let me just say this: I am privileged. I no longer pull overnight double shifts. I’m in a new field and my work schedule is heavily dependent on my motivation to be somewhere. That means I get to make my own schedule, and my clients know I have a son who may or may not be in a high level meeting with me. Most people, especially single mothers like me, don’t generally have that luxury and I want to recognize that.
Even with all that, after 18 months with the same company, I had never taken a day off. The memory of what it was like to struggle was still too fresh in my mind. Maybe my son knew something I didn’t. It was time for our first Mama-Son Ditch Day.
I told his teacher the deal (generally speaking, she already thinks we’re weird anyway). I strapped him into his car seat, and asked him where he wanted to go.
“To the slide!” (better known as the McDonald’s PlayPlace). We spent four hours there. He played with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers from almost every continent while I had a phone conference and sent emails. Periodically, he would ask me to come play and I would oblige. After the fifth or sixth request, I shutdown my laptop completely and gave him my full attention. I’m pretty sure I twisted my hip and I felt every part of being over 30, but it was way more fun than I had expected. Surprisingly, we laughed more that morning than I normally do in a week. Those McNuggets made me McNauseated and it was totally worth it.
I woke up lightweight terrified that he wouldn’t want to go to school — or that he would start a toddler revolution when he got there. I asked him what he wanted to wear, and he yelled “Trick or treat!” I wasn’t sure if he had a dream about Halloween or if he just wanted candy, but I really couldn’t give him either in the moment, so I convinced myself that he wanted to wear his costume from last October. Once again, his teacher looked at me like I was a psycho when he showed up, and we both went on about our days.
His only other off the wall desire was to skip his bath. I smelled him and shrugged before letting him change into his pajamas. If he was old enough to warrant adult prices on all major airlines, I guess he was old enough to stink for the night.
Surprisingly, my super toddler gave me a break. Besides having vanilla almond ice cream for breakfast, he was relatively chill. No crazy demands.
For the first time since my son could talk, I actually woke up before him. I expected to hear him downstairs creating havoc. However, when I opened my eyes, (sans demanding toddler), he was asleep in his bed, sprawled out like a snow angel in his church shirt and his too-little Ninja Turtles pajama bottoms.
It was a normal day at the office, and I left early to get my son. I was actually excited, rather than exhausted. I couldn’t wait for our weekend adventure to pop off! He jumped into my arms like the end of one of those cheesy Hallmark movies. I don’t know if he just had a really good day at school or if he was responding to our little experiment — but it made me happy.
We skipped to the car, buckled up, and hit the road. The Itsy Bitsy Spider played on repeat the whole way home. It was all good until I made the mistake of asking what he wanted to do.
“I want to go see Jah!”
Jah is another demanding toddler, and my son’s best friend. They were born on the same day and he is an adorable, lovable kid who lives in Berkeley. Had this been a Saturday afternoon, I’d be all for it. However, on a Friday during rush hour in the Bay? Bad move. We would be looking at over two hours in the car. I didn’t know if Jah would even be home.
Like the kids used to say though, #YOLO.
We filled the tank, picked up snacks, and immersed ourselves in the black hole known as California traffic. Ultimately it was worth it, but now you understand why I didn’t make it the full week. By the time we arrived at Jah’s, I had fully depleted my willingness to yes to his requests. I was ready to take the lead again.
What I Learned
To his credit, this was an unforgettable experience. Like most toddlers, the things he enjoyed most were free-running across a college lawn, playing, watching Lion King six times in a row — he mostly wants more mama time.
Clearly we can’t skip school frequently or eat ice cream for breakfast daily, but there is definitely room for detours.
This is my first time being a mother, and it is his first time being a son. Furthermore, he wont be a toddler for much longer. Because of this experiment, I will do a better job of remembering that and enjoying our time together.
Again, I have to keep him safe and have some structure, but I am also responsible for his happiness. Before he morphs into an angst ridden ungrateful teenage boy, my main job as the mama of the greatest toddler alive is to make sure he smiles as much as possible.